The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Seamheads on Crystal Math

My wife, who was sick a few days ago, fell asleep early on Friday night, leaving me to putter around our apartment into the wee hours after I couldn't edit one more player comment. I spent a few minutes watching a TiVo'd HBO Sports documentary on Howard Cosell, a favorite of mine, as the man had a massive impact on the world of sports reporting in the 20th century at a time when I was an impressionable youth (yes, I actually chose to watch this over the Skinemax presentation of Hollywood Harlots or whatever). The doc showed footage of Cosell's autumn years, when his ego had gotten the better of him. Strutting around the office, smoking a cigar that Reggie Jackson could have walloped a homer with, Cosell complained about being attacked in print by the infamous tabloid scribe, Dick Young. Cut to Frank Gifford and Al Michaels recounting an anecdote about the notoriously thin-skinned Cosell bragging and kvetching in his inimitably nasal cadence, "Did you see... what they said about me... in the Des Moines Register?"

Shortly after that, Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts sent me an email, calling my attention to being name-checked in an article by Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discussing the Hall of Fame balloting:
The old paradigm was, when I saw the player's name, if I had to think about it, he didn't get in. Hall of Famers, went the philosophy, are players whose very names terminate all debates of worthiness: Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Mays, Clemente, etc., and next year Gwynn, Ripken and, of course, Derek Bell...

The seamheads on crystal math are running Blyleven through the software along the lines of Jay Jaffe, who points out on the Baseball Prospectus site that: "Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) figures make an ideal tool for this endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. All pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era comparisons a breeze. Though non-statistical considerations -- championships, postseason performance -- shouldn't be left by the wayside in weighing a player's Hall of Fame credentials, they're not the focus."


Here's my formula. If I'm managing a decent club that's going into Pittsburgh for a weekend series in July of 1979 and the Pirates are sending Bert Blyleven, John Candelaria and Bruce Kison to the mound, is there a pitcher among them that I think I might not be able to beat?

Yes, and it's Candelaria, who is not a Hall of Famer.
I went into my instant Cosell mode: "Did you see what they wrote about me in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte?"

I especially admire the way Collier has decided that the last thing anybody should do when evaluating a Hall of Fame vote is think.

Heaven forbid, he's a professional sportswriter; he doesn't have to think!

Sometimes, like his colleague across the country, Bill Plaschke, he doesn't even have to put two sentences together to make a paragraph.

Because that might take thinking.

And we can't have that when we're guarding the gates of baseball history, can we?

But rather than do anything rash, I slept on it before taking the trouble to pen a reply to Collier this morning. Here it is, in its entirety, with a few relevant hyperlinks thrown in...

• • •

Dear Mr. Collier,

Thank you for taking what I said out of context at Baseball Prospectus in your article about the Hall of Fame voting. Not only did you lop off the key qualifying word "here" at the end of the paragraph you quoted -- thus distorting the purpose of my exercise, which was to demonstrate where the Hall candidates measure up statistically via a rather sophisticated system, as opposed to more subjective considerations which, as the key word you omitted had clarified, *were not* the focus of that particular piece -- you then made a random assertion (Blyleven vs. Candelaria, July 1979) that's demonstrably false thanks to our ability to actually go back and check every box score since 1960 at a wonderful site called

Blyleven---4 wins, 1 loss, 2.64 ERA
Candelaria-3 wins, 1 loss, 3.64 ERA

Not good enough for you? Then consider Blyleven vs. Candelaria in a more important and memorable month, one that probably holds a great deal of meaning for your readership, October 1979:

Blyleven---2 wins, 0 loss, 1.42 ERA
Candelaria-1 win, 1 loss, 3.94 ERA

Anyway, it's always a thrill to find people willing to set themselves out as the exemplars of the type of statistical illiteracy and ignorance of facts which we baseball fans have come to fear among those entrusted with a Hall of Fame vote. Your reactionary, anti-intellectual screed serves to illustrate how out of touch some voters are and to provide true fans of the game with the motivation to work harder in bringing the merits of candidates like Bert Blyleven to the attention of open-minded readers everywhere. Well done.

If you find what I have to say too dense for your tastes -- and I'm perfectly willing to concede that the article isn't for everyone, seeing as how it's a subscription-based site -- I invite you to check out what a couple of your BBWAA colleagues (Bob Klapisch and Jeff Peek) have written about seeing the light on Blyleven's candidacy at You're apparently unwilling to consider my logic, but I do hope you'll at least take a moment to consider theirs.

Best wishes,

Jay Jaffe
Author, Baseball Prospectus

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