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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

 

Clearing the Bases -- (W)Ringing Out 2007

Hello and happy holidays to you all. I'm here at the tail end of my winter trip to Salt Lake City. The snow is falling but I'm finally beginning to see daylight as far as my massive winter workload is concerned. At last count I'd delivered some 50,000 words to Baseball Prospectus, Fantasy Baseball Index and Bombers Broadside 2008, and that's not even including the stuff written here (very little) and at BP's site.

Anyway, to catch up on a few loose threads...

• the Inside Edition appearance I touted in this space wound up on the cutting room floor after it was all said and done. As I noted in an email to my BP colleagues and the friends I pestered:
* Jessica Simpson segment - check
* Britney Spears segment - check
* Lindsay Lohan segment - check
* Anorexic Survivor contestant segment - check
* Nine-year-old smart enough to call 911 segment - check
* Golly, sextuplets segment - check
* Nuanced discussion of the Mitchell Report by yours truly - fuggedaboutit

I shoulda shown more cleavage, I guess. Apologies to anybody who wasted their time trying to track this down.
I can't say I was all that surprised at the outcome. I refused to let the producer put words into my mouth, settling for responses to their questions that didn't break up into neat two-second soundbites ("This is a dark day for baseball," "A-Rod is the last hope," etc.). Basically, my every suspicion about tabloid TV's depth of interest in the story was confirmed. While I'd have loved the segment to have aired so that I could add it to my clip files, and while rushing out the door to jump through their hoops was a serious inconvencience given my workload, the whole adventure was nonetheless a fascinating peak into the sausage factory of TV, and I'd be lying if I said I was the least bit bitter about the outcome.

• the second segment of my JAWS 2008 Hall of Fame ballot roundup went up on Thursday, December 20. It covered the outfielders on the ballot, most notably Tim Raines, whose segment was the longest I've ever devoted to one player. In it, I made a direct comparison between Raines and Tony Gwynn and found that the two of them come out mere whiskers apart on the JAWS scale despite their different skill sets:
Raines [123.7 career WARP/68.4 peak/96.1 JAWS] is often slighted because he doesn't measure up to his direct contemporary, Henderson (187.8 career WARP/83.4 peak/135.6 JAWS). He doesn't have 3,000 hits, and his 808 stolen bases rank "only" fifth all time, and while his 84.7 percent success rate is the best among thieves with more than 300 attempts, that skill doesn't really register in today's power-saturated age, limiting the impression of his all-around ability. But Raines does more than measure up to another Hall of Fame contemporary, 2007 inductee Tony Gwynn. Their JAWS totals are virtually identical (124.4/68.4/96.4 for Gwynn, within one win in each category), but Raines outdistances the left field benchmark by 4.8 JAWS points, while Gwynn rates a hair below that in right field (125.0/68.7/96.8). Gwynn gets the glory because of his 3,141 hits, five 200-hit seasons, and eight batting titles. Raines won only one batting title, but while he never reached 200 hits due to his ability to generate so many walks, he compares very favorably to Gwynn in many key statistical categories:
          AVG   OBP   SLG   ISO   EqA   HR   SB   TOB   TB    BG     R    RBI
Gwynn .338 .388 .459 .121 .305 135 319 3955 4259 5267 1383 1138
Raines .294 .385 .425 .131 .307 170 838 3977 3771 5805 1517 980
TOB is times on base (H + BB + HBP), BG is bases gained, the numerator of Tom Boswell's briefly chic mid-'80s Total Average stat (TB + BB + HBP + SB - CS), which is presented here to show that Raines' edge on the basepaths made up for Gwynn's ability to crank out the hits. The point is better served via the comprehensive Equivalent Average and WARP valuations, but it's nonetheless a worthwhile comparison for those wishing to stick to traditional counting stats. The conclusion is the same: Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines were two fantastic ballplayers who had slightly different skills. One was disproportionately heralded in his time thanks to his extreme success by the traditional measures of batting average and hits, while the other was under-appreciated in a career that included a more concentrated early peak and a lot more ups and downs. The two were equally valuable on both career and peak levels, and there is absolutely no reason why one should be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot while the other should languish outside for more than five seconds. If the voters don't see it that way -- and the early line is that they won't, at least initially -- it will be a gross injustice.
I received a good amount of support regarding Rianes from BP's readership, including a very nice note from a beat reporter who is still a few years away from obtaining his ballot but who told me that I had swayed his thinking about the Rock. That made my day.

• Alasdair Wilkins of Harvard's student radio station, WHRB, interviewed me for a lengthy multi-part podcast regarding my JAWS take on this year's ballot.

• Also on the subject of the Hall of Fame, I had a civil exchange with none other than Rob Neyer last week in which I took issue with the way he handled some performance-enhancing drug hypotheticals in a recent chat in the wake of the Mitchell Report. More specifically, I was peeved at his repeated lumping of Jeff Bagwell in with Mark McGwire in what I read as an "I know it when I see it"-style accusation, and with his statement that the burden of proof now lies on the players (how do you disprove such a negative?). Bagwell has never tested positive, never been mentioned in the context of a steroid-related law enforcement investigation, and while he was tarred by his erroneous inclusion in the notorious WNBC "fake list" that circulated in the hours before the report's initial release, there are no credible PED allegations against him. To simply begin finger-pointing based on a player's late-career injury history -- even in the context of numerous Mitchell-named players with similar latter-day histories (Kevin Brown comes to mind) -- is a slippery slope that leads to a lowest-common-denominator mudpit that any responsible writer should take pains to avoid.

Now, in the context of the entire chat (instead of just two or three questions which I cherrypicked) I do think Rob did a better job of positioning the Bagwell instance as a hypothetical than I initially gave him credit for. And I definitely take pride in the fact that he referred to me as "one of my favorite writers" before running my email to him (with permission) in his Insider column (subscription only, alas). That means a lot to me, particularly because I'd likely be nowhere near this forum had I not started reading him at ESPN years ago and tapped into my long-dormant Bill James-flavored taste for baseball analysis. Neyer had that impact not only on me but on hundreds of writers -- he's our Blogfather -- and thousands upon thousands of readers. He's arguably done more to elevate the debate about all kinds of baseball-related topics than anybody since his mentor, James. But as both a fan of Rob's work and a fellow writer, I would have preferred see him handle the matter in question with a bit more precision and a bit less cynicism instead of taking what I read as a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach.

It's difficult and probably futile to convey the whole scope of our conversation within this brief rundown, but basically I just think that particularly in the wake of the Mitchell Report that baseball writers of any stripe need to do a better job of separating fact from speculation lest they feed the rampant hysteria that the Mitchell Report stoked in some quarters. Steroids isn't the most appealing topic to spend a few minutes or hours dwelling upon as a writer, but I've always tried to take great care in addresing the issue with precision, accuracy, and a lack of hysteria. Within the tens of thousands of words I've devoted to the topic over the past several years, there are only a few I'd like to take back.

As for the report, I have my issues regarding it. I think the release of names without due process was rather appalling, and that the committee's investigative powers were hamstrung greatly by the lack of legal standing and subpoena power. Nonetheless, I feel that Mitchell was basically right on regarding the need for amnesty and moving forward, and that many of his recommendations could help continue to clean up the game. As flawed as it is, the report should move the public dialogue forward, but this "cheater cheater pumpkineater" syndrome that the more tabloid elements stoke does the game and its fans no good.

Anyway, particularly given the Hall of Fame-related ramifications of the issue, I'm planning to do an addendum to my JAWS series regarding my take on Mitchell, my exchange with Neyer, and how to regard the likes of McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, etc. going forward. I don't claim to have THE solution, but if nothing else I feel a great need to clarify my own position on the matter.

• • •

In the event that I don't find my way back to this space before 2008 is rung in, I'd like to thank all of my readers here, at Baseball Prospectus and at points beyond, my wife Andra, the Jaffe and Hardt extended families, and my dear friends for their continued support and encouragement. This has been an exciting year for me on the professional and personal fronts -- new column at BP, prominent placement in It Ain't Over, a debut at SI.com, more than 100 radio hits around the country, new apartment, and more -- and while it's resulted in a much lower profile at this blog, it's a positive set of developments nonetheless. Here's hoping the ride takes us in even more interesting directions in 2008. Happy New Year to all of you!

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