Wednesday, March 23, 2011

18 comments I'm Not Sure if Bruce Jenkins Is Ignorant or Just Lazy

It is that time of the year again. It is baseball season. The time when baseball season begins and sportswriters who have seen baseball played for decades and don't need silly statistics or common sense to determine which MLB players are good baseball players and who are not. They get their point of view across by demeaning the opposing view. It is funny, because you never read a statistics-loving baseball fan write a column mocking those non-statistics loving baseball fans for being old. Sure, I do that here, but no famous or popular statistics-oriented writers tend to do this as much. It is just the "old school" that loves to fire shots from the bow and mock those who favor using statistics other than RBI's and batting average to determine a player's worth.

Bruce Jenkins seems to enjoy this. I can't decide if it is more lazy or ignorant to ignore the relevance of new statistical methods and portray stats-crazed dunces as hating "old school" statistics. I think it is probably willful ignorance in the vein of "I don't really understand these new-fangled statistics so they must be bad," combined with laziness in the form of "because I don't understand these statistics and they are used mostly by younger baseball fans I will mock them for living in a basement with their mother regardless of whether this is true or not." Both of these things Bruce Jenkins is guilty of.

As the production of "Moneyball" grinds on, let's hope the filmmakers take great liberties with the facts. Michael Lewis' book was superbly written, but there's nothing more boring than the A's search for no-speed, no-defense guys who could really work a 3-and-1 count on their way to a hopeless career.
Those hopeless careers like Kevin Youkilis has had. Which Burger King does he work at again? Yeah, there were a bunch of guys in "Moneyball" that ended up not making it in the big leagues, but there were also players who succeeded in the majors. I think if you took any team's draft philosophy in MLB, there would end up being more failures than successes. That's just how it is with prospects in Major League Baseball.

A "Moneyball" movie doesn't sound very exciting, but movies have been made about much less interesting sounding premises. I am thinking of a certain movie that was popular this year about a king in speech therapy or how about a movie about the creation of a social network. Neither sound riveting, but they certainly seemed to do pretty well. Filmmakers always take great liberties with the facts. Brad Pitt was cast in the movie "Moneyball." That's already an indication of a movie taking liberties.

Let's see Art Howe as a coke-sniffing, late-night karaoke artist who worships Otis Redding and has memorized every song by the Sons of Champlin. Isolate a front-office executive quietly embezzling funds from the company.I would find this riveting if I knew who the hell Sons of Champlin were without doing an internet search.

Cut to a scene where Paul DePodesta has a sawed-off shotgun in his office, and in private moments he lifts it out of a closet, fondles it, aims at things. One night he pretends to shoot, it goes off, and he takes out classic photos of Joe Rudi and Blue Moon Odom.

Because I am sure 9 out of 10 moviegoers would be able to pick both Joe Rudi and Blue Moon Odom as baseball players, much less be able to understand the significance of DePodesta shooting photos of these two players. This would surely jack up the ticket sales by capturing the all-important "early 1970's Oakland A's nostalgia" target market.

So this is how the column starts off and then while randomly shooting off tidbits of recommendations for Hollywood, Jenkins lets loose with this one:

It won't be long before we get the first wave of nonsense from stat-crazed dunces claiming there's nothing to be learned from a batting average, won-loss record or RBI total.
What is so interesting is this is a one-way battle. Other than jackasses like me, you don't see many stat-crazed dunces going bananas and dropping insults in their columns randomly directed towards "old school" baseball writers. If that does happen, like when Tom Verducci called Murray Chass a "blogger," it is done as a direct response to something an "old school" writer has written.

This comment is ignorant because it is one of the weakest forms of arguing. It involves portraying the other side's point of view as so out there, it just doesn't make sense. The problem is that this is a lie. I can't recall ever hearing or reading a stats-crazed dunce say nothing can be learned from a batting average, won-loss record or RBI total. That's how Bruce Jenkins portrays this because it makes him stats-crazed dunces seem closed-minded, while making him seem open-minded, when in fact the opposite is true. Bruce Jenkins doesn't like the use of modern statistics without having a good reason to do so. So he attempts to portray the other side as the closed-minded side, when in fact he isn't open to new ideas.

There can be things learned from all three of these statistics. It's just these three statistics aren't the basis of EVERYTHING you can learn about a player's performance. Stats-crazed dunces want to use other statistics, while guys like Bruce Jenkins are against this. So who really has the closed-minded, dunce point of view?

This comment is lazy because it is not even true. No one has claimed this. I hate wins, but something can be learned about a player's performance from a win, but it is not the sum total of all learned knowledge on a player. You can use other statistics to determine in what context a pitcher's win-loss record means something, if it means anything.

If a pitcher has 17 wins, that says he seems to have pitched fairly well that year. It also says perhaps the pitcher got sufficient run support and his bullpen did not blow games after he left the game.

A player with a batting average of .316 tells us that he tends to get a lot of hits and seems to be a pretty good hitter. This statistic covers up the fact this player may have a .337 OBP...or he could have a .379 OBP. Knowing this statistic tells us whether this player gets on-base in ways other than getting a hit, which is pretty important to know. A batting average doesn't tell us what other ways a player gets on-base though, while OBP does give an indication as to how many times a player may have walked or gotten on-base in some other way.

RBI's are a good statistic to be used to see how often a player gets runs across the plate and produces runs for his team. What it doesn't tell us is how many RBI opportunities a player has. A player batting fourth who is on a team that tends to have runners on-base for that clean-up hitter is probably going to have more RBI opportunities, and therefore RBI's, as compared to a player batting fourth on a team that doesn't have players on-base many times when that hitters comes up. Therein lies the limitation of the RBI statistic. So no one wants to get rid of these statistics, but stats-crazed dunces see the limitations of these statistics and use other statistics to get a better overall picture of a player.

Listen, just go back to bed, OK?

This just doesn't really make sense, OK?

Strip down to those fourth-day undies,

This is just lazy. Shitty put-downs towards those who don't agree with you is just a completely lazy form of journalism. Using stereotypes to form the basis of an argument is the lowest form of journalism. Buying into these stereotypes so wholeheartedly says something about that journalist. Here that journalist is Bruce Jenkins. If he can't argue against the merits of the argument presented to him that he opposes, perhaps this is an indication the argument he opposes has merit. This is "yo mama" journalism. No, really it is...

head downstairs (to "your mother's basement and your mother's computer," as Chipper Jones so aptly describes it)
If Chipper Jones said this, then he is an idiot. He's a great hitter, but when it comes to guidance on learned things I am not asking Chipper Jones any tough questions that may need a complex answer. Work on that swing, talk out of the side of your mouth and try to stay healthy. Leave the heavy thinking to others, Chipper.

and churn out some more crap.

Says the guy who just wrote "strip down to those fourth-day undies." Because that's not crap.

DON'T YOU GET IT? PEOPLE WHO HAVE AN OPPOSING OPINION FROM BRUCE JENKINS DON'T HAVE JOBS AND LIVE WITH THEIR MOTHER! THIS IS A CREATIVE, NEVER BEFORE-HEARD THOUGHT! THIS IS SPORTS JOURNALISM AT ITS FINEST!

For more than a century, .220 meant something.
It still does absolutely mean something. It means a hitter doesn't get too many base hits. So knowing this under the "Jenkins method" of hating all other statistics we could say this is a bad hitter who needs to go find other work.

However, under the "logical person who doesn't have his head up his ass method" of analysis, this player could turn out to be similar to Adam Dunn. He slugs 30+ home runs per year and has a OBP of around .380. It turns out this is a valuable baseball player, despite what his batting average says.

So .220 does mean something. No one is arguing it doesn't. A player hitting .220 also doesn't give the entire picture for that baseball player. There are other statistics that can be used to give a fuller picture. Slowly, but surely, smart people are realizing this and it makes Bruce Jenkins very angry.

So did .278, .301, .350, an 18-4 record, or 118 RBIs
It still does. I have no idea why Bruce Jenkins thinks this doesn't mean anything anymore. These statistics do mean something, but there are other statistics that mean something as well. This is all a part of Bruce Jenkins intentionally misstating the opposing viewpoint to make it seem like that viewpoint is outrageous, when in fact it is his viewpoint that is outrageous.

Few stats-oriented people would argue an 18-4 record or 118 RBIs don't mean something. They would argue there are other statistics that help define and clarify these statistics and determine what they really mean or how much significance they have. 118 RBIs can't be seen in a vaccum and fairly compared to another player's RBI total. Bruce Jenkins doesn't see it that way though because he doesn't understand, nor does he care to, opposing points of view. He prefers to mock opposing points of view in writing by talking about underwear and how those who have an opposing view live in their mom's basement.

Now it all means nothing because a bunch of nonathletes are trying to reinvent the game?
Right. Because we need athletes, the big thinkers of the world, reinventing the game. Those are the correct people who need to start creating and doing in-depth analysis on new statistics. This is like saying the Army Corps of Engineers shouldn't be the ones building and designing damns to keep floods out of New Orleans, it should be the people who live in New Orleans who do this because "they know what it is like to live in New Orleans."

I also find it funny that Bruce Jenkins doesn't like nonathletes to reinvent the game, but nonathletes like him...

(here's a picture of Jenkins in mid-athletic pose)

are free to continue to use statistics that were created and used originally by nonathletes to rank athletes. So in summation, it is not good for nonathletes to reinvent statistics, but accepting that nonathletes originally created statistics like RBIs, batting average, and won-loss record is no big deal.

Look at these athletes cowering in fear at Bruce Jenkins' Hawaiian shirt. Athletes like him are the ones who are allowed to use statistics because they understand them and don't live in their mom's basement.

I think this small article was both ignorant and lazy. Quite an accomplishment for just a few sentences.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Right on. This piece of garbage writing is one of the worst ones of this type. It takes quite a bit of ignorance and closed-mindedness for someone to be less tolerable than that tanned and handsome Boston scribe Dan Shaugnessy.

Regardless of whether it is Murray Chass, Jenkins, Joe Morgan, Dan S, or the many others of that ilk, it is always amazing to see people clinging so hard on to a world of ignorance and voluntarily shouting down the very idea of progress.

It doesn't take much more than basic intuition to understand that the stats from 100 years ago are very incomplete and leave room for vast improvement when it comes to player analysis.

I don't look down upon these guys for not embracing WAR, FIP, UZR, etc. Even though I like those stats, I can understand why these guys might not want to use these stats. But I do look down on these guys when they simply ignore the obvious flaws in the existing basic stats like Wins, RBI, and batting average.

Regardless of whether or not you like FIP or xFIP or WAR, it doesn't change the fact that the pitcher 'Win' stat is a horribly misnamed and generally misleading stat and that there should be a better method for evaluating a pitcher.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, thanks for thinking I am right on. It's not hard to think that way given how poor this writing is though. I can't stand the close-mindness and ignorance of comments like he made. What's so interesting is that his whole premise is stats-crazed maniacs are closed-minded in their dislike for traditional statistics, which is stupid and far from the truth.

It is progress and it is not progress that threatens the old school statistics, it just supplements them. Your third paragraph is exactly correct. They are good building blocks, but they leave room for improvement when understanding Player A compared to Player B. Just like OBP doesn't say everything about a player batting average only gives a small part of the puzzle as well. Acting like it doesn't is willful ignorance.

I personally don't overuse (as you may have noticed) advanced statistics and I don't base a lot of my analysis on it either. I do to an extent, but I rely on both traditional and new stats to determine a player's worth. You feel like I think most fans who have embraced new stats feel, they don't look down on anyone who doesn't use old school stats...but at least don't act like an ass to those who do use new stats and ignore obvious flaws in those stats like there aren't any.

Many stats-oriented baseball fans argue about and understand the flaws in new stats, but that's what makes some debates so much fun. No one pretends a stat is perfect.

I hate wins. It is an old-statistic used when pitchers completed most of their games and were therefore responsible many times for most of the runs given up in a game. With bullpens taking over games and pitchers not being in the game for the entire game, a win can depend on more factors in 2011 than it did in 1971. To act like this isn't true is ignorant and blind to the obvious.

rich said...

Here's the thing about Moneyball. It's less a book about finding the high OBP type guys who were overlooked. It's more about finding a way to take something that no one really utilizes and exploiting it.

When teams were all about the big three stats, Moneyball's philosophy was on OBP, a stat that was highly undervalued.

Now that teams value OBP, the Moneyball philosophy says to move onto something new that people are overlooking. It might not be an exciting movie, but fuck me, someone made the creation of Facebook into a movie and the life of John Nash into a movie, why couldn't Moneyball make a decent movie?

As for the stats, of course .220 still means something, but for crying out loud, it's only part of the picture. Twenty bucks is still twenty bucks, but in 1950 it was more valuable than it is in 2011. A .220 BA is the still a .220 BA, but is more valuable when the OBP behind it is .320 versus 0.220.

If you don't want to use the stats, that's fine, but if you're going to make a living out of sports, then maybe having an accurate means of judging players is a good thing. Do I need OBP and OPS and the like to tell me that Albert Pujols is good? No, but they verify it. It's when moron writers talk about how awesome David Eckstein is that you can look at the stats and tell them they're full of shit.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, from a movie-making perspective the fact the movie has already had one false start doesn't bode well. It isn't going to be an exciting movie anyway, I wouldn't think. Non-exciting movies can still do well. So you are right.

You are also right Moneyball was about exploiting untapped or under-utilized sources in some ways and now those resources have been tapped. We've moved on to other stuff.

The problem is many old school writers see .220 avg as THE picture, not a part of it. That's what makes it frustrating. They don't understand how to use other stats to supplement old stats because they think old stats worked so well. It's just an inability to grow new knowledge because it makes them question their old beliefs.

Martin F. said...

Joe Po did a very nice take down of this fella in his SI column this week also. Even Ken Tremendous approved.

One of the things that pisses me off to no end about Murray and Jenkins is that they call WHIP some new fangled stat, and treat it like it was black magic. It's one of the simplest, most easily useful stats in the game. Walks and Hits per Inning. Low WHIP is good, high WHIP is bad. It's not even making conversions like slugging percentage does. It's simple 1+1 math. These guys don't even know what it stands for I'd wager, but they know it's terrible and has no place in baseball because...well....it looks like an acronym that may lead to something complicated that their little brains can't handle.

Anonymous said...

This isn't really related to this topic, but if you have time I would suggest reading this one:

http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-simers-20110322,0,3093888,full.column

Some giant asshole writer from LA displays one of the least professional pieces of journalism I've ever witnessed.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, I didn't see that. Ken Tremendous is not a super fan of Bruce Jenkins so it doesn't surprise me he approved!

You got it exactly right. WHIP is an easy stat to calculate, but it isn't something that seems like it is easy to figure out so old people stay away from it. It's so basic, you would think they could embrace it.

How many walks and hits per inning does a pitcher give up? I guess an old baseball writer doesn't care as long as a pitcher wins the game...because that's what it is all about.

Anon, I saw that piece and I bookmarked it. It just seems so easy to cover that. I am going to read the follow-up for today as well. It appears Simers caught up with Thames again.

If a blogger did that to a baseball player then the mainstream media, and guys like Bruce Jenkins and TJ Simers, would talk about the lack of professionalism and how bloggers suck so bad and aren't real media members. When a mainstream media member does it, there isn't a ton of criticism because they protect their own.

I can't get to this column for a few days, but I am getting fired up and now I want to cover it.

Dylan said...

Part of me thinks that there's a grand conspiracy going on amongst sports writers. The people who correctly value certain statistics are relegated to the realms of blogs and other forms of modern media, yet the guys at the top are the most mainstream. So what if all the execs out there realize the potential reads and hits their writers will get because they possess such simplistic views of sports? And what if they let these writers continue to write simply because of the money they're generating? If this article were coherent, we probably wouldn't be reading it. But look at the discussion it's creating. Just a thought.

Bengoodfella said...

Dylan, you think the sportswriters are counting on our major overreaction to this problem for page hits? It's possible. I didn't think of that, I just assumed they were all idiots.

So the joke is really on me? Would they really take the time to write crap for page hits though?

Probably.

Dylan said...

Let me clarify: I'm saying that the people who are their bosses realize the shit they're pouring out and realize that this gets a major reaction, which leads to more hits. So they keep them around, even though the writers suck.

Bengoodfella said...

Dylan, the joke is still on me though. I am getting all worked up and giving them hits. I feel stupid...yet I will continue to do the same thing I have been doing.

Martin F. said...

Except I never click to the links usually. I comment based on what I see written, and rely on Ben and the fellows at FJM and FJM II to not take it out of context....mainly because they have no need to since their targets blindly walk into criticism.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, I am counting on no one ever clicking the links. Sometimes I make up fake quotes that writer said just to disprove them. It's like I am a mainstream journalist!

I try not to take comments out of context, which is why I sometimes include comments I agree with, just to show I am not cherry picking.

Matt said...

"That's how Bruce Jenkins portrays this because it makes him stats-crazed dunces seem closed-minded, while making him seem open-minded, when in fact the opposite is true. Bruce Jenkins doesn't like the use of modern statistics without having a good reason to do so."

Ben, that said it perfect.

I think you found your new Joe Morgan! I hope this guy continues to write. Who is he? Seriously.

matthew said...

"This isn't really related to this topic, but if you have time I would suggest reading this one:

http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-simers-20110322,0,3093888,full.column

Some giant asshole writer from LA displays one of the least professional pieces of journalism I've ever witnessed."

without even clicking on this, i know that this is TJ Simers (Slimers). as soon as i saw LA Times i just KNEW!

Bengoodfella said...

Matt, Bruce Jenkins is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle (or an offshoot of theirs). The problem is he doesn't stick to just baseball, he likes to talk about other sports as well, so I can't just thrash him on baseball. It's very frustrating for me to find my next Joe Morgan. Bruce Jenkins could be the guy or Murray Chass could be the guy. It's too early to tell. I'm continuously searching.

Matthew, I have gotten around to covering that one. Not sure when it will post though.

Anonymous said...

Good luck finding a replacement for Joe.

I think part of the charm with JoeChats is that Joe Morgan doesn't necessarily seem like a bad human being (even though he is arrogant and has a giant ego). So we can focus mostly on how funny his willful ignorance is and how remarkable it is that he is so anti-sabermetrics when in fact the sabermetric perspective loves him as a player.

But these other guys, especially Shaugnessy and Chass, seem much more likely to be rotten human beings. So while it is still humorous to point out their logical fallacies, biases, and ...ahem...inconsistencies (thanks Joe!), there is usually quite a bit more anger involved than there is with arguing against Joe's views. And so the end result is something that is still very entertaining to read but not quite as fun as ripping apart Joe Morgan's arguments.

I don't think there will ever be anything like those weekly 21 or sometimes even 22 minutes that Joe (and Tito from Brooklyn) gave us each week.

But keep an eye on the ESPN chat list this year. If at any point they add John Kruk to the chat menu, then bingo, he's your guy. Even though he is a big fat dude who was all about power and bad defense when he played, he always talks about how players need to do the little things instead of hitting for power, and that Wins are a super-important stat. I'm sure if you search his name on FJM you'll find some gold. So I am keeping my fingers crossed that he is added to the regular chat section on espn.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I don't think I will find a replacement either, especially for the reasons you discussed. Joe's chats were great because he wasn't aggressive like Shaughnessy or Chass in defending his point of view, he just stated it with it clearly being wrong. He was more of an amusing person to prove wrong.

Shaughnessy/Chass/Bruce Jenkins (fingers crossed) are guys who defend their point of view angrily, so it is hard to have as much humor and enjoyment in covering what they write. It is hard to be as whimsical or interesting covering the others when you can talk about little Joe fearing the Inconsistency Monster and do fake skits of Joe in another profession.

I will keep an eye out for Kruk. I am trying to find another chat to cover, but it is like replacing LeBron James. It may take a whole group of writers to replace Joe, not just one person.