Wednesday, April 6, 2011

5 comments To Write a Winning Column, You Can't Be Really Wrong

I think I am obligated to cover this article by Mike Tully. I see no reason why a blog that covers bad sportswriting shouldn't cover a column written about how certain players are just winners. This entire idea that certain players just win sounds like it comes from an 80's movie involving dialogue spoken by the bully/antagonist of the movie. The title of this article is "To Create a Winner, You Have to Find the Winners." Great, wonderful idea. Unfortunately this principle can be applied only very, very little when discussing team sports. Because they are TEAM sports. B.J. Armstrong isn't a winner because his team won a lot of games with him as the point guard. He was a winner because he played with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and effectively played his role on that team. It is nearly impossible to say an individual player on a team is a winner because there are a bunch of individuals on a team that contribute to a win.

Au contraire, says Mike Tully.

Anson Dorrance has coached the North Carolina women’s soccer team to 21 national titles since 1979, and he has been more than happy to reveal his secret to success.

Sexual harassment?

In his 1996 book, “Training Soccer Champions,” Dorrance described what he calls the jewel of his program: the competitive caldron. U.N.C. soccer players compete in every aspect of the sport, including the weight room, sprints and drills. Coaches then look for the players with a knack for being on the winning side.

So it is like drills at the NFL Combine, but for women soccer players. What a novel concept to look for the fastest, strongest, and most athletically gifted women soccer players! Who would have ever thought to do this. Surely, this novel approach to choosing a team will never get out to where other coaches might think to keep the most athletic, strong and agile players on their team...and then in a miracle of forethought, choose to start these players.

It’s the person who can read the subtleties of the game and knows when certain actions can make a difference.

Right. The subtleties of sprinting and lifting weights. Other than having the right form, I am failing to see some of the subtleties of lifting weights or running that a women's soccer player would have that could translate to soccer or tell us about some secret X-factor this player brings to the table...other than being able to run fast or lift a lot of weight. To me, the certain actions that make the difference is the action of being the strongest or fastest player in a certain group.

It’s the person who involves and inspires teammates, creating emotion or a sense of mission. Coaches have a special name for such a player: starter.

I have a name for this as well: bullshit.

But why is it bullshit you may ask? Because you don't understand the yet-to-be-named subtleties and what certain unnamed actions that make a difference in determining what statements are bullshit and what aren't.

Major league baseball is not college soccer. And baseball players cannot compete in practice the way the Tar Heels do.

But fuck it, let's make the comparison anyway. Why should no comparable characteristics between the two sports really stop this comparison from being made in order to make a point?

Pancakes taste just like burritos. Except they don't really, but ignoring that, they really do taste the same.

So as the season begins this week, the time might be right to ask, How much value do baseball managers place on the team’s record when a given player is in the lineup?

If that player is a really good player, a lot. If that player isn't a good player and there is a better player on the roster for that same position, absolutely none. How do you determine whether a player is good or not, without the aid of sprints or lifting weights? Performance on the field in the given sport.

David Eckstein is one player whose contribution far exceeded his talent.

Oh, here we go.

A walk-on in college and a 19th-round draft pick, he still managed to make the postseason in 4 of his 10 major league seasons,

So Eckstein did while pitching, fielding, and batting all by himself with no assistance from his teammates? No? Then you have no point. Have a good day, please don't write anything on paper, on a computer, on the sidewalk or anywhere ever again.

played on two championship teams and was the most valuable player of the 2006 World Series.

Everyone gives Eckstein credit for helping the 2002 Angels win the World Series, but somehow they forget he hit .278/.316/.278 and .286/.318/.286 in the ALDS and ALCS respectively.

Do you know who else REALLY helped the Angels win that World Series? Troy Glaus, when he hit 3 home runs in that series and had a .385/.467/.846 in the World Series. But was ALL David Eckstein because he's a winner dammit!

Everyone always like to bring up the 2006 World Series MVP that Eckstein won as a way of showing how clutch he can be forget a few things about this "winner." How about his line of .133/.188/.133 in the 2006 NLDS? Why doesn't that get brought up as part of his winning tradition? If the Cardinals won because of Eckstein in the World Series they won in spite of his performance in the NLDS that same year. The same thing goes for the 2005 NLDS when he hit .200/.346/.200 and the Cardinals LOST the NLDS. How come a winner actually helped his team lose a series? Eckstein is a winner dammit, yet he lost, how could that be?

On the other end of the spectrum one might find Carlos Beltran, a four-time All-Star with the Mets. While he recovered from knee surgery last year, they won 48 of their first 88 games, and were only four games out of the National League East lead at the All-Star break. Then Beltran rejoined the team. The Mets went 31-43 (.419) the rest of the way and finished 18 games out of first place.

Were there other factors that coincided with Beltran joining the team again? I am sure there injuries, other players on the Mets team playing well or poorly during this time. You can't chalk up a team's record with one player in the lineup as indicative of that player's effect on the team in a team sport. You just can't.

How did Kevin Garnett go from a loser in Minnesota before joining the Celtics and winning a title? Same thing with Ray Allen. How did Paul Pierce go from a loser in 2006-2007 on a terrible Celtics team to a huge winner during the 2007-2008 season when the Celtics won a title? Oh yeah, there were better players around him and he wasn't injured. These are team sports, you are stupid and short-sighted to chalk up wins and losses directly to one player on that team...unless it is Brooks Conrad. He alone is to blame for the Braves losing to the Giants in the 2010 NLDS due to his approximate 19 errors on 14 field opportunities in the series.

Their decline cannot be attributed solely to Beltran, but the Mets did not improve with him in the lineup.

The decline can't be attributed solely to Beltran, yet that's EXACTLY what Mike Tully is doing. He's basically saying, "Don't let the faulty reasoning and logic behind my argument distract you from my opinion that I indeed have a good argument."

On the other hand, the Mets went 42-36 (.538) with Ruben Tejada, the team’s highest winning percentage among position players with extended time on the field.

Clearly, it was Tejada's .213/.305/.282 line with 1 home run and 15 RBI that inspired his teammates and willed them to win the game. Ruben Tejada knows certain actions, like his 62 OPS+ that helps his team win games. I guess this goes to prove Ruben Tejada does more, beyond the box score, to help his team win games. He probably did the little things, like take the extra base and tell great jokes in the clubhouse, that helped the Mets win games.

If Mike Tully was ever looking for a reason why his theory of creating winners sucks, he need look no further than Ruben Tejada being on the field coinciding with the Mets having the highest winning percentage.

Ike Davis had the best winning percentage at .503 (74-73); only David Wright was on the field for more Mets victories (75).

What do you know? The next two players on that list are really good players. Clearly, this means they are the outlier and not Ruben Tejada.

Baseball insiders cite factors like cohesion, rhythm and percentages to defend the idea of sticking with tried-and-true players.

I guess I am not a baseball insider because this doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense to me.

They argue, with some justification, that baseball involves failure and that players need time to work through it.

So there is "some" justification that baseball involves failure, when the best hitters fail 70% of the time. Since when did 70% of the time become "some" failure?

The YankeesDerek Jeter, who has won five championships, is coming off the worst offensive season of his 16-year career

The Yankees as a team have only three championships in that 16 year period. Derek Jeter has personally won five championships. He's a winner.

Now the team is debating whether he or Brett Gardner should bat leadoff. No matter where Gardner bats, he should play; the Yankees were 93-57 (.620) with him in the lineup, and 2-10 without him.

Gardner hit .263/.317/.355 as the second-place hitter and .316/.427/.449 as the eighth-place hitter. So it does matter where they hit him. Also, I don't need the Yankees record with Gardner in the lineup to tell me he should play on a daily basis. I can merely look at his statistics and the rest of the available outfielders on the Yankees roster to come to this conclusion.

They seemed to get along just fine (21-4) without Alex Rodriguez.


There are certain statistics that just don't mean anything much. This is one of them. I guarantee the Yankees would not have a winning percentage of 84% with A-Rod on the bench or on a different team.

In the games Jeter played, the Yankees were 92-65.

Winner. That's a winning percentage of 58.5%.

This means the Yankees were 3-2 without Jeter in the lineup. That means they won 60% of their games without Jeter in the lineup. If the Yankees want to improve their team, trade Derek Jeter immediately! Trade him for David Eckstein, because he had a good World Series five years ago.

Should teams be slaves to such statistics? No, but they should notice. And they might be surprised.

Surprised at how irrelevant these statistics are? Surprised how these statistics take a team game and try to make it sound like an individual game? Surprised at how a person can rationally believe he can prove something from taking one variable (a player in/out of the lineup) out of an equation while ignoring the other variables that are in the equation (strength of schedule, other players in the lineup) and this actually proves something about a player's worth?

Last season Cincinnati won the National League Central at 91-71 (.562). But in games Joey Votto, the league M.V.P., played, the Reds went 83-67 (.553).

Clearly, Votto wasn't the most valuable player then.

Albert Pujols played in 159 games last year. They went 2-1 with him out of the lineup last year for a winning percentage of 66.7%. They won 66% of their games without Pujols and only won 52.8% of their games with him in the lineup. They could have won 108 games last year merely by releasing Albert Pujols in training camp!

Similarly, Texas was 71-62 (.534) with Josh Hamilton, the American League M.V.P., in the lineup. He finished behind several fellow position players: Ian Kinsler (.592), Elvis Andrus (.568), David Murphy (.565) and Michael Young (.561).

What's funny is that Tully doesn't stop. He just keeps on comparing team's records with a player compared to other players on that team while completely ignoring other variables that may result in a team's win or loss. These winning percentages tell us nothing because it completely ignores all the other variables involved with a team winning or losing. You just can't do this. Ignoring other non-constant variables in a situation like this makes your results non-relevant. There's nothing to be learned.

St. Louis traded shortstop Brendan Ryan to Seattle in the off-season after his career-worst .223 batting average. The Cardinals were 17 games over .500 with Ryan, seven games under without him. In his place is Ryan Theriot, whose Cubs went 43-53 with him in the lineup last year, 32-34 without him.

Then obviously the key to a great team is to trade Alex Rodriguez for Brendan Ryan straight up.

Sometimes teams will find a player with an X-factor that goes way beyond talent. Leo Durocher once said that second baseman Eddie Stanky could not hit, field or run — all he could do was win.

Who gives a shit what Leo Durocher says? Stanky's career line was .268/.410/.348. He draw 996 walks in his career versus 374 strikeouts. It's clear Stanky could play the game of baseball. Stanky's X-factor that went beyond talent was that he could draw walks, which I am pretty sure is a talent of some sort.

But Stanky was not helpless. He retired in 1953 with a .410 career on-base percentage, among the best in history.

So Leo Durocher was right there was an X-factor about Stanky that went beyond talent, it is just actually wrong because Stanky had talent. Way to submarine your own point.

On-base percentage was not valued in the 1940s and ’50s, and that is the point. Certain players have always done things that keep them on the winning side, even if they are not always recognized.

For example, Scott Brosius did something that kept him on the winning side...he played for good Yankees teams. Robert Horry also did something that caused him to be a winner, he was on the same roster as Shaquille O' Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Hakeem Olajuwon in their primes. Players have intangibles, I can't argue with that, but the mere attempt to put a value on these intangibles, like defining a player's skill level by measuring how the team does with him in/out of the lineup, doesn't make them "intangible" anymore.

As for Jeter, perhaps the more pressing question is not whether he should be leading off, but whether he should still be playing shortstop.

Of course he should. He's clutch, haven't you heard? One time he made a great play in a playoff game to cut off a throw and get the runner at home and another time he dove in the stands and made a tough catch. He has "intangibles" like that. The question, is why he isn't playing third base AND shortstop, because clearly the Yankees are a better team without Alex Rodriguez.

Where, after all, would he land in North Carolina’s competitive caldron?

First place in everything. He's a winner.

I enjoy how Mike Tully has gone from using the competitive caldron from UNC's women's soccer team to measuring players that have immeasurable characteristics which set them apart as winners. So basically, there are X-factors which helps a player become a winner and only competitive competitions can judge whether this player has the X-factor that help his team become a winner?

See the inherent problem with that? It is using a competitive, solitary situation to determine which player has the characteristics to read the subtleties of a team game. This article is wrong all over the place. Neither David Eckstein or Brendan Ryan would win too many sprints or competitions in practice, so how would this competitive caldron tip Mike Tully off to the "winners" that these players are? So, on its face, the entire premise of the competitive caldron with the premise of the rest of the article doesn't meld together very well.


HH said...

I have been waiting for you guys to cover this article. An atrocious piece of writing. The worst part, of course, is conflating baseball with other team sports. Baseball is a team sport, of course, but it fundamentally comes down to a series of one-on-one matchups. You can measure performance of baseball players directly, using their stats. This isn't true in soccer/bastketball/football (to varying degrees between them) because it is quite possible that a group of players, as a whole, plays better than the individual talent (however measured) would indicate. So in those sports, various kinds of team drills can help determine which groups of players work best together. But it's not like Jose Reyes will hit better or worse if the 5 hitter is Beltran and not Ike Davis.

HH said...

Also, in the age of OBP, the best hitters fail 60% of the time.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, I wanted to separate it a bit from FJMariotti's take on it. They beat me to it by a day, so I just pushed it back. This was terrible. Just horrendous.

Baseball is a group of one-on-one matchups that where the players' performance on one offense isn't always connected. It is not like in basketball where you can say X player and Y player have a +15 or a -20 on the court together. Single offensive players are interconnected in their actions (one hitter may be better w/ runners on-base or in a certain spot in the lineup), but they are separate when it comes to their working as a group. Just like you said.

I will say if Jose Reyes hit #4 in the lineup, he would he be affected by who is the #5 hitter, but without any other information you can't base a team's win-loss record on when certain players are in the lineup.

Yeah, I just absentmindedly went with the old 30% adage. Maybe I will bump it up to 40% now to be more accurate.

rich said...

When will sportswriters realize that 12 games are a pathetically small sample size? Heck 25 games is still a small sample size.

Saying that a team went 2-10 because a certain player is out means that the player is awesome is so profoundly retarded that it denies explanation.

It's like me waking up one day spilling soda on my pants, changing and then breaking my ankle then saying that my old pants were superior at protecting my ankles.

There's so much that goes on in baseball that such a small sample size is meaningless.

Even when he argues about ARod, it's a 25 game set... or roughly 15% of the season. Again, not a meaningful sample size.

For example, the Boston Red Sox are 0 and 5, so clearly Adrian Gonzalez sucks now and should be pulled from the lineup.

The other thing is that shockingly when a player who has been hurt for a long period, it's probable that the team will get worse when he comes back. For example, Beltran was injured for quite a bit and then came back. He's not going to play as he normally would until he gets back into the swing (no pun intended) of things. So yes, there will be an initial drop-off before an injured player comes around again.

However, like HH said, when there are 9-13 or so guys who have a hand in the outcome of the game, singling out one player for the wins and losses is an incredibly simplistic way that allows sportswriters to beat their chest and say something like ARod is worse than some dude who OPSed under 600 last year.

You hear that Chase Utley, the Phillies are 4-1 without you, so stay on the DL you cripple! Pete Orr is our savior!

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I think in journalism school there needs to be a class on sample sizes and how they affect the outcome in sports. What his sample size about A-Rod doesn't factor in or even acknowledge is how good the pitching was during that time or what other players in the lineup were performing poorly or well during that time.

Baseball is different than other major sports, like you said. If Peyton Manning misses 10 games and the Colts go 3-7 then you probably can say they miss him because his performance is interconnected with his teammates performance. If Carlos Beltran is hurt and the Mets go 13-2 without him and then go 7-7 when he gets back you can't just say his replacement was better because the pitching may have been poor while he was out and his performance at the plate isn't necessarily connected as much to other players.

Reggie Wayne can't catch a ball if the QB doesn't throw it to him well, while David Wright can still hit a home run even if Carlos Beltran is struggling.