Sunday, March 30, 2014

2 comments Bruce Jenkins and Dan Shaughnessy Have Some Thoughts About Progress and Changes in Sports

Dan Shaughnessy and Bruce Jenkins aren't the two most progressive individuals when it comes to changes in sports and being accepting of these changes. So it's no surprise that Dan Shaughnessy carps about the effect stats have on analysis in sports and Bruce Jenkins is one of those who doesn't like the new home plate collision rule. There are unknowns when new rules take effect! Unknowns are bad! Bruce likes to wake up in the morning and know exactly what he is going to eat and how the day is going to go, while Dan Shaughnessy just hates everything.

Let's start first with Dan Shaughnessy telling us that not everything can be quantified. For example, Dan's awfulness. There is no known way to measure how awful he is at writing or how negative he can be in order to troll the Boston fan base that reads his columns. Dan also wants his readers to know that heart and toughness can't be quantified either, so that means he will encourage his fellow sportswriters to stop quantifying these characteristics, right?

Picked-up pieces while unpacking from two weeks in Fort Myers . . . 

I'm guessing Dan has an entire suitcase just for haircare products. That whitefro isn't going to make itself pop without a little help.

Information is good. Every sports team can benefit from data. But why do I feel like there are people who want to erase all scouting and experience from sports?

You get this feeling because you lack the understanding and the motivation behind using statistics to analyze how players perform, as well as you are probably intimidated by these statistics that seem too difficult for you to comprehend.

The eighth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held at the Hynes Convention Center last week and drew a raft of A-listers from the world of sports. Owners, general managers, and even some ballplayers and ex-ballplayers are knee-deep in the data. 

Their time would be much better spent watching games and seeing which players pass the eye-ball test as opposed to spending time quantifying the information the "eye ball test" may miss or isn't capable of quantifying in a way that can give someone a conclusion or organized set of data.

But can we just stop the madness and acknowledge that there are some things in sports that never will be quantifiable?

Absolutely. There are some things that are not quantifiable and as soon as idiot writers stop trying to quantify things that aren't quantifiable or pretend you can measure a player's heart or leadership, then I think the madness will stop. Dan isn't intelligent enough to understand that it isn't the stats crowd that wants to quantify things that aren't quantifiable, it's those exactly like Dan, those who hate stats that try to quantify those things that aren't quantifiable. For example, you can't measure a player's heart and stop pretending like this is possible. Great point, Dan. If you only you took your own advice.

And I’m not just talking about heart, character, makeup, leadership, and ability to play hurt and perform under pressure. 

Yes, these can not be quantified. So any attempt to quantify these is madness and should immediately stop. Right? Wait, that's not what Dan is saying. He's saying it's perfectly fine to try and quantify those things that can't be quantified, but stop pointing out the insanity of quantifying these attributes and allow him to bask in his own ignorance. If anyone tries to quantify the unquantifiable, it's those vehemently against the stats crowd. The ability to play hurt isn't quantifiable, so stop saying "He's the toughest guy in the majors" and a player can't "lead his team in heart" because that's not quantifiable. If only Dan would take his own advice.

Hockey analytics? Really? Calgary hockey boss Brian Burke told the Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa, “I think it’s still an eyeballs business,’’ while explaining that he has yet to see a worthwhile numbers-based system for evaluating hockey players. 

Hey, maybe there is a reason the Flames haven't made the playoffs in four seasons, even if Burke wasn't involved with the Flames until this year. Attempting to rule out a system that can be used for evaluating players doesn't seem like the best way to build a successful organization. It's also not shocking that an executive who doesn't prefer to use analytics wouldn't believe that analytics could be useful in evaluating hockey players. This is like a person who doesn't believe in evolution stating that he hasn't found any real evidence evolution exists while Dan Shaughnessy nods happily like this statement actually means something coming from this person.

You know why he hasn’t seen it? Because it’s impossible to evaluate hockey players with data!

Except, it's not at all impossible. But yes, let's keep making bold statements that contain lies. It's much more fun and easier than accepting the world is changing in a direction you don't like nor understand.

Must all the intangibles be sucked from our games until all that is left is spreadsheets and blinking computer screens?

Again, I think Dan should look up what the word "intangible" means and then be shocked to find it is something that can't be measured or quantified. So I don't think anyone wants only spreadsheets and blinking computer screens to be all that's left from sports (and really, that's such a lazy criticism, if you are going to criticize advanced statistics at least put some effort into it), but advanced statistics do have a place in sports.

but it’s still OK to admit that there always will be things in sports that cannot be measured. 

But this is the entire argument for not trying to measure intangibles. They can't be measured, so it's folly to try and measure them. Intangibles are great, but like Dan says, there are some things that can't be measured and intangibles are one of them. Of course Dan isn't bright enough to see stating, "Not everything can be measured" goes for the intangibles he wants to assign to players so badly.

Then Dan has other thoughts on other topics as well.

Olympics in Boston? Worst. Idea. Ever. Please, stop.

Well, the worst idea ever was the person who thought hiring Dan Shaughnessy to write columns was a good idea. If only we could go back in time and make this stop.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ theme for 2014 is “Eat Last.’’ That means you win the World Series.

Very good Dan! You are so intuitive.

Count me as one who is dubious about baseball’s new instant-replay system.

What? I never would have guessed Dan wouldn't like the new instant replay system. What a shock.

Look for umpires to call everything “fair” on balls down the line. Given the what-ifs regarding base runners and continuous action, it’ll be easier to change fair to foul than foul to fair.

Or umpires will make the call that they believe is the accurate one. In the NFL, officials don't call a close play as a complete pass and a fumble simply because it's easier to change that call than to reverse a call that was called initially ruled incomplete when the football was recovered by the opposing team. I think Dan is being a little dramatic.

Meanwhile, no one seems to understand the new home-plate collision rules. Another disaster waiting to happen.

The rule hasn't been used in one regular season game yet. I wouldn't expect everyone to understand it. I would expect that this home plate collision rule be given time to work or not work, but we know the angry old men who write about baseball aren't going to like change of any kind and will be quick to take a huge shit all over replay the first time it takes 30 seconds too long.

I had forgotten that the Red Sox selected Clay Buchholz with one of the compensatory picks they acquired when Pedro Martinez signed with the Mets. And as much as we all complained when the Sox let Orlando Cabrera walk after 2004, it needs to be remembered that one of the picks acquired in the Cabrera loss resulted in Jacoby Ellsbury coming to Boston.

This is the same Jacoby Ellsbury that Dan enjoyed mocking and criticizing for not being able to stay healthy enough or coming right out in Spring Training last year and announcing he isn't definitely going to re-sign with the Red Sox.

Never forget, Dan is an ass.

Well, Bruce Jenkins is also upset that the home plate collisions rule is going to be a disaster. Fuck giving it time to work out or seeing how it works in regular season games, it's already a failure on the horizon. Unfortunately since those who write about baseball (i.e. sportswriters) are already against the home plate collision rule they are going to drive the narrative that the new home plate collision rule is a failure and any issue with the new rule is going to be criticized harshly.

It sounded like such a good idea. Major League Baseball came up with a rule that would address home-plate collisions, and there was hearty applause.

(Bengoodfella smiles and starts clapping)

Then people stopped to take a hard look - and they're realizing that this is unacceptable.

(Bengoodfella gets sad face, doesn't know what the hell Bruce Jenkins is talking about)

On the surface, it's all good:

But then when you look below the surface, this is a change and ALL CHANGE IS BAD! ANY IDEA THAT INVOLVES CHANGE SHOULD BE IMMEDIATELY DISMISSED!

Catchers no longer can block the plate without the ball, and baserunners can't veer out of a normal path to "targetcatchers with the intent of bodily harm.

Bruce Jenkins is too infuriated to close his quotes. He's so angry right now, correct grammar completely eludes him.

In that sense, the vicious and unnecessary collisions will indeed vanish.

"In the sense that the rule will work as it is intended to work, to reduce collisions, then this new rule should be successful. But you know, like, this is unacceptable that players will now be safer and concussions are reduced."

Hey look, I closed the quotes, it's not hard to do!

But nobody considered the effect on baserunners, who now risk injury on certain plays. 

This is as opposed to previously when baserunners still risked injury on certain plays, but also could run over the catcher, which increased the severity of the injury each player could suffer. Apparently this is acceptable.

Here's the disturbing trifecta of chaos:

I mean, really, "disturbing"? Isn't Bruce overstating the case just a little bit here?

-- Catchers are still allowed to block the plate if they have the ball.

-- Runners are therefore allowed to collide with the catcher if there is no clear path to the plate.

Oh my God, how disturbing that changes were made which didn't alter the way home plate collisions worked prior to this rule. Astoundingly disturbing on a level that Bruce Jenkins hasn't seen before.

-- The new reality, from an MLB press release: "The umpire will consider ... whether the runner lowered his shoulders or pushed through with his hands, elbows or arms when veering toward the catcher."

In other words, you can run into the catcher. Just make sure it's sort of an "excuse me" gesture.

No, it simply means IF the catcher has the ball then the runner has to make an effort to score that doesn't include running over the catcher or pushing the catcher out of the way in an effort to make him drop the ball. It's fairly simple to just slide and this rule is intended to avoid collisions that are designed merely to make the catcher drop the ball and results in concussions.

Picture this: Runner steaming toward home, with the throw from left field - directly behind him - leaving him no idea when or where the ball will actually arrive. Everything looks fine until the last moment, when, wait a second - the catcher does have the ball. And he's blocking the plate. Now what?

Well previously the runner ran over the catcher when he found at the last minute the catcher DOES have the ball, so that was unsafe. I would assume if the runner has enough reflexes to run over the catcher as he could do prior, then he also has enough reflexes to slide around the catcher's tag or try to score without lowering his shoulder into the catcher. Sliding is always the best option anyway.

The rules makers seemed to ignore the fact that when a collision is at hand, and you aren't wearing protective gear, you have to lower your shoulder because that's where the body most safely absorbs a blow.

Or the runner could slide. Or the runner could not round third base and try to score if he thinks the throw will beat him. The point is this rule is supposed to make baseball players safer and it may not work, but it also may work. Either way, the runner should slide because that's the best way to score anyway.

"You're coming in at full speed, all of a sudden the catcher has the ball, and I can't lower my shoulder or push off?" said the retired Eric Byrnes. "What do you want me to do, torpedo in with my head and get paralyzed?

At least Eric Byrnes isn't being dramatic about it. Of course Byrnes, being the clearly bright guy that he is not, ignores the fact runners have torpedoed into the catcher previously and somehow managed to walk away without being paralyzed. But let's ignore this and try some dramatics or hysterics when responding to the new home plate collision rule.

You're leaving the runners in no-man's land. We're worse off than we were before."

Unless the runner slides, which is an option at every other base in this situation, yet Eric Byrnes conveniently ignores this little truth. The runner should do the same thing at home plate he would do at any other base when the ball beats him to the base. It's that simple. Eric Byrnes managed to slide into third base (without running over the third baseman) when the ball beats him, why can't this be done at home plate?

I love baseball, reading baseball writing, and watching baseball players, but sometimes I wonder if baseball writers and players don't just revert back to acting like children when a change is proposed, stomping their feet and complaining rather than rolling with the punches and thinking logically.

Throughout big-league camps in Arizona and Florida, managers are imparting the same directive: "Keep it simple," as Giants manager Bruce Bochy put it. "Stay in sliding mode all the time. Slide hard to the plate, feet first."

It doesn't have to be that hard. A runner should slide, like he does at every other base.

Similarly, catchers are practicing the art of staying just inside the baseline, giving runners a lane to the plate, and applying a swipe tag. The Giants are well ahead of the game in this respect, having gone through the horrendous Buster Posey experience;

This horrendous experience was caused by a home plate collision by the way. The same home plate collisions that Bruce Jenkins seems to have no problem with if they continued on and on. Catchers can't block the plate if they don't have the ball, so if the ball beats the runner then the runner should respond as he does at any other base when the ball beats him. It takes time to re-train themselves, but it can be done.

"For catchers, there's no downside in trying to cheat a little. Plate-collision debates will be reviewable under the new instant-replay system, and the worst that can happen is that the runner will be ruled safe - which he should be, by all rights, if he arrived ahead of the throw.

Yes, but this scenario of catchers cheating will happen only if they don't have the ball yet. So there is a downside to a catcher without the ball cheating because he could get the ball and tag the runner, except he was in the baseline and the runner will be called safe. So the catcher will cheat a little when he doesn't have the ball, but if he had a chance to tag the runner out then under review the runner will be safe instead of being out. The catcher's cheating in the baseline will have cost his team a run in this situation.

"I know instinctually, as a (former) catcher, there will be certain plays with the game on the line," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "It's 2-2 in the ninth, and this is the winning run, and I'm not gonna be thinking too much about giving him a lane."

Fine, a catcher can still make the tag if he is standing out of the baseline. He just needs the baseball in his hand to do it and if the catcher has the ball then he can be in the baseline. It will take some time to re-train runners and catchers, but it can be done.

Byrnes is adamant. "Remember Scott Cousins? When I played, I was that guy," said Byrnes, referring to the Marlins player who crashed into Posey two years ago. "Totally within the rules, but always trying to blow up the catcher. I see things totally different now. I don't want to see collisions of any kind, and this new rule is a disaster. 

Oh Eric Byrnes, Eric Byrnes. Maybe the rule will be a disaster, but if you don't want to see collisions of any kind then this rule is going to help prevent collisions. There is no one way to just magically cause collisions at home plate to disappear, so MLB is trying out ideas to reduce the collisions that Eric Byrnes no longer wants to see. If Byrnes has any ideas, I would love to hear them, but it seems he's more interested in bitching than solving the issue at hand.

"They're doing this to avoid concussions? Then go all the way with it," said Byrnes. "Let's have no collisions at all. Use the amateur rules, where you have to give runners a lane and you have to slide. That's it! No collisions. Do you watch the college game? Those guys play the game hard, and the plays at the plate are exciting. Nobody ever accuses them of being a bunch of wussies."

Oh come on. Players and writers would bitch that collisions are no longer a part of the game. This is bullshit if Eric Byrnes really thinks this is a better idea that would be more warmly accepted. In fact, players can now decide to not collide with the catcher. They have that option and catchers have the option of not standing in the way of the catcher. It's bullshit if Eric Byrnes thinks MLB could adopt a "no collisions" policy and players wouldn't bitch and moan about how the game of baseball is being changed irreparably. Baseball players and writers hate change of all kinds.

None of this has escaped Joe Torre, the MLB executive who led the rules-making committee, or Tony Clark, head of the players' union. "I think the title of the press release said 'experimental,' " Clark told reporters. "That's not an accidental word."

Exactly. Don't get your Depends in a wad. It's experimental and it may or may not work. What will happen no matter what is the bitching and whining from baseball players and writers who don't want to see any part of the game changed. That will never change.

Let's hope the experiment finds its way back into the laboratory for some serious fine-tuning.

Any better ideas, Bruce? None? Great. Then continue bitching about a rule that is going to (hopefully) work as it is intended to while not having any great alternative solutions of your own.


Anonymous said...

"But why do I feel like there are people who want to erase all scouting and experience from sports?"

This is an absolute strawman, and people like Shaughnessy should be given a restraining order from ever using it again. No one, at least no one who should be taken seriously, wants to eliminate scouting from sports. I love what Football Outsiders does, but I feel like some of their advanced stats favor slot receivers because they're only thrown short passes and thus catch a high percentage of them (generally speaking), and nickel corners because they aren't challenged deep (generally speaking). That's where scouting comes in. Nickel Corner X only gives up 5.2 yards per attempt...yeah but he's only defending passes that travel 4 yards in the air. I'm hypothesizing, but you get the idea. No one serious would ever say that simply because the stats say one thing, that that's the be-all and end-all. Only idiots like Shaughnessy take such a black-and-white approach.

Anyone who reads a Zach Lowe column knows how people who are serious about analytics combine those numbers with scouting. His columns are full of stats and game footage.

By the way Ben, ESPN was running a report this weekend that "Texans are trying to trade #1 pick, Bleacher Report reports." Bleacher Report is now a reputable source according to ESPN. Lord have mercy on us all.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I would chime in more, but I think you said it the best. This is a very typical strawman argument that most writers seem to bring up as a counterargument to the use of stats. No one wants to get rid of scouting. It has a place.

But Shaughnessy doesn't read Zach Lowe and has no idea what he's talking about.

Bleacher Report has worked hard to bring in reputable writers. I think the fact Houston is trying to trade out of the #1 pick probably goes without saying. It seems a lot of teams want to trade back.