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More stuff on the future of beat writing, featuring Marc Carig and Baseball Prospectus

May 10, 2011, 11:30 AM EDT

Press

Marc Carig, who covers the Yankees for the Newark Star-Ledger, is one of my favorite beat writers in the business. In addition to covering the beat bases as he should, he’s intellectually curious, inquisitive and analytical, which allows him to pull off the tough trick of appealing to both the common fan and to the obsessive whack jobs like us. Oh, and he’s a really nice guy too, even if he does use the term “hella” way, way too much.

Today Marc makes his debut over at Baseball Prospectus with a column that, in its form, provides the kind of writing that I think represents the future of the beat reporter. Sourced with quotes and insider insight, but also a work of independent, outsider analysis the kind of which made Baseball Prospectus what it is in the first place.  A nice hybrid that adds more to the party than your typical sabermetric analysis, yet eschews the faux-knowing  “I know more than you do because I interview ballplayers in their underwear” tone that you see from a lot of weekly newspaper columnists as they get older.

And maybe that’s the key. Carig is a young guy who, if he waited for the traditional newspaper career path to take its course, would be doing the straight beat thing for several more years and then move up to column work where his daily reporting skills and ability to manage tough deadlines would no longer be as much of an asset as they are now. Assuming there still are traditional newspaper columns a decade from now.

The key, I think, is for the reporting and opinion/analysis roles to merge to a significant degree. The trick, of course — and it’s a big trick — is to make sure that the reporting remains accurate and the analysis remains sharp despite the fact that there are various tensions in those things. There are a few guys doing a good job with this now. Beat writers who also blog in a significant way as opposed to merely repurposing reporting bits into blog posts. Ken Davidoff of Newsday is one. There are a handful of others. Marc is doing that here today, giving us good stuff about the fearsomeness of Miguel Cabrera and some thought on defensive metrics, unhindered by strict AP style and newspaper column inches.

It’s the kind of stuff that, along with some of the other quasi-radical ideas that people like to float, will help baseball writing successfully navigate its way from the past to the future while maintaining its quality, integrity and self-respect.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - May 10, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    I’m definitely in the minority on this website, but I hope I NEVER have to sift though crap like “VORP”, “TAv”, “PITCHf/x”, “UZR” when I am trying to eat my Cheerios in the morning.

    • oldnumero7 - May 10, 2011 at 12:08 PM

      Chris, can you give me a concise, one-sentence definition of ERA? You can’t, because the concepts of hits/errors, earned/unearned runs, and the math required to set up the ratio over nine innings require much more complexity. It doesn’t seem complex to us fans, because we’ve been exposed to ERA our whole lives. We get it.

      What I don’t get is extreme hostility toward numbers and stats that are no more complicated than ERA. I personally don’t get too caught up in the advanced metrics, partially because I’m a traditionalist that usually falls back on old numbers like batting average and ERA. But I do appreciate the work that sabermetricians are doing, and when great writers like Bill James, Jonah Keri or Joe Posnanski take the time to contextualize and explain advanced stats and make relevant comparisons, I appreciate their findings. This stuff is interesting and fun, not something to get angry and worked up about.

      • b7p19 - May 10, 2011 at 12:33 PM

        That was very, very well said.

      • Chris Fiorentino - May 10, 2011 at 1:56 PM

        ERA is extremely simple…Earned Runs * 9 divided by the # of innings. Period. That’s a # and it is set. It is the same for everyone. There are cases where a guy gets an error or a hit scored incorrectly, but either way, the # is what it is.

        VORP is defined as this…

        “Value Over Replacement Player. The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player’s defense.”

        What is a “replacement player” and how the !$@%# do you know what he “would” contribute if given the same % of the team plate appearances??? Oh, and VORP doesn’t count the quality of defense, but WAR does. I’m getting nauseous.

        Now let’s talk about “TAv”. It is defined as follows…

        True Average (formerly Equivalent Average). A measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching.

        TAV considers batting as well as baserunning, but not the value of a position player’s defense. The TAv adjusted for all-time also has a correction for league difficulty. The scale is deliberately set to approximate that of batting average. League average TAv is always equal to .260.

        TAv is derived from Raw TAv, which is

        RawTAv =(H+TB+1.5*(BB+HBP+SB)+SH+SF-IBB/2)/(AB+BB+HBP+SH+SF+CS+SB)

        Any variables which are either missing or which you don’t want to use can simply be ignored (be sure you ignore it for both the individual and league, though). You’ll also need to calculate the RawTAv for the entire league (LgTAv).

        Convert RawTAv into EqR, taking into account the league TAv LgTAv, league runs per plate appearance, the park factor PF, an adjustment pitadj for not having to face your own team’s pitchers, and the difficulty rating. Again, you can ignore some of these as the situation requires. xmul can simply be called “2”, while the PF, diffic, and pitadj can be set to “1”.

        xmul=2*(.125/PF/Lg(R/PA)/pitadj)

        TAVADJ=xmul*(RawTAv/LgTAv)* ((1+1/diffic)/2) + (1-xmul)

        UEQR=TAVADJ*PA*Lg(R/PA)

        To get the final, fully adjusted TAv, we need to place this into a team environment.

        This is an average team:

        AVGTM=Lg(R/Out)*Lg(Outs/game)*PF*Games*(DH adjustment)

        The DH adjustment is for playing in a league with a DH. “Games” is the number of games played by this player.

        Replacing one player on the average team with our test subject:

        TMPLUS=AVGTM+UEQR-OUT*Lg(R/Out)*DH*PF

        Get pythagorean exponent

        pyexp=((TMPLUS+AVGTM)/Games)**.285

        Calculate win percentage

        WINPCT=((TMPLUS/AVGTM)**pyexp)/(1+(TMPLUS/AVGTM)**pyexp)

        Convert into adjusted space, where the Pythagorean exponent is set to 2.

        NEWTM=(WINPCT/(1-WINPCT))**(1/2)

        Fully adjusted EqR:

        EQR=.17235*((NEWTM-1)*27.*Games + Outs)

        Fully adjusted TAv

        TAv= (EQR/5/Outs)** 0.4

        BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH…I just threw up all over my keyboard.

      • jimbo1949 - May 10, 2011 at 2:27 PM

        Which came first, the computer or the geek?

        If they had to do it with paper and pencil they’d never make it out of the basement.

      • skipperxc - May 10, 2011 at 2:40 PM

        “Earned Runs * 9 divided by the # of innings” — cute. Technically accurate, but you’re missing the point.

        Consider: the definition of Earned Runs is “runs scored by batters who reached when a fielder was not judged to have made a mistake, by way of failing to catch a ball near him or poorly throwing a ball to a base, in such a way as to cause an out not to be recorded nor if such actions took place prior to said batter reaching base in such a manner as would have precluded his at-bat.”

        Good thing that was clear to everybody by the term “earned runs” though.

      • Chris Fiorentino - May 10, 2011 at 2:54 PM

        “Technically accurate, but you’re missing the point.”

        No, you are missing the point. The stat is Earned Run Average. A guy gives up 4 Earned Runs in 9 innings, his ERA is 4.00. Period.

        You want to quibble about how the Earned Runs were tabulated, then go ahead. I’ll choose to believe that it will all even out over the course of a long season. That extra Earned Run you get charged with in May will be cancelled out by the Unearned Run you do not get charged with in August.

      • skipperxc - May 10, 2011 at 3:34 PM

        Okay, sure. Earned Run Average does tell you how many earned runs you gave up. Even the saber crowd won’t say that it doesn’t do what it says it does. ERA doesn’t mean anything though. All it means is that he has a low ERA. It offers no predictive value. There’s no proof having a good ERA one year means a guy will have a good ERA next year, or that he’s a good pitcher at all. THAT’s why sabermetrics trends away from it, not some heavy-handed “ignore the past” sentiment.

        That said — what do you call what you’re doing? “What is a “replacement player” and how the !$@%# do you know what he “would” contribute if given the same % of the team plate appearances?” — that’s quibbling with how a stat is tabulated if I ever saw it. Are you going to say that VORP doesn’t do what it claims it does? If it doesn’t, based on what evidence?

        You ran down the entire methodology of TAv (a stat I don’t know well, I’ll admit) to the conclusion of…what, exactly? You say nothing about how good or bad a calculation it is, nothing on how well it correlates to scoring runs or winning ballgames. Okay, so it’s long. So what? To do the same rundown of ERA’s component parts would take just as long. You can’t talk about ERA without ascribing some value to each of its component parts. And breaking down earned runs is not an easy proposition, as I demonstrated.

      • Chris Fiorentino - May 10, 2011 at 4:06 PM

        When did “predictive value” become the most important part of baseball? ERA has no “predictive value”? I don’t care. I like to watch baseball and I don’t care about the “predictive value” of a stat.

        If I was quibbling with the term “replacement player” then tell me what it is?

        I copied and pasted the TAv stat from that article linked to above…if you think I would have even looked past the first 5 lines of that crap, you are nuts.

        Let me be clear about something here…I am not trying to tell anyone how to like baseball. If you want to go out and figure all this stuff out, then do it and enjoy it. I don’t begrudge anyone of anything. I would never say you are wrong and I am right. What I do get pissed about is when stat geeks tell me how much better Adrian Gonzalez is than Ryan Howard when nothing could be further from the truth, in my opinion. I would take Howard hitting cleanup on my team over Gonzalez every day of the weekend twice on Sunday. I don’t ever mind agreeing to disagree on something like that, but the stat geeks aren’t happy until their philosophy and way of thinking is believed by everyone and if it is not, then that person is an idiot.

      • skipperxc - May 10, 2011 at 4:34 PM

        “I would never say you are wrong and I am right. What I do get pissed about is when stat geeks tell me how much better Adrian Gonzalez is than Ryan Howard when nothing could be further from the truth, in my opinion.”

        ‘Never’ sure lasted a long time, didn’t it?

      • Chris Fiorentino - May 10, 2011 at 4:47 PM

        I meant for “in my opinion.” to imply that it was actually my opinion. Sorry if that didn’t convey my thoughts clearly enough for ya!!!

      • tgthree - May 10, 2011 at 4:58 PM

        Here’s the thing, Chris: You don’t have to understand the exact mathematics of how TAv is calculated any more than you have to understand the math behind ERA. When you’re having your Cheerios, you’re not doing ERA calculations any more than you would be running TAv numbers.

        ERA is an expression of the number of runs a pitcher gives up every nine innings. That’s why we care about it.

        TAv may be significantly more complicated under the hood, but basically it’s an expression of a player’s total offensive contributions, adjusted for park and league effects, and given on a scale that works just like batting average (i.e., .300 is good, .260 is average, etc.)

        There’s really no difference in complexity here.

      • rebarratige - May 10, 2011 at 5:27 PM

        It’s possible to use VORP without understanding every detail of its calculation – just as it’s possible to use ERA without understanding each official scorekeeper’s particular approach to assigning errors and fielders’ choices. I doubt that most people interested in advance statistics spend their mornings pouring over the details of the VORP equation.

        As to the actual value of those stats – reality is complicated. If your statistics aren’t, then they’re probably not as useful as they could be. ERA and batting average are good statistics, as far as they go. But they don’t go very far, and if you’re interested in a more exact approximation of a player’s value, look elsewhere. This isn’t an argument worth having. So why do baseball fans continue to have it?

        “Which came first, the computer or the geek?”

        Oh, yeah. That’s why.

      • skipperxc - May 10, 2011 at 5:51 PM

        @chris …the implication being that “My opinion is that you are wrong” is somehow different from “You are wrong”? If you want to be stubborn and ignorant, by all means do so; there a measure of a respect, if only a small amount, to be gained from sheer sticktuitiveness. But don’t blather on and on about the evils of sabermetrics and then tell me your stance is, “but if that’s your opinion, you can go on your merry way and I won’t object,” because this thread alone has weighed and measured the veracity of that statement and found it wanting.

        You know, I can empathize with liking Ryan Howard. There’s something to be said for fan favorites. Grew up loving Brett Favre, and for fifteen years he was the best quarterback a guy could ask for. But there comes a time when you have to recognize a player’s faults for what they are. Favre will never be John Elway or Joe Montana or Tom Brady, despite what my mind’s eye would like to believe. Favre in all likelihood lost the Packers nearly as many games as he won them. And for all Ryan Howard’s aesthetic virtues, he’s merely above average; he’s got one clear skill Gonzalez does not in raw home run power. I’m hard pressed to come up with another.

        In a summary that’s now much too long in coming, try to look closer into the truth of things. Ask why people are enraptured by sabermetrics, try to see what they see. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

      • uuddlrlrbastart - May 10, 2011 at 6:29 PM

        “No, you are missing the point. The stat is Earned Run Average. A guy gives up 4 Earned Runs in 9 innings, his ERA is 4.00. Period.”

        You can simplify any stat that way. The stat is Value Over Replacement Player. A guy is worth 100 runs over replacement, his VORP is 100. Period.

        As for what a “replacement player” is, it doesn’t matter. It’s a comparative stat. As long as everyone is compared to the same hypothetical, it could be anything.

  2. IdahoMariner - May 10, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    “the faux-knowing ”I know more than you do because I interview ballplayers in their underwear” tone that you see from a lot of weekly newspaper columnists as they get older.”

    If only it only afflicted the older beat reporters; then I could still stand to read the Seattle Times. I wish they had Larry Stone doing their beat writing. He’s awesome.

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