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Must-Click Link: a neerrrrrrrd in the clubhouse

Mar 13, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

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As a nice companion piece to my thing about reporting what one sees in the clubhouse, here’s our friend Eno Sarris writing over at the Hardball Times about being an inexperienced reporter in the clubhouse.

Eno’s particular challenge, apart from simply being a new BBWAA member and still learning the ropes of how one operates inside a clubhouse, is that his particular beat is stats and sabermetric analysis. He’s doing what very few reporters have ever done, actually, and is trying to engage players face-to-face about analytics. Primarily as they apply to the particular player.

For example, a pitcher has a great FIP. He wants to talk to the pitcher about his walks/strikeout/home run rates and things. I haven’t spoken to Eno about it, but I presume his primary mission is to try to figure out what players do to influence what we see in more advanced statistical analysis of their play, if they are even aware of it. It’s a great angle, as in the past the stats and quotes guys were not at all operating in the same territory.

Eno has tried, and his post today explains how it can be really, really hard to do that. Sometimes because guys have no idea what you’re talking about when you ask them about their UZR. Mostly because, while they may very well understand the concepts underpinning their UZR, jeez, it’s hard for a green reporter to ask a cogent question about that. Probably hard for an experienced one too. In trying to do so, you end up with exchanges like this one Eno had with Billy Butler:

As the first words came out of my mouth, I realized the error of my ways. This man was nicknamed Country Breakfast. I had just asked him if he’d noticed that this year he’d been showing “his best walk rate.” He looked at me incredulously. “Is that a question?” I noticed a cavalcade of laughs joining in behind me as I laughed. Uh-oh. “Have I noticed that I’ve walked a lot?” he was almost yelling. “Yes,” he answered with an eye roll. More laughs. The recorder has me there, distinctly, at the moment of discovery that I had an audience: “Oh man.”

Eno’s takeaway — and it’s a good one — is that it’s less about stats and non-stats people as it is the language everyone uses. Most ballplayers think about the general ideas behind the analysis from time to time. But certainly not in the same terms analysts do. A lot of time it’s just internal and visceral for the players. And a lot of baseball stuff — a ton of it, actually — is just outside of the frame of reference for an analyst. Figuring out how to communicate about these things is both hard. But it can also be valuable, as Eno’s work over the past year or so going into clubhouses has shown.

Good read.

  1. chacochicken - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    I read it this morning and I can’t stress this enough as I also commented at THT but Eric Hosmer is clearly a giant asshole that I wish ill.

    • chacochicken - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      Decent people aren’t regularly jackasses to others without a good reason. A little civility goes a long way. I would expect the same from reporters. Its not as if Eno asked Moose if he expects to be the worst player on the team again.

      • paperlions - Mar 13, 2014 at 1:10 PM

        Yeah, he was being a giant dick. The dynamic is interesting though (not Hosmer being a dick), Eno is trying to find ways to ask players questions about things that many of them have never thought about before. Players are used to answering the same questions over and over, it isn’t like beat writers are terribly creative when it comes to questions or topics. Most people don’t like to be asked questions that they don’t know the answer to and a common response is to belittle the question (or questioner) rather than to say they don’t know or haven’t thought about it.

        It is true that players don’t have to understand how different aspects of baseball contribute to winning or losing games to be good at baseball, but is sure can’t hurt to have that understanding to help with decisions made on the field.

  2. dluxxx - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    “Country Breakfast? Can you tell me what you’re doing this year in your plate approach to bring your walk rate up to a career high? Are you seeing the ball better? Are you just getting more junk pitches?”

    Seems simple to me. Bring it down to their level. I suppose you could break a lot of that down with pitchfx and then try to frame your questions in a manner that they would understand or respond to.

    • paperlions - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:49 PM

      I’m sorry, but I couldn’t get past the combination of “Country Breakfast” and “what you’re doing this in year in your plate approach”….all I could think was, extra bacon or more biscuits.

      • dluxxx - Mar 13, 2014 at 1:17 PM

        That’s okay, I read Combination Country Breakfast and thought the same thing when reading your reply.

      • binarymath - Mar 13, 2014 at 4:39 PM

        Alas, Country Breakfast was born 25 years too late for what could have been an epic headline:

        “Country Breakfast hits Grand Slam” and the sub-line “Tater came off (John) Denny’s Slider”

        But if Denny had come along 25 years later, the tweet would include a side of #browns

  3. karlkolchak - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Nerd Reporter: “So, Country Breakfast, what would you say you have been doing this year to increase the ratio of the average number of eggs you consume each morning compare to the number of bacon strips and hash browns?

    Country Breakfast: “Huh?”

  4. nymets4ever - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    Oh god, now the stupid condescending statheads are acting like they’re better and smarter than the athletes themselves, talking about “dumbing it down” for them and seeing their “blank stares.”

    Hey geeks, know your place. These athletes you’re sniping at from the safety of your keyboards? They make more money in one day than you do in a year. They have more athletic talent in one fingernail than you have in your entire body. Oh, and they can crush you against their foreheads like a spent can of Schweppes — so I’d advise you not to let one of your snide patronizing comments slip out during an interview.

    • karlkolchak - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:27 PM

      I would call you out for the irony of calling out other commenters for sniping from the safety of their keyboards, but from the quality of your comments I highly doubt you understand what irony is.

      • dluxxx - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:44 PM

        That’s that thing his mom does to his shirts and undies, right?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 13, 2014 at 1:18 PM

      Yeah, or you could read the article and see that no one is saying anything like that at all. Unless of course you WANT to show everyone that you’re an idiot. But I can’t imagine that’s your intention. All evidence to the contrary.

    • stex52 - Mar 13, 2014 at 1:26 PM

      “Like a tale told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”

      And to think, old Bill Shakespeare had never even met Mets4ever.

    • zzalapski - Mar 13, 2014 at 1:39 PM

      It seems that this resident Cro-Magnon is aghast that “statheads” and “geeks” are closer to the inner workings of MLB than he will ever be, even though he’s the one that played baseball at the School for Assholes. His only recourse is to pathetically rail away at this seeming injustice behind his keyboard, a display more impotent than that of his favorite team.

      Incidentally, he may want to be more careful about assuming their inadequacies in a physical confrontation. Especially the ones who paid attention in anatomy class.

    • Reflex - Mar 13, 2014 at 2:36 PM

      I’d bet that there are far more ‘nerd millionaires’ than there are ‘jock millionaires’. And I know there are more nerd billionaires. I guess pseudo jocks like nymets4ever just live in jealousy of that fact. Must suck to realize that the nerds can buy and sell the jocks at will.

    • enosarris - Mar 13, 2014 at 3:20 PM

      I’m guessing you didn’t read the piece. I admit mistakes the whole way through and don’t talk about talking down to them. It’s about knowing their language, which isn’t inherently stupid, you brought this to the discussion. I now ask players about their swing plane instead of talking about ground-ball rates. There’s nothing dumb about swing planes. But they’ve heard that from their hitting coach before.

      • stex52 - Mar 13, 2014 at 3:26 PM

        Not to worry, Eno. Arrogance and contempt are this guy’s particular way of communicating with all of us. Might be easier to take if he ever had any idea what he was talking about.

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 13, 2014 at 3:56 PM

        Don’t take that guy seriously. He’s little more than a serial jerk himself. Can’t or won’t read the posts to extract meaning, twists it all so that he can snipe at the author, and prefers homophobic insults for his own amusement and satisfaction. He pretty pointless.

    • moogro - Mar 13, 2014 at 5:20 PM

      I love that Craig calls out one of his readers for repeated idiotic behaviour. Newspapers cannot compete with that.

  5. mreezybreezy - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    “Hey jock, you get a load of that nerd?”

    • Liam - Mar 13, 2014 at 1:29 PM

      Pardon me?

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