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Why I Hate Baseball Writing or a Tale of a Big Urb Blog Entry

One of the main reasons that I come to AN is because I abhor most baseball writing.  While there are notable outliers like our own Susan Slusser or Dejan Kovacevic, but for every good writer there are six terrible ones.  One example that comes to mind is the NYT Yankee beat writer who wrote that Mark Tiexiera has locked up the MVP, no contest, apparently forgetting that there is this dude named Joe Mauer who makes Tiexiera look like a high school baseball star rather than the AL MVP.  Unfortunately we have a beat writer for mlb.com that is in my opinion on the wrong side of the side of the ledger.

The most recent post on Big Urb, Mychael Urban's blog was a great example of bad sports writing.  First Urban discussed a change that Travis Buck has made to his swing and ditching his thumb guard.  Urban from the first part of his post it is clear that Urban is a fan of Travis Buck, which is more than fine, but in this case he presents his argument in a disingenuous way.  This is how Urban described the Buck's new swing:

The dramatic change he's making is being roundly applauded by the scouts to whom I've talked about it.

Now that sure sounds like a bunch of trained baseball observers have watched Buck play and like the change.  Right?  Not so fast.  Both of the scouts start their comments on Buck with

"That's great to hear,"

and

"It's nice to hear,"

Because guess what? From both comments it is clear that neither has actually seen Buck and was informed of the change by Urban.  Now thats not to say that Bucks new mechanics aren't better than the old ones.  However, Urban presents bad information by saying that the change was good.  Bucks' new swing could be even more screwed up than the movement screwed up his old swing, but these scouts couldn't tell you that since they haven't seen Buck play.  Urban could have easily been more accurate and neutral, by saying for example, that "Travis Buck was taking his time in Sacramento to ditch a part of his swing that scouts had previously disliked."  Urban could have used the exact same quotes because they speak to not liking a part of Buck's old swing and has nothing to do with seeing or liking his new one. But instead Urban choose to portray a player he like as getting shafted by management, being a hard worker, and having a really well liked revamped swing, all of which may be true but aren't necessarily supported by his article.

While that would be a minor annoyance and some biased reporting, that was probably the high point in the article.  Urban followed with this little dandy:

... Tommy Everidge got his third start of the year at DH today, and I'm thinking he'll get about 100 or more starts there next year. I just don't see Jack Cust in green and gold next year, and Everidge probably isn't good enough on defense to be an everyday first baseman. But as his man-sized home run off Sabathia showed, he's got Custian pop, and he's more of a complete hitter. And he's cheaper. No-brainer.

This is to be frank, a crock of shit.  Jack Cust is in every way a better hitter than Tommy Everidge.  Not only does Cust have a far superior track record than Everidge, Cust is also better this year, even in bad stats like batting average and RBIs.  Just look at the numbers: wOBA .332 Cust, .295 Everidge.  AVG .234 Cust, .222 Everidge,  BB% 15.5% Cust, 9.0% Everidge, Slug .393 Cust to .370 Everidge and even RBIs/PA Cust wins too.  Their BB/K rate is esentially the same at .50 for Cust and .54 for Everidge. The only thing that Everidge is better at is his raw K rate which is about 2/3s what Custs is.  So basically the only thing that Everidge has an advantage in (K rate) is negated by his crappy walk rate.

One of the only true things in that paragraph is that Cust is going to become arbitration eligible at the end of the season and become less affordable, while Everidge is going to still be paid league minimum.  However, Cust's arbitration award (first year arbitration awards are suppose to approximate 40% of free agent market value) shouldn't be oppressive by any means, since Adam Dunn only secured $10 million on the free agent market and he is a superior player in pretty much every way to Cust.  I would venture to guess that Cust would get a about $2.8 m in arbitration.  Now ZIPS rest of the season projections shows Cust getting much of his power back and hitting with a .360 wOBA the rest of the way, suggesting that next year he will likely rebound.  Furthermore, starting the year fresh without having his sucessful approach messed with by the A's coaching staff and with a chance to heal his back injury which could be sapping his power, I would expect a return to form.  If Cust hits for a .370 wOBA from the DH spot, 21 BRAA  and a -17.5 runs positional, that makes him a 2.5 WAR player.  At $4.5m for a marginal win thats $11.25m in value for $2.8 in salary, and a significant win for the A's.

Everidge on the other had projects to be blow league average with the bat again next year.  26 year old journeyman don't magically get significantly better.  Everidge's production almost exactly mirrors his CHONE projections for this year.  Even supposing a .040 point wOBA improvement, which is far from certain or even likely, Everidge would provide nearly replacement level production, since 0 BRAA plus the -17.5 positional runs from being a DH almost completely negates the 20 runs that are credited for 600 plate apearaces to adjust from replacement rate. Therefore, Everidge would only be worth a quarter of a win above replacement as the A's DH next year.  Personally I would prefer the extra 2.25 wins next year, especially if we are going to compete.

You would think that was all of the foolish thoughts that could be plugged into one blog entry but here comes the caper:

... I just checked out a few of the acronym stats I don't understand in an effort to be a better-informed baseball writer, but I gave up upon seeing that Mark Teixeira is considered a defensive negative according to UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). Anyone who thinks Teixeira is anything less than a godsend for the Yanks defensively is spending way too much time VORPing and not nearly enough time WATCHING THE GAME.

On so many levels there are problems with this. What the hell is the point of having a fielding metric that shows that everything you already believe. First the metric says that Teixiera average fielder but not a bad one which is what Urban is implying. Teixeira is less than 1 run below average this year which is far below the level of significant in the metric. Second, while it showed Teixeira as a very good fielder last year you also have to look beyond one year samples. An average of three years is a much better way of looking at a players fielding stats. Third, the whole watch the game is a stupid generalization, especially since UZR numbers are derived from recording where every ball is hit and how hard it is hit… SOMETHING BIS DOES WHILE WATCHING THE GAME.  Finally, it is likely that a couple of things happened because the sample of fielders is low and the fielding isn’t an abstract number it is compared to other fielders, it is likely that Teixiera is an averagish 1bman that got a bit of luck and the other players last year that he was compared to weren't as bad as a whole, for example you didn't have Giambi playing twice as many innings this year. Additionally, Mitchel Lightman has far more cogent and staty explanations that fangraphs complied than I do as to why Urban and the other people recently bagging on UZR, mostly don't understand the metric at all.

There are some great baseball writers in this country, but unfortunately for the newspaper industry and corporate media sites like ESPN and MLB.com, the vast majority of them are in places like AN, Fangraphs, Beyond the Boxscore, Minorleagueball, Joe Pozanski's site, BP and sites of their ilk.  If you want me to read your sports page or look at anything beyond gameday on your website, please hire a writer who has some idea of what they are talking about.  Unfortunately, this Big Urb blog entry shows that Mychael Urban rarely qualifies as such.

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