Tipping Pitches: January 2010


Friday, January 29, 2010

Sports: Kurt Warner is Not a Hall of Famer... Right?


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The name "Kurt Warner" inspires emotion and debate. I had never seen the guy as a Hall of Famer. Maybe it's because he annoys me. Maybe it's his goofy wife. Maybe it's because I really didn't think he deserved it.

Then, Kurt Warner ravaged my Packers in the playoffs. He was perfect. Unstoppable. Suddenly, I changed my mind. I gave in. He was a Hall of Famer.

But I took a surface look at his career stats and changed my mind again. The truth is that Warner is the ultimate "tweener."

Kurt Warner retired today. He was an excellent quarterback, and one of the truly great rags to riches stories. There were a couple of seasons when one could say he was the best quarterback and even the best player in all of football.

But does that make him a Hall of Famer?

Oh, I know. He had some very special seasons. He won the NFL MVP in both 1999 and 2001. He was amazing during that stretch of time, even if he only played 11 games in 2000. He threw for 98 touchdowns and 55 interceptions during those three seasons, passing for more than 12,000 total yards.

But then he suffered a five year lapse in his career when he either rarely played or didn't play well at all. From 2002 through 2006, Warner threw 27 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. That's total, people.

Warner did finish his career strong, throwing 83 touchdowns and 45 interceptions in his final three seasons. But he wasn't even the starter the entire season in 2007, starting 11 of 16 games.

So, Warner had two amazing seasons and four very good to great seasons. Everything else was a complete disaster. And he started at the age of 28.

Warner still finishes with some pretty nice numbers: 26th in passing yards, 26th in passing touchdowns, and sixth in passer rating.

But Warner also played in a pass-heavy era. The top five players all-time in passer rating are Aaron Rodgers (I know!), Steve Young, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Peyton Manning. Clearly, he's benefited from rules that favor quarterbacks, particularly the past three seasons.

He also finishes behind such quarterbacks as Vinny Testaverde, Drew Bledsoe, Kerry Collins, Dave Krieg, Boomer Esiason, Jim Everett, Jim Hart, Steve DeBerg, John Hadl, Phil Simms, Donovan McNabb and Ken Anderson in career passing yards. He finishes behind Testaverde, Krieg, Bledsoe, Esiason, Hadl, McNabb, John Brodie and Hart in career passing touchdowns.

They've been playing 16 games per season in the NFL since 1978. Yet, only two quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, Jim Finks and Bob Waterfield, played in fewer games than Warner's 125.

This is Warner's biggest obstacle to getting into the Hall: Longevity and consistency. Quarterbacks need to be consistently good for several years to earn induction. Running backs tend to get more leniency because their careers are not expected to be long. But quarterbacks can easily be productive late into their 30s, as was Warner.

The problem, of course, is that Warner was productive late into his 30s, but was only productive for six seasons total. Had he been at least a good quarterback during his middle five seasons, I don't think this would even be up for discussion.

His short career looks even shorter when you consider how little he played in the middle of it. That's a problem.

That said, I'm still not ready to rule him out completely.

Something I like to consider is the number of times he was best, top three or top five in certain categories during his career.

Warner led the league in passing yards once, was in the top three three times and in the top five four times during his career. Dan Marino was first five times, in the top three 10 times, and in the top five 11 times.

Of course, that's not a particularly fair comparison. Marino was possibly the most dominant quarterback, statistically, ever. But it gives you an idea of what one of the top Hall of Famers looks like.

A couple of fair comparisons are Boomer Esiason and Ken Anderson, neither of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Similar quarterbacks. It should be noted that Esiason bested Warner by 5,000 career passing yards while Anderson threw for merely 500 yards more. Yet, it can't be argued that Warner played in an era (particularly lately) that favored the passing game.

Warner did throw 11 more touchdowns than Anderson, but 39 fewer than Esiason. Of course, Warner was a better quarterback, on average. But he had fewer opportunities (which is also reflected by his fewer interceptions).

Again, opportunities. You can't just assume that had Warner been given more opportunities that he would have been incrementally greater. Particularly since he wasn't good enough to play in the NFL until he was 28. It isn't like injury took away his ability to compete. Prior to the age of 28, he was a nobody.

Esiason and Anderson played in at least 60 more games each than did Warner. Since Warner averaged just over 11 games per season, we're talking about five-plus years that these two quarterbacks have on him.

Passing Yards Ratings
First: Anderson (2), Warner (1), Esiason (0)
Top Three: Anderson (3), Warner (3), Esiason (2)
Top Five: Anderson (5), Warner (4), Esiason (4)

Passing Touchdowns Ratings
First: Warner (2), Anderson (0), Esiason (0)
Top Three: Esiason (4), Warner (3), Anderson (2)
Top Five: Anderson (5), Esiason (5), Warner (4)

Passer Ratings
First: Anderson (4), Warner (2), Esiason (1)
Top Three: Anderson (4), Warner (4), Esiason (3)
Top Five: Anderson (5), Warner (5), Esiason (4)

MVP: Warner (2), Anderson (1), Esiason (1)
Pro Bowl: Anderson (4), Esiason (4), Warner (4)
All Pro: Warner (2), Anderson (1), Esiason (1)

Before the awards come into play, Anderson has a slight advantage over Warner in most categories. One advantage Warner has is that he has won a Super Bowl, including a Super Bowl MVP. Neither Anderson or Esiason have.

This is the problem: Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason are borderline Hall of Famers. They aren't Hall of Famers, but they were an MVP or a Super Bowl or another good year away from getting in. They were on the cusp.

They had the longevity, but they lacked the greatness.

Warner had the greatness (at least some greatness), but lacks the longevity. Do the awards and temporary greatness make Warner a better overall quarterback than Esiason or Anderson, despite the otherwise very similar statistics?

Because, frankly, being better than these two quarterbacks is all he really needs. The next step is the Hall.

In Conclusion
Anyone who says that Kurt Warner is obviously a Hall of Famer is nuts. Anyone who says that Kurt Warner is obviously not a Hall of Famer is nuts. He is the ultimate tweener.

Had Warner started his career prior to the age of 28, he'd undoubtedly be a no-brainer.

Had Warner not dropped a deuce during the five years in the middle of his career, he probably would have been an easy choice, even though his career was otherwise short. Playing at least adequately -- and regularly -- would have significantly enhanced his statistics.

Warner had two of the most prolific seasons ever for a quarterback. Though, it needs to be mentioned that you can't really compare those two seasons to the entire history of the sport. The game has changed dramatically. They were great seasons, though, but need to be compared primarily to other quarterbacks during the past 10-15 years.

He won two MVP awards and one Super Bowl MVP award. I personally don't care who wins the Super Bowl MVP. Actually, winning awards is often arbitrary, based on team success and preference for quarterbacks. But it can't be denied that his first three full seasons in the NFL marked one of the greatest stretches ever. And despite a short career, his overall stats (though not eye popping) stack up reasonably well with current Hall of Famers.

Will I ever wrap this up and make a decision?

Kurt Warner was a better quarterback than either Boomer Esiason or Ken Anderson. Not by much. Just barely. Very comparable players. But a little more greatness.

Kurt Warner is not a first ballot Hall of Famer. He's not an automatic. I wouldn't shed a tear if he doesn't get in. But he will eventually get in.

And...  I reluctantly admit it. He'd deserve it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Potpourri Tuesday


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Brett Favre, Social Media Douchebaggery, Blocking Followers and the Consistency Dilemma

I have never posted a "Potpourri" entry. To be honest, I don't really know what it is. I guess it smells nice. Not sure why it represents randomness. But that's what I'm going with.

I'm sports. I'm technology. I'm non-profit. Oh well.

Brett Favre... I'm not going to lie. I loved watching Favre and the Vikings lose. This is two separate things, really. I always like watching the Vikings lose. I enjoyed watching Favre lose because... well, we don't have all day to break that down. But he's a Viking now. Let's just say I enjoyed it and leave it at that.

But after the game, rumor out of ESPN was that Favre said it was "highly unlikely" he would return next season. Pardon me while I roll my eyes... And roll my eyes again. Hey, famous athletes. I know I'm not famous and stuff. And I know I'm not an athlete. But if you don't know for sure what you're going to do, just say, "I don't know yet."

If you don't want it to seem like you like attention, don't leave anything open to interpretation. And if you aren't concrete or if you change your mind a lot (not mentioning any names), don't complain when people get annoyed by your actions.

I have a feeling Favre knows exactly what he's going to do. I have a feeling that Favre wants to string this out as long as possible. I have this feeling... this sneaky suspicion... that Favre likes the attention.

I remember Michael Jordan saying that he was 99.9% sure he was retiring. He returned.

I remember Roger Clemens saying the exact same thing. We know what happened.

Yet, the media is biting on this Favre story like he means it. Come on, people. Ignore it. Ignore it until he isn't on the field Week 1 this season. Until I see with my eyes, he's coming back. Period.

I watched this and I immediately thought of @tremendousnews and his blog entries about "Social Media Douchebags".

I've gotta admit, I really don't know that many people in the industry. Still getting to know folks. This guy is probably very well known. He's dropping names like they're going out of style and was retweeted by Guy Kawasaki.

In other words, he's 10,000 times bigger than I am.

Regardless, watching this video just makes me feel dirty. I can't even explain why. It's nothing in particular about what he said (other than all of the shameless name dropping). It just made me think that people are putting way too much thought into how they portray themselves on Twitter.

"Portray" is the key word here. It would seem that to be successful, it's an act. Which leads me to...

This guy wrote a blog entry about why he blocks people on Twitter. Eh.

His whole thing was that your followers reflect upon you. That you should think about what your kids would think if they saw who follows you.

Look, I hate spammers, too. But the truth is that, I'm convinced, more than 90% of all of Twitter users are bots or spammers who won't admit that they are spammers. I very rarely follow back the people who follow me because they all look like the same lifeless person.

Do I really have the energy to block all of these people? And for what, to make Twitter a better place?


Let's get one thing straight. I don't care about numbers. My 350-ish (or 1/100th of what is acceptable among "Social Media Gurus") followers should be a testament to that.

And since I don't know for sure who is a spammer and who isn't, why would I go person by person, judging, blocking people who make me suspicious?

This is the funny thing. I'm convinced that the people most annoyed by spammers are those who auto-follow or follow almost everyone who follows them.

I don't practice this. I am careful about whom I follow.

Do you know what happens when you are careful about the people you follow? You don't get DM spam. Amazing how that works.

But those who are all pumped up about numbers, those who like "returning the favor" of those who follow them will eventually get burned by spammers. And then they get ticked when they get spammed.


You can block, if that's how you choose to work. I just choose to be particular about whom I follow. Don't need to get all dramatic and whatnot.

Oh, and about this "randomness" and "potpourri" business...

We're supposed to be consistent! That first dude, in his eight tips about social media, said that we shouldn't be sports one day and social media the next. Only fitting that I'm random in addressing this.

I have a pretty random life. I worked in sports, hitting a pretty cool pinnacle with the NBA. Not to mention, the history of baseball is one of the top three passions of my life.

I work in technology, covering social media, gaming, mobile, and anything that beeps.

My son survived cancer. My mother survived cancer. My uncle died of cancer. I work for the American Cancer Society. Non-profits and the way they use technology and social media are important to me.

Does this confuse you? Does it bother you that I am not focused only on sports? On technology? On non-profits?

It might. And to be honest, if it bothers you, you shouldn't follow me. I'm okay with that.

Me, I prefer to be honest. I like to spill it, and tell you just how I feel and who I am.

Anything else is insincere, and... well, douchey.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sports: Brewers to Orlando? Hahaha... Oh crap...


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So word out of Orlando is that Armando Gutierrez, a real estate developer, is trying to get money together to get a Major League team in his city. He's running for Congress.

Mark Boyle of local station WFTV speculated that "one team that could possibly relocate is the Milwaukee Brewers."

Let's forget for a second that the Brewers called this claim "ridiculous," "irresponsible" and "hilarious." Let's forget that the Brewers, small market or not, had the ninth highest attendance in 2009. Let's also forget for a moment that the Brewers' lease of Miller Park runs through 2030 and includes a non-relocation agreement.

Let's also forget that the state of Florida can't even support two Major League teams (Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays).

Okay, so it's highly unlikely the Brewers move. But, you've gotta think they are on... if not the short list, the half-league list of teams that could possibly move.

Milwaukee is a small market. The Brewers are doing well financially right now. They are able to field a roster that costs over $80 Million, which puts them right in the middle of the league. This is pretty amazing since the size of the Milwaukee market would put them at the very bottom.

But the Brewers also have an exciting product. Kudos to the Brewers organization, from top to bottom. They have exciting players to watch, like Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Yovani Gallardo. They have an owner in Mark Attanasio and a solid GM in Doug Melvin who are willing to spend money and make big moves to remain competitive. And they have one of the better ballparks in the league, and do a great job of finding ways to attract fans to watch games.

But, for a moment... Let's assume the worst happened. They can't keep Prince Fielder. The likelihood they keep him is close to nothing. He's gone. They trade him for prospects. Let's assume that the prospects that come back don't amount to much of anything (wouldn't be the first time).

Yovani Gallardo throws his arm out. Ryan Braun breaks a leg. The farm system isn't able to produce the prospects that made the Brewers competitive in the first place.

When this happens and you are a small market ball club, you can't buy a competitive roster. You rely on your farm system. And since attendance will undoubtedly drop, the amount you can spend on free agents and retaining your own players drops considerably.

Suddenly, you are the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This can happen in just a matter of two years. The Yankees can overcome these disasters. The Brewers cannot.

Suddenly, such discussion about the Brewers relocating is not so crazy.

Suddenly, the Brewers can't field a competitive team, can't attract fans, and are losing money because they committed money to players who aren't performing.

Suddenly, Mark Attanasio is looking at ways around his lease agreement with Miller Park.

If the Brewers left...

It's something I have to think about. I don't know how I'd handle it. It's worse than Brett Favre retiring, unretiring, retiring, unretiring, and playing for the Vikings.

Baseball is in my blood. But Baseball is in my blood because of my allegiance to the Milwaukee Brewers. I may be able to casually root for the Orlando Brewers for a year or two, but eventually they would just be any other team.

And if I no longer have a team, then what?

I am passionate about baseball. Passionate about the history of the game. Passionate about passing on this obsession to my sons.

But if the Brewers are no more, my passion disappears. I simply cannot imagine my life without baseball.

That may sound dramatic. In a way, it is over the top. It's not like losing a spouse or a child.

But it's losing a part of my childhood. Losing a source of my inspiration. Losing a big part of what makes me... me.

Suddenly, I get it.

If you move your team, you'd better damn well know what you're doing. While you may be losing money, there is no guarantee your new fans will make you richer.

And even if the new fans make you richer temporarily, those aren't real fans. Those new fans are new fans for a reason. They either didn't care about baseball before or were so casual a baseball fan that they easily switch allegiance.

After such a move, you need to make a sudden impact and maintain excellence to develop new, loyal, lifelong fans.

Meanwhile, you -- and Major League Baseball -- have lost some lifelong, passionate fans who would root for your team no matter what.

Is it worth the risk?

This is why I feel bad for the fans who have lost a team. It's why I have no respect for the fans of a recent expansion team, particularly one that has had some recent success.

And I certainly don't have respect for baseball fans in the state of Florida, who can't adequately support two teams that have produced two World Series in the past decade-ish.

I no longer live in Wisconsin, but if the Brewers ever leave Milwaukee I am done with baseball. And this is coming from one of the biggest fans the sport has.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sports: NFL Coaches Gutless, Players Heartless


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Everyone remembers Bill Belichick's controversial decision to go for it on fourth down from his own 30 with the lead against the Colts. I wrote a blog entry that night supporting the move. I also wrote a follow-up a day later about why the stat heads win the argument.

It's two months later. I still support the move. But to be honest, I support it mostly because Belichick had the guts to make a move like that.

The stats say it was the right move, but there are very few stats to support that move in similar situations because no one but Bill Belichick will do it. In reality, it's probably a 50/50 proposition, which may make it a bit risky.

But I applaud the guts because no other coach has any. This is proven week in and week out.

This weekend saw three blow-outs out of four games in the second round of the playoffs. Kickers shanking field goal attempts left and right. In such a case, you'd assume that the team getting whooped would need to go for it on fourth down several times in an effort to get back in the game.

Nope. No guts. No heart.

New Orleans 45, Arizona 14
Arizona was down 21-7 after the first quarter and 35-14 after the second. While the game wasn't yet over in the first half, the Cardinals certainly could have considered taking some risks to get back in the game. In their defense, however, there really wasn't an opportunity to do so. They scored touchdowns on their two big drives, stalled early in others, and Neil Rackers missed a 50-yard field goal to end the first half.

The second half is where I have my problems with Arizona's coaching staff. Your team is quickly falling out of this game. Fast. New Orleans scored 10 points in the third quarter versus nothing for the Cards. Faced with a fourth and two from the New Orleans nine, they did go for it -- and failed.

Congrats for having guts once.

Down 31 with about eight minutes left, Arizona had a fourth and four from their own 31. You absolutely must go for it here.

What do you have to lose? Your pride? You're already down by 31. If it gets worse, big deal. But if you punt, you are conceding defeat. If you punt, it is virtually (technically?) impossible that you will score five times in five minutes.

If this were the regular season, I understand the argument. I don't agree with it, but I understand it. You are trying to avoid further embarrassment for the sake of your team's confidence. But this is the playoffs. Confidence means nothing. Either try to win or walk off the field now.

Arizona punted that ball. New Orleans punted it back with five minutes remaining. The Cardinals ran five plays and were then stuck in a similar position, fourth and four from their own 36.


Embarrassing. The Cardinals simply quit trying.

Minnesota 34, Dallas 3
Both the Vikings and Cowboys went for it on fourth down twice in this game. Which one was desperate? Or which one was simply more aggressive?

In a scoreless game in the first quarter, Dallas drove to Minnesota's 30 yard line on their second drive. It was fourth down and they had one yard to go.

Shaun Suisham, the Dallas kicker, was previously released by Washington and picked up by the Cowboys after they cut their own kicker. Suisham had already had his issues with pressure kicks this season.

So are you going to trust a wobbly kicker on what was probably a 50/50 kick in a pressure packed situation (with kickers missing easy kicks in seemingly every playoff game), or are you going to trust your offense to pick up one yard in a momentum-setting moment, on the road?

Also keep in mind that if you go for it and fail, the Vikings probably get the ball at the 30. If you kick and fail, the Vikings get the ball for the first time at their own 38.

The Cowboys attempted the field goal. They failed. Four plays later, the Vikings were up 7-0.

Down 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, Dallas had another chance to be aggressive. On fourth and 11 from their own 46, they could either be conservative (punt) or aggressive (go for it). Their offense had failed to do much of anything the entire game. Time was running out on the season.

They punted.

Of course, Minnesota then proceeded to drive the field and go up 27-3. You get conservative when your team's season is already slipping away, you lose.

[It should be noted when faced with similar fourth quarter fourth down opportunities as the Cardinals, the Cowboys twice went for it and failed on fourth down. Props to them for having the guts (or common sense) to keep trying.]

While Dallas didn't eventually give up the way that Arizona did, their players eventually quit. With three minutes left, Minnesota drove the field for yet another touchdown. Dallas' Keith Brooking complained that the Vikings were running up the score by throwing for the end zone.

Hey, Keith. Just because you quit trying doesn't mean the Vikings should, too. This is the playoffs. Show some heart.

Conservative play calling, in this day of high powered offense, makes very little sense. For the Cowboys, there is no reason to have faith in your kicking game. Offenses are strong. You can get a yard. Just go for it.

Regarding teams like the Cardinals, I cannot for the life of me think of a logical -- or even illogical -- explanation for why coaches give up in playoff games. Are you going to win the game if you go for it and are successful, down 31? Probably not. Are you going to win the game if you instead punt in that situation? Absolutely not.

So given the option, would you take A) probable loss, or B) absolute loss? I'd take the probable loss.

Instead, these coaches are quitting. And when coaches quit, players like Keith Brooking quit. And when players like Keith Brooking quit, they foolishly expect the opposition to quit.

As coaches, show your team some respect. If you expect them to give 100% at all times, don't quit on them until the clock runs out.

As a franchise, show your fans some respect. They have followed you all season long. Some paid big sums of money to see that game. Don't play three quarters and quit. They deserve to see four quarters of effort, even if it ends up being four blow-out quarters.

But no, they are forced to watch ineptitude. Lack of effort. No guts, no heart.

I found it a bit silly that the Jets' Rex Ryan was applauded for having the guts to go for it on fourth and one at the San Diego 29 yard line with a minute remaining in the game.

This isn't gutsy. It's logical. If you miss the 47-yard kick (very possible), the Chargers have one minute left to drive 30 yards to get into field goal position and tie the game. If you kick the field goal, the Chargers still have a minute to drive the field and win.

If you go for it and fail, the Chargers then have a minute to drive about 40 yards to tie it. If you succeed, the game is over. It's really not a difficult decision.

But conservative play calling has become widely accepted even though the aggressive move may even be the more logical one. As a result, when a coach like Rex Ryan goes for it in a very logical (and not aggressive) manner, he's lauded for making a gutsy move.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sports: Hall Voting Out of Position


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As you probably know already, I've been digging deep into historical baseball stats during the past few weeks...

The Completed Third Grade Project
Where's Big Muscled Waldo?
The Magic Number is Dead

I've spent a lot of time comparing players, both to peers and players from other eras. It's a major challenge, and one I've always been interested in taking on.

Something that really bothered me was the focus on defensive position. Generally when you hear Hall of Fame voters talk about a player's Hall candidacy, they'll talk about how that player stacks up offensively compared to other players who played his defensive position.

My question: Why?

I don't get it. And as I dug more into the statistics, it made less and less sense.

1) Most baseball players will play multiple positions throughout their careers. Why compare Robin Yount to other shortstops when he only played part of his career at shortstop? Or do you compare part of his career to shortstops and part to center fielders? Do you only compare the part of his career to other center fielders that he played in center field and the part that he played at shortstop to other shortstops? Just gets too unnecessarily confusing.

2) Why does the defensive position played matter when evaluating offensive output? I get this when you talk about catchers because they can't play every day due to the rigors of the job. So it makes sense that a catcher should not have the same offensive standards as other positions. But why must we compare the offensive output of shortstops to other shortstops? Does the fact that they play shortstop affect how they perform with the bat? There is no relation, other than the fact that teams have generally pigeon holed a certain style of offensive player into certain defensive positions (ie, light hitter plays shortstop or second base). Shortstops play every day, just like outfielders and first basemen. Why do we have lower standards for them? Just because, by default, teams have historically (less common lately) put their lightest hitting players at those positions?

3) Focusing on defensive position when evaluating the worth of a player as a hitter waters down value in the Hall of Fame. If a guy who played an average defensive shortstop is one of the top 10 offensive shortstops of all time (due to a very weak set of peers with the bat) but only top 300 overall, does he really belong in the Hall of Fame? You'll find many who say he does. As a result, other average defenders at deeper positions but with deserving bats will get overlooked because they didn't stick out at their position. Aren't we looking for the best baseball players? Why should defensive position really matter when evaluating offensive prowess? As a result, a few things happen. First, players who don't really deserve it will get into the Hall of Fame. Second, others who deserved it more won't get in because they just happened to play defense at an offensively rich position. And third, because those weak offensive players got in, the bar lowers for entry.

4) Other than catcher and pitcher, defensive position is mostly arbitrary when evaluating an offensive player. Again, certain player types have been pigeon holed, but how is this practice any different than comparing players who batted eighth in the lineup? Or best pinch hitting left fielders? Should we put the best hitting pitcher in the Hall of Fame? He was average as a pitcher, but great as a hitter, so does he belong? Believe it or not, some voters have actually made arguments for a player because they were one of the best hitting designated hitters. They talk about the DH like it's a defensive position that somehow affects their ability to hit.

When you think about it, it's this type of over classification that has ruined relief pitching. We invented the save statistic, so now the one inning closer is revered. Next up is the middle reliever and their holds. Don't laugh, next we'll be putting middle relievers in the Hall of Fame because they were the best at their position. In reality, though, this almost makes more sense than putting an average hitter into the Hall of Fame who happened to play at an offensively challenged defensive position. At least when you put a middle reliever into the Hall of Fame (God, no), you're basing it on that player's direct responsibilities. By changing the standards per position, you're saying that players who play different positions have different responsibilities. That may have happened, to an extent, over time, but it doesn't make it right.

5) Compare it to Little League. I like to make things less complicated by comparing them to the simpler things in life. When we were in Little League, we put our worst players in right field. No one hit it there, so they were shielded and safe in that position. If you were to create a Hall of Fame of Little Leaguers, would you be obligated to select a right fielder and compare right fielders to other right fielders? Of course not. You put in the best baseball players, regardless of position.

6) Ultimately, the cream rises to the top. Was a baseball player one of the most dominant hitters of his era? Put him in the Hall of Fame. Was he a great (but maybe less dominant) but also one of the finest defensive players of his era? Put him in the Hall of Fame. Voting has gotten too complicated over the years. You start comparing players from different positions when all of these factors like era and number of games at different positions come into play, voters get confused real fast. Suddenly, it becomes really easy to make an argument for just about anyone. It's why guys like Ellis Burks, Robin Ventura and Eric Karros somehow get votes. Voters tie themselves up in statistical knots. Keep it simple.

Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame, and I have no idea why. He was a second baseman who was no better than average with the bat. But I guarantee that he doesn't get a vote if he played first base.

I've seen many make the argument that Barry Larkin is a Hall of Famer because he is one of the best offensive shortstops ever. Well, he probably is. Shortstops have historically sucked. It wasn't until Yount and Ripken (and then the Steroid Era that included Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra) that shortstops started hitting home runs like the big boys.

This may be a shock to you, but Larkin wasn't a dominating offensive player. He was good. He was above average. He flashed greatness. But he was merely very good during an era pumped up by steroids.

Larkin is a borderline guy who gets Hall of Fame lock discussion, but there are others who make similar arguments for guys like Alan Trammell. Stop. I beg you.

Meanwhile, much more deserving offensive players who were more dominating during their eras like Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Dick Allen, Ron Santo, Sherry Magee, Bob Johnson, Vada Pinson, Al Oliver, Reggie Smith, Norm Cash, Frank Howard and Dale Murphy are neglected. Notice a common theme here? They were all outfielders or corner infielders, playing a defensive position rich in offensive talent. Had they played shortstop (even a below average shortstop), they'd be enshrined.

Have I harped on this enough? A player's defensive position only matters when evaluating his performance at that position. If we're going to evaluate hitters, evaluate them all as hitters. They have differing styles -- some are fast, some are slow; some are power hitters, some hit for average. But in the end, great players are great players. They are great in different ways, but don't let something completely unrelated affect how we view offensive greatness.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sports: The Magic Number is Dead


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There was a time when smart baseball people, in a not-so-smart way, assigned magic numbers as milestones for Hall of Fame entry.

You collected 3,000 hits? You're in. How about 500 home runs? Money in the bank.

Thanks to the Steroid Era, these same smart baseball people are reevaluating the magic number for home runs. In reality, they should simply get rid of magic numbers altogether.

What do totals really tell us without context? The only total I care about is plate appearances.

Player A collected 2,716 hits
Player B collected 2,654 hits

Which player was the more distinguished hitter?

Of course, Player A was Rusty Staub and Player B was Ted Williams. This is a bit of an extreme example. The number of hits are close while the batting averages (.279 for Staub and .344 for Williams) are not.

However, it helps explains the fundamental problem of relying on totals and assigning arbitrary magic numbers.

Another reason this is problematic is that even if you have two players with identical numbers of hits and plate appearances, the circumstances around the two players may have been different. Let's say, for example, that one of these players was active from 1920 through 1936 while the other was active from 1959 through 1975.

Shouldn't make that big of a difference? Well, the mean batting average from 1920 to 1936 was often between .280 and .295 while the mean batting average between 1959 and 1975 was mostly between .235 and .250. Quite the different circumstances.

While we don't yet have an example of this, a player could collect 3,000 hits with a lifetime batting average of .265. Sound crazy? Cal Ripken has 3,184 career hits with a batting average of .276. Brooks Robinson has 2,848 hits with a career average of .267.

It's time to look at statistics more intelligently. It's time to, for the purposes of analysis, ignore all totals other than plate appearances.

Rely largely on ratios of the player's qualitative stats versus the league average. In other words, what percentage better or worse than the league average was the player in Slugging Percentage during his career?

Consider the same for Batting Average, On Base Percentage and OPS. Of course, you can have great qualitative stats and only play one game, one season, or a small handful of seasons. That's where plate appearances come into play.

It is incredibly difficult for even great players to sustain greatness for the entirety of a long career. Because of that, the perception of the dominance of a long-time player can be diminished.

Similarly, one could dangerously favor a player with slightly better qualitative stats but who played three fewer seasons.

And so, I propose a sliding rule to help evaluate career dominance in offensive statistics. This is not a perfect system. But I find it much more accurate than what we currently have.

To be considered dominant over one's career in Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, or OPS, players with the following number of plate appearances must have the corresponding ratio versus the league average in their given qualitative stat.

Ratio PA
1.00 12,689
1.01 12,450
1.02 12,216
1.03 11,987
1.04 11,762
1.05 11,541
1.06 11,324
1.07 11,112
1.08 10,903
1.09 10,698
1.10 10,497
1.11 10,300
1.12 10,106
1.13 9,915
1.14 9,728
1.15 9,544
1.16 9,363
1.17 9,186
1.18 9,011
1.19 8,840
1.20 8,671
1.21 8,505
1.22 8,341
1.23 8,181
1.24 8,023
1.25 7,867
1.26 7,714
1.27 7,563
1.28 7,415
1.29 7,269
1.30 7,125
1.31 6,984
1.32 6,844
1.33 6,707
1.34 6,572
1.35 6,438
1.36 6,307
1.37 6,178
1.38 6,050

How did I put together these numbers? Lots of trial and error. Essentially, you generally need a minimum of 10 years in the Major Leagues to be considered for the Hall of Fame. And, in most cases, you'd only consider such a player if they performed at the highest level of dominance and played a full 10 seasons. Therefore, about 600 plate appearances per season would be about 6,000 total plate appearances required if someone had a 1.38 ratio (a ratio which is incredibly rare) in a particular qualitative stat.

Knowing that it is impossible to maintain that dominance, I loosened the ratio requirement as plate appearances go up. As a point of reference, there are seven players in the Hall of Fame with greater than 12,689 plate appearances. There are 13 with fewer than 6,050, although many are those who played partially in the Negro Leagues (and therefore have incomplete stats) or played during an era in which fewer games were played.

The result? Following are the players who are considered Hall of Fame quality in regards to dominance of the OPS statistic:

Player PA Ratio
Babe Ruth 10,616 1.62
Ted Williams 9,791 1.55
Lou Gehrig 9,660 1.45
Jimmie Foxx 9,670 1.42
Hank Greenberg 6,096 1.41
Dan Brouthers 7,658 1.40
Rogers Hornsby 9,475 1.40
Mickey Mantle 9,909 1.39
Ty Cobb 13,072 1.38
Stan Musial 12,712 1.37
Joe DiMaggio 7,671 1.35
Tris Speaker 11,988 1.35
Willie Mays 12,493 1.34
Frank Robinson 11,743 1.33
Hank Aaron 13,940 1.33
Johnny Mize 7,371 1.33
Ed Delahanty 8,389 1.31
Mel Ott 11,337 1.31
Honus Wagner 11,739 1.30
Roger Connor 8,837 1.30
Harry Heilmann 8,960 1.29
Mike Schmidt 10,062 1.28
Willie Stargell 9,026 1.28
Duke Snider 8,237 1.28
Willie McCovey 9,686 1.28
Nap Lajoie 10,460 1.28
Harmon Killebrew 9,831 1.27
Cap Anson 11,319 1.26
Eddie Mathews 10,101 1.26
Sam Crawford 10,594 1.25
Al Simmons 9,515 1.24
Jesse Burkett 9,605 1.24
Billy Williams 10,519 1.23
Eddie Collins 12,037 1.23
Orlando Cepeda 8,695 1.23
Al Kaline 11,597 1.22
Jim O'Rourke 9,051 1.21
Carl Yastrzemski 13,991 1.21
Paul Waner 10,762 1.21
Reggie Jackson 11,416 1.21
George Brett 11,624 1.21
Jim Rice 9,058 1.20
Fred Clarke 9,819 1.20
Charlie Gehringer 10,237 1.20
Roberto Clemente 10,212 1.20
Goose Goslin 9,822 1.19
Willie Keeler 9,594 1.18
Ernie Banks 10,395 1.18
Joe Morgan 11,329 1.18
Zack Wheat 9,996 1.18
Rod Carew 10,550 1.18
Wade Boggs 10,740 1.18
Jake Beckley 10,470 1.16
Eddie Murray 12,817 1.16
Dave Winfield 12,358 1.16
Tony Gwynn 10,232 1.15
Tony Perez 10,861 1.15
Paul Molitor 12,160 1.13
George Davis 10,151 1.13
Rickey Henderson 13,346 1.12
Andre Dawson 10,769 1.12
Robin Yount 12,249 1.09
Lou Brock 11,235 1.09
Cal Ripken 12,883 1.08

There are a few others I have been able to isolate who are not currently in the Hall of Fame, although it's possible that this is not a complete list:

Player PA Ratio
Dick Allen 7,314 1.33
Mark McGwire 7,660 1.33
Bob Johnson 8,047 1.26
Edgar Martinez 8,672 1.26
Sherry Magee 8,546 1.23
Ron Santo 9,396 1.20
Dwight Evans 10,569 1.19
Fred McGriff 10,174 1.19
Dave Parker 10,184 1.14
Rusty Staub 11,229 1.14
Pete Rose 15,861 1.13
Harold Baines 11,092 1.12
Darrell Evans 10,737 1.12
Tim Raines 10,359 1.11

That's right, our buddy Rusty Staub. Also a few surprises of players who are either typically on the edge or no longer considered for enshrinement.

Of course, this is only meant as a guide. My sliding rule still uses some arbitrary numbers, though they aren't round and pretty. Even with the players above (and for those who just missed qualifying), other considerations should be made.

Is Rusty Staub, a player who enjoyed a long though largely unnoticed career be considered in such a positive light? Maybe, maybe not. It's always interesting how perceptions of players can change when you take the names away and look only at the stats.

Also, you may want to require that players are "dominant" in more than one category. And of course you'll also need to consider things like defensive and baserunning prowess.

But this is a start. It's not the be-all-end-all in this type of analysis. But it's the type of analysis that more in baseball need to be making. Why?

Because the magic number is dead.

Sports: Where's Big Muscled Waldo?


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There has been a lot of talk recently about how a certain former Major League Baseball player to be nameless would have been a definite first ballot Hall of Famer if not for some extenuating circumstances (to put it nicely). I disagree.

I'm not going to go into a tirade in response to this public perception. Nor will I harp on the PED issue as the reason for my opinion (that can be separated in this case). Instead, I want to step you through exactly why I feel the way I do, without even mentioning the extenuating circumstances.

Let's play the Cooperstown Edition of Where's Waldo?

Come with me as we evaluate the careers of three different players with similar styles. Each were power hitters during different, though overlapping, eras. One is a Hall of Famer. One is not, but the player many believe put up numbers that would make him a landslide first ballot kind of guy. The other was never given a sniff of the Hall of Fame.

Now, let's remove their names and evaluate the differences and similarities. Don't cheat and look ahead. It will ruin the suspense.

  Awards Ratios
Player 1 15 7,314   1 1 7   1.17 1.19 1.44 1.33  
Player 2 16 7,660   1 0 12   1.00 1.19 1.44 1.33  
Player 3 18 10,062   0 3 12   1.03 1.17 1.38 1.29  

Analysis: Each of these players were award winners. Player 1 enjoyed winning both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards while Player 2 won a Rookie of the Year and Player 3 won three MVP's. All were successful collecting hardware, with the first being a bit less popular (making seven All-Star Games as opposed to 12 for the other two).

When evaluating Hall of Fame worthiness, it is always important to take a player's accomplishments in perspective. Hitting 30 home runs isn't the same thing this year as it was 10 years ago... as it was 10 years before that or 10 years before that. We need to compare players to their peers in their respective eras.

Instead of comparing these three players' Batting Average, for example (a dangerous practice), we'll compare the ratio of the players' career batting average to the batting average of their era.

How do these players stack up when compared to their peers? The ratios of Player 1 and Player 2 are nearly identical. In fact, they are identical except for Batting Average. Player 2 was no better than the average player at hitting for average. Player 3, when evaluating the ratios, was no better over the course of his career than Player 1.

However, when it comes to ratios it's important to consider years played and plate appearances. It should be expected that a player that dominates for five or 10 years but sticks around for 18 seasons will see his ratios suffer as a result. Player 3 was in the league for two more seasons than Player 2 and three more seasons than Player 1.

More glaring, though, is that Player 1 and Player 2 averaged fewer than 500 plate appearances per season. By that standard, Player 3 lasted the equivalent of five full seasons longer than either Player 1 or Player 2.

In this context, Player 3's ratios are more impressive than Player 1 or Player 2, given that he needed to sustain his level of play much longer.

Assumption: Too early to know which player is which. They put up nearly identical stats in comparison to their peers (at least when compared as a ratio). Player 1 was slightly more dominant than the other two, while Player 3 sustained his success for a much longer period of time.

I would guess at this point that if there is only one Hall of Famer of the group, it is likely either Player 1 or Player 3.

  Batting Average On Base Percentage OPS
Name #1 Top 5 Top 10   #1 Top 5 Top 10   #1 Top 5 Top 10  
Player 1 0 3 6   2 3 7   4 7 10  
Player 2 0 0 0   2 2 4   2 6 7  
Player 3 0 1 1   3 7 11
  5 12 13  

Analysis: Next, let's look at how each player stacked up versus his peers in the categories of Batting Average, On Base Percentage and OPS in regards to number of dominant seasons. This may give us a better gauge of dominance since some later pre-retirement seasons of a long career can't diminish these accomplishments.

It's clear that Player 2 and Player 3 were very similar in regards to their ability to hit for average. This was shown in the first table as well. They were very average hitters. Player 1, however, was a top-five hitter three times and top 10 six times.

In regards to On Base Percentage and OPS, there's a very clear pecking order: Player 3, then Player 1, then Player 2. While all made their marks in these categories, Player 3 was simply a much more dominant player for many more years.

Assumption: Player 3 has certainly separated himself now. He would appear to be the Hall of Famer, with Player 1 being the next most deserving.

  Home Runs Slugging Percentage Total Bases
Name #1 Top 5 Top 10   #1 Top 5 Top 10   #1 Top 5 Top 10  
Player 1 2 4 8   3 7 8   1 3 6  
Player 2 4 9 10   4 6 8   0 3 3  
Player 3 8 12 13   5 12 13   3 10 13  

Analysis: Player 3 hit a lot of home runs, leading the league or being near the top of the league in the category on a regular basis. Player 2 finally separates himself from Player 1 here, but still does not stack up to Player 3. When it comes to measuring overall slugging (including doubles and triples), however, Player 1 was just as dominant as Player 2 (actually, a little more so).

Either way, Player 3 takes each category quite easily. He dominated the league for more years than either Player 1 or Player 2.

Assumption: It is now becoming quite obvious that Player 3 is a Hall of Famer (or at least the player with the first ballot stats, but denied by the writers). The other two are very comparable, so it would be surprising if one of Player 1 and Player 2 gets support for having the numbers of a first ballot Hall of Famer while the other gets none.

  Hall of Fame Voting
Name # Yrs Highest % HOF?  
Player 1 14 18.9% No  
Player 2 4 23.7% No  
Player 3 1 96.5% Yes  

Analysis: Ah hah! We were right about Player 3, who was a first ballot Hall of Famer, getting induction in nearly consensus fashion.

While Player 1 and Player 2 are receiving similar numbers of votes, it is important to remember that one supposedly had the numbers to be a first ballot Hall of Famer if not for extenuating circumstances. Yet, when compared to their respective peers, there's little separating them.

Behind Door #1
Player 1 is... Ladies and gentlemen, Dick Allen. Allen played from 1963 through 1977, winning both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. While his overall numbers aren't eye-popping, tempered both by a career that was modest in longevity and having played during some very dominant pitching years, Dick Allen was a dominating force. He was an all-around player who could run, hit for average, hit home runs, and hit doubles and triples.

Yet, Dick Allen never got a sniff of the Hall of Fame. He was on the ballot 14 times, four of those times receiving less than 10% of the votes. He had no chance.

Behind Door #2
Player 2 is... You guessed it, Mark McGwire. Yes, McGwire set the single season record for home runs. Well, so did Roger Maris. While having a much more dominant career than Maris, McGwire was no more dominating compared to his peers than was Allen.

Like Allen, McGwire's career was relatively short by Hall of Fame standards. Of the 144 hitters in the Hall of Fame, 43 had fewer plate appearances. A lot? Well, do you know how many of those players were active entirely through the 1960s, 70s or 80s, when seasons were 162-games long? None.

Longevity is a major reason why Dick Allen is not in the Hall of Fame. And Mark McGwire could easily get the same treatment, extenuating circumstances or not.

Behind Door #3
Player 3 is... Mike Schmidt. In many ways, Schmidt was a similar player to McGwire. He, too, was a dominating power hitter. However, he was dominating for far longer than McGwire (or Allen, for that matter). Many talk about McGwire having the numbers to be a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer. Those who say that should look at Mike Schmidt's numbers to see what a first ballot Hall of Famer looks like.

In Conclusion
I hope this study opens the eyes of baseball fans. It's not just the lesson about the importance of comparing players to their peers. Or that Mark McGwire's statistics, when looked at more closely, lack the dominance that we are told qualify his career. McGwire's stats are almost identical to those of Dick Allen's when taken in the context of each player's era. So if you believe that McGwire put up numbers to be a first ballot Hall of Famer, can we recognize that Dick Allen suffered one of the greatest injustices in the history of the game?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Fatherhood: The Completed Third Grade Project


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A few days ago I mentioned that a project to challenge my third grade son had ballooned into a challenging project of my own.

Who deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Simple question. No simple answers. After a couple of weeks of work, I presented Michael with a 45-page document. He took it happily.

What I did was provide the stats of 324 hitters, including 134 Hall of Famers. Names removed. The challenge? Name the Hall of Famers.

There are no right or wrong answers. In fact, I hope that he has "wrong" answers. There are players in the Hall who are undeserving. There are players who are not in the Hall who should be.

To help him make his decisions, I separated the players by era, making it more natural to compare players who played together. I provided the players' number of seasons, years played, All-Star appearances, MVP awards, plate appearances, hits, runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.

Additionally, I provided the average batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS during that player's era (calculated those numbers only during the years this player was active). Then, the player's stat was divided by the average player's stat to come up with a ratio above the league average.

This would certainly help him. Anything over 1.00 would be above the league average. Anything above 1.20 would be the sign of dominance.

Of course, the number of plate appearances and cumulative stats would be critical as well. If he doesn't know that now, he will learn it.

I also provided him with charts to better understand the landscape during that era -- batting averages and home runs by year.

Again, there are no right or wrong answers. And it is also important to remember that the stats being provided are only part of the picture. I did not provide the positions each player played on defense. In particular, this would penalize catchers.

I'll write about this more in a separate column, but I disagree with the common notion that, other than catchers, players should be compared to others who played their position. In regards to defense, sure. But if a shortstop was not good defensively, was above average overall offensively, but happened to be one of the best offensively at his position (due to decades of weakness there), does he really deserve to be considered a Hall of Famer?

Anyway, that's another discussion.

The stats also don't tell the entire story about Negro League players who spent some time in the Major Leagues, making their statistics incomplete. In most of these cases (other than a couple), I gave those answers to Michael.

So take a look at the document. It's for a third grader. He's already picked out Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Roberto Clemente. Could you?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fatherhood: Hall of Fame for a Third Grader


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It all started with a project for a third grader...

Our son Michael is a smart kid, and we're doing all we can to keep him challenged. He loves baseball (as does his teacher), so it was suggested that I provide him a project to work on in his spare time that centered around his favorite past time.

Little did I know that the project would present me with a seemingly unsolvable problem.

The Baseball Hall of Fame
In spirit of the recent vote for the 2010 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, I intended to present Michael with a little challenge. Which players deserve to be enshrined?

I had it all figured out in my mind. I would take a list of all of the players in the Hall of Fame. I'd add to it an equal number of players who were not. I'd list all of their career stats.

Then, I'd take away the names.

It was a project for a third grader, but I knew that more context was needed. He wouldn't be able to compare the stats of players in the Steroid Era to those in the Dead Ball Era. He'd need to understand that the stats of those who also played in the Negro Leagues were incomplete. He'd need to understand that things weren't always as they seemed.

So I decided to compare all stats of a player to those of the average player in his era. If a player was active from 1970 through 1988, I'd show the player's career stats next to the average stats, accumulated, from all of those years.

Luckily I'm a whiz with Excel. I loved the project. It was a great problem and one I wanted to solve. And one that was becoming more and more complex with each new solution aimed at making it simpler.

Which stats would I use? Which stats were most important? How would they be compared? How would I determine the average player?

These are difficult questions to answer. They're questions that Hall voters can't agree on themselves.

To start, I simply used every stat available. I found the average qualitative stats (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage) for each year since 1876. That's right. Each year.

This part was actually very easy. Qualitative stats are cake, believe it or not. Although the general public is caught up on quantitative stats (most home runs, runs batted in, hits, etc.), those stats are much trickier to analyze.

The average batting average of a given season is easy to figure out. Just take the total hits accumulated divided by the total at bats.

But average home runs is tricky. Do you account for every player in the league when figuring out the average home runs? If you do, you need to realize that there were far more players in some seasons, offensive players were used differently in different eras, and some stats would be watered down.

While they may not mean much on the surface, I found team per game stats to be most helpful. The game has always been nine innings (though way back, there were no extra innings). There have always been nine hitters on each team, with or without the designated hitter. Though the number of games would change, that wouldn't apply here.

Some of the things I found were quite amazing.  Here are a few highlights.

1) Home runs, not that surprisingly, have not always been that prevalent. Back in 1917, .1 home runs were hit per team every game. That's a decimal point in front of the "1." That number was up to .4 by 1922, .6 in 1930, .8 in 1950, 1.1 in the "Juiced Ball" year of 1987, and spiked at 1.2 in 2000.

2) The stolen bases myth. Maybe it's because I grew up mainly in the 1980s, but I always thought that the game had always been characterized by more stolen bases until recently. That's not really the case. There was an average of 3.0 stolen bases per game in 1887, but that number quickly dropped to 1.7 in 1892, 1.1 in 1898, and was never above 1.0 after 1917. Stolen bases were down to 0.3 per game in 1953, wavered between 0.7 and 0.9 in the 1980s and 1990s, and has been between 0.5 and 0.6 since. No longer a team like the 80s Cardinals, but overall not really much change there.

3) Strikeouts are way up. It's safe to say it's not because the pitching is so good these days. Players are simply swinging for the fences now (see number 1). Back in 1911, each team struck out on average 1.9 times per game. That number passed 4.0 in the 1950s, quickly exceeded 5.0, and touched 6.0 in 1967. In 2009, teams were striking out nearly seven (6.9) times per game. Quite the change, and needs to be considered when evaluating pitchers. Is number of strikeouts these days really an impressive stat?

4) Number of runs scored hasn't changed all that much. Back in 1894, each team scored an average of 7.4 runs per game. By 1908, that number was down to 3.4. Outside of a dip to 3.4 again in 1968 (that famed Year of the Pitcher), runs scored per team per game has remained rather consistent. The high since 1940 is 5.1 in 1999, and most years have been somewhere between 4.0 and 5.0.

5) The sacrifice bunt was never all that popular. This shocked me, just like the stolen base statistic. I remember watching a game in 1982 where announcers debated the fact that Robin Yount didn't bunt Molitor over in the first inning of a game. I thought this was a sign that the sacrifice was far more prevalent then. Not that much. In 1926, each team bunted 1.3 times per game, but after 1930 we'd never see a year in which teams averaged a bunt per game again. The number has been below 0.5 since 1982, bottoming out at 0.3.

6) Very large spikes in batting average. This one is all over the place. In 1894, the average batting average was .309. Just 14 years later, it was .239. By 1930, the average hitter was batting .296, dropping to .253 by 1942. In that famed year of 1968, the average hitter was batting .237, and that number would rise to as high as .271 in 1999. How could one ever compare hitters from different eras? And how could we ever use number of hits (ie, 3,000) as any type of a bench mark?

There's plenty more, but I'll stop boring you now. Essentially, comparing players to their peers is a must. Hitting .250 in 1968 is far different than hitting .250 in 1930 or 1999. People get stuck on looking at stats, but those stats need to be very closely scrutinized. It's not just a matter of looking at the general era a player was active. Things changed dramatically in some cases on a year-by-year basis.

The Third Grade Project: In Limbo
So what am I going to do with this project? Not sure, but I haven't yet gotten past the hitters. Needless to say, there will be no right or wrong answers. There are players in the Hall of Fame who probably don't deserve it, and there are players who aren't who probably do. But the criteria for determining that is awfully hazy.

I'll finish the third grade portion of this project soon, but the grown-up edition is going to take some serious time. I've already started comparing player stats to players from their eras and getting some interesting results. Some very unexpected. Some presumed all-time greats who may not be as great as we thought when compared to their peers. And some who we felt were undeserving but were in fact dominant during a tough hitting era.

More to come.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Technology: Facebook Has a Problem


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It's been a slow, evolutionary change, but Facebook has a problem.

Its users.

This is something I didn't notice overnight. It didn't happen as a result of the privacy changes (though, to be honest, they didn't help). It happened because the users of Facebook are now veterans, and they know the service too well.

There was a time when Facebook users still had their innocence. They were funny. Irreverent. Silly. Care-free. Friendly. Hilarious.

Then, slowly but surely, those qualities have eroded.

This is not a slap at my Facebook friends. It's not just you. It's me. It's the majority of users who use Facebook.

The people may still be interesting. But they are no longer interesting on Facebook.

Following are the types of users who have taken over the network:

1) Self-Promoters. I wanted to get this one out of the way first because I know that I'm part of the problem. Facebook was once about catching up with friends. Sharing stories. Hearing what others are doing. Quickly, professionals realized the power of the network to further their careers.

Promote, promote, promote.

Everyone has a link to promote. A product to sell. A blog they wrote (and, you bet, I'll promote this entry on Facebook). I don't mind getting a little bit of it, but when it becomes someone's entire persona on Facebook, they become less interesting.

If all you're going to do is promote stuff, use Twitter. You'll have a bigger audience there, too. I became your Facebook friend because I thought I'd get a glimpse into your life (or because I was too much of a chicken to reject you). I want to hear about what makes you human. What makes you interesting.

People lose what made them interesting on Facebook when they self-promote too much. I know I've become less interesting. And I wasn't that interesting to begin with. Trying to balance.

2) Politically Obsessive. Look, I get it. You care about politics. You have a passion. The current administration is going to bring an end to the America we know and eventually the world. Health care reform and taxes are bad. The last 10 links you posted during the past 10 days have reminded me of this.

Politics are sensitive, people. It's not like sports. You can root for the Cubs and I have no problem with your ranting. I hate the Cubs. I think you're dumb for liking the Cubs, but I don't take personal offense to your posts about that terrible team.

Politics are not like sports. You can very easily and inadvertently come off condescending to the opposition. And many (probably around half) of your friends are the opposition. You are talking down to half of the people who care about you. Just not good form.

Want to rant about politics? Go to a political message board and knock yourself out. I just don't think that Facebook is the place for it.

Granted, the people who write about opposing views bother me more than those who write about the stuff I agree with. Still. I'd completely understand why those I agree with would be very annoying to those who disagree with it.

This is why you need to use your privacy settings! Make a list called "Politics." Put your friends on it who you think will care about your political rantings. Probably those who give you a thumbs up or comment. When you post something political, use the list. Only they will see it. Spare the rest of us. Then I won't have to hide you.

3) Uninspiring Inspirational Quote...rs. The more inspirational quotes you quote, the less inspiring you become. After a while, it just gets annoying.

A little pick-me-up is good every now and then. But if you have to rely on someone else's words all the time, you become less interesting. I don't care what some other genius said. Just be yourself.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the overly religious folks. This is sensitive, I know. It's actually been eye-opening to see how religious some of my formerly crazy college friends are now. Nothing wrong with it. Religion is a big part of their lives.

I guess that's part of the good about Facebook. If you let it, Facebook can give your friends greater insight into your life that they never knew before. You're more than just a college drunk. You're deeper than that.

Still, if it gets to the point where everything you post is religious, it's similar to #1 and #2 above. Suddenly, it's making you look less interesting.

We have religious freedoms. Feel free to write what you want and I can ignore it. It just gets tiresome when all of your updates invoke God, you know? Nothing against the big guy. I'd just rather hear about you.

4) Self-Loathers. Back in my day, Facebook was a pretty positive place. Not annoyingly positive. Just a fun little party.

Now, it's becoming a pity party. I often feel the need to shower after visiting Facebook. So many negative posts. Everyone's angry about something. Everyone's life sucks. There are a lot of people who are, in a subtle or not-so-subtle way, reaching out for help.

I just wish you wouldn't do it publicly. All the time. Reach out to individual friends. They can help. Airing your dirty laundry only makes you look bad. And makes me feel dirty.

Why the Evolution?
I already talked about why Facebook has gotten more business-oriented. It did because it's a good place to get clicks. It's made Facebook a less interesting place as a result.

I also think that as the novelty has worn off, some of the interesting people have dropped out. Those who need Facebook and need the reassurance are still around. Granted, I'm still around.

I also think the privacy settings may have contributed, even if to a small extent (I don't want to over-blow this). Even if the privacy changes are no big deal, there was an uproar. And even if there's nothing to fear, many are fearful.

Facebook users just seem to be more careful about what they post now. Fewer funny party pictures from college. Fewer hilarious, irreverent jokes. Almost nothing profane. I sometimes like profane.

It may also have something to do with who we are friending on Facebook. It's no longer only our close friends. We are also Facebook friends with not-so-close friends, professional contacts, and our parents (or at least some of us are). You can use your privacy settings obsessively like I am. Or you can just become more careful about what you say. And less interesting.

It's almost like we're growing up. Becoming adults because the grown-ups are watching. Or realizing we're adults again. Facebook gave us something for a while that brought us back to our youth. Now we're re-reverting back to adulthood.

It's unfortunate because, in this way, Facebook is becoming more like Twitter. It's not becoming more like Twitter in the way that Twitter loyalists think. It's not about the news feed or the privacy settings.

It's about the personality. Twitter lacks personality. It lacks warmth. It lacks that sense of family and community that Facebook has always had.

Facebook is all grown up now, and it's becoming a colder place. It's more business-oriented. It's less personal. It's less funny. It isn't as interesting as it once was.

There are still interesting people on Facebook, but the interesting posts are becoming a minority. They are drowning in the sea of self-promotions, political rants, inspirational quotes and pity parties.

And it really has very little to do with anything that Facebook is doing. It's all about the users.