News, Notes and Quotes (May 25, 2005)

Fashionably Late to the Ignorance Party

Remember a couple of years back, when a number of mainstream media members couldn’t figure out who had written Moneyball? ESPN’s Joe Morgan was the most famous name to not realize that Michael Lewis authored the bestseller, and documenting the fact that Morgan repeatedly made comments showing his ignorance on the subject became a hobby of mine. There were others of course, and their “Billy Beane shouldn’t have written Moneyball” columns popped up in newspapers and on websites across the country for months.

While the controversy surrounding Moneyball continues to this day, the confusion over the book’s author has finally died down two years after it was published. Or so I thought. Turns out, some columnists just take a little longer than others to show their ignorance. The Philadelphia Daily NewsBill Conlin wrote a column Monday about a local college pitcher whom he calls Josh “Moneyball” Schwartz. Here’s a little excerpt:

The Rowan University lefthander represents the creative scouting (and money-saving) opportunities Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane advanced in his controversial book on how to break the game’s archaic mold shaped by stopwatch, height chart and radar gun.

Again, just to be clear, Beane did not write Moneyball. Instead—and I realize now that this is a tough concept for many to grasp—he was the subject of the book, which is just one of several written by Lewis. But wait, it gets better. The kicker here is that Conlin goes on to write the following:

I’m just suggesting a lot of scouting directors obviously didn’t read Beane’s critically acclaimed “Moneyball.” And if any of them did, many obviously missed the point Beane has been trying to drive home to his cash-poor brethren: There is a lot of value out there if ballclubs dig a little deeper into how a 6-foot, 175-pound lefty can string together 36 straight decisions without a loss.

This is why so many people are so critical and distrustful of the mainstream media. Conlin, a veteran sports writer of several decades, is so out of touch with his subject matter that he doesn’t know who wrote a two-year-old book on which he is basing an entire column. Not only that, but he then goes on to criticize others for not reading the book and failing to understand its finer points.

It would be disturbing for anyone to misidentify the subject of a book as its author and then write things like “I’m just suggesting a lot of scouting directors obviously didn’t read Beane’s critically acclaimed ‘Moneyball‘” and “if any of them did, many obviously missed the point Beane has been trying to drive home.” But for someone like Conlin to do so, while being paid what I presume is a handsome salary to cover sports for a huge audience, is mindboggling. How is it even possible for something like this to find its way into a major-market newspaper? And they say bloggers need editors!

“And you wanna be my latex salesman?”

Someone who shall remain nameless asked me the other day if my lack of criticizing ESPN’s Baseball Tonight this season meant that I thought the show had improved. I told him I wouldn’t know, because the show was so bad and so frustrating to watch over the past couple of seasons that I stopped watching it altogether this year.

John Kruk is one of the stars of Baseball Tonight and a perfect example of the direction ESPN as a whole has taken recently. He also writes columns and does “chats” frequently on ESPN.com that I try to avoid as much as Baseball Tonight. For whatever reason, I wasn’t successful last week when I stumbled upon Kruk’s Friday chat session and saw the following:

Joe (Boston): Do you think batting average is the most overrated indicator of how good a hitter someone is? It requires an awful lot of luck.

John Kruk: Yes, batting average is overrated. I know a lot of people think OPS is the best but I think it’s a bunch of crap. I think the only stats that matters are W/L and runs scored and runs driven in. I think the more runs you score, the better chance your OBP is pretty good.

Ten thousand words could be written about the decline of Baseball Tonight, but the above question-and-answer combination essentially does the trick just as well. Kruk attempts to provide entertainment and analysis on a TV show devoted to baseball, yet he describes a statistic that simply adds together a player’s on-base percentage and slugging percentage as “a bunch of crap.” On a show that stopped being about the actual highlights years ago, why would someone tune in to hear “insight” like that?

Act now! For one day only, bridges in Brooklyn are half off!

In what has to be the least believable injury excuse of the young season, righty Carlos Zambrano has been told by the Cubs to cut down on his computer usage because it may be causing problems with his elbow. Here’s what manager Dusty Baker had to say about the unique situation:

It’s not carpal tunnel, but if you don’t watch it, who knows what it can lead to? We are trying to alleviate it.

Yes, certainly it is excessive typing that is behind Zambrano’s arm problems and not the 136 pitches Baker had him throw against the Phillies on May 8 or the 10,000 pitches Zambrano has thrown in the majors before his 24th birthday.

The debate on pitching workloads is far from settled, and I am in no way implying there is always a direct correlation between throwing a lot of pitches and coming down with an arm injury. With that said, it is certainly not surprising to see Zambrano’s arm give him problems after ranking 10th in Baseball Prospectus’ “Pitcher Abuse Points” in 2003, his age-22 season, and third in PAP last year, his age-23 season. And, of course, so far this season Zambrano ranks second. The good news is that Zambrano’s arm will probably give way before he can claim the top spot.

Quote of the Week Weak

This week’s most ridiculous quote (non-Kruk division) comes to us from Arizona shortstop Royce Clayton and Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic. Well, actually it’s a series of quotes from an article entitled “Clayton hitting them hard,” so let’s dive right in:

Royce Clayton might be hitting only .228, but he’s been hitting the ball as hard as anyone in the Diamondbacks’ lineup.

Believe it or not we track such things here at THT with the help of Baseball Info Solutions, and Clayton has hit a line drive just 11.2% of the time this season. That is 27% worse than the National League average of 15.3%, and ranks dead last among Arizona hitters. In fact, even two Arizona pitchers, Russ Ortiz and Brandon Webb, have hit a higher percentage of line drives than Clayton this season.

Here’s what Clayton had to say:

Yeah, hitting it hard, all right. I’m just hitting it right at people….I’m immune to it, to tell you the truth. Everywhere I’ve played, people say, ‘Man, you really hit a lot of balls solid, but right at guys.’ It’s old hat.

Anyone who plays poker regularly surely recognizes Clayton as the guy at every table who is “always unlucky,” otherwise known as Phil Hellmuth. In poker that means “everyone always draws out on me” or “I never win a coin flip.” In baseball it means “I’m just hitting it right at people.” Given that Clayton has over 7,000 plate appearances in the majors at this point, I’m guessing there isn’t a whole lot of luck involved.

Also, I have no doubt that Clayton’s teammates over the years have repeatedly told him, “Man, you really hit a lot of balls solid, but right at guys.” I mean, what else should they say? “You know Royce, you hit the ball pretty softly on the rare occasions you make decent contact, so I’m not at all surprised your batting average is so low.”

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