Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Bit of Intellectual T-Ball

Somehow this post from yesterday vanished from the blog. Here it is again. And the lesson for all you young bloggers out there is--never write in the WYSIWIG editor.

Going after a local Santa Barbara sports columnist is kind of the equivalent of inviting the President to a nuclear pronouncing contest, but I can’t help myself. I realize a writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press isn’t even at the lofty heights of the LA Times’ snippy, insightless T.J. Simmers, or Bill Plaschke, who can’t mention Paul DePodesta without making some anti-intellectual crack that must play well to the few red voters in the very blue Los Angeles. But News-Press writer Nick Masuda has driven me nuts for a couple of years (in two different tenures—they hired this guy back after he reviewed a band and called its performance “awesome”!), and now the paper has granted him a baseball column.

To his credit, he does want to make his column interactive, but you can only write him a 60 word email, so he obviously doesn’t want you to have too big a thought (that would stand out in his work). So I think I’ll have sport with him here, and move on.

This Sunday he opens his column by berating Dodger GM Paul DePodesta for not making any moves yet this off-season. Considering the ridiculous moves and money other GMs have tossed in the crapper (Omar Vizquel for 3 years and $12.25 million? Does he have to trade in some of his old Gold Gloves? And the one that really hurts the most, my Mets, under new management but the same old foolhardy plan, sign Kris Benson to a three-year, $22.5 million contract—does that includes getting Anna Benson to pose as the new Mrs. Met?), so far this off-season, some restraint seems a good thing.

I have to admit Masuda has a point that inking Adrian Beltre of the endless talent that’s shown up for one year of MVP performance (in a contract year, natch) to a huge contract might not be the best deal for the Dodgers. But his alternate plan comes from the “Being a GM is No Different than Running a Rotisserie Team” school of blowing it out your ass. His idea: sign Carlos Delgado and Troy Glaus to cover both first and third. This assumes much: 1) that Glaus’ post-surgery shoulder can handle third without the DH position to give it a rest, 2) that Delgado is fully back from all his injuries, and, at age 33 next season, isn’t a classic sure-to-age-quickly slow slugger, 3) that the Dodgers budget can go up the $60 million Masuda thinks it would take to sign both. (Note a Baseball Prospectus article today, based on actual number crunching, not smart ass hunching, imagines that Delgado and Glaus will sign for a combined $17 million a year for next season alone, with Beltre at about $12 million—I would link, but the story is on the subscription site.)

Oh, then Masuda concludes claiming the Dodgers should “still be able to sign a pitcher or two.” Remember that the entire 2004 Dodger payroll was almost $93 mil. Masuda has them spending a good $80 mil more in one off-season (sure, that’s over years of several contracts, but still).

Maybe I’m being huffy simply because Masuda seems unconcerned with assuming that signings involve real money, and that players have to be able to play a position, and that you should pay guys not for what they’ve done, but what they will do (especially when you’re signing them from another club—I certainly can see the Giants thinking they owe Bonds a few dollars, say). But he also doesn’t seem willing to have a consistent logic in his own writing from sentence to sentence—it’s like his paragraphs are waiting for the rhetorical Ritalin to kick in. Get a load of this whopper:
“The Red Sox won the World Series because they were a rag-tag bunch that liked to play together. They had a plethora of stars that just wanted one thing—a ring.”

How about that rag-tag plethora of stars? Sure they looked rag-tag, starting with lead-off sartorial satirist Johnny “What Would Jesus’ Hair-Do?” Damon, but they got paid a combined $127 mil in 2004, so those World Series rings didn’t actually mean they took pay cuts. They made a mid-year trade and got Doug Spell-Check-Crasher, the AL Central champ Twins’ starting first baseman, and made him a defensive sub. In another mid-year trade they acquired Dave Roberts, the opening day leftfielder for the NL West champ Dodgers, so he could be the late-inning legs for Manny Ramirez, who must get weak at the knees taking his $22.5 mil 2004 salary to the bank. Ask Masuda, though, and the Sox were Washington’s men at Valley Forge and the Red Birds standing in for the Red Coats. He needs to get beyond that myth that the only teams that win are in it for “fun” and succeed because they get along so well. Instead it’s more likely that there’s no fun like winning.

Not to make this the longest blog entry about someone no one has ever heard about (all apologies to Nick’s parents who probably hate seeing their son turned into a straw man), but I have to discuss when he takes a question from a 76 year-old who writes in a prose that suggest he sports mutton-chops and attends day games in his straw hat: “What is the most difficult position in the infield excluding the battery? I feel the keystone sack is the most difficult and takes a lot of finesse.”

Masuda goes on to say, of course, that first base is the toughest position.

First base.

My wife, who I admit, has to listen to me spout way-too-much Bill James/BP-influenced chatter year-round, knows enough to say shortstop.All the way back in 1988—when Masuda, who looks about 27 from his picture, was as yet a pre-teen and should have been reading this stuff—Bill James explained the defensive spectrum:

[ - - 1B - LF - RF - 3B - CF - 2B - SS - C - - ]With the basic premise being that positions at the right end of the spectrum are more difficult than the positions at the left end of the spectrum. Players can generally move from right to left along the spectrum successfully during their careers.

That is, when you’re slow and old and can’t really field, you end up at first. C’mon, Nick, this is basic knowledge and more or less common sense if you watch baseball. Sure, it’s great to have a Keith Hernandez in his prime saving infielders from errors, but it’s better to have a shortstop that gets to the groundball up the middle in the first place. Find the best pure athlete on the field. How many of them are first basemen? Case closed.

So, my advice for Masuda? Read up on the folks who know what’s really going on baseball and don’t think it’s all chemistry or effort or selflessness or giving oneself up for the team. There’s plenty of Bill James out there and Baseball Prospectus has a website. You owe it to your readers to know what you write about--you're not just some boor in a bar spouting off. People paid money to read the paper you're in. Otherwise you’re just some sub-Jim Rome, and you end up having a take and sucking, both.


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