FIRE JOE MORGAN: Sports Love Letters, Part 2


Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Sports Love Letters, Part 2

Remember that thing I wrote about Mike Downey's unhealthy, slightly embarrassing crush on Cesar Izturis? It's like two posts down. You should check it out. Anyway, allow me to propose an analogy:

Mike Downey : Cesar Izturis :: Bill Plaschke : Ned Colletti

Bill Plaschke writes for the L.A. Times. Often insufferably. He basically ran former Dodger GM Paul DePodesta out of town because DePodesta is a nerd who wears glasses and uses computers and hates baseball. When Ned Colletti rolled into town to take over, Plaschke spurted his approval. You may recall the following sentence (which I wrote about in a post on this page):

His name is Ned Colletti, and he's an old-time baseball guy, from his affection for snakeskin boots to his love of snake-free clubhouses.

How does Plaschke feel about Ol' Snakeskin Boots' deadline deals? Just fine, thanks:

Trades Fuel Dodgers for the Pennant Drive

Moments before the Dodgers were officially a rebuilding team that no longer cared about wins?

Ned Colletti brought in 327 of them.

You know those people who say "you can use numbers to show anything" and "numbers lie" and "I don't trust numbers, don't give me numbers, God, anything but numbers"? These are the very same people who use numbers in the wrong way. Has anybody noticed this? It's fantastic. They love to spout off about how skeptical they are of statistics. Then, in the very next breath, they're justifying trades based on the number of career wins a player has. Let's keep an eye on how many times Bill Plaschke cites statistics wrongheadedly or unproductively in this article alone. Here he dramatically points out to the reader that Greg Maddux has (gasp!) 327 wins in his lifetime. Well, yes. He's 40 years old, has had a terrific career, and he's one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. Of course he's going to have a boatload of wins. Anyone reading this Bill Plaschke column about the Dodgers' deadline trades probably has a decent sense of who Greg Maddux is and what he's done. But how much does the fact that Maddux has 300+ wins really help us predict how good he'll be for the Dodgers for the remaining two months of the season? My guess is: not much. I think this was a good trade for the Dodgers -- we've seen in the Downey post what kind of hitter Izturis is. But citing Maddux' career win total is next to worthless in this context. Except for how good it makes Ned Colletti look.

Moments before the Dodgers were condemned to two months with a makeshift infield and powerless batting order?

Ned Colletti added an infielder who is immediately tied for the team lead in home runs.

Again, I like this move pretty well (he's talking about Julio Lugo). But how impressive is this statistic, exactly? Lugo has 12 home runs so far this year. Good for a middle infielder, but a downright lousy mark for first place on a team. I mean, Bill Hall (another middle infielder) has 24 home runs. Bill Hall. Plus, how fluky is it that Lugo has even 12 homers in 73 games? If you look at his career stats, the answer is very. In eight seasons, he's hit a total of 68 taters. The last two years, he's hit 6 and 7, respectively, while playing 158 and 157 games. So something tells me his home run rate is going to drop.

What I'm saying is, chalk up another misleading statistic for Mr. Plaschke.

In the final breaths before baseball's trading deadline Monday, with his team's fans huddled in front of an empty hearth and dreading the onset of winter, Colletti burst through the door with arms full and smile wide.

First, Ned is a studly, dangerous, bad-boy love interest for Plaschke. Now it appears Plaschke has father-figure issues.

In his one hand, the smartest available pitcher, Greg Maddux.

Nice hedge, there.

In his other hand, the best available infielder, Julio Lugo.

No complaints about that. Lugo is good.

Now, if you'll indulge me for just a second, I'd like to be nitpicky about writing style instead of baseball objectivity. Will at Deadspin has pointed this out before: sportswriters love single-sentence paragraphs. Even more than this, they love single-sentence-fragment paragraphs. Take a look at what Plaschke's written so far. That's right -- it's seven single-sentence or single-fragment paragraphs. Now glance at the text I'm about to copy and paste below. (Here's a hint: it's ten more one-line paragraphs. And one two-sentence graph -- to throw people off!)

In his wallet, every top Dodgers prospect remained.

In baseball parlance, a two-run walk-off homer.

"I don't think we're that far away," Colletti said. "This should give everybody a lift."

A lift in attitude, from the clubhouse kids to the top-level ushers, everyone realizing this new Dodgers administration will refuse to give up on a season.

A lift in ability, with holes plugged in the rotation, infield and batting order.

And a huge lift over the Angels, who once again ignored their fans and abandoned their players and failed to add the hitter that could have taken them to the World Series.

Sure, the Angels have enough pitching to win their division, but with their recent history and current payroll, a division title is not enough anymore.

For the Dodgers, for now, the playoffs are plenty.

Even though they were five games out of first place in the awful West at the time of the trade, this move could take them there.

"There's plenty of time to make up five games," Maddux said.

Despite being 40 and struggling for the Chicago Cubs since April with the third-worst winning percentage of any regular starter in baseball — 4-11, 27% — it all starts with Maddux.

Hi. Hopefully you've gotten through all eleven of those choppy, dramatic, newspapery paragraphs. I'm still here. And hey, look, it's another statistic. Winning percentage! Plaschke, you dog, you've done it again! Maddux has been atrocious in the last three months, but you happen to have chosen one of the least legitimate statistics ever invented to show that. Did you know that Roger Clemens has a winning percentage of 33% this year? I looked it up. He must be terrible! But wait, he also has 343 career wins! He must be terrific! Such is life in Plaschkeworld.

As long as he can still think, he can still pitch. And with the stakes higher and the air thicker and the infielders hungrier, he can pitch here.

I don't know, I bet he'll still be able to think okay when he's 58, but I sure as hell don't want him pitching for my team at that age.

Anybody remember his last Dodger Stadium appearance in April? In eight innings he gave up three hits, struck out six, walked none and won, 4-1.

Sample size = 1.

Besides having the most career wins of any pitcher to start a Dodgers game, Maddux arrives dressed in a career 2.94 August earned-run average and a 3.63 September ERA.

Aaaargh! Career August ERA? CAREER AUGUST ERA? And wow, his career September ERA is 3.63? It turns out that's awful for Maddux -- it's more than half a run worse than his overall career ERA of 3.06. So on average, if you really believe that a pitcher's performance corresponds in any way to the first number in the date, Greg Maddux is worse in September than he is the rest of the year. But honestly, let's not lose sight of the fact that Bill Plaschke thinks what Greg Maddux did for the Cubs in September of 1988 is relevant to how he's going to pitch for the Dodgers in 2006. Also, that he's one of those "statistics lie" people.

Hold on, Plaschke's wrapping up. Everybody quiet! I think he's going to mix in some longer paragraphs instead of using the cliched choppy-ending-to-a-sports-article big finish.

Pennant race?


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posted by Junior  # 2:42 PM
It's Instant Reader Feedback Time!

From Ian:

And a huge lift over the Angels, who once again ignored their fans and abandoned their players and failed to add the hitter that could have taken them to the World Series.

Was Plaschke asleep during the trade deadline? The Angels tried hard to get Miguel Tejada. It's not their fault that Peter Angelos is an enormous fool who nixed dealing Tejada for the very generous package the Angels offered. How was not getting Tejada the Angels' fault?

And from the very pithy Ed:

And to think, he did all with the blink of an Izturis and the flick of a Guzman.

Merciful lord in heaven above...
There are like 560+ HR out there for the taking as well in Raffy Palmeiro. Where was Coletti? Raffy has been GREAT in September in his career!
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