Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

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Thursday, September 06, 2007



Another column, another litany of blunders for Jon Heyman.

Today's the day to sing for the unsung, to herald the unheralded, to praise the overlooked.

So this piece is of the Under-the-Radar, Bet You Haven't About These Guys variety. Fine. Standard. The whole thing is a little paint-by-numbers, and I was tempted to run through the entire article. There's a sweet Eckstein ref (very original, comparing Reggie Willits to Eckstein -- if there were a Nobel Prize for Originality, Jon, they would immediately rename it the Heyman Prize, only you would insist that they rename it again with a more original name); a couple of obvious BABIP, small sample size wonders (Matt Diaz*, congratulations on your .392 BABIP); and a few just plain head scratchers (Rudy Seanez? Really, who cares?)

But there were two selections that went above and beyond the run-of-the-mill idiocy of the rest of the list, primarily because of the reasoning behind them. The first:

There's also Jose Vidro in Seattle. It's hard to be unsung when you're so highly paid ($7 million). But Vidro, who once combined with Vlad Guerrero to make Montreal a threat, has been forgotten. He shouldn't be, not with his .306 average.

First of all, his average is .310. It hasn't been .306 since August 1st. I have no idea how you got that figure. Secondly, who cares? Batting average is a number best appreciated by elderlies and pre-multiplication-table-age children, and 2007 Jose Vidro is a perfect representation why.

Let me explain: sure, Jose Vidro has gotten a hit 31 out of every 100 at bats, but virtually none of those hits have been for extra bases. He's slugging .389 on the year. Three. Eighty. Nine. Did I mention he's also a DH? That's right. He has no defensive value.

So Jon Heyman wants us to heap more recognition on a player who does not play defense, gets paid $7 million a year (as he himself mentions), and has six home runs all year? How much, exactly, should we be singing about and heralding this guy? I have a limited heralding budget. You would not believe how much professional heralds go for these days.

What's that? You want me to be even more long-winded and belabor this point further? Don't mind if I do. There are seven DHs who qualify for the 432 minimum plate appearances. Of these seven, Jose Vidro is dead last in OPS. Now yes, five of these guys are pretty damn good, but Vidro is trailing even sometime first baseman, full-time idiot Kevin Millar, who makes way less money, gets nary a herald now that he's on a bad team in a small market, and has 14 home runs in 90 fewer at bats than our good friend Jose. The other five full-time DHs all have 21 or more home runs. Vidro, if you have a short-term memory deficit a la Guy Pearce in Memento, still has 6.

Why am I harping on this so much? 1. I am not a good or useful person and 2. it was only seconds ago, it feels like, anyway, that Heyman was pontificating on how he would never ever use something crazy like VORP and how VORP is un-American and that VORP probably didn't help Pavarotti live any longer. Well, let me say now that VORP would likely have helped you, Jon Heyman, recognize that Jose Vidro isn't having that great a season after all, that he's been completely ordinary, and that an empty shell of a .310 (or as you believe, .306) batting average does not necessarily make you anything more than the 7th or 8th best DH in the league. Jack Cust, a .261 hitter, has been 50% more valuable.

But of course, VORP is a made-up statistic, and real men do not stoop to such lows. Never mind that batting average itself is, of course, made up in its own way -- no one could simply watch twenty games and immediately know what a specific player's batting average was without doing some (nerd alert) math. You want to talk made up? How about ERA? Totally mathy. How about saves? Heck, how about the weird, arbitrary rules that determine what the hell counts as a pitching "win"? They are all made up, my friend. Some of them are simply more useful than others.

Let us continue, now, to the second blunder, this one far more straightforward and perhaps slightly more humorous:

There's Kaz Matsui (.292, 29 steals) with the Rockies, who got him for next to nothing after he flopped with the Mets. Who'd have thought that the star from Tokyo would take to Colorado more than he does New York?

Yes, indeed, who'd have thought that a baseball player would hit better in a stadium three hundred miles in the air than in a stadium three hundred miles long in every dimension? Who'd have thought that a hitter might benefit moving from Shea to Coors? Which Nostradamic mind could divine such wondrous futures? Truly, an unanswerable mystery.

Enough cheap sarcasm. Here are the facts. His first year in New York, Kaz Matsui batted .272 (who cares?) and posted an OPS of .727. He was lambasted as a disaster of Irabuian proportions.

His first full season in Colorado, away from Coors Field, Kaz Matsui has batted .262 and OPSed .672. That's right. Worse than his debut with the Mets (for whom he managed a .723 OPS on the road). In the thin air of Denver, Kaz has smoked the ball to the tune of .325/.374/.462 (OPS of .835). But that's not altogether unpredictable, is it? It's Coors fucking Field. If Heyman had taken two seconds and traipsed on over to Kaz's B-Ref page, he would've discovered that Kaz's 2004 OPS+ (park- and league-adjusted) was 88, and his 2007 OPS+ so far is ... 89.

I just find it so amusing that Heyman completely forgets or ignores the extremely obvious park factors at play here (again, I.C.F.F. (it's Coors fucking Field)!) and then posits that Kaz enjoys the city of Denver more than the city of New York and thus magically became a better player (seriously, reread what he wrote -- "Who'd have thought that the star from Tokyo would take to Colorado more than he does New York?")

Maybe he's onto something. Maybe all these years of offense haven't been due to the fact that Coors Field's atmosphere is less dense than any of Mars' moons'. Maybe Denver is just a nice place to live. Yeah. That's it. Denver: Any citizen, professional baseball player or not, will gain 100 points of OPS simply because they live here. Clearly, the second-level move now is for players to just make their homes in Denver while they play for other cities. The hitting benefits will be obvious.

Have I digressed enough? You're welcome.



Reader demand has convinced me to at least mention this phenomenal last graf:

Anyone who thinks A-Rod isn't a "true'' Yankee is nuts. You want the truth? Without him the Yankees are 11 back in the wild-card race instead of three in front.

Heyman is guesstimating that A-Rod has been worth 14 wins thus far in the season, presumably using the completely fictional "wins created" metric he wrote about last time out. How is wins created calculated? It's a three-part process.

1. Heyman hears a player's name.
2. Heyman thinks, for one second, about what that player's name means to him. Is the player famous? Is he sort of a prick? How did he play last night?
3. After one second, Heyman writes down a number. This number is the number of wins the player has created.

This formula has the advantage of being extremely fast, easy, and verifiable only by Jon Heyman.

For those of you interested in non-Heyman-invented statistics, A-Rod is sitting at a pretty sweet 5.9 Batting Wins (Pete Palmer's tool measuring hitting wins over an average player) and 9.7 WARP-1 (which measures wins over a replacement player). There's also the possibility that Heyman had a moment of weakness and checked A-Rod's Baseball Prospectus DT card, because Mr. Rodriguez' WARP-3 (adjusted for all-time rather than just this season) sits at 13.6, which rounds to 14, which is Heyman's WC for him! But Heyman would never resort to that. Would he have?

The numbers in the preceding paragraph are all approximations subject to untold degrees of error, except of course the Heyman Number, which as he so humbly reminds us his column, is simply "the truth."


*It's been pointed out to me by reader Eric that Matt Diaz, amazingly, has posted the following BABIPs over the past four years:

2004 Durham (584 PA) - .378
2005 Omaha (278 PA) - .418
2006 Atlanta (322 PA) - .373
2007 Atlanta (329 PA) - .392

Eric also says "You mentioned in your post blasting Jon Heyman that Matt Diaz is an 'obvious BABIP, small sample size wonder.' I couldn't disagree more" and "I fail to see how this year is flukey or a product of small sample size."

Thank you, Eric, for your input. I did a little digging to see if there's any precedent for this type of consistently outrageously high BABIP. Hitters, I think, have been known to control BABIP a bit better than pitchers. This is extremely unscientific, but I quickly checked some good hitters' career BABIPs. Here's what I found:

Alex Rodriguez .326
David Ortiz .310
Albert Pujols .318
Gary Sheffield .292

Again, completely random. Not serious analysis. But Diaz is at .392 this year, and of course that's not sustainable. It's just not. Is Diaz a good hitter? He is, although as Eric pointed out to me he hasn't gotten enough of a chance to prove this at a major league level.

But his numbers are a little inflated this year by that .392.

**One more edit. Once again, I've been rescued by a reader who knows much more than I do about everything. Michael?


Rather than comparing Diaz to Arod or Sheffield, you might want to note that the standard formula for BABIP is line drive rate plus .120. Since Diaz’s line drive rate this season is 21.2%, his expected BABIP is .332, 60 points below where he is now. Furthermore, the two stats that might inflate a player’s BABIP (groundball rate and infield hit rate) do not predict a bump in BABIP for Diaz. Unless there is something unique to Diaz that has not affected any other major league baseball player in history, you are correct about Diaz’s BABIP due to regress to the mean and reader Eric is wrong.


Thank you sir. I would add that reader Eric is right that Diaz could definitely be an actual decent major league hitter. His BABIP could regress and his numbers would still be respectable, since right now they're sensational.


posted by Junior  # 8:09 PM
How is "Jon Heyman" the only tag for this wondrous piece of sarcastic nerddom?

I nominate "Fuck the Heck." Just for starters.
When I was a kid, I never thought I would grow up to receive so many e-mails with the subject line "Matt Diaz" to a pseudonymous Yahoo-based account.

But it happened. This is the latest, from Arjun:

I'm a fan of your collective blog and I read it regularly. I wanted to note one other thing about reader Eric's Matt Diaz numbers: Most of the AB listed are from the minor leagues. BABIP is inflated in the minor leagues because A. pitching is worse and B. fielding is MUCH worse. A high BABIP in the minor leagues doesn't mean that the player can sustain a high BABIP in the major leagues.

The Atlanta numbers are "legitimate," but still small enough number of AB, career-wise, to surely be a small sample size effect.

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