Blah, blah, blah and the future of baseball beat writing


Did you see Andy Martino’s game story from the Mets-Astros in the New York Daily News?  If not, here’s how it started:

Blah blah blah blah rain blah blah blah Niese blah blah Astros blah blah Mets got spanked. Blah blah, 6-1. We really don’t know what else to tell you about this one. But we will try:

He goes on to keep up that tone, providing the game information but couching it in terms of “well, if you must know I suppose we’ll tell you about this miserable game.” I highly suggest you read it all.

Guess what? I love it.

Not that it’s perfect on its own merits. I just love the fact that Martino it trying to take the game story in a new direction.  Which I feel is essential to the the future of baseball beat reporting.

Traditional game stories are all but dead.  Oh, they’re still dutifully written by many, but they’re almost completely irrelevant now.  Their original purpose — to paint a picture of a game people missed with a thousand words — has been supplanted by the actual pictures. Highlight packages on ESPN or on the web. Or at least by fewer words in the form of contemporaneous blog posts, tweets, or what have you.  The game stories that appear soon after a game ends are almost pointless given how bare-boned they are (you can do better with an inning-by-inning recap of the scoring plays).  The ones that show up the next morning’s paper are better — they have quotes and stuff — but they’re too late.

At least they’re too late if all they’re providing is a mere factual account of the game’s events.  Which, if I ran a newspaper, would be the last thing the beat writer would be in the business of doing. Rather, I’d have them turning the daily game story into an editorial platform rather than a reporting platform. I’d have them create a daily product that is infused with not just the facts of the game but with their analysis — their personal analysis and opinion — thereby making the game story from a given writer a unique product and thereby making that writer’s work far more important to both readers and to the newspaper or website that employs them.

And don’t think for a minute that the current crop of beat writers — the vast majority of them a smart and savvy bunch — couldn’t do it.  I mean think about it: the one thing that the beat writer has over everyone is that he or she is with the team every day from February until October. They know the vibe of the team inside and out. They know when someone is dogging it, when someone is hurt but not saying it and when players aren’t getting along.

The beat writer will tell you that they hear and see tons of stuff that they simply can’t report, and I get that.  But why not use that flavor — if not the specific facts — to create a season-long editorial creation about the state of the team?  As of now newspaper columnists pop in and out with their takes a couple of times a week, but those are different people than the beat guys. They’re former beat guys — you tend to graduate up to becoming a columnist in the newspaper business — who may have more experience but are farther away from the team and the game on a day-to-day basis. Instead of leaving it to them to provide the 10,000 foot overview on Sunday and Wednesday, why not have the beat guys do this every single day?

There a lot of different forms this could take, but my first thought on it would be to do something that could work for both the web and print edition: a contemporaneous opinion-based riff on the game. A live blog, as it were, which could go on the web in close to real time (MLB doesn’t like that though, so we’d have to figure out how to do it) but which can be cleaned up and enhanced a bit before the hard copy deadline.  This nuevo game story would read like a live blog, but would appear the next morning. Before you scoff, remember, Bill Simmons has made a hell of a career out of posting “live blogs” after the fact. It could read like this:

“Bottom of the First

Girardi had Jeter bunt with Gardner on first and nobody out. In a 0-0 game. This makes very little sense. A sacrifice is essentially a one-run strategy. You absolutely do that if it’s the seventh inning of a tight game and you’re about to face the back end of a tough bullpen. You don’t do it in the first inning when, one would hope anyway, you plan on scoring more than one run.  When Gardner was stranded at second — where he may have gotten anyway given that the weak-armed Jason Varitek was behind the plate — I bet Girardi wished he had that extra out.”

You put together a dozen or two of those plus some introduction and some final thoughts and you have a piece that would be easy to write each day. It wouldn’t have to be comprehensive because it could run alongside the box score or a capsule scoring recap or what have you (and remember: people already have the basics from the web or TV).  The story would give readers something they couldn’t get elsewhere, however: the voice of a guy they’ve come to trust over the past couple of years telling it like it is, informed by his close-to-the-team perspective.

If a beat writer does this 162 times a year — or if he provides sharp, opinion-oriented game stories in another form — it would give him a chance to develop hobby horses and running jokes. If it was done well it would be a unique product that readers would seek out every day. People don’t reach for a specific paper as much as they used to because the news has become so commoditzed. People would seek out something like this, however. That’s good for the paper. It’s also good for the writers personally, as it would provide them a chance to set themselves apart from the crowd and cultivate a personal brand. Best of all: it would give the reader a fresh, informed take on the game which the current brand of off-the-shelf gamers really don’t provide.

Andy Martino will probably take a lot of crap for his Mets-Astros gamer today.  It’s misplaced crap, however, because I think it’s exactly that sort of thing that could constitute the future of baseball reporting.

2018 Preview: New York Mets

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The New York Mets.

Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Mets in 2017, so the fact that they won 70 games is actually remarkable. Their hailed rotation was a shambles, as Noah Syndergaard made only seven starts. Zack Wheeler put up a 5.21 ERA over 17 starts; Matt Harvey was even worse with a 6.70 ERA across 18 starts and one relief appearance. Steven Matz compiled a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts. Just about the only consistency the club had came from Jacob deGrom, who finished with a career-high 3.53 ERA in 31 starts.

The rotation, as of right now, is healthy, save for deGrom, who has been battling a minor back issue during this spring. But so far, so good for everyone else. Well, there was Jason Vargas, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Mets last month and suffered a non-displaced fracture of the hamate bone in his non-throwing hand. He underwent surgery and is expected to return shortly after the start of the regular season. But I mean, at least they still have everyone else!

Well, Michael Conforto is still recovering from shoulder surgery last September. The Mets are targeting May 1 for his return. That’s everyone, right? Wright? Where’s David Wright? The third baseman underwent two surgeries in September and October last year for his shoulder and back and still isn’t feeling well enough to play baseball, so the Mets shut him down for eight weeks.

The Mets haven’t had a legitimate full-time third baseman since 2014, Wright’s last full season. No Mets third baseman has played more than 55 games in a season at third base in the last three seasons. So the club went out and signed Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17 million contract. Frazier split last season with the White Sox and Yankees, hitting a combined .213/.344/.428 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI. While Frazier is now 32 years old and has seen a decline in power, he did set a career-high in walk rate last year at 14.4 percent and he’s still a solid defender. Frazier is still more than a capable player and he’ll look like a Greek god at the hot corner compared to what the Mets have trotted out there lately.

Shortstop at Citi Field now belongs to 22-year-old Amed Rosario. Among the top prospects in baseball, Rosario struggled last year, batting .248/.271/.394 across 46 games. Rosario has the most upside of any position player on the Mets’ roster, so his success will play a rather large factor in the team’s success this year. He can be a doubles and triples machine and a big threat on the bases if he gets his feet underneath him against big league competition.

Asdrubal Cabrera will handle second base. He’s been, quietly, quite good for the Mets over the last two seasons, offering a solid offensive approach along with his versatility – he played second and third base as well as shortstop last season. Now 32 years old, Cabrera hit .280/.351/.434 with 14 home runs and 59 RBI last season, which is more than enough when manning a position in the middle of the infield.

At first base, the Mets were able to pluck Adrian Gonzalez off the free agent wire. Gonzalez had gone to the Braves in the Matt Kemp trade, but the Braves quickly dropped him. The 35-year-old had a nightmarish 2017, compiling a .642 OPS in 71 games as he was bothered by back issues throughout the year. He became overshadowed in Los Angeles by Cody Bellinger, who won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, so the Dodgers had no reason to keep him around. Dominic Smith had been another first base option but he suffered a quad injury early in spring training and likely won’t be ready by Opening Day.

Travis d’Arnaud will get the lion’s share of starts behind the plate, backed up by Kevin Plawecki. d’Arnaud provides power, which is always nice to have from a catcher, but he doesn’t hit for average or draw walks, so his batting average and on-base percentage are underwhelming. And while d’Arnaud hasn’t been anything to write home about stopping the running game, he’s regarded as a good pitch framer.

In left field will stand the Mets’ biggest offensive threat, Yoenis Cespedes. Sadly, the slugger was limited to 81 games last year as he battled various leg injuries. When he was in the lineup, he hit .292/.352/.540 with 17 home runs and 42 RBI in 321 plate appearances. Among hitters who have taken at least 1,000 plate appearances since the start of the 2015 season, only 21 have put up a higher weighted on-base average than Cespedes (.368), who finds himself just ahead of Carlos Correa and just behind Corey Seager on that list.

Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo will share center field for the time being. Nimmo is having a big spring, putting up a .283/.361/.585 line with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBI in 61 spring plate appearances. He’s likely to bat leadoff against right-handed starters. Lagares isn’t having nearly as good a spring (.483 OPS) but will be in the lineup against lefties and will provide value with his Gold Glove-caliber defense. It’s also quite possible the Mets will trade him as they have gotten some interest lately.

Jay Bruce returns to right field after inking a three-year, $39 million contract in January. The slugger put up a solid .254/.324/.508 line last year between the Mets and Indians with 36 home runs and 101 RBI. Though he struggled – for the most part — in his first go-around with the Mets in the second half of 2016, he’s good for at least 25 home runs and 90 RBI if he can stay healthy, which the soon-to-be 31-year-old has been able to do in recent years.

New manager Mickey Callaway says he plans to use a closer-by-committee which will include Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, A.J. Ramos and Anthony Swarzak. It’s a committee that could certainly have success, but Familia and Ramos are both coming off of down years and Swarzak has been slowed in spring training by a calf injury. The Mets will also have Paul Sewald, Hansel Robles, Rafael Montero, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman providing help from the ‘pen. Wheeler could as well if the Mets determine he can provide more in a relief role than in a starting role.

With all their warts, the Mets do have a competitive roster. The starting rotation has the potential to be really good, led by a now-healthy Syndergaard and followed by deGrom. The offense should be a buoy in the midst of all of the other displeasing variance the Mets will likely wade through during the season. The bullpen won’t be world-beating but will likely not be a serious source of concern given their options. FanGraphs is projecting the Mets to win 82 games while PECOTA has them at 81, which means they’ll be in the mix for the NL Wild Card. That sounds about right to me, but ultimately I think they’ll fall just a bit short of .500.

Prediction: 79-83, third place in NL East.