Comment of the Day: newspaper readers don’t want long form stuff

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There’s a good conversation brewing in the comments to the Frank Deford state-of-sports-journalism post from yesterday. Some of it supporting Deford (and going after bloggy enterprises like HBT) and some of it not.

I highlight this post from a reader with first hand experience in all of this who says that the reason the kind of reporting Deford loves is hard to find in print anymore is that the readers simply don’t want it:

I am a sports reporter in a low-level minor league market in the Midwest … I readily admit I have never worked on a national level or in a major market (in 13 years, I’ve covered a grand total of 2 MLB games and 1 preseason NBA game professionally), so I don’t profess to have experienced first-hand the level of journalistic competition driving this debate. That said, I feel I do have insight to add to this conversation.

The space for the long-form human interest sports pieces Deford and his likes championed no longer exists in daily print media, and a large reason for that is the consumer interest in such pieces has largely vanished. As has been mentioned, there are places online to find such material and writers (Passan, etc.) who do excellent work providing that content. There are also outlets that provide the heart-and-soul stories Deford seems to keep himself fixated upon – one such outlet is the Real Sports program to which he frequently contributes.

Deford’s lament is merely the common refrain of industry veterans longing for the way it used to be. His point about “justifying” the journalists’ experience disturbs me. This career is not and should not be about justifying what we do or making ourselves a crucial part of the story. Instead it should be a selfless duty to disseminate information as we observe it. My readers are not interested my experience; they want to know about the teams I cover.

While I’ll defend the bloggy stuff because I have the most experience with it, I really think the key takeaway to all of this is not that one form of sports writing is better than another. I think it’s that, even if you really believe that the in-depth stuff is critical, it’s not, contra Deford, disappearing, rendering the readership “optionally illiterate.” It’s merely changing venues. It may not be in daily newspapers, but it’s on the web and on television.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.