Bill James

Bill James probably needs to stop commenting on the Penn State scandal

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I love and respect the work of Bill James. It changed my life in a lot of ways. And the one time I met him I found him to be a really nice man.  When he strays away from his baseball bailiwick, however, he often loses me.  And I don’t think he’s ever lost me more than he did yesterday when he decided to defend Joe Paterno for some reason.

Deadspin has the details, taken from James’ online chat session yesterday.  Upshot: someone asked him about Joe Paterno’s knowledge of the 1998 investigation of Jerry Sandusky. That investigation, which involved a now clearly-established incident in which Sandusky molested a boy in a shower at Penn State’s football facilities, did not lead to criminal charges at the time.

Paterno did nothing to Sandusky after that investigation. And then, in 2002, when he learned that Sandusky was still molesting boys in the shower, he continued to do nothing. And then last year when all of this broke he lied about what he knew in 1998, both publicly and to the grand jury.  Which is why James’ defense of Paterno made my jaw drop. Emphasis supplied by James:

The Freeh reports states quite explicitly and at least six times (a) that the 1998 incident did NOT involve any criminal conduct—on the part of Sandusky or anyone else—and (b) that Paterno had forced the resignation of Sandusky before the 1998 incident occurred … In any case, what EXACTLY is it that Paterno should have done? Fire him again? It is preposterous to argue, in my view, that PATERNO should have taken action after all of the people who were legally charged to take action had thoroughly examined the case and decided that no action was appropriate.

I suppose if the question is, for some reason, limited to whether Paterno broke any laws in 1998, this exceedingly legalistic answer is marginally acceptable. But to sit here in 2012, knowing what we all now know about this, and about Paterno’s knowledge, subsequent inaction, subsequent lies and the tragic consequences of all of it which he, and maybe he alone, could have done the most to stop given his stature, and focus on whether at one brief moment in time Paterno was legally required to do more than he did seems preposterous.

It’s the sort of cherry-picking that, had someone done it to baseball data, would cause James to flip his lid. It is legalistic argument for argument’s sake that is so utterly beside the point when it comes to assessing Paterno in the present day that the word “misleading” doesn’t begin to do it justice.

I like it when people play devil’s advocate as long as it attempts to be instructive. And I don’t much care for sanctimonious piling-on at all.  But unless James added more to this point later, I don’t see what he is trying to accomplish here. And even if he had some instructive point to make, it is severely outweighed by just how disingenuous it is in light of the overall action and inaction of Joe Paterno since 1998.

And I do not think that avoiding a disingenuous point like the one James is making here necessarily renders one a member of the mob piling on someone. James is simply missing the glaringly obvious point to this story in an effort to make an intellectual point that is utterly meaningless.

Which, sadly, is what James is often accused of doing with baseball. It’s always been a bogus charge. In this case, though, it’s right on.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

DETROIT, MI - JULY 20: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the eighth inning of the game against the Minnesota Twins on July 20, 2016 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images
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Tigers starter Justin Verlander got off to a bumpy start, finishing his sixth start of the season with a 6.49 ERA. His velocity wasn’t quite where it used to be and the 33-year-old seemed to be on the decline. Some had already lost faith after a subpar 2014, so his slow start to 2016 wasn’t converting anyone.

Since throwing seven shutout innings against the Rangers on May 8, however, Verlander has been one of the best starters in baseball. Over his last 14 starts, Verlander has a 2.76 ERA with a 106/24 K/BB ratio in 97 2/3 innings. He’s tacked on nearly 2 MPH to his average fastball velocity compared to April, going from below 93 MPH to nearly 95 MPH. Verlander’s overall strikeout rate of 26 percent is close to four percent higher than his career average and is reminiscent of his rates during his prime five years ago.

Verlander will look to keep it going in Monday night’s start at Fenway Park. He’ll take on Drew Pomeranz, recently acquired from the Padres by the Red Sox, in a 7:10 PM EDT start.

The rest of Monday’s action…

Colorado Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa) @ Baltimore Orioles (Yovani Gallardo), 7:05 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Colin Rea) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 7:07 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ Miami Marlins (Jarred Cosart), 7:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Carlos Martinez) @ New York Mets (Noah Syndergaard), 7:10 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Braden Shipley) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson), 7:20 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Daniel Mengden) @ Texas Rangers (Martin Perez), 8:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Chicago White Sox (Miguel Gonzalez), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Michael Pineda) @ Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel), 8:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Hector Santiago) @ Kansas City Royals (Ian Kennedy), 8:15 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Anthony DeSclafani) @ San Francisco Giants (Jake Peavy), 10:15 PM EDT

Report: Mets offered Travis d’Arnaud to Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 3: Jonathan Lucroy #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks to the dugout during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on July 3, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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In an effort to make an upgrade behind the plate, the Mets reportedly offered backstop Travis d'Arnaud to the Brewers in exchange for All-Star Jonathan Lucroy, according to a report from Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. The Brewers turned down a straight one-for-one deal. Bob Klapisch of The Record reports that a Lucroy trade involving the Mets is “not happening.”

Lucroy, 30, can become a free agent after the season if his controlling club pays him a $250,000 buyout instead of picking up his $5.25 million club option. While it’s believed that the Brewers will trade him before the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, the club could pick up his 2017 option if no offer is enticing enough.

In 359 plate appearances this season, Lucroy has hit .301/.362/.491 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI. Going by the Sabermetric statistic weighted on-base average (wOBA), Wilson Ramos (.393) is the only catcher (min. 200 PA) with a better mark than Lucroy’s .361. Buster Posey is next at .350.

d’Arnaud, 27, has had a tough season. He missed nearly two months between April 26 and June 20 with a strained rotator cuff. Across 34 games this year, he has a paltry .246/.302/.339 triple-slash line with two home runs and 10 RBI in 129 plate appearances. d’Arnaud will become eligible for arbitration for the first of three years after this season.