Today that annual diversity-in-baseball study comes out. Take it with a serious grain of salt.


Today is the day that the annual report from Richard Lapchick’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida comes out.  He’s been doing this for years, and it always gets highlighted in the media, with headlines about how the number of U.S.-born black players in baseball is declining.  Which, yes, it is.  But Lapchick’s report is also normally treated wholly uncritically, with his conclusions being parroted instead of reported, and it really grinds my gears.

It bugs me on a broad level, in that — as I’ve mentioned in this space several times — it looks at the trees but not the forest, noting that while, yes, there are fewer U.S.-born black players in baseball now than there used to, the overall diversity of baseball is up as the game becomes increasingly internationalized.

But it bugs me in a much sharper sense in that I believe the numbers Lapchick puts out are misleading.

They are misleading in that, while his current count of U.S.-born blacks in baseball seems right — he has it at 8.5% — the numbers he and others typically cite for the height of black representation in the game are usually off. He has cited as high as 27% of all players being black, and this number is often repeated as gospel, like it is in today’s USA Today story about it.

Thing is: these are apples and oranges measurements.  Back in the 70s when that 27% number came out, those numbers represented counts of all black players — or people who had sufficiently-black skin to be called “black” according to the view of those doing the counting. This included Latino players like Rico Carty, who happened to be born in the Dominican Republic. Today Carty — or, say, Aroldis Chapman or any other non-U.S.-born black player — wouldn’t be included in Lapchick’s count. Which makes sense because he’s counting only U.S.-born blacks. But he and his media surrogates freely cite the old numbers which did include Latino blacks back in the day.

Friend of mine and frequent HBT commenter Mark Armour is doing some research on this for the Society of American Baseball Research. I’ve not seen the research, but Tyler Kepner notes it in the New York Times today. Armour estimates that the actual height of U.S.-born blacks in the game came in the 1980s and peaked at 19%. See the update below for some of Mark’s additional comments on this.

No, that research does not mean that all things are wonderful. There clearly are fewer U.S.-born black players in baseball today than there were in decades past. But it’s not quite a crisis on the order of magnitude that Lapchick and others portray. And given that they’re not being particularly discerning with their numbers you have to wonder if either sloppiness or agenda-setting is taking precedence over science here.

And that’s my problem with it. Not the underlying idea — I want there to be more blacks in the game; heck, I want EVERYONE to play baseball and anything that can be done to promote it should be – but on the manner in which the problem is portrayed. A manner which seems more calculated to draw attention to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports than it does to the underlying issue.

UPDATE:  Mark Armour chimed in in the comments:

I am not exactly sure where the 27% number came from. My theory had been that the old data was from some newpaper story that counted all dark-skinned players as black, while the new data only counted US black players. However, several years ago this was explored further by the Wall Street Journal, and they determined that the old data is just … bad science. Really bad science.

The real drop in African-Americans (from 17-19% in the 1975-95 period) to half that today is significant enough without the bad data. Baseball is MORE diverse, of course, than every before.

By the way, MLB is very cooperative in the Lapchick study. In fact, they provide all of the data on opening day rosters to Lapchick every year. The writers that imply this is some sort of bigotry on the part of MLB are nuts. It is very clear that MLB is spending lots of time and money on this problem.

This is the WSJ story from 2008.

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.