As a nice companion piece to my thing about reporting what one sees in the clubhouse, here’s our friend Eno Sarris writing over at the Hardball Times about being an inexperienced reporter in the clubhouse.
Eno’s particular challenge, apart from simply being a new BBWAA member and still learning the ropes of how one operates inside a clubhouse, is that his particular beat is stats and sabermetric analysis. He’s doing what very few reporters have ever done, actually, and is trying to engage players face-to-face about analytics. Primarily as they apply to the particular player.
For example, a pitcher has a great FIP. He wants to talk to the pitcher about his walks/strikeout/home run rates and things. I haven’t spoken to Eno about it, but I presume his primary mission is to try to figure out what players do to influence what we see in more advanced statistical analysis of their play, if they are even aware of it. It’s a great angle, as in the past the stats and quotes guys were not at all operating in the same territory.
Eno has tried, and his post today explains how it can be really, really hard to do that. Sometimes because guys have no idea what you’re talking about when you ask them about their UZR. Mostly because, while they may very well understand the concepts underpinning their UZR, jeez, it’s hard for a green reporter to ask a cogent question about that. Probably hard for an experienced one too. In trying to do so, you end up with exchanges like this one Eno had with Billy Butler:
As the first words came out of my mouth, I realized the error of my ways. This man was nicknamed Country Breakfast. I had just asked him if he’d noticed that this year he’d been showing “his best walk rate.” He looked at me incredulously. “Is that a question?” I noticed a cavalcade of laughs joining in behind me as I laughed. Uh-oh. “Have I noticed that I’ve walked a lot?” he was almost yelling. “Yes,” he answered with an eye roll. More laughs. The recorder has me there, distinctly, at the moment of discovery that I had an audience: “Oh man.”
Eno’s takeaway — and it’s a good one — is that it’s less about stats and non-stats people as it is the language everyone uses. Most ballplayers think about the general ideas behind the analysis from time to time. But certainly not in the same terms analysts do. A lot of time it’s just internal and visceral for the players. And a lot of baseball stuff — a ton of it, actually — is just outside of the frame of reference for an analyst. Figuring out how to communicate about these things is both hard. But it can also be valuable, as Eno’s work over the past year or so going into clubhouses has shown.