Author: Craig Calcaterra

SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 02:  A view of AT&T Park from the upper decks during the Colorado Rockies game against the San Francisco Giants on May 2, 2009 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Inside the business of beat writing

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Jeff Pearlman has a Q&A feature on his website called The Quaz, and his latest Quaz subject is San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Henry Shulman. Schulman has covered the Giants for more than 25 years.

The Schulman Quaz is interesting for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Schulman talks about his battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which sidelined him in the middle of the 2015 season. He’s ready to go to Scottsdale for Spring Training now, however, his cancer in remission. That, and his story of his diagnosis and treatment, is worthwhile on its own.

More generally it’s worthwhile because it’s the best recent interview I can remember in terms of getting us inside the mind and work of the baseball beat writer. And, given that baseball beat writers are most fans’ most immediate and regular link to the game both on social media and the day after a baseball game, knowing how they approach the job is useful for fans. It helps us understand why they write what they write and report what they report. It also gives us some insight into what they may not write and report and what we may not be seeing. Writers are human as are the players they cover. There are always going to be prejudices, enthusiasms, blind spots, preferences and all manner of other filters which go into the coverage we consume.

In this interview Schulman is pretty up front about them. Some of which show that, over time, what is useful and interesting about baseball for a reporter may be very different than that which is useful or interesting for a fan. For example: beat writers prefer short games and prefer blowouts to close ones. What makes a player a jerk to you — say, him being crazily outspoken or controversial — can be manna from heaven for a reporter. What makes a player a jerk to a reporter — say, his clubhouse habits making a reporter’s job harder — likely don’t matter a bit to you. It’s interesting, in light of that, how we rarely define our terms when we talk about which players are great guys and which aren’t, but there’s a lot to be mined there and Schulman provides a lot of data to mine.

Oh, and of course there are Barry Bonds stories. A guy covers the Giants since before 1993 and you KNOW there will be Bonds stories.

A good, insightful interview and a lot of good thoughtful answers. It’s very much worth your time.

It’s time to complain about statistical projections again

Vintage illustration of a 1950s businessman with a crystal ball, telling the fortune of his company's profits, 1953.  (Illustration by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)
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Today FanGraphs came out with their early projections for the 2016 season. As is almost always the case with anyone’s statistical projections, there is a lot stuff that doesn’t seem to hew close to human expectations and/or observable reality. Stuff like the World Champion Royals slated to win 79 games or the 78-win Red Sox to be the second best team in the game. Could those things happen? Sure! Anything can happen in baseball. But they’re not necessarily the safest bets. And they’re gonna anger a lot of people, especially Royals fans.

They seem to anger baseball writers a lot too. Each year as soon as the projections come out from FanGraphs or whoever, there is a goodly bit of snark from the ink-stained wretches. “Ha! They have the Royals stinking and the Nationals winning! Silly computers!” says the baseball writer. Never a word, however, for the scores of living breathing “baseball experts” who predicted exactly the same thing last year. Projections are mocked. Predictions — which almost every writer either does on his or her own accord or is elbowed into doing by their editor — are forgotten.

Which isn’t to say I have a lot of use for projections or that I am somehow defending them as superior. I don’t pay too much attention to them and couldn’t begin to do any of my own. I do know enough about them, however, to know that they are not meant to be guesses as to what will actually happen. Rather, they are attempts to approximate what is most likely to happen given variables one can reasonably ascertain and figure. They’re a baseline, really, of what might happen before the totally unexpected and unprojectionable crap that happens every year comes into play. All things being equal, Shlabotnik is going to decline this year because he’s older, Oppenheimer is going to improve a bit because he’s no longer a rookie and if we do this to all 25 guys on the roster, we might be able to make some assumptions.

I think maybe the folks who do projections could be clearer about that when they release them. That all things aren’t equal, ever, and that they are just assumptions built on assumptions, subject to the unfolding of actual events. I know they build that into the numbers too, in the form of error rates and whatnot, but maybe the people who produce the articles presenting the projections could do a better job of clearly stating it in human terms as well. Doing so may seem unnecessary for the projectors — I get an image of a research scientist being told to talk to the popular press about his research, which is always kind of awkward — but it might help with popular adoption of projections by those who currently prefer to mock them. Or, at the very least, would make them think twice about mocking given that it’d be more clear then than it is now that they are, in fact, attacking a straw man.

It’s a humility thing, really. A humility which, to their credit, the writerly class has tended toward in recent years when it comes to their predictions. In their heart of hearts I still think that baseball writers consider themselves experts and think that their predictions are better-informed than that of most people, but they no longer act that way publicly when it comes time for predictions. They preface all predictions with self-effacing humor and verbiage in which they 100% acknowledge that they’re going to look foolish in seven months (and if they’re right, they brag anyway), and I think that makes talking about baseball easier. In my own practice I’ve done that for several years now, and I no longer get nearly as much angry “YOU HATE MY TEAM!” responses as I get “man, that’s a reach, but I guess we’ll see!” responses. The former stops conversation. The latter encourages it.

Anyway, the projectors won’t stop projecting. The predictors won’t stop predicting. Neither of them will stop being wrong a lot of the time because sports are random and unexpected things happen. I would just hope that, at some point, we’d stop mocking folks who do projections and stop claiming that anyone has the market cornered on this stuff.

Dodgers nearing a deal with Yaisel Sierra

Dodgers Logo
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No, not Y-A-S-I-E-L. That’s Puig. This Cuban free agent is Y-A-I-S-E-L. Sierra. And according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo, the Dodgers will soon have him as well. Passan says that the deal is believed to be for around $30 million and would cover six or seven years.

Sierra, 25, is a righty who impressed a group of scouts and baseball officials during an October workout in Florida. While his numbers in Cuba were not eye-popping during his five series in Serie Nacional, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com has reported that he didn’t throw his full repertoire of pitches in Cuba and has only recently began to show people that he has a good slider and a changeup.

The Dodgers were disappointed to have lost Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks in free agency, but they have since done a heck of a lot to build their rotation depth, and will have a good six or seven starting pitching options in the fold this year.

Pat Gillick back with the Phillies as an advisor, other front office shuffling announced

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Pat Gillick built the Phillies into a winner in the mid-2000s, left, came back to try to fix the mess Ruben Amaro created and then stepped aside at the end of last season to make way for Andy MacPhail. Here’s hoping he didn’t pack up all of his office knickknacks, because he’s coming back.

The Phillies announced yesterday that Gillick is coming back as a senior advisor. In addition — and likely more significantly for the long term — former Baltimore Orioles director of major league administration Ned Rice was named an assistant general manager, former baseball analytics manager Scott Freedman — who for years worked as a labor liaison for Major League Baseball — was promoted to director of baseball operations and former analytics intern Lewis Pollis’ was made a full-time analyst.

It wasn’t long ago that the Phillies were the butt of jokes about their old-school front office approach. Filling analytics roles with smart people, hiring folks from strong organizations and making sure their Hall of Fame father figure stays in the fold despite all of the new blood coming — along with the many smart, under-the-radar moves they’ve made in the course of their rebuild — puts that old mindset about the Phillies to lie.

David Bowie followed Nick Swisher on Twitter for some reason

Nick Swisher
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It’s been a very slow news day, baseball-wise. And I’ll be honest, I spent most of the day listening to David Bowie music and reading David Bowie remembrances. Haven’t you?

Oh, like a lot of people in the content-creation business, I spent a few minutes lamely searching for some vague connection between Bowie and my area of content-creation. That’s what we do. I found nothing other than baseball-style David Bowie t-shirts, and even I’m not that desperate to stretch that into a post. The only person I saw make an actual legitimate Bowie connection to baseball was Dave Brown over at CBS who found out that the Yankees and Bowie were business partners during the early medieval period of the Internet age. That much was interesting.

Then, a few moments ago, when I was getting ready to sign off for the day, I saw someone mention David Bowie’s Twitter account and his random assortment of follows. So I went and had a look at who the Thin White Duke followed.

It was mostly the usual suspects. Artists. Record labels. Former collaborators. Respectable news sites, actors and celebrities. Oh, and this guy, in the top row, middle:

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“It’s on America’s tortured brow that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow. Now the workers have struck for fame. ‘Cause Swisher’s health-y again.”

RIP, Ziggy. Good luck in 2016, Bro.