In which I am accused of being part of the problem in modern sports writing

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Remember that stuff I wrote the other day about the future of sports writing?  Well, not everyone’s buying it.  Particularly not Andrew Humphries of the Let’s Go Tribe blog, who argues that the sort of blogging I do here at HBT is not in keeping with the “meaning-building pieces” that Jason Fry described in his excellent column that launched this conversation. Rather, I’m accused of trafficking in the “me-too tweets and blog bits” that Fry identified as the problem with modern sports writing.

Hurm.

While I obviously don’t agree that I’m part of the problem, Humphries’ piece is worth a read if you care about the subject because it covers a lot of territory and adds depth to the discussion even as it criticizes me. And it should also be noted that Humphries was good enough to send me a copy of his post before he published it to ask me for my thoughts.  That’s both admirable and gutsy. Would that everyone who went after someone be so damn decent about it.

My defense, to the extent I have one, is that I think Humphries is focused too much on the “long-form features are what’s important” part of Fry’s original analysis and less on the “readers want someone to tell them what the news means” part Fry mentioned.  I don’t profess — at all — to be a long form feature writer or to get into the kinds of in-depth feature reporting that Humphries cites.  But I do endeavor to do more than merely link-and-snark the bloggy bits, as it were.

I’m obviously not an objective viewer of my own work, but the goal is that, if you read my stuff most days, you’ll come away with an understanding of the topics I cover and  my take on how I feel about them. The idea: that no matter where you get the news item, you’ll still want to come to HBT to see what I have to say about it. It is my hope — as it is the hope of any opinion writer — that my opinions will help influence general opinion.   In this, I fancy my function as being roughly similar to that of a traditional sports columnist. Except I’m hitting more subjects and, rather than doing it in one or two 750 word columns a week, I’m doing it with 90+ blog posts a week.

I shot that defense to Humphries in an email last night.  His response in the addendum to his piece is that “a writer covering a dozen topics a day is writing too much” to be really adding meaning to anything.  I don’t know that I agree with that, but he may have a point. The signal-to-noise ratio of a machine gun blogger like me is probably a worthy offshoot of this discussion, actually, and it’s one I haven’t seriously considered before he mentioned it. Consider me to be considering it now.

However you come down on all of this, Humphries’ piece is food for thought in a broader discussion that I find quite important.  I know media stuff isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope you find it somewhat important too, if for no other reason than because the kind of discussion Fry, Humphries and I are having is what is going to shape the sports writing you read going forward.

Zack Greinke understands that “the opener” isn’t just about in-game strategy

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Over the weekend, Craig was among those cited as having criticized the Rays by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Craig wrote about it in Sunday’s And That Happened. Many of the responses from Rays fans to him on Twitter, at least most of what I saw, conflated distaste for ownership’s penny-pinching for a belief that the team is bad. Indeed, the Rays enter Tuesday’s action 64-61 and their position above .500 has something to do with “the opener” strategy, which is when they have a reliever like Sergio Romo start the game before handing the ball off to an actual starter after an inning or two. Other teams, like the Twins, have taken notice of “the opener” and have begun experimenting with it.

On Monday, Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller published a lengthy column discussing how recent changes to the game of baseball have made it a worse product. He quotes a lot of old-timers, which I discussed yesterday. Miller also quoted Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke on the subject of “the opener.” While quotes from the likes of Goose Gossage and Pete Rose were a bit more eye-popping, Greinke’s thoughts shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Greinke said:

It’s really smart, but it’s also really bad for baseball. It’s just a sideshow. There’s always ways to get a little advantage, but the main problem I have with it is you do it that way, then you’ll end up never paying any player what he’s worth because you’re not going to have guys starting, you’re not going to have guys throwing innings.

You just keep shuffling guys in and out constantly so nobody will ever get paid. Someone’s going to make the money, either the owners or the players. You keep doing it that way, the players won’t make any money.

Back in May, I wrote about how the overarching concept of “bullpenning” creates a serious labor issue in baseball. Greinke touched on exactly those points. An elite starter makes significantly more money than an elite reliever. Compare contracts signed by David Price (seven years, $217 million) and Max Scherzer (seven years, $210 million) to the contract signed by Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), which is currently the most lucrative contract signed by a reliever. It wouldn’t crack the top-85 contracts in baseball.

A starter’s number of starts and his innings pitched total are both cited in arbitration filings and contract negotiations. A pitcher who made 33 starts in a season will have more leverage than a pitcher made only 15 starts. Meanwhile, Romo and Ryne Stanek‘s innings totals aren’t much different than a normal year of relief. Thus, if you’re Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman and GM Erik Neander, spreading the number of starts (and innings) between the “rotation” and bullpen will reduce the cost of pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible starters. The owners save this money and pocket it instead of reinvesting it into the team. Then they’ll turn around, cry poor, and ask residents of Tampa to foot the billion-dollar bill for a new stadium in Ybor City, roughly 25 minutes from their current digs.

Greinke is right and we should pay attention to what he’s saying. While “the opener” has some strategic merit, particularly for teams with less-than-complete starting rotations, it also conveniently helps save money for stingy and exploitative front offices. We’ve already accepted that a third of the league gave up on the season before it began. Let’s not accept that teams can give up on their pitching staffs as well.