Must-Click Link: a neerrrrrrrd in the clubhouse

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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.

Good read.

Dusty Baker drops truth bombs

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Dusty Baker was fired last offseason despite leading the Nationals to 95 and 97-win seasons. This was not new for him. Cincinnati let him go after taking a miserable Reds team to back-to-back 90+ win seasons — three in the space of four years — and making it to the playoffs in his final two seasons. In both cases the team that let him go cratered as soon as he left. There are likely reasons that have nothing to do with Dusty Baker for that, but it seems like more than mere coincidence too.

I say that because every time someone gets to Dusty Baker for an interview, he drops some major truth bombs that make you wonder why anyone wouldn’t want him in charge. Sure, like any manager he has his faults and blind spots — more so in his distant past than in his recent past, I should not — but the guy is smart, has more experience than anyone going and is almost universally loved by his players.

Recently he sat down with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic to talk about life, baseball and everything, and once again the truth bombs were dropping. About the state of front offices today. About the different way black and white ex-managers and ex-players are treated. About what seems to be collusion on the free agent market. And, of course, about the state of the 2018 Nationals, who are likely to miss the playoffs despite being, more or less, the same team he led to those 97 wins last year. It’s an absolute must-read on any of those topics, but taken together it’s a “block off some time this afternoon and enjoy the hell out of it” read.

Two of my favorite passages follow. The first one is a great general point in life: always beware of people who spend more time telling you why they are successful than actually, you know, being successful.

In Cincinnati, no matter what I did or what we did — we brought them from the bottom — they were all over me, all the time, no matter what. If we won, it wasn’t winning the right way. They were like, “I don’t understand this mode of thinking.” Well, I don’t want you to understand my mode of thinking. That’s how I can beat you.

The second one is just delicious for what he does not say:

Rosenthal: Bryce Harper struggled for two-plus months. He didn’t struggle for two-plus months when you had him…

Baker: I know.

Based on the tone of the rest of the interview, in which Baker does not hesitate to say exactly what he thinks, it’s abundantly clear that he believes the Nats have messed Harper up somehow and that it wouldn’t have happened under him.

Like I said, though: there is a TON of great stuff in here. From a guy who, if you’ve listened to him talk when he does not give a crap about what people may say about him, has time and again revealed himself to  be one of the most interesting baseball figures of the past several decades.