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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Dave on Monday, May 03, 2004

Please, Buster Olney

In case you missed it (and trust me, you weren't missing it at all), Buster Olney wrote a particularly stellar piece for ESPN.com about four days ago. Now, normally, I don't like to bash others' writing. My own writing is far from perfect and a smear-job doesn't make for a particularly great read. Mostly, however, belittlement of other authors is just not nice. It's been said by mothers across America that if "you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all." Well, I apologize to Mr. Olney, but in this case it's warranted.

Why is this castigation necessary? Because Buster Olney is a salaried writer for ESPN.com. One would think that ESPN wouldn't ask just anyone to write, they would ask only the most qualified, informed, and proficient scribes. Buster Olney, however, demonstrated that he is precisely none of these qualities in writing his article, "Smallball vs. Moneyball."

Let's go blow-by-blow. Olney starts off the article by using an anecdote from a recent Sox/Yankee contest:
The Red Sox closed in on a three-game sweep of the Yankees last Sunday, taking a 2-0 lead into the eighth, the Yankees' offense stagnant. Johnny Damon drew a walk against left-hander Gabe White, with switch-hitting Mark Bellhorn coming up; David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were to follow.

Olney then follows it up with the fact that Bellhorn swung away in this at-bat instead of bunting Damon over. Nevermind that it's been proven that sacrificing is ineffective - suppose for the sake of Olney's argument that it is worthwhile. This is a specious belief, but let's let it fly for now.

After discussing how Boston only needed some more insurance (that is, only one more run) on their 2-0 lead, Olney finishes up by saying Bellhorn struck out and that the threat was quelled. Olney also belittles Francona by implying that he didn't even consider the sacrifice bunt. My bet would be that Francona considered it about as heavily as I consider ketchup on my cereal. What would be a perfect ending to this story? An ending that supports Olney's argument that the Red Sox were mistaken in not bunting. An ending that has the Red Sox allowing two runs in the 9th and then losing in extras. Olney, however, is restricted to the real ending however. The Sox won 2-0, and never felt the supposed ill effects of a foregone bunt.

So, not only does Olney provide a terrible example (after all, he could've chosen any game he wanted to illustrate his point), he then launches into a discussion of his pseudo-stat, POP. What's POP? Well, Olney would've done well to have left it as an alternative description for soda, but he defines it as a team's or player's Productive Out Percentage. "What's that?" You wonder. An oxymoron, most would argue - there are very few productive outs. Olney, however, says a productive out is made when:

1. A baserunner advances with the first out of an inning.
2. A pitcher sacrifices with one out.
3. A baserunner is driven home with the second out of an inning.

I wouldn't mind this stat if it was productive in some fashion. I can tell you immediately that all instances of #1 are never productive outs, most instances of #2 are productive - but only marginally so. #3 is productive only in late situations when the game is tied or the "productive" team is down one. So, by and large, Olney's captured maybe 20% of the situations where outs are productive (even that is generous).

The worst part of the whole argument, however, is how it culminates. Citing the success of Anaheim and Florida in the last two World Series, Olney concludes that teams that have "diverse offenses" are the ones that ultimately win out:
The Marlins and Angels have fully diverse offenses: some excellent power hitters, an essential element; some patient hitters who draw walks, also crucial; they have hitters who make contact, advance runners efficiently; and they run the bases.

Maybe if the Red Sox and Yankees were playing more small-ball, he argues, they'd have more success - he argues. They have some of the lowest POP totals in the entire league, this simply must be why they're not getting it done in the post-season. I have news for you, Buster:

2002: Runs Scored
Red Sox 859 (2)
Yankees 897 (1)
Angels 851 (4)

2003: Runs Scored
Red Sox 961 (1)
Yankees 877 (4)
Marlins 751 (17)

Granted, the Marlins are without the DH, but they were decidedly mediocre at scoring runs. Maybe if the Marlins employed fewer sac-bunts, they'd trot home a few more Fish. It seems like the Red Sox and Yankees, however, are doing just fine for themselves. They may place in the cellar of POP, but, pop quiz Buster, who has scored the most runs in the last two years? The very same Red Sox and Yankees. I would bet, Buster, that the Marlins and Angels didn't win it all due to their "diverse" offenses or their "productive" outs. Isn't it possible that Anaheim and Florida won the World Series because they pitched the lights out? Maybe?

Just When You Thought No One Could Manage a Staff Worse Than Dusty

Chad Fox was diagnosed with recently diagnosed with ulnar neuritis by your favorite miracle-worker and mine, Dr. James Andrews. I'm no expert on pitchers, but I'm pretty sure that pitching four straight games (April 17th-April 21st) is bad for your arm. Not to mention that Fox was used on three straight days by McKeon earlier in the season. For normal pitchers with incredibly developed arms, this is still incredibly trying. It is generally accepted that you should avoid pitching relievers on three straight days and that over-working him could perhaps lead to injury. Fox was certainly at risk given his abundant appearances, but didn't McKeon forget something else? Chad Fox is one of many to receive Tommy John surgery, but he hasn't had it once, he's had it twice! If ever there was a warning label tattooed to a player's jersey, Fox has it. McKeon ignored the potential for disaster and over-pitched Fox. Now, he and the Marlins may have lost his only other reliable reliever (if you can deem Armando Benitez "reliable") for the entire season.

The Formal Apology

Lastly, an apology to you all. There has been a lack of content for a number of reasons. I would like to say we're not making excuses, but that's essentially what I'm doing. There was a lack of communication between the authors about who was posting when, firstly. Secondly, Two-thirds of our writers (Mike is an occasional contributor now), Jon and Ben, are both extremely swamped with work. Normally this would not be an issue, but they're really swamped. I would've been happy to accept the responsibility of more frequent posts, but Ben's post below implied that his post was soon to come. So I declined in putting something together. All is well, however, and Ben and Jon are nearing the end of their semesters and Talking Baseball will be back at full strength - though we're still on a search for a fourth writer.


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