Sunday, November 25, 2007

Conlin and on and on…

I have a few last bits of synaptic flatulence that I would like to relieve myself of regarding this issue. Let’s get the easiest out of the way--I wrote previously:

A man who demands First Amendment rights and uses that platform to suggest denying those same rights to others should not be employed by a medium where exercise of those (rights) is deemed necessary.

Am I advocating his firing? Absolutely not, that is one of two things that can happen under this scenario. The other is, he can step back and reassess the seriousness of his current viewpoint. In his line of work, it should be obligatory to comprehend the importance of the rights he enjoys and how they apply to others regardless of his opinion of their point-of-view.

I’ve been surfing blogs dealing with this and some have questioned Crashburn Alley’s posting Conlin’s e-mails. Did he act properly? Well, I am going to exercise my freedom of opinion and say I didn’t see anything wrong with doing that. I write for a respected online magazine as well as a mainstream outlet. I get a lot of feedback. When I respond to messages, I do it with the understanding that it may well go public. It’s part of the evolution of the online community and we have to deal with it.

It does mean sometimes I have to step away from the computer, grab a cold drink and put my feet up and cool off if somebody has--in my opinion--been unfair or unnecessarily mean-spirited. It’s worth taking a few minutes out of the day to calm down and remind myself to ignore the snark and focus solely on the points made rather than the other person’s presentation of their point of view on the subject under discussion. It’s always helpful to ask precisely why I am taking myself so bloody seriously all of a sudden … sticks and stones as it were.

Finally, when I’m ready to address the points I sit down and type the response. Before I send it out, I occupy myself with something else for a few minutes whether it’s of a professional or personal nature. When that’s done, re-read the message to see if any negative emotion leaked into what I wrote and that my response is of the sort that would make me inclined to allow a hearing. If so, make any adjustments and off it goes without worrying about how it will read if it does become public.

It really isn’t all that complicated.

In the time it took to invoke Hitler and pamphleteers, it would not have been any more difficult to reply as to why Rollins was his MVP pick. I feel that while Rollins wasn’t the optimal choice, I do think it was a defensible one and it’s not difficult to do either. The history of the award has demonstrated that it is not an honour of pure statistical achievement and that subjective criterion does matter. In addition, other things are part of value that is not found solely in statistics.

To use an example, Dick Allen probably has a Hall of Fame set of statistics but he’s not a popular candidate because of the negative non-statistical value he brought to his teams. If a superior statistical career can be denied baseball’s highest honour because of subjective issues then doesn’t it make sense that the MVP work the same way?

Further, a lot of tangible things will not show up on certain statistical evaluations--OPS+ and ISO for example do not account for games played. Were you aware a player posted a 495 OPS+ in one season and didn’t win the MVP? Of course, John Paciorek played in only one game that season. An extreme example to be sure but it does illustrate that being in the lineup every day does add to a player’s value to his club.

Depending on position, these will not show up in the stats either: not turning what should be a routine double play and breaking up a double play. Missing the cut off man or throwing to the wrong base may be not recorded as an error. Only passed balls and wild pitches are recorded but we don’t know how many opportunities a catcher had to prevent these--we only know the pitches missed. An error by the pitcher may help his ERA in a big inning. A bunt hit when the infield is back and napping only counts as an infield hit and the batter receives no extra statistical credit for being observant.

These will eventually factor in to actual wins and losses.

As to Rollins, he did have a remarkable season: he played every game, was 30/30, enjoyed a rare 20/20/20/20 season. For those to discount its value, suppose you have two Cy Young candidates with about identical numbers. Which do you think will catch the voters' eyes more: the pitcher with a couple of two hit/0 BB shutouts or the one with two no-run, no-hit/2 BB games? Well, since 20/20/20/20 has only happened four times in major league history, it will grab their attention. Further, Rollins stole over 40 bases at an 87% success rate. Finally, he set a record for most total bases by an NL shortstop in the 130+-year history of the league and is perceived to have led his team to an improbable post-season appearance.

It sounds like Rollins enjoyed a remarkable year so it doesn’t sound unreasonable for a writer who saw most of the shortstop’s season to say ‘He’s my MVP in 2007.’

The thing is should the MVP be the player with the best combined offensive and defensive numbers? If so, what do you do if such a player was so sociopathic in the clubhouse that the rest of the otherwise talented club tensed up, played poorly because of it and they won just 70 games when they were pre season favourites to go all the way? Do the numbers still carry the day?

As of 2007, subjective factors (including the writer’s opinion of what precisely constitutes value) as well as statistical accomplishment are what make up the MVP. As Bill James wrote when mulling Phil Rizzuto’s HOF candidacy--he felt handicapped because he only had the numbers to go by and since he wasn’t there he really wasn’t 100% certain whether those numbers captured his actual full value to the club. Generally, we only have the numbers and get to see a candidate if he’s on our team or playing against it. The writers--despite their imperfections--get to know a bit more subjective data due to interacting with the team on a regular basis.

My point?

Everybody has holes in their perception of what a certain player contributes to a given team. We have to be patient and allow things to evolve until we get a more optimal system for understanding what is valuable and what is not. For those who feel we have that now, bear in mind that we felt the same way 30 years ago. Three-decades hence, our current measures may be obsolete.

As to Conlin, he made a bad choice. He could have chosen to make his case for Rollins with the caveat that ultimately they will end up agreeing to disagree if for no other reason that they had different vantage points in assessing who was most valuable. Instead he decided to dismiss and ridicule someone with a differing perspective. It should come as no surprise that his perspective and judgment are now being called into question.

An MVP vote (in the world of baseball) is a sacred thing since it’s inscribed ‘forever in the guide.’ Therefore, those who are privileged to possess it are under obligation to use it wisely. This entails being able and willing to defend it should be asked why he made the choice he did.

Conlin chose his career and his perceived opinion of the questioner as the defense. I do not think it unreasonable that they be able to explain their reasons in a more intelligent and civil manner.

Best Regards


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