Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Five

In Which I Continue My Love-Hate Relationship With Mr. Gary Sheffield.


If you aren't up for a mega-rant, you may skip to the cliff notes.

Before I begin, allow me to reiterate that I love watching Gary Sheffield play baseball. I wish he was DHing for the Yankees right now. They desperately need him.

That being said:
"A lot of them look black on the outside but they are not black on the inside," Sheffield told me. "I can tell there are a lot of fake brothers (in baseball)."
This statement offends and infuriates me because it it takes a very serious and sensitive issue, that of racism, and twists it into something else. It is a totally perverse form of equivocation. It tries to tie the emotions surrounding the charge of racism to something that is decidedly not racism.

To any reasonable person, being black is something that you are. It is a trait, a characteristic. It is not the result of any choice or action on the part of anyone. Therefore, to any reasonable person, discriminating against a black person is discriminating against someone for something over which they have exactly zero influence. It's unjust.

To Gary Sheffield, being "black" has to do with how you act.

Let me be as frank as I can possibly be: I have every right to discriminate against someone on the basis of how they act. One's actions are a choice. An individual generally has complete control over and must accept responsibility for his actions.

We discriminate against people justly in society on the basis of their actions on a daily basis. People who break the speed limit get speeding tickets. People who drive under the limit do not. People who shoot other people go to prison. People who refrain from murder generally don't. I don't hang out with people who enjoy making me miserable. I feel that it's just to make war against people who would use facist governments to enslave their own people.

The list goes on and on and on and on.

I wish I could say that this is the last time I will say this, but it probably won't be:

No one has the right to act anyway they wish regardless of the consequences.

Are we clear on this point? When people, and it isn't just Gary Sheffield, make the claim that in order to be black, one must act a certain way, they are slapping every black person who decided they'd do it differently in the face.

Who says that you have to be a selfish, race-baiting, egotistical, faux-victimized, irresponsible cry-baby in order to be considered black?

If you have a college degree, are you not black?

If you have no children outside of wedlock, are you not black?

If you prefer classical music to hip-hop, are you not black?

If you just believe in going to work everyday and working your hardest for your employer, are you not fucking black?!

If I have an employee who shows up to work late everyday, takes smoking breaks every hour, doesn't work well with other employees or customers, and believes that he's entitled to my respect regardless, I'm going to fire him, black, white, or whatever. It makes no difference if my recalcitrant employee maintains that his attitude stems from his race.

Irrespective of which social norms are just and unjust, these norms exist to aid in the formation of positive social contributors. If the predominant attitude among black people violates just social norms, it is the predominant attitude among black people that needs to change, not the social norms. To insinuate otherwise is an insult to all black people who follow just social norms in spite of what people like Gary Sheffield think.

In other words:

No, Gary Sheffield. You are wrong.

**EDIT** It bears mentioning that the linked article is actually more idiotic that Mr. Sheffield's quote(s). Essentially, the author believes that black baseball players need to wake up because those racist, white owners are outsourcing their jobs to cheap, Latino labor. This ignores two key points:
  1. If Latino labor is cheaper for the same level of talent (and it isn't), then the decision to go with Latino labor isn't racist at all. It's simply the smart way to run a business. Only an idiot pays more for the same product.
  2. Black baseball players don't need to wake up. By definition, these are the blacks who already have jobs in baseball. Therefore, it isn't their jobs being taken by Latinos. Rather, it is the blacks who could have jobs in baseball but don't for whom a wakeup call may be necessary.
Again, this influx of Latino and soon Asian players is only a problem if it excludes black athletes who are more talented than their foreign counterparts. It appears that this is not the case. Rather, black athletes appear to be choosing to play basketball and football instead of baseball. The paucity of black baseball players is not caused by systematic racism but by the aggregate choices of individual black athletes. As Yogi Berra might have said, if blacks athletes don't want to play baseball, how are you going to stop them?

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Economy of a Name

The Biz of Baseball has a summary of the court proceedings in the case of CBC Marketing and Distribution v. MLB Advanced Media. Essentially, MLBAM has a contract with the MLB Player's Association (that's the union, folks) that grants MLBAM the exclusive right to use player names in online gaming, including fantasy baseball. CDM is suing on the basis that this violates their First Ammendment rights.

Essentially, the argument is that the players have a right to control who uses their name to make a profit, including the restriction of using their names in association with their statistics. Interestingly, they are not arguing that the statistics cannot be used. They are arguing that the statistics cannot be used in conjunction with player names.

I don't want to argue about whether or not this is a silly case or whether or not MLB is being far too uptight. They certainly are. In my opinion, MLB should let these games continue because they increase interest in their far more lucrative on-field product. Everyone wins. However, MLB has a right to be stupid, I suppose. (I might add that they seem to exercise this right a lot.)

At first blush, the argument that player names and statistics may not be associated without permission of MLBAM seems to be silly. After all, player names and statistics have been printed in newspapers everywhere for years upon years. The judge so far seems to be falling on the side of CDM (as a lower court has already) by asserting that it's ridiculous to allow the use of statistics without the use of player names. In fact, he believes that this is an attempt by MLBAM to assert a monopoly over an unrelated segment of entertainment.

Let's ignore the also interesting questions about the economic soundness of anti-trust law and the idea that somehow this is an entertainment market unrelated to baseball. MLBAM's response bears looking at:
The only reason these game are valuable and marketable is precisely because these are major league baseball player names attached to those statistics. If you used ‘Player A’, ‘Player B’, no one would be interested in playing the game. The game is interesting precisely because people feel they are owning and managing real major league players.
This is absolutely, 100% true. In fact, it's so true that I have to agree with MLBAM's argument. I can see no reason why a company should be allowed to make a profit off of the names of Major League Baseball players without their consent. The statistics only have worth inasmuch as they are associated with an MLB player. Why should CDM be allowed to reap all the benefits of the players' fame without shouldering any of the risk, as MLB, MLBAM, and the MLBPA have?

On the other hand, I can see the flip side. Magazines, newspapers, cable networks, etc all make gobs of money by reporting on famous people without their consent. Tabloids the world over make money by publishing photos and written accounts of celebrity activity. How is fantasy baseball different?

All of this brings us to some very interesting questions:
  1. Does a person have a right to control how their name is used by others?
  2. If so, how can this be reconciled with the freedom of the press that we are so proud of in the United States?
  3. If not, how is it just that someone can appropriate my namesake for their own private gain?
It seems to me that there must exist some balance between using the names of private citizens for profit and using the names of government officials, who one can argue have implicitly surrendered this right by taking public office. I just have no idea where this balance is.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Statistical Goulash"

That's the best phrase I've heard yet to describe ESPN's new player ratings. It's borrowed from Nate Silver's take on the endeavor, found here.

Essentially, the ratings are an arbitrary mish-mash of statistics. The author of the stat, Jeff Bennett, has assigned some more or less arbitrary weights to some more or less arbitrary statistics. The resulting ratings aren't necessarily bad, in fact they're pretty close to other quantifications of ratings systems. It's the process that I object to, which means that I found this quote, taken from a chat with Mr. Bennett, extremely frustrating, obfuscating, and just wrong:
Ian, NYC: I don't understand what your point is behind this list. There are people who have put a heck of a lot of science and research into coming up with formulas like this (Win Shares, VORP, etc), while much of what you have selected here is totally arbitrary (why exactly %10 for BA for eaxmple?), and by pretending this is somehow scientific degrades the whole field of work on this subject. Much of what you are including here has been proven to be no reflection on individual player quality (like saves, wins and RBI to a large extent), not to mention penalizing someone because they play on a bad team. Why should anyone take this list seriously?

SportsNation Jeff Bennett: Ian, I think you hit on something. There is no sucjh thing as the perfect way to evaluate a baseball player. Win Shares and VORP are great, but you can ask the same types of questions about their lists. This system is very fluid and puts players in perspective based on where they rank in the majors vs their peers. Nothing more scientific than that.
First, congratulations to Ian in New York City for his intelligent questions. Second, here's what's wrong with the response:
  1. VORP and to some degree Win Shares both withstand the above questions infinitely better than Player Rating precisely because they are empirically derived. VORP is not an arbitrary series of weights. The weights and the weighted statistics used in the derivation of VORP are based off of statistical research that attempts to model run scoring in baseball. ESPN's Player Rating does not have this force of research behind it.
  2. There are a lot of things more scientific than a list that purports to put players in in perspective relative to their peers. For example, you could have a list that actually does put players in perspective relative to their peers. I've blogged about science and baseball before. Under no acceptable definition of science can you simply assert that your results are correct. You must first show the logic and reasoning behind your results so that everyone else has a reason to accept them. We have no reason to believe the Player Rating list because the reasoning behind it is arbitrary and faulty. Jeff Bennett says that RBIs are 5% of a player's overall worth? It must be so! Tell us, Jeff. Where did you get that 5%? Until you do, there is nothing scientific about your statistic.
In summary, I have to again concur with Mr. Silver: this is exactly the type of slavish number mangling that gives "statheads" a bad name. With any luck, people will be smart enough to reject ESPN's Player Rating.

**EDIT** I wanted to take a second to give Mr. Bennett his due for participating in the chat referenced above. Virtually all of the questions that he fielded were intensely critical, some far too personal, and certainly vitriolic. He could have simply fielded a bunch of softball questions, but he played hardball instead. It's very hard to subject something you created to that kind of criticism and for that he deserves a lot of credit.

Friday, June 8, 2007

It's Not Fair!

Terry Francona thinks that it's not fair that he can't use his DH when he plays a National League team in a National League ballpark.

This is certainly hilarious, if one thinks that Terry is actually advocating for his team to get an extra hitter in the lineup. I don't think he's doing that. Rather, he probably wants the DH used all the time, for both teams, when interleague play is ongoing.

Of course, that wouldn't fair to the National League team. Yes, an AL team is constructed with the DH as an integral part, but in exactly the same way, an NL team is constructed without the DH in mind. It's not as if both teams are losing an equal player. All of the players that Boston will consider sitting (Ortiz, Youkilis, Lowell) are far better than the options that an NL team will consider for DH. If the DH were uniformly in effect, NL teams would complain that the AL teams have the advantage of an extra quality hitter.

I suspect most of you understand this, and that isn't even what really interests me about this story. What does interest me is that Francona is whining because he might be forced to sit David Ortiz.

Folks, this is why a DH must be an absolutely transcendent hitter to be the MVP. David Ortiz is so bad defensively that he cannot play first base. He's so bad, that the Red Sox are considering sitting him down because they no longer have the luxury of the DH. He's so bad that the Sox would rather play Manny Ramirez in left field than play David Ortiz at first base. A DH like Ortiz greatly hurts his teams flexibility. A player like Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau or Albert Pujols does not present his team with these problems. They are good enough defensively that they provide their team with the luxury of using a crappier defensive player elsewhere. They are picking up the slack that allows the David Ortizes and Jason Giambis of the world to play baseball.

This flexibility absolutely must be factored in to any discussion of player value (and therefore the MVP award). You won't see the Yankees and most other MLB teams going through the same "woe is poor me" routine when they have to play interleague games because their best hitters play defense too.

**EDIT** Fixed some poor apostrophe usage.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Fire John Sterling?

I'm sorry for channeling FJM here, but Sterling just made a point of emphasizing how well the White Sox did in using "ABC" ball to manufacturer a run. To be clear, the sequence was single, runner advances to second on wild pitch, runner advance to third on ground out to second, runner scores on ground out to shortstop, strikeout.

Congratulations, White Sox. You are now down 4-1.

>>>> UPDATE <<<<

And the White Sox lose the game 5-1 on a Chien Ming Wang 5 hit, 1 walk, complete game. Good thing they can play ABC baseball though.

When you are down four runs, you do not need one run. You need five runs, or you lose.

Winning Games

John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are currently waxing poetic about how Miguel Cairo, a career utility infielder, "does everything right" and "isn't a great player", but that he does something every night to "help you win games."

I'm going to leave aside for a second the question of Miguel Cairo and simply ask how it is possible for these above statements to be true.

Let's be clear about this: great players are BY FUCKING DEFINITION the players that help you win games the most. Period.

If Miguel really does "help the team win every night," then one of two things must be true:
  1. He does helps the team win in an absolute sense, but less than all the other players greater than him, in which case we need to quantify his ability to help the team win relative to his peers and the phrase in question has no meaning, instead assuming the form of a complimentary platitude offered for a nice guy who perseveres.
  2. He is a great player.

Baseball is a zero sum game. Every single player cannot contribute positively, no matter how much we wish this were the case. If Miggy really does contribute positively, then the Yankees are morons for keeping him on the bench and every other MLB team is stupid for not hiring him away from them.

Or it could be, just maybe, that he doesn't really do something to "help the team win every night."

The Sheff Elaborates

Gary Sheffield, apparently surprised that his comments have caused such a ruckus, has elaborated on them.

I bring this up mostly because I think it's fair to let Mr. Sheffield try to explain himself, but also because I felt that my previous post deserves a little explanation.

Gary says that his comments stem from the reality that Latino players have more to lose and will therefore tolerate more to stay in the United States. I have no doubt that this is true. It's basic economics. Furthermore, if MLB teams use this reality to abuse their Latino players or to "control" them beyond what one might consider just, that is obviously wrong.

My quibble with Gary Sheffield extends only towards his idea that some one will "respect" a person who always does things the way he or she wants to, and that being stubborn and uncooperative are somehow virtues in a team sport. Gary's newer comments help clarify his feelings on this issue.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

More Toolbox

Baseball Prospectus has published another article in their series explaining their stats. This one deals with ARP and WXRL, the stats I prefer to use to measure relief pitcher performance. It's definitely worth a look.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

No, Gary Sheffield. You Are Wrong.

Gary Sheffield, one of my favorite players because he is so entertaining to watch play baseball, has an interesting theory on why there has been an increase in Latino players in Major League Baseball and a decline in African American players.

According to Gary, this is because black players are not as easy to "control" as Latino players.

I cannot express completely how much bullshit this is. I'm not black, and I will admit that I do not have a lot of experience with urban culture. However, the way it is commonly presented to me and the way many people, such as Mr. Sheffield, portray it seems to indicate that it is commonly believed that being a real man in the urban community means arbitrarily demanding inherent respect and using this demand for respect as a way of asserting your own will over any given situation.

Respect is earned. It is earned in many ways, but one of those ways is by respecting those in a position of authority. It is earned by being a good teammate, by being selfless and sacrificing, by thinking about the good of others before the good of yourself. Respect does not mean that you can selfishly assert your will over others. It does not mean that you can disregard a just authority. Respect requires self-awareness and humility. It precludes the type of arrogance that the urban culture seems to promote.

No one is owed the type of respect that Gary Sheffield is talking about. If a player on my team feels that he can do whatever he wants and then whine like a two year old when things don't go his way, I'd show him the door faster than you can say "dissed." By not doing this, I would, in fact, be truly disrespecting every hard-working, rule-abiding player on my team.

It's up to someone else more qualified that me to talk about why this attitude seems to have taken over the mindset of all races in today's urban culture. I find it deeply disturbing that such a large segment of people now identifies "respect" with selfishness, arrogance, and a disregard for personal responsibility and humility.

You do not have the right to do whatever you want without consequences. For Mr. Sheffield and other athletes, this means that when your boss gives you an order, you follow it, just like all the rest of us.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Beating a Dead Horse

I would like to thank Mr. Todd Jones for his noble attempt to enact my terrible closer experiment in real life. Mr. Jones now has an ERA of more than 6.00 after giving up five runs in the ninth inning in a 12-11 Tiger loss to the Indians. Of course, he still has fifteen saves (tied for seventh in MLB), not because he's a good pitcher, but because he pitches for a good team AND any half-decent or sometimes terrible pitcher can pile up saves because they aren't really all that hard to get.

For the record, Mr. Jones now has a -5.2 ARP and a -0.117 WXRL. Below replacement level performance. Tied for seventh in saves.