Friday, 7 March 2008

Our Ticket Out of this Hell Hole?

Being a mere thousandaire (and sometimes a hundredaire in the late summer months between contracts), I don't really incorporate The Wall Street Journal into my morning routine. But I happened upon something so titillating while perusing USS Mariner this morning that I simply must share it with the rest of you.

Darren Everson at the WSJ weighs in on the proliferation of niche fan sites run by brilliant stat geeks and rebel warlords dedicated to analyzing everything from grand strategy from the minutae of in-game decisions. This stuff varies in quality, of course, but the best of it definitely has value. And front offices are starting to take notice of this free resource at their disposal.

If some of the tighter-fisted clubs around the league were hoping to quietly reap the rewards of their unpaid army of online researchers, the St. Louis Cardinals really crashed the party by launching a "One For the Birds" contest where fans can help the team out by submitting their own scouting reports for players on non-NCAA Division I teams that don't get much of a look from pro scouts.

It works like this: you do your research, pare it down to a 300-word report including stats and observations, submit it online, and then the best of the bunch get forwarded to the STL scouting team for review. If their interest is piqued, they'll send a pro to have a look at your player, which could potentially lead to his being drafting in June. The "scout" who submits the best report gets a trip to STL and tickets to a couple of ball games regardless of whether or not their player is selected in the amateur draft. Sweet!

One would expect this sort of things to meet with a huge groan from the traditional world of beer and tacos baseball talent evaluators, but here's how the Cards spin it:

"We don't have a monopoly on baseball knowledge," says Sig Mejdal, the Cardinals' senior quantitative analyst who helped create the contest. "Just looking at the fan sites and posting boards, you see an amazing amount of energy. Why not harness it?"

True, true. And it's fitting that the Cards are the first to cross the divide between the front office and fandom. Albert Pujols, a pretty decent hitter you must admit, was taken 402nd overall in the 1999 draft out of Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods, a local college not known for being a baseball hot bed.

I don't think anyone expects this new promotion to yield a bevy of Pujols-esque studs in obscure regional colleges, but if it costs the club nothing more than $200 in tickets to the winner, why in the hell wouldn't you let the fans poke their noses around? Our Jays have actually been giving away tickets to see the club formerly known as the Devil Rays to flex pack subscribers for years, so why not make the punters work for them a bit?

The Mariners are following suite. Not in the realm of contest hullabaloo, but they are acknowledging that they've used the observations of internet bloggers to help young ace Felix Hernandez. This is fascinating:

Last season, Dave Cameron, co-founder of U.S.S. Mariner, the Web site of choice for obsessive fans of the Seattle Mariners, said he had grown tired of watching one of the team's starting pitchers, Felix Hernandez, get bombed by opposing hitters early in games. He did a pitch-by-pitch analysis of Mr. Hernandez's starts, which revealed an overreliance on fastballs. Mr. Cameron then wrote an open letter to the Mariners' pitching coach, urging him to tell Mr. Hernandez to throw more off-speed pitches in the early innings.

The pitching coach showed the letter to Mr. Hernandez, who made the suggested adjustment and shut out the Oakland Athletics for eight innings in a subsequent start.

Everson gives recognition to the mother of all Jays sites, Batter's Box, where a recent 2700-word analysis of catcher ERAs is pretty much par for the course. Sadly, however, while JP admitted that he was a semi-regular BB reader when he first arrived in TO, he soon grew frustrated with what he perceived to be the ignorance of fandom as more critical comments poured in during the Jays disasterous 2004 season.

His primary beefs:

JP believes Bauxites [as Batter's Box posters are known] don’t understand the issues he deals with on a daily basis:

· The willingness (or lack thereof) by other clubs to make deals.

· The offers to free agents that other clubs put on the table.

· The occasional need to sign a player to a generous contract because the talent pool for that type of player is drying up.

And the lack of understanding is starting to grate.

“When we first came here, you [Batter’s Box] embraced what we were doing,” he said. “We did have a bad year last year, but we had a lot of injuries. [Now] guys are saying, ‘I’m not sure about JP anymore.’ Well, that’s OK, I can take it. But I used to give you guys a lot more credit. It takes away from what you guys are trying to do when you become almost the equivalent of a call-in radio show.”

Fair enough, but it's pretty Vladimir Putin-esque to say, "you're great when you agree with me, when you don't I'll send the FSB to your house in the middle of the night."

Most of the work at BB is of pro quality in my estimation, but yes, it is an open forum where the thoughts of Joe from Saskitoba get equal play with the more senior posters with advanced degrees and baseball experience. It shows a thin skin on JP's part if he can't separate the two, acknowledging the good work of the latter and weeding out posts from the former. Imagine how he'd react if he heard what the average JaysTalk caller had to say about him? In any event, the two articles linked in the above paragraph give a fascinating insight into his personality and his views of fandom.

I simply can't see the Jays following the Cardinals down the path of using amateur blogger scouts so long as the Ricciardi regime is in place. He's simply too proud, too arrogant. We do know, however, that BB has shown that there is a possibility that the best of our work might someday filter its way up to the top of this organization and actually influence decision-making. And that, I think, is pretty cool. As for our relationship with future executives, well, one never knows...

-- Johnny Was


Jonathan said...

Not to brag, but my nerd work got me a job with a scouting company. Certain old-school journalists aside, the quality analysis and bizarre levels of dedication shown by the internet masses is not going totally unnoticed...

That's exactly what I thought about those J.P. comments on Batters Box. Although the old guard didn't stay as positively enamored with him as they were on his arrival, it wasn't the real contributors spewing mindless invective at him. I can see him rapidly being turned off by the average level of insight behind criticism on the internet, though, and not bothering to try and read between the lines.

Lloyd "the barber" Moseby said...


The Southpaw said...

Sometimes I like to mix it up a bit, Saskitoba, Maniskatchewan, etc.

The part about this I'm just floored about is the USS Mariner's letter to Felix Hernandez. Not just that their work was read, but also in a timely fashion. Maybe that's one way to outperform your pythag and take an average club and make it a playoff contender?

It wasn't mentioned in the article, but I heard Manny Acta give a radio interview on ESPN when I was in DC last summer in which he expressed an interest in learning more about from the stat nerds. He was pretty shocked to find out just how wrong alot of the inherited wisdom in the National League really is.

The other thing about this is I just can't understand is Jeff Blair's appearance of disdain for his job, the sport he covers, and its fans. There are literally thousands of us who would give a kidney for his job.


The Southpaw said...

Ditto that on Blair!

On the subject of JP and Batter's Box, let me take that from a slightly different angle.

You guys (JW and Twitchy at least) know that my personal weakness is that I have great difficulty in letting a stupid comment go unchallenged. You know how maddening find it when one more goofball repeats how Zaun is the "worst catcher ever"tm.

Maybe what JP has then, in this matter at least, is not so much arrogance or ego, but the same thing I have - a huge frustration at reading the pontifications of the strikingly ill-informed...and what has to be worse for him, he CAN'T take the time to answer them.

Anyway, all I can say is that I hope one day something we say here catches the eye of Jays personnel...that would be remarkable.