May 4, 2012

I have a thick skin. Anyone in media has to, or they’ll melt down. It doesn’t mean that criticism doesn’t get to me; instead, it means I once again look to my idols. Peter Gammons once had a whole regular column at BPro that was designed to go line-by-line through his Diamond Notes and point out the holes. (Sadly, those are lost to the internet. I’m sure Gary Huckabay is glad.)

What did Peter do?

He learned. To his credit, Gammons didn’t just shut out the guys taking shots, but listened and ended up one of their top advocates. I would never have joined the organization if Gammons hadn’t talked about my work and recommended me, which means I’d have had no career.

As with everything - writing, life, guitar playing, sources - I don’t live up to Peter’s ideal. I block people that annoy me. Sometimes, I fire back, especially if it’s a personal attack. But in the end, I remember it’s a tradition.

Huckabay once told me “Always aim up.” I never thought I’d be the one people aimed at. So if you’re one of the one’s aiming, here’s my advice:

1. Don’t be profane. If you’re dropping F-bombs, I’m likely to just hit block.

2. Don’t be personal. Want to attack my work? Fine. Want to attack me? Less fine. 

3. If you’re correcting me, be specific. If you think I’m just generally wrong, be very specific.

4. If you just want to argue, maybe I’ll do it. Depends on mood, time, tides, and how sore my wrist is that day. I like a good discussion and it’s the reason I’m on Twitter at all. But I do have a tendency to walk away from those arguments once it gets too long or too unreasonable. I have better things to do and more calls to make.

5. Don’t do it all the time. Sometimes, it’s cute. Sometimes, it’s just creepy.

In the end, I’m reminded that people are reading my stuff and passionate enough about sports to even comment. I’m not being sarcastic when I say “thanks for reading.” 

April 27, 2012
500 Friends

I don’t know Pedro Gomez. I remember feeling bad for him back when ESPN made him bird-dog Barry Bonds around the league. But then he went on a really indefensible rant about the Hall of Fame. Dayn Perry did a great job breaking down why it was indefensible. But within this, Gomez said something — I can’t find the tweet — like “Want to change it? Get 500 of your friends and get a job at a newspaper.” 

Maybe Gomez didn’t notice that Fangraphs was admitted a couple years back or that he doesn’t work at a newspaper. Maybe he didn’t notice that sites like HardballTalk, SBNation, and Grantland will be applying for membership, bringing with them the next wave of what I’ll now graciously call my 500 friends. 

When Keith Law, Rob Neyer, Christina Kahrl and I became the first non-newspaper, internet-only members of the BBWAA, it was a big step. The organization is not the problem. The problem is that entrenched membership for any organization will resist change. When Barry Bonds hits the ballot for the first time in ‘13, the clock starts. I’ll get my first ballot in ‘18 and members that join this year will get theirs in ‘23. This is clearly an era when the ballots will be examined more than any others, with the disclarity of the “steroid era” creating factions and debate like we’ve never seen.

I’m not going out on a limb at all to say that Bonds, Roger Clemens, and even Jeff Bagwell won’t make the Hall in ‘13. I’d venture that Bonds and Clemens will be on the ballot when I first get a vote. But my 500 friends are coming, Pedro. Some of them will be childish too, I’m sure … but not about this.

March 13, 2012

John Gruber quoted The Buggles when linking to an article about the Encylcopedia Brittanica stopping the presses. It’s a symbolic moment squared. I was a World Book kid - and I can see now it was a huge influence for me, so thanks Dad - so there’s no emotional connection. Symbol? Huge. 

Today, Vox Media (nee SBNation) is launching a video channel on YouTube. They also have a great regular video program on The Verge. (I don’t get why The Verge is a “vertical” and not just a blog.) 

These events aren’t connected, but if you’re not hearing The Buggles when you watch Amy Nelson and Bomani Jones, bloggers, you’re deluding yourself. Video has been a major driver (YouTube, etc) and yet a major problem. Blogging accelerated because anyone could do it and be more or less on the same footing as anyone else. If Jon Weisman was a better Dodgers writer than T.J. Simers, it didn’t matter that one wrote at Baseball Toaster and one at the L.A. Times. 

ESPN has survived because of its cable advantage, but even with all its resources, it’s never really understood the internet. It’s podcasts are mediocre, aside from Bill Simmons, who’s gone from awkward to amazing in just a few short years. I like some of the information, but there’s better out there from people spending far less money. Money? Yeah, you should see the setup ESPN has with studios and production, not to mention the talent they’re paying. Podcasts, like blogging, put people on equal footing, more or less. Dan Benjamin’s podcasts sound as good or better than ESPN. There are tons of people out there doing it with less and doing it “good enough.” (I don’t mean to pick on ESPN there.) 

"Good enough" is much, much tougher on TV. The talent is tougher to get and more expensive. The equipment is more expensive, though that’s coming down as iPhones shoot better quality video than TV cameras did five years ago. Production is tougher and more time consuming. Studios not only have to sound good, but look good. People have to be geographically concentrated. Video files are bigger. If Vox is the first to "solve" this in the sports space, they’ll have a huge advantage. 

That said, they’re basically spending TV money to do it. Reports have YouTube’s payment to them in the multi-million dollar range. Amy Nelson didn’t leave ESPN on the cheap! Studio space, techs, cameramen, cameras … it’s a big gamble and few have the resources to even take that gamble outside Vox and BleacherReport. If Vox can somehow get this out to their site bloggers, they’ll have something. If not, they’ll have a small advantage rather than a big one. 

Someone’s going to figure out how to make it work. It might be purely a technical leap, but really, it comes down to either financing or sales, two things that bloggers aren’t good at by and large. Which means that for the first time, small is disadvantaged on the net and in the general innovative space. Just as the TV networks remain by and large the sole place for original programming, a few large companies could control the online video market, keeping bloggers well down the chain. 

Video’s the future, but for many, it’s still a code yet to be cracked. 

March 6, 2012
Pineda vs History

The Yankees pulled off a trade that according to many put them back on top of the AL East. While the Rays and Red Sox might protest that early assumption — beware dream teams — bringing in a good young player with several years of control in a pitching-thin market has to be considered a big win for the Yankees. Much as the Reds did in acquiring Mat Latos, the Yankees used a blocked player of questionable defensive ability to get that rare resource: young power pitching.

But for the Yankees as much as any team, there’s a big downside. Pineda is young, below the “injury nexus”. The injury nexus is a line in the sand for pitcher health. Research put together by Nate Silver and myself in 2003 showed that pitchers that went over 190 innings while under the age of 24 simply didn’t hold together in the long term. There’s a theory around biomechanical circles that in general, arms simply don’t mature until that age, though there’s nothing in the way of medical evidence to go along with that. In fact, medical theories go against that, showing physiological changes in teenage pitchers that seem to adjust to the task of pitching. 

Worse, Pineda is headed to the Yankees, a team that simply has a poor record of getting young pitchers into their rotation and keeping them healthy. Along with Ivan Nova (24 last season), the 23-year-old Pineda is fighting history and probability as much as he will be the hitters of the AL East. How bad is it? The research, put together for me by Dan Wade, is damning. Under the reign of Joe Girardi, the Yankees have brought five pitchers under the age of 25 up to the majors, getting them nine or more starts. Of those, only two are healthy - and really, it’s too early to know the longer term consequences of last season’s workload on Nova. Joba Chamberlain is coming back from Tommy John surgery while Phil Hughes has had an up-and-down Yankee career, in large part due to injuries. The one healthy player? Ian Kennedy, who was traded to the Diamondbacks and can hardly be called a “Yankee pitcher”. 

If we expand the view a bit on Girardi, looking back to his short tenure with the Marlins, things look even worse. There were another five qualifying pitchers brought up to the Marlins while Girardi was there and all five suffered some pitching injury afterwards. Josh Johnson is coming back from elbow and shoulder surgeries. Scott Olson and Ricky Nolasco have had varying degrees of success mixed with injuries. Anibal Sanchez has been effective on the few occasions he’s been healthy (and to be fair, was injured before, during, and after Girardi’s tenure.) Perhaps the only pitcher to come away without a new scar was Dontrelle Willis. It would be a bit of a stretch to blame his decline on Girardi given his previous success and workload, but it’s hardly a positive either.

Girardi’s track record with young pitchers isn’t ideal, but he’s got a pitching coach to handle those sorts of things, right? The Yankees brought in Larry Rothschild two seasons ago but it wasn’t for his track record with young pitchers. Rothschild’s previous job was as pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs under Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella. Do I need to do more than say “Mark Prior” to paint this picture for you? The list speaks for itself: Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Sean Marshall, Sergio Mitre, Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman, Sean Gallagher, Juan Mateo, and Jerome Williams. Again, if we remove Kerry Wood from the list, we’re left with only two pitchers of nine that stayed healthy after being used young under Rothschild.

This isn’t to place any blame on Girardi or Rothschild in particular. This exercise could be performed on virtually any team, manager and pitching coach, though there is one counter-example. There’s one team that’s kept its pitchers largely healthy and productive, avoiding most major injuries despite bringing young pitchers up in succession. That would be the Yankees’ divisional rival, the Tampa Bay Rays. Under Joe Maddon, the Rays have brought up a series of pitchers including David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, and Matt Garza through the injury nexus without significant injuries. They’re not perfect — hi, Scott Kazmir — but they’re close, even in the face of pitchers that they brought in with significant injury histories, like Jeff Niemann. 

If the Yankees want this deal to work, maybe they need to make a couple more deals. I wonder what the Rays might take for Ron Porterfield or just invest in a biomechanical program the way that the Red Sox have. It’s clear that the Yankees will need to do more than just put Michael Pineda in pinstripes if they want different results. 

February 27, 2012
Why Victor Conte’s Idea Doesn’t Work

Victor Conte is an interesting guy. I find him intriguing and engaging … and knowledgeable. I mean, the guy was one of the brains behind BALCO. 

But when it comes to one aspect of drug testing — one that is coming up again with the Ryan Braun decision — he’s dead wrong. Well, not so much wrong as unrealistic. Victor has called for the use of carbon isotope ratio testing on all drug samples. (Let’s ignore that isotope ratio mass spectrometry is considered the state of the art in this discussion.) 

Currently, testers in MLB do a quick test - a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone - to see whether or not a test is likely to contain added testosterone. Until the mid-2000’s this was the ONLY test used. It is cheap, relatively effective, but is also very easy to beat* and has a false positive rate that’s too high compared to modern testing sensitivities. 

(* Conte and BALCO did exactly this. “The Cream” was merely a compounded version of prescription Androgel mixed to keep the T/E ratio within the standards of the time. Androgel and other synthetic testosterone prescriptions are still available. Axiron, an underarm application of this gel, is currently in heavy rotation.) 

So why is the ratio test done? Its very simple. Cost and time. The ratio test takes a matter of moments and can be largely automated. The IRMS (or CIR, if you insist, Victor) is both timely and expensive. MLB does well over 3000 samples in a year, but lets use that for a nice round number and easy math. According to a local lab that performs these types of tests for corporate and government clients, this type of test would cost a couple hundred dollars (depending on volume discounts) for each test. The bigger problem would be that the test takes about an hour each to be prepared, sampled, analyzed, and then to clean the machine, which is more key than most realize. 

At 3000 samples, you’re talking about 3000 hours or about 125 man/days. That’s over a full year of eight hour days doing nothing but MLB samples (and a low end estimate on numbers as well.) That means that a lab could do nothing but that using the IRMS, necessitating the purchase of a new piece of equipment for a single client. That’s going to be very costly in every meaning of the word. 

You might say “The Olympics do it.” It’s true that the Olympics do have a large number of participants (over 11,000 at the Beijing games) but they tend not to test all their participants, focusing instead on medal winners and random testing. Even then, the Olympics use multiple labs and take months to fully test all samples. 

The other issue is that IRMS is a destructive test. The urine is taken out of the collection device, placed in a testing vessel, and burned as part of the test. You don’t get a second chance at it. If ONLY the IRMS were done, the current collection amounts would work, but there would be no way to re-test unless a “B” sample were held and stored, which we already know is a problem. Doing two IRMS tests doesn’t prove much and only adds to the issue of workload.

Conte is not wrong. The IRMS (or CIR) tests are more sensitive and “better.” They’re also far more expensive and create a workload that is untenable, even for the world-class lab baseball currently uses. I’m sure Thermo Electron, the company that has a near-monopoly on this type of testing equipment, would love to sell a few more machines though you can imagine both the cost and the backlog. 

For Conte’s idea to work, someone is going to have to invent a newer, faster, cheaper method of testing … or they’re going to need a giant pile of cash.

UPDATE: After posting this, I had a Twitter conversation with Victor Conte. Victor asserted that it was possible to do this and did some checking. Victor says that an IRMS machine can handle 400 tests per month. That’s only slightly higher than the numbers I was given. Again, it’s essentially taking one machine and making it purely MLB’s testing machine, which adds costs. The Montreal lab has more than one client that uses an IRMS machine and while Conte’s point that there’s more than one lab, in MLB’s case, there’s only one they use.

So, I will agree — and never asserted otherwise — that Conte’s numbers show this type of testing to be possible, I still disagree that it is plausible. The cost in machinery and man-hours remains excessive for the increase in accuracy. How much cost? An IRMS machine costs well over a million dollars and is really only available from one company (see above.) In addition to the technicians — you’d need several — there is maintenance, additional storage, and floor space for these large, technical, and fragile machines and their supplies. On a per-year basis, the testing budget to allow this kind of procedure would triple what MLB spends. 

UPDATE TWO: After publishing the update, Conte and I continued discussing this. In the course of that, I suggested a survey approach. That is, MLB would take a “significant sample” - let’s say 500 samples - and run them through IRMS without the trigger. Conte believes we would find evidence of micro dosing and/or people beating the ratio. I’d definitely be curious. This approach was used in 2003 and if it found a significant problem, I would agree that the costs should be bourne. I hope the NFL is listening as well.

February 17, 2012
Moving The Mountain (Lion)

This post from The Loop is one of the best looks at how moving iOS and OS X closer, but not having one true OS, is going to work well for almost everyone. Not everyone, but most. Apple tends to do things that way, which is good for business.

There are things I really don’t like about Lion, but there’s more I do like. What I don’t, I trust they’ll fix or I’ll ignore/work around it, just like I do now. I’m never going to avoid the upgrades just because one or two things isn’t good. Some people freaked out over two vs three-pane views in Address Book. Maybe they use it a LOT more than me, because I didn’t even notice.

One of my main issues was with how Pages didn’t use iCloud for documents, which made it pretty moot for me and shifted me (back) to Google Docs. They’re fixing that in Mountain Lion. Good for me, good for most. 

I’ve been playing with Messages, the desktop version of iMessage, for a couple days now and love it, but it reminds me of the one thing I don’t like and drives me nuts about iCloud/Lion. When I set an alarm on one device in iCal, it syncs to all devices. Good so far. When that alarm goes off, it goes off on all devices. It goes off on my iPhone, both Macs, and my iPad. Problem is, I’m not in all those places! Four alarms? Not necessary.

The problem is that there’s no “presence.” Right now, my iPad is over on the couch, while I’m sitting at my desk using my Air. The iMac is on the desk, but dark. My iPhone is in my pocket. So I’m using one device. I’m “present” with my Air while “not present” at the other three. I have to think there’s a way for Apple to figure out which one I’m actively using when an alarm goes off (or now, an incoming iMessage, or other such synced events.) 

It’s a bit harder for a phone. I’d think it would be the default device since while it may be in my pocket, it may be the device I’m waiting on. If it’s in my pocket at a meeting or something, then I want that alarm to go off. It’s a matter of if-thens, some switches, some proximity sensors, and some smart guys in Cupertino.

So I hope between now and then, Apple will think a bit about presence. It’s really my only minor complaint left about the whole Apple universe. 

February 8, 2012
Developing Pitchers

Since the dawn of the free agency era when pitching became scarcer and more expensive, teams have stopped treating pitchers like a fungible, replaceable commodity. Unfortunately, their strategies for keeping their pitchers straddling that mythical line between healthy and effective have been, at best, hit or miss. In fact, there’s almost no science in pitcher development. The training methods of Johnny Sain and Leo Mazzone are simple folk wisdom passed down from guru to student, with the student eventually becoming the new guru. Of course, this wisdom does stand up to many of the tests science throws at it. With newer pitching coaches, science is entering the picture with Tom House, Rick Peterson, and Glenn Fleisig leading the way. Still, we’re leaving something on the table and leaving far too many pitchers headed to the table—the operating table.

The work of Craig Wright, Keith Woolner, and Dr. Rany Jazayerli on Pitcher Abuse Points, as well as some subsequent work by others, has shown us that there is certainly some value in pitch counts. However, pitch counts and PAP work in the average—what describes pitchers as a whole does not necessarily describe each and every pitcher. In fact, it is this variability that is often cited as a criticism of the system (the inability to describe outliers was notably debated in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers by Bill James, Woolner, and Jazayerli). Apart from pitchers like Livan Hernandez who still pitch in a Mathewsonian style—where they “coast” and save their best stuff for when they need it—there are pitchers who seem to be able to take a workload higher than average over an extended period of time without discernible or predicted negative consequences. It was three years ago when I predicted that C.C. Sabathia would break down—and I’m still waiting.

Still, there is a value in understanding what pitchers can exceed the averages and become the outliers, maximizing their talent and usability. Instead of merely understanding how pitchers become injured or ineffective, is it possible to use the science of PAP and marry it to the coaching-centric current system? That’s the motivation behind The Progressive Development System.

Progressive Development is a very simple concept that takes the tenets and rules of PAP and molds it to a system that would work with very little adjustment inside the current, change-resistant baseball system. Progressive development is already an accepted principle of weight training and physical therapy. In fact, the minor league promotion system is itself a progressive development system. One wonders why this approach has never been used for pitching or if in fact it has, only quietly. Parts of the system have been in place, but never in an organized and complete manner. The simplest way to explain progressive development is to put it in terms of weight training. No one bench-presses 300 pounds on their first day. They work at it, gradually adding weight to the bar and, over time, grow stronger and stronger. Some will be stronger than others and each will have an individual maximum that will fluctuate slightly.

The key question becomes: how is it that pitchers stay healthy in the absence of low pitch counts and Mathewsonian technique? The key may well be the progressive approach that was taken. Often, this approach was taken by accident and the pitcher himself is known at a young age as a workhorse, able to take on workloads that break down lesser, weaker athletes. If we accept the Sain-Mazzone tenet of “Throw more, pitch less” then we are also accepting the principles of progressive resistance. Throwing is the equivalent of strength training, one five-ounce lift at a time.

A more scientific and less random approach would be better and there are simple adjustments to the normal development curve used by major league teams that could employ this. It’s important to note that the approach should work at any level, including the high school or college level and, at least in theory, this should be the beginning of any enlightened approach. In practice, high schools and colleges have turned into arm-shredding machines, forcing pitchers to take on workloads that approach the criminal with the survivor effect the most noticeable benefit of drafting collegiate pitchers. The current approach will begin with the assumption that the pitcher is being drafted into professional baseball, where the initial low-workload stages in the low minors serve as a quieting, calming period that should negate some of the short-term effects of overwork.

A pitcher is initially drafted and assigned to rookie ball and should have a hard pitch count limit based on his previous workload. These short-season leagues serve as an important adjustment period and, in fact, seem to be very effective for just this purpose. Extremely low pitch counts, as low as 60, should be in place. This serves multiple purposes. First, it is again a calming period for the pitchers who have been previously overworked. Second, the low count should serve to protect the arms of young pitchers with mechanical shortcomings. (Surprisingly, some of the more enlightened teams do no mechanical work with their draftees in the first short-season by policy. “I want to see them pitch. The work comes in the off-season,” said one minor league pitching coordinator.) Finally, the low count forces the use of multiple pitchers, allowing the largest number of draftees to have a chance to develop while also putting these pitchers in various roles. Since almost all pitchers will be starters at this stage, allowing them to start games, close games, and pitch in relief will help give them a taste of what they may one day be asked to do.

At the Single-A levels, pitchers will begin the season on artificially low pitch counts, again beginning as low as 60. The more advanced pitchers will be paired in the tandem starter system, alternating as the starter and the reliever. Any relievers will also be on pitch counts, though they will likely not be reaching them due to their reduced role. So far, this is no different than the tandem system already used by several teams with excellent results.

Where the progressive system differs is in how the pitchers are allowed to develop. Simply put, pitch limits are set by three factors: results, goals, and health. Pitchers are allowed to increase their in-force pitch limit by five or ten pitches each time they complete three starts in an effective manner, come back for their next start without limitation, and complete goals for factors that the team sets (such as first strikes, ground ball ratio, or more individual goals, like mechanical changes). Even with the increases, there should be an emphasis on pitch efficiency. There is no reason that any successful pitcher cannot complete five innings—enough for the win—on 60 pitches.

Once those goals are reached in a three game “set” (three consecutive games), the pitcher is allowed five or ten more pitches per outing. This will allow a pitcher to progress throughout the season, a satisfying thing for a young pitcher looking to succeed while both protecting his arm in the short- and long-term. If a player goes from Low-A to High-A or repeats a level, the pitch count should be set to a number somewhat lower than the ending count for the previous season. By the time a player reaches 85-90 pitches, he can safely be removed from the strict tandem system. Any pitcher that cannot work to these levels can be shifted to a reliever track or washed out of the system.

At the Double-A level, pitchers often face their toughest tests. It’s no different in the progressive system. Pitchers again start the level with a slightly lower limit than they ended the previous season with and are allowed an increase after a five game set of successful outings. The pitcher is proving that he can accept more workload, and that he knows the specific things he will need to do to advance. Since it is implicit in the system that a pitcher will be at 80 pitches or more at this level, efficiency can be introduced, essentially asking the pitcher to complete more innings on fewer pitches. Ideally, the pitchers at this level will be in a four-man rotation, teaching them to recover from starts quickly and, since single-game pitch counts should be relatively low, the recovery should not be a problem. Pitches should be capped at this level at 120 for pitchers under 25. Research shows that not only have pitchers passed the “injury nexus” discovered by Nate Silver, but should also have physically mature arms. For college pitchers, this limit may come off, but high school pitchers could be as young as 20 years old and must retain this cap at any level, even the Major Leagues.

Triple-A is like finishing school for pitchers. “Hitters know how to hit at Triple-A,” said the pitching coordinator. “That means pitchers have to know how to get hitters out at that level.” This is still the focus, but in addition, Triple-A pitchers should be allowed to extend their arms and find the level to which they can safely pitch the most. It is often said that we are “babying pitchers” in the modern era, that we never test them. Instead of testing them and hoping they can survive baseball’s version of trial-by-fire, the progressive system will build them to their maximum effective use slowly, safely, and measurably. Pitcher A may only be able to go an effective 90 pitches while Pitcher B could go a safe 120. There will be the occasional pitchers who harken back to the high pitch counts of the Forties and Fifties. When those are found who can safely go to 140 or 150 pitches per outing, we’ll have proof rather than guesswork. For each and every pitcher, this system will allow them to give their maximum safe contribution, something neither the trial-by-fire system nor the strict pitch count system does. These outliers will now be known quantities.

The progressive system continues to work at the Major League level, both in an additive and diminutive fashion. Few pitchers come to the Majors as a finished product and few never make improvements. Some pitchers will extend upwards from their call-up maximum and others, due to age or ineffectiveness, will lose some of their top-level pitches. The number also gets a bit softer, accepting the reality that a manager will sometimes have to go for a win or that a pitcher is “cruising.” The system allows for an exception, but only once in a “set.” Managers will now have to weigh one outing against not having that option in the pitcher’s next four outings. Additionally, pitchers who exceed their number will have those taken off during the rest of the set. A pitcher who has a number of 120 could be asked to go to 130, but he would be only allowed 110 during the rest of the set. Bad outings, where a pitcher is pulled before his number, can bank up to 5 pitches, though this is discouraged. Basing that number on five game sets as well as the expertise of the pitching coach and medical staff will allow fine adjustments in-season and over the course of a pitcher’s career.

We can look at two great pitchers of this era—Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux—as perfect specimens under the system. Clemens both extends further into games and continues to hold much of that pitch level into his forties while Maddux has had to be more efficient underneath his pitch level (and appears to be losing some of it over the past few seasons). Certainly, there is a value in 80 pitches per game of a Greg Maddux-style craftsman. Our current system (or lack thereof) gives no quantitative tools; the progressive system shows in certain and easily understood ways how pitchers can safely and effectively be used.

It should be made clear that the progressive system in no way refutes the PAP system, which is accurate in describing most pitchers. The progressive system compliments PAP in “explaining” the exceptions to the system and creating a framework that lives in harmony with the information PAP gave us. In all likelihood, these exceptions used some primitive or accidental form of the progressive system to reach those levels. The scouting description of “country strong” often holds true; there are people who are simply built to be pitchers and likely became that way through a progressive throwing program as well as other techniques.

There’s an old tale about a man who used a primitive progressive system to gain strength. He put a newborn calf on his shoulders and walked around the field. Each day, the calf would get a bit bigger and the man would get a bit stronger. Eventually, he was carrying a cow and was as strong as a bull. I wouldn’t recommend the old calf over the shoulders trick, but who knows. Putting a cow on the back of pitchers might help to get the injury monkey off the back of Baseball.

This article first ran at Baseball Prospectus on February 8, 2006. (C) Will Carroll 2006

January 20, 2012

So I need your help …

… but first, an exciting announcement! I’ll be joining forces with the crew at It’s *the* top podcasting network for tech podcasts. It’s filled with people I love listening to (and reading) like John Gruber, Jason Snell, and Tony Siragusa … wait, I mean John Siracusa. It’s a tech wonderland over there and I’m excited that Dan Benjamin saw my vision. We’re going to start the show in mid-February, once I decompress a bit from the Indianapolis Super Bowl. 

Steve Jobs often said that Apple was located at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. I live near the intersection of technology and sports. I’m a gadget geek, an Apple guy, and an equipment aficionado. I think a lot of people are like me, but that they haven’t had that kind of place. I do it some with my past podcasts, but we’re going to go a bit more in that direction with this one.

(Quick note: SI Inside Fantasy isn’t going anywhere, or changing. It will continue and I still love doing the show. This is just a different venue for a bit of a different venture.) 

So, that help. We’ve been referring to the show as “Sports Geek” as a working title, but there’s a couple problems with that. First, it’s not terribly original. Second, “geek” is often used a pejorative, not by us - the geeks - but by those that don’t understand us. I’m hoping that you can come up with something better. Send your suggestions to my Twitter feed (@injuryexpert) and the winner will get a special baseball draft package.

How special? I’ll be on call for you during one baseball draft. I’ll put all my sources and effort into helping you have the best draft ever. I’m not saying it’s a valuable prize package, but it’s not too shabby. 

So give me your ideas and you may not only see your name in pixels on the uber-cool 5by5 site and hear it intoned by the deep-voiced announcer voice, but get a prize to boot. Go. 

January 17, 2012

We’ve known for a while that PandoDaily was going to launch. It’s essentially TechCrunch rebuilt. Sarah Lacy is at the controls instead of Mike Arrington, but it looks to be the same. John Gruber says that Pando is to TC as The Verge is to Engadget. Pretty much nails it.

The controversial thing is that Pando took a bunch of VC money from the people they’re going to be covering. Does that make them a “mouthpiece” as Gawker charged or is it just how people do business? In sports - a place where VC money is virtually nonexistent, aside from the large scale tech-plays of Bleacher Report and the suddenly-not-so-interested-in-sports SBN Vox Media - there’s a lot of it that’s less seen.

People have friends in this business. We all do favors for each other, even competitors. I can’t tell you the number of times a writer has come to me, asking for help on figuring out a story on an injured player for the team they cover. It benefits me and them. I can also not count the number of times that a team’s asked me for something, often on a competitor. Just like Peter Gammons in Moneyball (where it was vastly oversimplified), there’s a value to being the middleman in an information economy. Even though the people I talk to know that I’m talking to their competitors, they trust my judgement.

It works and that’s why I think the Pando “controversy” is mostly jealousy. It’s a bit awkward on the surface, but if they end up being just a mouthpiece, people will stop reading them. Techcrunch is still there, after all, and there’s a plethora of tech sites.

(By the way, this World of Apple column is amazing. I’m still digesting it.)

I’m a gadget geek and a sports guy, so the overlap that continues to happen between the two intrigues me to no end. The announcement that CBSSports wants to become the Facebook of fantasy sports could go a lot of ways. The continued erosion of the core of ESPN’s main revenue (cable fees) offers some opportunities. Yahoo Sports continues to do outstanding work, especially in enterprise pieces, as Yahoo the company falls apart. 

I’m sure the next five years will be even more disruptive than the last five years, which coincide cleanly with the launch of the iPhone. Flat out, that’s the event that’s done more to change society than any other. Oddly, sports hasn’t been on the leading edge of it so there’s plenty of room to move here.

January 12, 2012
The Inside Value

It was about a month ago that I was sitting in a large conference room in Dallas. It was tiered, futuristic even, and several men that came in made jokes about it. At the front of the room, Jack O’Connell, the longtime treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA.) In the front row was Bob Elliott, who would soon be named the Spink Award winner to rousing applause.

Around the room, people I respect and very literally grew up reading. Peter Gammons. Gordon Edes. Rob Neyer. Jayson Stark. Tom Verducci. I could go on and on and on, but it is a very surreal experience being in that room. We later discussed the new ways that the awards that the membership votes on will be shown on the MLB Network. We voted in some new members (and didn’t include some.) 

Those same members, for the most part, make up the voting ranks that put men into the Hall of Fame. Whether you agree or disagree with the results doesn’t matter. I don’t have a vote - it takes ten years of membership - but Barry Larkin would have gotten mine and Jack Morris wouldn’t. Those two votes are in large part colored by the work of my friend and colleague, Joe Sheehan. (Yes, there would have been more votes, but those are irrelevant.) 

In his newsletter on Tuesday, Sheehan took a powerful shot at the BBWAA and as I read it, I got angrier and angrier. I could see Joe’s head peeking in the room and lobbing a grenade, hoping to blow the room up rather than fixing the process, if it is indeed broken. The problem is that Sheehan continually decries the process without trying to fix it. He blames the BBWAA as a group, not as individuals. Trust me, I’ve  been in enough meetings with Sheehan to know that he understands that everyone doesn’t agree just because they all sit at the same conference table.

You see, Joe’s not a member of the BBWAA. He could be. I’ve asked him to put himself forward several times. We both write at Sports Illustrated and were it not that I was already a member, he’d certainly have a better case for it than me. I realize there’s a bit more to it than that, but let’s leave it at the surface. It’s very literally Sheehan’s decision not to be a member and to be working towards a vote of his own. (In fact, I asked Joe to run this response on his newsletter and he declined. He says he’ll link to this, but the readership is bound to be a fraction of his subscriber base.) 

When I was admitted to the organization, I can remember how proud it made me feel. It was validation not only for what I had worked so hard on, but for the organization I was with and to some extent, the community of writers that had popped up at nearly the same time. That day, four of us that had never written one word for a newspaper were admitted and be clear, the BBWAA has and still is a newspaper based organization, though that is changing rapidly. (Rapidly enough? That’s another discussion.) As I walked through the halls of the Bellagio after the meeting, I was congratulated by Peter Gammons, Tracy Ringolsby, Gerry Fraley, and Phil Rogers. I remember each and every one of those men shaking my hand like it was yesterday, the oldest of the old guard welcoming in someone new.

And it’s that feeling that always makes me work so hard for what the BBWAA stands for. At it’s heart, the BBWAA is merely a Union, a negotiating arm for the writers to make it possible to do our jobs. I’m in a unique position to understand why that’s so important. I’ve been told I was “banned” from ballparks in two sports, but in baseball, if I held a BBWAA card, I could have walked right in. In football, I still can’t even get a practice credential from the Indianapolis Colts. Maybe it’s not important to be at the ballpark early, talking to players, but it can be if used properly. 

As time passes, there’s going to be a generational change. It’s not just people like Rob Neyer or Peter Abraham that will come in influenced by Bill James, it’s those people themselves that will be influencing the next generation. By advancing the discussion and making the organization stronger, things like the vote next year will be more informed — and believe me, the votes for the next few years will define the organization going forward. I don’t pretend to speak for the organization on this or any other issue, but I think most would be surprised at how forward thinking the group is, even if the pace of change looks slow. Believe me, I thought the same from the outside as well.

The BBWAA needs more Joe Sheehans, Craig Calcaterras, Aaron Gleemans, and Matthew Leachs inside the meeting, building the future, and making the vote they care so passionately about count. The system is hardly perfect and some of the changes being discussed around the sports world, such as open ballots, are ones I’d support. More importantly, they’re something I can bring up for discussion at our next meeting. Lobbing grenades is only going to hand the power off to something worse. Just look at All Star voting. 

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