Friday, February 25, 2005
You all thought you were safe. You thought I had forgotten about it. But it was not so. I was working on it, in secret (i.e. in between classes, classwork, and regular ol’ reactionary blogs). I was working on it, and working on it, and working on it, and the problem was that the more I worked on it, the more I realized there was that I absolutely bloody well had to include, and the damn thing kept getting longer and longer, and what was originally supposed to be one entry has now mushroomed into approximately 5 or 6.
So I kept writing it, and researching it, and not deciding where to break it up, until Rob called me out on the Tigers messageboard, of all godforsaken places, for not posting it when I had said many moons ago that I would do so in a timely fashion. The lesson here is twofold: don’t believe me when I try to set my own deadlines, and if you call me out some time when I’m completely not expecting it, result!
But! It is now time for the Return of the RantBlog! You can thank or blame Rob as you see fit.
RantBlog: Why do the Red Sox seem to have about 300 times more high and mid-quality blogs than any other major league team, and possibly any other sports team?
Installment the Second
If you recall (which you probably don’t, since it was about a billion eons ago), the
first Installment, if it can be said to have had any sort of theme at all, dealt with numbers, i.e. the ‘300 times more’ bit. After rereading it I’m not at all sure that I proved anything, unless it’s that you can rant pretty happily and not make any eventual point. What we can take away from Installment the First, I think, is that the Red Sox may or may not have the most blogs out there, but they are definitely in the top 5, for a number of reasons.
In this Installment we’re going to be dealing with stat blogs and blogging group affiliates. Subsequent Installments will deal with individual Red Sox blogs, individual blogs for everyone else, web design critique, humor blogs, and possibly female sportsbloggers, if I’m feeling particularly masochistic. That’s a rough rundown, I’m not entirely certain how I’m going to break it down yet, and the Third Installment might contain one or several of these, or something else entirely if I decide it needs (“needs”) to be written about.
The age-old argument: Stats vs. NotStats
The true breaking point of most sports bloggers, this is. Are you a stathead, or are you a… um, whatever the word for the opposite of a stathead is? Does the word ‘saber’ mean something to you other than ‘sword’ or ‘-toothed tiger’? Would you be more likely to reference numbers or the aforementioned extinct felines in your blog? Believe it or not, this has become a topic that will bring people to blows, or as close to blows as you can get over the internet.
I fondly recall the electronic catfight between proponents of cold, hard numbers from The House that Dewey Built and proponents of warm, fuzzy words from Surviving Grady. It still brings a tear of joy to my rheumy eye. It was so majestic that it warranted a mention on the Soxaholix. You can see the entry that started it all, and the subsequent battle royale in the comments, right here, and the response from the Dewey crew over here. Ah yes. Those were the good old days*.
So, the matter is a bit of a contentious one. Unfortunately for us all, I cannot do it justice. You see, while a fan of the ol’ game, I am not well-versed in the numerical aspects of it. I know that a high ERA for a pitcher is bad (DLowe in the regular season) and a low ERA for a pitcher is good (Pedro in seasons past), and I’m relatively certain that ERA stands for Earned Run Average and OPS stands for On base Plus Slugging (thanks, Moneyball!), but I’m even shaky on that. You start throwing things like VORP or DIPS or bizarre decimals at me, and my brain just shuts down and starts gibbering helplessly, much like it did regularly back in freshman year when I inadvisedly took chemistry in the first semester.
But when someone says: “Who knows what scent, what sudden change in the wind, sent Jason Varitek after A-Rod, prompted the Red Sox catcher to put his big body between Rodriguez and Arroyo, his brown mask with "Tek" inscribed in the leather padding bobbing over his face as he drew A-Rod's attention like someone diverting an angry dog, and A-Rod took the bait.”… well, OK, see, I can sink my teeth into that.
I’m learning. I mean, I have a very general ability to understand some very simple stats, which is more than I could say a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t begin to crunch any numbers on my own (more exactly, I couldn’t begin to want to do something like that) and most of it all is still pretty inexplicable to me. I’ve always been much more about literature than mathematics, and I simply have no desire to learn that much in the realm of sabermetrics. It’s always been obvious to me that, when I finally gave in to the desperate pull of geography (Boston) and genetics (obsessive, rotisserie-league maverick brother and father, to say nothing of the extended family) and fell into the deep abyss that is baseball zealotry, it would be from the nonsabermetric point of view.
So there are plenty of sports blogs out there that make use of numbers to prove their points, but I wouldn’t be able to rightly say whether or not they’re any good. Whether or not I can say someone else’s writing is any good, based on the poor product I deposit onto the web from this small corner of the blogosphere is debatable, but we can say for sure that I can’t judge the numbers.
When Replacement Level Yankees uses a wonky-looking chart with bitty print to talk about something called ‘sims with ZiPS projections, I can’t even read it. When the Cub Reporter wants you to consider some closers, I go cross-eyed.
Really, Marinomics could be the best baseball blog on the entire internet and I wouldn’t have a bloody clue. “I started with an age^2 component in there, but I stopped and thought about what it means: because I'm using a change in OPS+ delta, I was implicitly assuming that the OPS+ versus age structure is actually a function of age^3 - which makes very little sense, since it would imply that after a certain old age (it turned out to be 41) players start getting better again! Using only a single age term gives a quadratic age structure versus the OPS+ level that most people are comfortable assuming.” Oh, um, yes, of course. Me draw animals all nice with pen, sometimes me drool on self when sleeping in lecture, wanna be friends?
I mean that nicely, though. The blog looks like it’s packed with information that’s not mere regurgitation, and it looks like it’s written (calculated?) by someone with a hefty load of gray matter in the ol’ cranial vault. But I just don’t know. It could be complete and utter bollocks and I’d be happily oblivious.
A recent article over at Cub Reporter on PECOTA projections managed to mobilize their extremely rabid commenting community (213 comments as of right now! 213! I didn’t even know that was possible!). If you want to see some mad crazy on-the-fly number tossing, check out those comments. There are also some fantastic tidbits as the nonsabers lash back in Chicagoan rage, leading to exchanges so magical that they make my heart swell with love for the world:
rt: what does pecota have to say about whether or not im going to beat off today?
cuz i am.
Your production will be down due to regression to the mean.
rt: i am so sick of these fucking pussies and their fucking bullshit.
'Moderate' Decline. ooh, moderate, way to go out on a limb homo-pants.
todd walker- 'not much of an athlete' thats cute, this sissy probably spent all night figuring out how many times frank thomas walks against left handed reliefpitchers picked in the first round out of highschool after averaging 8 or mor k's per 9inn against the league average of walks, but todd walker isnt much of an athlete
anyway, these guys are getting out of hand, someone should round these guys up, and rob neyer, and put em in camps. not death camps, but still pretty bad camps.
Domer:Thanks for the insight rt.
How do you really feel about the study of baseball?
I mean, really people, ‘but still pretty bad camps’? If that isn’t the best anti-saber argument you ever heard, get out of here, because you are lying.
So anyways, big ups to the stat-bloggers of the baseball blogosphere. Some of you, undoubtedly, are doing good work. But I’m afraid I can’t tell you if Red Sox statblogs are better or even more numerous than the statblogs of any other team fanbase, and it can’t and won’t be my place to comment on it. Erm. More than I just did.
I would like to just take a moment (or a couple of paragraphs) here to say that I take umbrage with the viewpoint that nonstat people are some sort of luddite, anti-science internet hicks. Just because someone does not approach the game from a mathematical point of view does not mean that their opinions are worthless, or that they are somehow less of a fan than a dedicated stathead, or that they hate Science. As anyone who has spent more than an hour with me can relate, I am all about the Science. It just happens to be biology and zoology, not chemistry or physics. There are people out there who honestly think that someone who goes to a game with a stat sheet as a little kid (as you know some of you did) will grow up to be a better fan than someone who goes to a game with a sketchbook as a little kid (PNC Park in Pittsburgh is great for the this, the skyline is amazing and makes for some cool sketches).
I know this isn’t an opinion shared by everyone who knows and enjoys statistics, but it would be silly to pretend that it doesn’t exist, just like it would be silly to pretend that there aren’t people out there who think all statheads are cold-hearted, steely-eyed, calculator-wielding geeks who have no love for the game itself. These are both dumb viewpoints and the people who subscribe to them need a good, healthy beating about the head with an oversized three-button mouse.
Anyways, on to things I actually can talk about, such as
Yes, insane as it may seem, there are ‘gangs’ out there in the sporting blog world, and while I’m usually a little wary of any such affiliates (what can I say, I’m a fan of the old-fashioned independents), some of them are pretty good.
The All-Baseball crew is usually a good bet for some nice writing, although they’re really more about consistent quality than mind-blowingly funny or engrossing posts. The Bronx Banter guy is eminently readable and seems to know his stuff, although when he says that anyone “could learn a thing or three from the way [Alex] Rodriguez handles himself as a New York star,” I just have to shake my head. That’s not a fault of his writing though, just a point on which we’re going to have to agree to disagree, as it were.
Cub Reporter is also good, and seems to have a rabid commenting community (we’re talking raccoons-foaming-at-the-mouth rabid), which would be about right—take a look back at the first installment to see how we determined, using the time-tested fields of ‘mathematics’ and ‘making things up’, that Chicago was the most fervent sports blogging city when it came to sheer numbers. The other team-centric bloggers on All-Baseball are Dodger Thoughts (great observations, keeps me interested even though, um, the Dodgers? They play baseball west of the Mississippi? Really?) and Baysball (Oakland A’s—ah yes, I knew there was at least one team out there I liked).
They used to have a Mariners correspondent, but he jumped ship for the primo Mariners blog on the web, USS Mariner (more on that later). There are other bloggers on the crew, but I tend to like the team-centric ones better—it’s easier for them to keep a focused blog and to insert the personal comments and small bits of humor that make a blog, well, readable. Well, of course you should be reading Will Caroll, and the transaction guy is relatively useful if you like to keep up on that sort of stuff and resent being forced to watch ESPN.
They’re all good, but if you ask me most of the well-known independent bloggers seem to have, for whatever reason, a slight edge in the level of writing and ability to hold the readers’ interest, although not necessarily in baseball insight or knowledge. I might just be reacting to the fact that they are all in a group, and are more an aggregate being than a bunch of individuals linking to each other. I’m not sure how to explain it any more clearly than that.
They seem to have made a particular effort to get good bloggers on their staff, a sort of ‘you must be one of the few and the proud to get in here’ attitude. This is reinforced by the fact that they only have a few teams covered—Chicago, New York, Oakland, LA, and formerly Seattle. Check back in the first Installment, and you see that Chicago, NY and Seattle are all in the top 5 sports blogging cities, while LA and Oakland (lumped in with the SanFran numbers) are in the top 3 overall blogging cities. So it makes sense that theses are the team represented by the All-Baseball gang.
There’s an anamoly here, though. Something missing that should, by force of numbers and logic, be present. The number 3 baseball blogging city, the number 6 overall blogging city. Yup. Boston.
I dunno, guys. Your guess is as good as mine.
The other big gang running around on the Ethernet waves is the Most Valuable Network crew. They cover every major league baseball team and some teams for other sports. As with the All-Baseball guys, some of them are pretty good, but I also can’t help but get the sense that something’s missing… some level of writing sophistication or unique humor that’s more likely to be found on an independent blog (on the other hand, since they’re all together in a group there seems to be a little more accountability, and no one is keen to be the lame-duck blog that updates with things like ‘OMG Sammy Sosa is teh suxx0rs! ha ha ha Orioles got pwned!’).
The fledgling Nationals blog, Oleanders and Morning Glories (is this a DC thing? Am I just being thick and not getting something obvious about this title?) is pretty good, despite the fact that it hasn’t had much, you know, actual baseball to write about. Unless you count the Expos, which, eh. Still, one of the writers, at least, (Allard) seems to have some skill behind him. It’ll be interesting to see how it progresses once the season starts and, presumably, the team gets some fans.
The Red Sox writer for MVN is the Fire Brand of the American League. I think he runs the MVN gang. Anyways, I was going to make a snide comment about his logo, but then I remembered that I was saving the webdesign stuff for another entry. Suffice it to say that the stuff on there is worthwhile information-wise (the recent entry on Bladergroen was particularly interesting to me, although I do want to sever the hands of whoever made that pathetically manipulated ‘Blade’ parody poster—oh my god people, is it so hard to smooth the edges? Is it?), but the writing itself seems kind of inconsistent. Some entries have me nodding in agreement and enjoyment, some of them have me wincing at awkwardly constructed sentences.
*scans own entry for awkwardly constructed sentences*
Uh, right then. Moving on.
Their Cubs writers, Behind the Ivy are pretty good and seem to have a sense of humor, which I assume you’d need as a Cubs fan. I’m disappointed by their Tigers writers, as they’re pretty cut-and-dry. The Reds blog is pretty good and actually quite well-written. He gets some snark in there, which gets bonus points from me.
Most of why I enjoy MVN is, again, due to the aggregate nature of it more than the individual blogs. Unlike All-Baseball, MVN covers every major league team (and then some, if you want to check out the few basketball or football sites), so if you have nice chunk of time you can cruise around what is essentially one site and get all the news and quite a few opinions. It’s a great concept and is eminently useful, but it’s nothing I go to when I want an injection of inspirationally excellent writing. Still, it’s run by a Sox fan, so at least we know their heart is in the right place.
One of the newest gangs on the block, one that I’m actually looking forward to seeing expand, is the SportsBlogs family. I first ran across them with Athletics Nation, then noticed that a Giants blog called McCovey Chronicles was using the same distinctive format, then stumbled across the Red Reporter when I was trying to trace those Korean baseball cartoons back to their origin (so far as I can tell, Red Reporter was the first one to link to them, and god knows how he found them).
Eventually a few other SportsBlogs sites popped up, and as of right now they’ve got Bleed Cubbie Blue, a Mariners site called Lookout Landing, DRays Bay, a minor league site by John Sickels, and a Red Sox site called Over the Monster. The Cubs site has links to two more, a Mets site called Amazin’ Avenue and a Padres site called Gaslamp Ball, but as of right now neither is active. Presumably they will be soon.
As I said, I’m looking forward to seeing how this gang grows. The ones in place right now, especially the ones that have been around the longest (AN, McCovey, and Red Reporter) are very good blogs—informative, interesting, well written. The format that they’re all using is weird, as commenters can post ‘diaries’ on the side, almost like they’re blogging along with the actual blogger. I haven’t done so yet, but it seems to be an idea with potential, and their readers seem to be taking advantage of it. I’m a little pissed off that you have to register to comment on the entries, or, at least, that you have to register separately for each site. If they’re all in the same group they ought to have something set up where you can register at one and comment under the same login at all the others.
Since this group is still growing, I’m not sure how many teams they’re ultimately going to cover—a select few a la All-Baseball, the whole league a la MVN, or something in between? The ones that are up so far are sites that I enjoy reading, and although the Red Sox one is pretty new I expect good things from him, as he used to be Red Sox Haven (that’s now being updated by someone else). Keep your eyes on these SportsBlogs things, people. They’re coming up in the world.
USS Mariner isn’t a group affiliate in the sense that the other three previous mentioned are, but it is a very largescale blog with 5 writers, some of whom used to have their own pretty darn successful individual blogs (and they all use their real names, so you know they’re hardcore). I’m just throwing them out there, because they’re not exactly an individual blog so I can’t really cover them in that section, and they’re someone you probably should be reading even if you’re not necessarily a Mariners fan. They really are the Mariners blog, they’re very widely read, and they’re almost a baseball blogging institution by this point.
Another one I’m throwing out there, despite the fact that it’s not really a group affiliate, is the Cubs Blog Army. These sites are not officially affiliated with one another. This is, rather, a portal for a large number of sites in the very large Cubs blogosphere. What a frikking good idea. Why can’t we have one of these for Red Sox Nation? Once again, I’m starting to think that the whole hypothesis of this RantBlog is going to be proved wrong—Chicago’s kicking our ass. We’ll see, though, there are still plenty of topics left to cover.
I think I’m going to end this here, mostly because my battery is about to die and there are no plugs anywhere in this bloody airport, but also because I don’t think any reasonably sane human being (look, I assume my readership is reasonably sane!) could read much more than this. Look for the third Installment whenever the hell I get time to finish it.
*If you want to call ‘a few weeks ago’ the good old days, anyhow.