Adventures in Chattering, Part I

It’s been a busy five weeks since I checked in here due to travel on the Baseball Prospectus 2012 book tour and the SABR Analytics Conference, immersion in the annual spring update series for the venerable Fantasy Baseball Index, and my willingness to answer just about every media request that comes my way, particularly from anyone who wants to call me a “Stats Wiz.” I’ve got a handful of video clips to post dating back to my last ride through here, but as I’m still cooking those up, I’ll stick to some proactive notes.

First, I’ll be appearing on Clubhouse Confidential on Tuesday, April 3, for a preseason roundtable. I’m told that Vince Gennaro and Bill Petti will be on board as well with host Brian Kenny. That airs at 5:30 Eastern on MLB Network. Due to the crowd of spring training games, I don’t think it repeats, so set your recorders!

Also this week, I’ll also be reading at the Gelf Magazine Varsity Letters series along with Steve Goldman in conjunction with the release of Extra Innings on Thursday, April 5. Details on the appearance are here, and there will be an interview of me posted at the Varsity Letters site shortly.

Edited by Steve, Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus — as it is formally titled — officially hits the streets this week. I’m particularly proud of this one, as I’ve got three chapters which all told cover about 20 percent of its 460 pages. The first two — the first two chapters of the book, even — cover the most controversial topic in the game’s recent history and take up well over 60 pages: “What Really Happened in the Juiced Era?” and “How Should the Hall of Fame Respond to the Steroid Era?” The third hits a fairly controversial topic as well: “Is Jack Morris a Hall of Famer?” I’m excited and nervous about the reception the steroids stuff will receive; a couple weeks back, I was at the SABR conference in Arizona, where Gary Gillette told me, “You wouldn’t be the first person to wander into the pasture of steroids and step into a cow patty,” which didn’t exactly put my stomach at ease, but did make me laugh. Here’s hoping my attempts at bringing rational thought to some arguments that tend to fall into emotional territory stirs things up.

You can see the book’s Table of Contents here, and read excerpts from Christina Kahrl and Colin Wyers about strikeouts and reliever usage, respectively.

I was a panelist at the inaugural SABR Analytics Conference, held in Mesa, Arizona from March 15-17, and designed to bring statheads and the baseball industry together; I padded my trip by a couple of days on either side and got to see a bit of baseball (Clayton Kershaw versus the Cincinnati Reds) and hang out with some great people — from BP colleagues to Twitter correspondents — in and around the event to boot. I was invited to appear on the Clubhouse Confidential panel with SB Nation’s Rob Neyer, FanGraphs’ David Cameron, and SABR president Vince Gennaro; the audio for that is here. I had even more fun bending elbows with some of the pioneers in sabermetrics, including MLB official historian John Thorn, STATS Inc. founder Richard Cramer, and Baseball Info Solutions owner John Dewan. I tried to capture my experience in Arizona in a two-part series at Baseball Prospectus containing photos, notes and links to audio for some of the other panels and presentations. If I could recommend one to check out, it would be the Thorn/Gillette/Cramer “Retrospective Look at Baseball Analysis” panel, which you can hear here; here is what I wrote at BP:

Thorn discussed working on The Hidden Game of Baseball and the encyclopedic Total Baseball with co-author Pete Palmer, not in attendance but certainly worthy of a seat alongside this trio. “OPS is the Masonic handshake,” said Thorn of the gateway to moving beyond the old-guard stats such as batting average and RBI; the stat was first introduced in Hidden Game (on his blog, Thorn republished Palmer’s landmark 1973 Baseball Research Journal article, “On Base Average for Players”). He shone a light on Cramer, whose 1980 Journal article, “Average Batting Skill Through Major League History,” represented a milestone in terms of an attempt to measure league strength, and how it improved over time. He posted that article as well, along with David Shoebotham’s 1976 Journal article “Relative Batting Average,” a pioneering effort to normalize batting statistics. Cramer discussed his EDGE 1.000 software, the first baseball analytics program to be used inside front offices (future GMs Doug Melvin and Dan Evans were among those on the cutting, um, edge). Gillette spoke of Thorn’s efforts to debunk the myth of baseball’s origins: “Abner Doubleday is the father of baseball like Santa Claus is the father of Christmas,” and of importance of bringing the spirit of sabermetrics—honest intellectual inquiry—to pursuits beyond the numbers. I could have listened to this trio talk about this stuff for another hour, easily.

Thanks to everyone who made my trip so special. Back later with some vids for you kids.

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