Ranting and Raving About Baseball With Mike Carminati (Part One)
Mike Carminati is one of the "old timers" when it comes to baseball blogging. He started Mike's Baseball Rants in July 2002, and it has become one of the most widely read in the blogosphere. Mike recently switched from Blogger to Christian Ruzich's All-Baseball.com, a loose affiliation of several baseball blogs (including Ruz's The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy, Alex Belth's Bronx Banter, and Will Carroll's Weblog). Mike is also the lead baseball analyst at Baseball Interactive.com.
Mike was born in the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1965. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in Computer Math and minors in English, Philosophy, and Physics. Mike claims that he wanted to be a Renaissance man but missed it by a few centuries. He is making a living as an IT professional instead.
I had the pleasure of corresponding with Mike by email and talking with him over the telephone during the past week to find out his latest opinions on his beloved Phillies, Joe Morgan, baseball statistics, general managers, sabermetricians, and a few other rants.
RWBB: Mike, you seemed a little hesitant about doing this interview.
Mike: I have to admit that I feel a bit self-conscious doing this. I mean, I'm just a guy who has lots of opinions and gets very little sleep. I purposely keep my blog and my "about me" impersonal to keep the focus on baseball (and to assuage my wife's fears that some clod would stumble upon my site and be able to track me down). I don't even mention my last name. I think it was mentioned in a link once and other people picked it up.
I still memorize numbers--at the deli, for takeout food, etc.--based on mid-Seventies Phillies jersey numbers (Number 23? Downtown Ollie Brown. Number 38? Larry Christenson. Number 40? Warren Brusstar.)
RWBB: Who was your favorite player as a kid growing up in Philly?
Mike: Greg "The Bull" Luzinski. Number 19. He was a big fan favorite with the Phils in the mid-Seventies, maybe because he looked like most of the fans at the game. Philly's that kind of town: John Kruk and little Lenny Dykstra became working-class heroes there. The Schmidts and Carltons seemed a little too esoteric or inaccessible though they merited respect.
RWBB: Speaking of numbers, what kind of impression did the man wearing #20 have on you?
Mike: Impression? My ultimate job would be to play third base for the Phillies but, as Austin Powers said, that train has sailed. Everyone growing up in Philly in the Seventies or Eighties wanted to be a third baseman. We would practice his bare-handed grabs and throws all the time. I remember doing that in the field, the Luzinski stance at bat (or Richie "The Hack" Hebner's when I attempted to switch-hit), and a combination of Steve Carlton's nervous tic on the mound into Gene Garber's corkscrew delivery.
RWBB: Those Philly fans are as tough as they get. They even booed Santa Claus once.
Mike: It goes back to Philly's basic inferiority complex because of its proximity and inherent inferiority to New York. It's a problem for Boston as well, but it at least has its own identity, which Philly lacks. I've lived in NYC, Philly, and Boston, so I've witnessed it.
RWBB: Eighteen years of Mike Schmidt and a few years of Rick Schu, Steve Jeltz, and now David Bell is like going from one extreme to the other.
Mike: I like what Bill James said about him, that if he hit .320 instead of .270 he could have been the greatest ballplayer of all time. At .270, he was just the greatest third baseman of all time. People remember the homers, but he was a very good base runner before his knees went, hit well to all fields, and, I believe, was the best defensive third baseman of his era--better than Brooks Robinson. Another thing people forget is how much he developed as a hitter throughout his career. He was a better hitter after the age of 30 than before. He dropped the strikeouts.
RWBB: Speaking of swinging and missing, let's talk about your Joe Morgan Chat Day reviews.
Mike: They're fun. They're something that my college friend Mike and I started doing, just sending emails back and forth with the outrageous comments that Morgan said. It was before I had even heard of blogs and blogging. He just says the most gloriously, blatantly ludicrous statements. I wish Morgan no ill will. He seems like a nice guy after all. He is just sort of a symbol for poor baseball analysis. He beats the pants off of Steve Lyons though.
Mike: I guess it's just human nature. Why aren't there more great players who become great managers? Joe Morgan was a player who knew that working the count and, therefore, increasing the possibility of getting on base was an important way to help your team win. Yet, as an analyst, Joe downplays on-base percentage and overrates batting average and runs batted in. Go figure.
RWBB: What is the most outrageous comment that Li'l Joe has ever made?
Mike: There are so many, but I think the worst was his "I'm a baseball analyst, I see things that the average fan doesn't in a game" comment during the playoffs. I mean, c'mon.
RWBB: I don't think Joe is one to let facts get in the way of his opinions. My goodness, he still thinks Billy Beane wrote Moneyball.
Mike: Yeah, that was another good one. He said for two or three weeks straight that Beane wrote "Moneyball". He's commenting on something that he obviously did not read nor did he even have passing knowledge of. Someone at ESPN must have told him because the statements just stopped. Maybe they read my comments on Joe's Moneyball gaffe? Doubtful.
RWBB: How do you make it through the off-season without these chats?
Mike: My cousin asked me what I would do last year when there was a players' strike looming. I told him that sometimes the actual, pesky games get in the way. That I have all sorts of things that I want to hit that I never have time to get to because of all the damn games pulling me away. It's the same thing with the chat sessions: they're fun but exhausting and they monopolize my time. There's only so much sleep I can forego for the sake of baseball.
RWBB: Let's switch over to Joe's favorite topic--sabermetrics. (Laughs.) When did you begin analyzing baseball statistics?
Mike: I charted pitchers' performances on bar-graph paper starting in the 1976 season. I remember writing up stats-based team histories in junior high. It impressed the ladies.
RWBB: What are the most important metrics you use to evaluate hitters?
Mike: Hitting Win Shares is probably the best though it fails the Occam's Razor test. And somehow Albert Pujols was about 3 Win Shares ahead of Barry Bonds last year, so it's far from perfect. OPS+ and Runs Created are good, too.
RWBB: What are your favorite tools for comparing pitchers?
Mike: I think Support Neutral Wins Above Replacement Level is one of the best for starters and Adjusted Runs Prevented for relievers. Pitching Win Shares, league-adjusted ERA, WHIP, strikeouts-to-walks, strikeouts per nine innings. DIPS, Defense-Independent Pitching Stats, is a very interesting tool, but it is problematic in comparing pitchers and there is still some debate over its usefulness.
Mike: Today it is superior. I ran a study some time ago that looked at every team since the advent of major-league ball and tried to find the stat that correlated to runs scored the best. I think that batting average was the best tool in the 19th Century and then OBP took over. Of course, OPS eclipsed OBP, I think, in the Twenties, but OBP has consistently been a better indicator of runs than slugging.
RWBB: Which GM "gets it" the most?
Mike: I guess this is where I invoke the name of Billy Beane. I think he really did revolutionize the GM position by coming up with a statistics-based approach to optimize performance. I think it's very interesting that it was borne of necessity. He needed to save money because of the financial limitations of the team. He developed an approach.
RWBB: Which ones don't get it at all?
Mike: If you mean among GMs, well, they've cleaned up their ranks pretty well in the last few years. Gone are Cam Bonifay , Dan Duquette, Steve Phillips, Jim Bowden, Randy Smith--did I forget anybody? The idea that you are going to turn over the reigns to some guy that most roto GMs could swindle the pants off of is obsolete or becoming so. Teams are starting to turn to men who have an approach based on factual information: Beane, Theo Epstein, J.P. Ricciardi, and their ilk. And you still have the traditionalists who do a decent job: Brian Sabean, Brian Cashman, Pat Gillick (until he forgot how to make a mid-season trade), and John Schuerholz.
RWBB: I feel humbled.
RWBB: All right, Mike. It's time to make you GM for a day. You've got a budget of $60 million and $10 million is reserved for backup players. Based on last year's salaries, put together the best team possible for 2004 at each of the eight positions along with five starting pitchers and one bullpen ace.
Mike: $50 million for eight position players, a starting rotation, and a closer? What about the team mascot?
RWBB: Take the Rally Monkey, please.
RWBB: I see where this is leading.
RWBB: That's an awesome team. You might be able to afford the players on that budget. But how about your scouts? Man, those guys deserve huge raises.
RWBB: Switching gears here. In reviewing your "About Me" page, I noticed you listed Cal Ripken as one of the most overrated players of all time, yet you have included him on your all-time all-star team among players you have seen.
Mike: Ripken was a great ballplayer and he started a revolution in the way people view the shortstop position. That said, Ripken didn't save baseball. Jimmy Stewart plunged into those icy waters and saved baseball all those years ago before baseball showed him what life would be like without him and in turn saved him. Ripken had a lot of up and down years and he was just about an average hitter after turning 30. I think if he hadn't been a slave to The Streak, he would have been a more productive ballplayer all around. But then again, it's what made him such a big name.
Mike: John Montgomery Ward was just a larger than life personality that somehow got forgotten. He was a great pitcher and then when his arm gave out he became a great shortstop. That was just the start for him. He was a highly successful, Columbia-educated lawyer. He started the players' brotherhood that would eventually split from major league baseball and create its own league, the Players' National League, in 1890. He challenged the reserve clause decades before Curt Flood. He eventually bought an interest in the Braves and became their president. He almost became the NL president but lost by one vote due to old enmities. How bizarre is that? Imagine Marvin Miller being named commissioner now.
RWBB: Thanks, Mike. You are truly a baseball historian extraordinnaire.
Check back on Sunday for Part Two of the interview. Mike is going to tell us which players should and shouldn't go into the Hall of Fame.
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