Suggestion to Sunday Boston Globe: Chuck the "Bill Chuck files"
The Boston Sunday Globe's Baseball Notes column achieved must-read status for me at an early age. Peter Gammons wrote it. Gordon Edes tackled it for a number of years. More recently it's been Nick Cafardo, not necessarily a personal favorite of mine but the template was in place and he's largely done a fine job. Last week, an up and comer on the Boston sports media scene, Amalie Benjamin, handled the duties.
There is one terrible, corrosive portion of the column that I want to address. It's something called the "Bill Chuck files", it's at the very end, and it's more often than not just misleading tripe. As far as I can tell, giving Cafardo and Benjamin the benefit of the doubt, it's designed to point out interesting statistical oddities and nothing more. The end result, however, is that a mass audience is subjected to nonsense. Here are a few examples from the last few weeks:
From Benjamin's 1/3 column:
From the Bill Chuck files: Runs produced (RBIs plus runs minus home runs) is a good tool to measure batter effectiveness. Albert Pujols led the majors in 2009 with 212 runs produced. Jason Bay ended up with 186, the same as Mark Teixeira...
How terrible is that? "Runs produced is a good tool to measure batter effectiveness." Here's how "effective" the measure is:
Dustin Pedroia led Kevin Youkilis in Runs Produced.
Aaron Hill led Joe Mauer.
Brian Roberts bested Ben Zobrist.
With proper context, sure, it's fine to mention it. Runs produced is a tool. It tells you something. But good grief, a good tool to measure batter effectiveness? No.
This was another gem from the same paragraph last week:
Over the last three seasons, Stephen Drew (left) hit .264 with 45 homers and 192 RBIs, while older brother J.D. Drew hit .276 with 54 homers and 196 RBIs. Stephen made $1.5 million in 2009, while J.D. made $14 million . . .
Given my mild obsession with J.D. Drew and his treatment by the mainstream media and many fans, you can imagine this one got under my skin. Here's a portion of the email I sent Benjamin last weekend:
First of all, Stephen has not had a chance to be an unrestricted free agent. JD has. From the outset, it's an unfair comparison. JD also makes more money than Chase Utley and Joe Mauer and Jon Lester and Felix Hernandez - that's the CBA's fault, not JD's. But salaries aside, the brothers Drew are not comparable players...JD has walked 240 times since 2007, Stephen 150. JD's OBP is .390 since 2007, Stephen's .322. JD has slugged .485, Stephen .436. Stephen has made 289 more outs (albeit in 330 more plate appearances). Finally, J.D. is one of baseball's best RF according to UZR. Stephen has a spotty defensive record at SS. JD is just a way better player, a fact that might be lost on your readership given the way you framed your comment.
And now, this week, we get this from Cafardo:
Carlos Beltran and Adrian Beltre each has had 6,877 plate appearances. Beltre has 1,700 hits, Beltran has 1,705. Beltre has 348 doubles, Beltran 340. Beltran has struck out 1,086 times, Beltre 1,084 times. Beltre is a lifetime .270 hitter with 250 homers and 906 RBIs. Beltran is a lifetime .283 hitter with 273 homers and 1,035 RBIs.
All that's needed here is some context because even I find this to be interesting. Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran have similar names, the same amount of plate appearances and a number of similar statistics. A lead-in like this might work.
"While Beltran is a far better player, an excellent center fielder who gets on base way more often and steals bases prolifically and as efficiently as anyone in baseball, there are nonetheless statling and coincidental similarities between Beltran and new Red Sox 3B Adrian Beltre."
Ok maybe that's a run-on and I need an editor but you get the point. With just the excerpt published in the Globe, I can only imagine how many Red Sox fans think their new third baseman is every bit the player the Mets' center fielder is. Just to hammer this point home.
PA BB SB CS Outs Belran 6,877 730 286 38 4,556 Beltre 6,877 478 111 38 4,837
Beltre is a nice player who should help the Red Sox a lot in 2010. Beltran is a few more good seasons away from having an excellent Hall of Fame case.
In fairness, writers like Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald and Benjamin have been doing a great job of articulating the meaning of more advanced defensive metrics for their local readership as the Red Sox have undergone their off-season makeover. But cherry picking certain statistics and presenting them as though they tell a story the way Cafardo and Benjamin have with Runs Produced, the Drew brothers comparison and now the Beltre/Beltran comparison, do a disservice to their sizeable audience.
I enjoy reading the "Bill Chuck files". And, I don't think Beltre is as good as Beltran, etc.
Posted by: Jacob at January 11, 2010 12:08 AM
Jacob, I don't have a problem with the Bill Chuck files, which I just found.
On this page, it says the following:
"Some baseball statistics are designed to enlighten, others are used to support or refute an argument.
But sometimes, statistics are simply presented for the sheer enjoyment..."
That's GREAT. My problem is with the way the Baseball Notes column in the Boston Sunday Globe cherry picks and presents the stats.
Posted by: Sully at January 11, 2010 5:25 AM
This reminds me of some ex-ballplayer I heard on the radio lately, saying that Jimmy Rollins had a good year. His reasoning was that when you compared Rollins with Jeter, you got:
Doubles: JR - 43, Jeter 27
SB - JR - 31, Jeter 30
Runs - JR 100, Jeter 107
HR - JR 21, Jeter 18
There were a few more, but you get the idea. Of course, he left out this:
Hits: JR - 168, Jeter - 212
Walks: JR - 44, Jeter - 72
OBP: JR - .296, Jeter - .406
To compare JR and Jeter just on the basis of a few cherry picked statistics was so deceptive as to almost be fraud (I say this as a Phillys fan). I am afraid that most casual (and some die hard) baseball fans still do not fully understand the value of not getting an out.
Posted by: Dan at January 11, 2010 8:47 AM
I'm a Globe reader too and Sunday's Chuck stat was probably the most baffling I've ever read. They really are like root beer - tasty, but void of any nutrition. Good post.
Posted by: peterd at January 11, 2010 9:44 AM
I was reading Bill Chuck's Billy-ball at least a decade ago when it was just an email, and he was always entertaining. There's nothing wrong with having fun with stats, even if they're not always used in the the most enlightening manner.
Posted by: kevin at January 11, 2010 4:58 PM
Patrick, apparently you don't "get" the Bill Chuck files at all. The whole point is the wackiness of the stats. I can't believe you have been reading the Globe all this time and don't "get" that. These are oddities that sometimes enlighten, sometimes provoke laughter, but always entertain. Your entire article was written like the guys at Dugout Central who argue as if they are drunk in a bar all the time. The equation is: Bill Chuck+baseball=fun. Any reader who takes it more seriously than that should be banned from Fenway.
That said, though I'm not sure about the Beltre deal, this Red Sox fan would never want Beltran. After spending time playing for the Mets his career and usefulness to a real baseball team is ruined.
Posted by: Dick at January 12, 2010 4:53 PM
Feel free to point out that part of the column which deals with the Bill Chuck files themselves and not the Boston Sunday Globe's misleading recent usage. For more color on my feelings on that topic, I'd point you to comment #2.
If you still have a problem with what I wrote and not just reading comprehension, I'll then address your criticisms.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Posted by: Sully at January 12, 2010 5:14 PM
Errrm to be fair to Dick, you are being oversensitive in your defence
title + second paragraph?
In fact the opening of the column indicates that the column is good, it was great, but it has a part which they should remove - 'chuck chuck', 'misleading tripe'.
I think I get what you mean (& I agree), baseball produces lots of stats, when used out of context or cherry picked they can seriously mislead, this is compounded when they are used poorly in journalism with national audiences (examples being the Globe, Dan S on SI etc..) who have a lot of readers who then either beleive the crap stats, or mistrust all stats.
Posted by: Paul at January 14, 2010 1:25 AM
I don't read my post that way at all, but I have to own how others interpret it. Thanks a lot for the feedback, all.
Posted by: Sully at January 14, 2010 3:45 AM
Please keep on posting :)
Love the HoF stuff here especially
Posted by: Paul at January 14, 2010 5:50 AM
Anyone who read Sully's old Dewey site knows he's a guy who doesn't take criticism well. The minute you refute his findings or perspectives, he gets very defensive. Sully, sometimes you just miss the point, as you have here. We've all had a nice laugh at your expense about it, but now let's move on. Type up another one of these fine "columns."
Posted by: Albert at January 14, 2010 3:15 PM