A Post in Five Parts

June 23, 2010 · Filed Under Mariners · 41 Comments 

You know what’s better than having just one or two or four of something? Having five of that something. That’s the incredibly tenuous premise on which this post is built.

If it helps, consider this a “notebook” piece — except instead of “reporting facts,” I’m “making wild speculations.”

When speaking to a large audience, it’s best to do one or both of two things: both/either (a) tell a joke and/or (b) imagine everyone naked. I have no interest in doing the latter, so I’ll do the former thing twice.

Here are two Mariner-related light bulb jokes, from my brain to your eyes.

Q. How many Mariner fans does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None. They just sit back and watch in horror as Don Wakamatsu removes the broken light bulb and then pencils it into the lineup as a DH.

Q. How many sabermetrically oriented Mariner fans does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Three. One to analyze whether the light bulb is actually burnt out, or if it’s just due for regression up to the mean; one to speculate upon the trade value of the light bulb; and one to name the light bulb the sixth-best light bulb in the pack of 30 light bulbs.

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First, I’d like to thank you for your warm reception last week*. Second, I’d like to address a couple-few of the comments you guys made in response to post numero uno.

*Including to the guy who suggested that my post was indicative of USSM having jumped the shark. I don’t know if you know this, but it was FRIGGING AWESOME when Fonzie did that.

From flashbeak: [J]ust out of curiosity… what is your favorite team?
A. I addressed this briefly in the comments section, but allow me to repeat myself: I actually don’t really have a favorite team. On account of I was born in New Hampshire and grew up there (and attended high school at a fabulously prestigious boarding school in the Boston area), I certainly have been a giganto Red Sox fan. The weird thing is, after 2004, everything just felt different. I mean, that run against the Yankees was amazing — maybe one of the best weeks or whatever of my life — but afterwards, things were different. I don’t exactly know why.

From BennyG (in re NERD): What about negative numbers?
A. Before rounding (to fit the 0-10 scale), there actually are nine pitchers currently sporting NERD scores below zero. They are, in order of “best” to worst:

David Hernandez
Joe Saunders
Dana Eveland
Todd Wellemeyer
Brian Burres
Oliver Perez
Carlos Monasterios
Ryan Rowland-Smith
Ian Snell

Yes, that’s right: Rowland-Smith and Snell have been worst by NERD standards.

From MKT: The NERD scale seems to consist solely of integers from 0 to 10… Worse, there’s a hint that the variables which go into the scale are being added as integers (Felix getting a 1 point bonus).
A. Actually, NERD is calculated primarily using weighted z-scores (i.e. standard deviations from the mean) for its components. So, like, let’s look at Felix. Felix has an xFIP that is 1.18 standard deviations better than the mean. Because overall quality of pitcher is important, we double that score. Felix has a swinging-strike rate that’s about one standard deviation above the mean and strike rate (as percentage of all pitches) about a half of a standard deviation above the mean. Because those things are relatively less important than xFIP, we halve each of those. His velocity is about 1.3 standard deviations above the mean, so we add that to the mix. And then, finally, there’s his age. The average age of the pitchers who qualify is 28 and the standard deviation is about 4 years — which, that’s why Felix gets the one-point bonus for age, because he’s 24 years old. After that, you just add a constant (about four), and you got your NERD!

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Last week your fearless captain, Dave Cameron, prefaced my inaugural post here at USSM with some kind words. I was compelled to recognize his gesture. Below is the correspondence that ensued.

From: Carson Cistulli
Sent: Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 11:06 PM
To: David Cameron
Subject: USSM Post

Thanks for the kinds words. It means alot.

From: David Cameron
Sent: Wed, Jun 16, 2010 at 11:07 PM
To: Carson Cistulli
Subject: USSM Post

The words weren’t that kind. I said you had a unique voice. So does Fran Drescher.

Note: Dave Cameron is a huge jerkface.

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If you’re familiar with my work over at FanGraphs, you’re aware that Carson Cistulli is the sort of guy who asks the big questions. Questions like: What are we doing here? What does it all mean? Where’d that strange rash come from?

Well, one of the questions I’ve been asking myself recently is, What can a neutral supporter like myself — a man who feels no allegiance to any one team — what can I offer to a community that cares deeply about a single baseballing club?

It’s caused me a little grief, this — for a couple reasons. For one, I respect Dave a lot (and DMZ and the other guys who currently man the site), and I’d prefer not to disappoint him/them. For two — and as I mentioned in last week’s post — I respect the community you, the readers, have helped foster here, and I’d prefer not just to barge in and tear up the place. And for three, I’m getting paid a lot, a lot of money to write these weekly posts, and I don’t want to screw it up.

As an answer, let me say: I don’t know what the exact answer is to this question, but I have one idea.

My day job for the past six or so years has been as a writing instructor (teaching college writing, composition, or whatever else you wanna call it). Just as in sabermetrics, one of the things we writing instructors emphasize is the value of process over product, and part of the writing process is peer editing. Here’s how I explain it to my students: “When you write a text, you get very close to it — so close that it’s hard to really see the text anymore. The value of peer review, beyond copyediting or whatever, is to get a second pair of eyes on the text in question. The second party, coming to the text anew, might be able to see a glaring issue that just invisible to the author. That’s an important thing to have.”

It’s possible that reading the occasional dispatch from a disinterested (not uninterested, which’d be different) party might be a little like receiving peer review. I’ll presume that most readers of USSM are “close” to the Mariners — meaning, they (you) are exceedingly familiar with the various narratives, anxieties, etc. surrounding the club. Of course, I’m not immune to these narrative threads — like, I know that everyone is kinda sick of Mike Sweeney and know Brandon League should throw way more splitters — but there’s a good chance I don’t feel these issues as immediately.

So, uh, that might be a good reason for me to be here. That and all the white-hot prose.

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Having five parts is a lot more pleasant, aesthetically speaking, than having just four, even if the fifth part is almost entirely meaningless. This may not have anything to do with baseball, per se, but it’s definitely something to remember.