Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hey, Why Be Fair to Milton Bradley?

Sequence of events: Hardball Times' Ballshit blog links to Milton Bradley's comments on getting squeezed by umpires:

"Bradley believes his strike zone is being widened, forcing him to chase pitches he normally doesn't swing at or risk being called out on strikes. ... 'As soon as he gets two strikes, we're going to call whatever and see what he does.'"

Ballshit decides to draw from the rhetorical cannon of the white racist opponents of affirmative action:

"This seems like something that could easily be checked via PITCHf/x data... Probably doesn't matter, though. Bradley seems like the kind of guy who's going to cast himself as a victim no matter where the pitches are."

Dave Allen at Baseball Analysts takes the bait by comparing Bradley's called strikes to balls. His data shows, quite clearly, that Bradley is getting more called strikes that are low and away. Allen then runs a regression for no apparent reason and decides that the small sample of pitches up in the zone that Bradley didn't swing at counterbalances the increase in the zone low and away. He concludes:

"I can understand Bradley was frustrated on Sunday. The Cubs had just lost seven straight games, and in five of those games they scored either zero or one run. He is hitting a meager .196/.322/.373 this season, but he has his decreased BABIP and LD% and increased GB% to blame for it, not the umpires."

So, let me get this straight. Bradley says his zone has been widened; Allen's evidence confirms this. The specific question of whether Bradley's getting a worse zone with two strikes is NOT investigated. And Allen essentially takes two called balls that were up in the zone to mean that Bradley's zone has shrunk in the top, as if from Bradley's perspective those two calls would serve as evidence he didn't need to cover the top of the zone and could merely shift his focus to getting those balls low and away. Allen says that Bradley's meager batting line is the fault of his not hitting the ball well, and not the umpires, but Allen doesn't examine even one pitch that Bradley actually swung at! One of his commenters, dk, points out the obvious:

"I only skimmed the article, but perhaps he has more GB's and fewer LD's because they're calling a lower zone on him?"

Allen then responds to other comments on the thread but not to this one. While Allen worked on his post, the Ballshitter repackaged his story for General Electric to emphasize that no matter what happens, he can always denigrate Milton Bradley (which, to his credit, he did in half of his posts that day):

"Unless of course last night's offensive outburst means that Bradley has turned the corner. Er, I'm sorry, I mean if last night's outburst means that the umpires decided, in light of his comments, to stop being so mean to him. "

Allen posts his analysis, which Tangotiger dignifies by calling it a "tracer" but makes no comments otherwise, and no comments accrue on his post. Ballshit then links to Allen's piece with an authoritative, "Milton Bradley is NOT getting boned:"

"Last week I suggested that someone who know something about Pitchf/x to analyze Milton Bradley's claims that he's being squeezed. Dave Allen stepped up and knocked it out of the park. Thanks, Dave. You rock.

"I'm a Pitchf/x moron, but it strikes me that while its highest and best use is probably inside a baseball's front office to analyze players and stuff, this kind of snooping is its best use for fans. Maybe it's me, but I tend to glaze over when I read a general 'Let's look at Player X's outing via Pitchf/x' article. When there's a very specific question directing things, however, even my feeble mind closely follows and greatly appreciates the analysis."

In other words, the best use of Pitch f/x is to throw up a couple of graphs that nurture the jerks who love to attack a player, to leave out any critical discussion so that the jerk/self-proclaimed-moron-in-your-discipline can say you knocked it out of the park? Yes, the best use of pitch f/x for fans must be to validate their pre-conceived biases.

RTFA. Bradley did not attribute his lack of success this season to being squeezed by umpires. At all, anywhere. Ballshit, of course, linked to the part that out of context could be taken to imply this:

"'What am I supposed to do?' he said. 'You lead the American League in OPS (in 2008), and two years in the top three in the league in on-base percentage. All of a sudden now, I come to Chicago and I can't see the ball no more? I don't know a strike from a ball?'"

This was preceded, however, by this: "Bradley vowed not to change his approach at the plate, no matter how he feels about the allegedly widened strike zone." In other words, Bradley's saying he knows the strike zone, and it's absurd for a baseball player to have to guess what the new zone will be if he's being called differently. Which is exactly the point that refutes Allen's analysis - who cares if the overall size of the strike zone appears the same (because of TWO called balls up in the zone), if what matters to a hitter is consistency in calling the zone?

So, to recap:

-Bradley says that he's not getting favorable calls, that this forces him to swing at pitches out of the zone, and that it happens with two strikes. He makes no comments in the article that attribute any particular or general amount of his 'struggles' this season to these calls. Calcaterra, not accounting for, among other things, the fact that Bradley was prompted to comment on if there have been repercussions from umpires, decides to portray Bradley as a victimhood-obsessed whiner.

-Allen investigates ONLY Bradley's called balls and strikes without looking at swinging strikes or balls put into play. He concludes that the strike zone has nothing to do with Bradley's struggles by using a tiny sample size of pitches up in the zone to posit a reduction in that area and that Bradley's weak (LD/GB) hitting is to blame.

-Calcaterra lauds Allen's study with no critical comments whatsoever, and with no comparison of the original quotations to the contents of the study. Despite admitting he is a "moron" when it comes to this type of analysis, he feels well-qualified to say that Allen "knocked it out of the park" and does not respond to the first comment on his post: "I don’t know, it’s looks to me like they are calling more low-and-away strikes on him than last year. Just from looking at the graph, that could be a legitimate complaint."

This is decadence, pure and simple. Calcaterra gets what he wants, Allen gets recognition, and Bradley gets "boned" by an internet baseball community that pretends its job is to independently investigate claims without bias.

It reminds me of the recycling commercials when I was a kid. Recycle the schtick about how the outspoken black player is an insane narcissist victim. Reduce the amount of evidence needed to verify your position. Reuse your accusations as half-assed punchlines throughout your blogging empire. Close the loop by linking to the study you essentially commisioned and writing up a biased and uncritical abstract for it. What is the point of evidence but to cherry-pick?

Of course, Calcaterra will likely have no problem dismissing this post (not that I expect it to be read by him) because in his mind I am probably just out to ruin Craig Calcaterra.


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