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06/07/2013

Big Mac confronts a baseball numbers guy

130517101420-yu-darvish-getty2-single-image-cutWhat was a quiet week turned into a tsnuami of love after I wrote this column lamenting the growth of numbers in baseball that I fear is taking over the game.

Never before in my storied, award-winning career have I been so roundly roasted and skewered for an opinion.

Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead took me to task saying, "It’s actually a very lazy, navel-gazing column that offers little to the reader."

Here are some of the highlights from my many Twitter fans: 

@nategearhart human body most certainly was meant to run 26.2 miles. Inapt (sic) comparison to pitch counts.

@pizzacutter4 I would like to publicly apologize to mac engel for ruining baseball. Sorry.

@Sbrangerfan you are a very bad writer. That's well known.

@commnman I'm pretending you're not a hack who relies on clichés & can't write paragraphs with more than one sentence 

Tim-baffoeThese were some of the nicer ones. Some people went a bit further to roast me, most notably Mr. Tim Baffoe, 31, who is from Chicago. Tim is a life long Chicago Cubs fan, and a fan of stats in baseball. He is also an high school English teacher.

He destroyed my column with his piece here.

I reached out to Tim to do something I've never done before: Engage in a discussion with a reader about a column. He was nice enough to agree, and the following are the highlights of our chat: 

The Big Mac Blog: Your initial reaction to my column was what - you can say whatever you want, you're not going to hurt my feelings.
Tim Baffoe: I just thought, this seems really clueless. Especially with the aspect of statistics in respect to pitch count, which I thought it was not a very controversial statistics.

The Big Mac Blog: It's not that I thought it was controversial it's the obsession and worry. As a Cubs fan, are you rooted in the idea that former Cubs manager Dusty Baker killed pitchers, specifically Mark Prior? 
Tim Baffoe: It's a notion that is still widely accepted in Chicago, especially among Cub fans. That Baker is a guy most Cubs fans really dislike, partly because of the Prior stuff and to an extent Kerry Wood as well. 

Display_image_display_imageThe Big Mac Blog: Stats are out there for everything, but when it came to pitch counts we are obsessed if a guy hits 110, or 130. Yu Darvish hit 130 against the Tigers in mid May and everybody was in a panic; my thought is that there are some guys are above the numbers. Nolan Ryan, David Cone and others and we are so caught up with it that we are scared to death. My thought is that guys are going to hurt regardless, at 50 pitches or 105 pitches. And that we can't quantify everything - do you personally think there are some numbers that managers shouldn't go to?
Tim Baffoe: It depends on the pitcher and the organization has decided on. Since Nolan's career ended, salaries have inflated and organizations aren't willing to take the risk that maybe Player X does have the arm stamina and we aren't going to find out and potentially lose a massive investment.



The Big Mac Blog: Have you embraced the Sabermetrics way of watching a game?

Tim Daffoe:
I am very new to it and I would not call myself a Sabermetrician by any means. I don't, not in the way you wrote about it, I hate math. I teach English. I put a lot of faith into people that I trust and consider smart with numbers who will say the numbers say this and the odds are this is going to happen. I trust it.

The Big Mac Blog: When I wrote that column I know I used some language that was almost cartoonish and it blew up in my face. For me all of these numbers are overkill. The influx of statistics, as a fan, do you ever say this is too much? 
Tim Daffoe: I'm cool with all of it. I think there can be a cohabitation between the beautiful game of baseball and the highly analytical aspect to it. I think if you compartmentalize both. Smarter fans don't just rely on the eye test, but that is a part of it. 

The Big Mac Blog: But doesn't math say that since 1908 the Cubs would have won at least one World Series? I ask that tongue in cheek.
Tim Daffoe: Yeah, but math can't predict everything. In 100 years, the Cubs should have had one World Series.

Moneyball-movie-2011-12The Big Mac Blog: What was your favorite part of my column?
Tim Daffoe: Besides when I was done reading it?

The Big Mac Blog: But did you make it all the way to the end?
Tim Daffoe: I actually did.

The Big Mac Blog: After talking do you have a better idea of how I see this numbers thing in baseball?
Tim Daffoe: I actually do. I get where you are coming from. There are many, many people who are scared of the game being overrun by numbers. The super stat heads don't want the game to be played by robots, where the manager is a giant computer. Nobody wants that. The stat heads want to understand the chances of something happening. Where you're coming from, and a lot of other people, I say no one is trying to take away the baseball you love.

The Big Mac Blog: Last thing - of the non-traditional statistics that are available, what is the one you go to the first? 
Tim Baffoe: One that I can understand the best and bridges the gap between old and new school is WAR. Wins Above Replacement. It's not perfect but I like it.

The Big Mac Blog: I had never done something like this and I really appreciate you writing about it and talking to me about your thoughts on this.
Tim Baffoe: I appreciate you being a good sport about it. 

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Comments

Melissa W.

Mac:
You are my favorite! I enjoyed your blogs, columns, etc. I enjoy Randy also but your thinking hits right home with me. Keep up the great work and continue to speak your mind and write about what's on it. You are appreciated.

Bob In Arlington

Statistics are, right or wrong, a much maligned part of baseball now.

It's like the 40 yard dash in the NFL, its become a standard for drafting even poor players whose only gift is running.

Pitch count has entered the psyche of every teams manager, GM, president and pitching coach. Wash, played the statistics right into a loss against Boston and Big Pappi.

It does worry me when in a game effort to win, a Yu Darvish throws some 137 pitches. Then, they give him days off because of fatigue.... really?

I've never thought that Ron Washington was a great manager. Enter Kirkland!

Mac, "illegitmi non carborundum!"

Writers are suppose to be thought provoking... George W butchers the English language and he became President... twice!

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