Readers of The New York Times have noticed a shift in how the publication offers its baseball coverage these days. Gone (or rapidly going) are the regular columns of writers like Red Smith, George Anderson, George Vecsey, and Murray Chass. More often we have the succinct pieces and more numbers-oriented issues, such as Keeping Score, written by Dan Rosenheck and Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com .
Although not heavy into the type of statistics that drove Chass nuts and led to his classification as a “dinosaur” by baseball math geeks, these articles are nevertheless quite thought-provoking. In his Saturday article piece about Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract, Rosenheck makes note of the Phillie slugger’s role as a run-producer:
Over the last four years, 1,993 men have been on base for him, the highest figure in baseball. During that time, the Kansas City Royals ’ David DeJesus has driven in a similar percentage of runners, with 18.3 percent to Howard’s 18.8 percent. But because DeJesus hits leadoff for the lowly Royals , and Howard hits cleanup for the mighty Phillies , DeJesus’s R.B.I. totals pale in comparison.
This got me to thinking: Exactly where were those 1,993 baserunners located? On first? Second and third, thereby classified as “runners in scoring position?” On all three bases? I would have thought such placement would factor in to Ryan’s production. That is, he was more likely not to have an RBI, with a runner on first, since it would be likely a ground ball would be turned into a double play (I have since been informed that Ryan doesn’t hit into many of these, more likely to strikeout or hit a fly ball). Anyway, one door opens another and it would be interesting to find the batter with the highesr percentage of RBI from the various circumstances.
Meantime, in Forman’s latest contribution , he coins new, if not especially appetizing category: the Loogy, short for “left-handed one-out guy.”
Since appearing in the Times has such cachet, I asked Forman, via email, for his thoughts on the new gig.
Bookshelf: How long has this been going on?
Forman: I wrote for the Times during the playoffs last year, twice per week on the blog and I think two pieces made the paper. This week will be the fourth week for this season.
Bookshelf: How did the column come to be? Did you suggest it or did the Times people approach you?
Forman: A little bit of both. I’ve visited them for four or five times over the last two years, and this seemed like a good way to collaborate. Keep in mind, the Times also has Alan Schwarz on staff and Alan wrote a book on just baseball stats , and Dan Rosenheck who is very stats minded, so they have an interest in this that goes back well before my column.
Bookshelf: Given the audience, how do you filter yourself from writing about items that might be too arcane or picayune? Do you have free reign or would an editor tell you “This is too esoteric?”
Forman: I work with an editor, Bob Goetz, who has been fantastic and very helpful. I write an article and he makes sure it sounds good and hits their audience’s level. I used to be a college professor, so I like to think I have a skill at presenting material at a level the audience can understand, so I filter myself pretty heavily to make sure I don’t go off the deep end.
Bookshelf: Does all the material come from Baseball-Reference, or is it created fresh for the Times?
Forman: It’s fresh for the Times , but I’ll pull ideas from our best blog posts of the past week.
Bookshelf: How does it feel to be included in the august “paper of record?”
Forman: It’s definitely an honor. It raises your profile in a way with the general audience that I hadn’t quite expected. I joke with my wife that our friends (we are/were both academics) are far more impressed than any of the statheads I know.