The Rotation: The worst baseball conversations

Jason Miller

It's time to talk about just what the worst things to talk about in baseball are.

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The Rotation #5: Worst baseball arguments

by Steven Goldman

The Rotation is a weekly feature here at SB Nation MLB in which we put a question to our vast network of baseball scribes and bring you the answers. This week we ask, What is the worst ongoing conversation in baseball?

What is the worst conversation in baseball?

"Old School" vs. "New School"

"A venerable newspaper columnist (or small-town hack) is out of ideas, so he writes 2500 words bemoaning the loss of baseball's Golden Age (which happened to be the author's age-8 to -16 seasons) and the simple old batting-average-wins-and-RBI game he used to know, blames the impossible complexity of WAR and wOBA and a few stats he makes up like DEFCON-3 and FHQWHGADS. Twitter and the interwebs get ahold of this flawless emerald of journalism and can't wait to tear it apart and come up with the best one-liner about it. Along the way, some brash and overly confident stat geek says something ridiculous, like that clearly Buster Posey (7.4 WAR in 2012) was better than Andrew McCutchen (7.2), and everything everywhere in the world gets just a little bit worse. Repeat until dead.

It's like this: we all love baseball, and baseball is all about numbers, and we all love numbers...just different sets of them. The "new school" numbers, applied as intended, are generally better at conveying useful information to you than the "old school" ones, but they're all imperfect and can be misapplied or taken too literally. I've participated in some of these "conversations" in the past -- they can be kind of therapeutic, sometimes -- but we hit the saturation point a long time ago. The new school is winning, and is continually improving. But most importantly: new stuff isn't inherently bad because you can't be bothered to understand it, new stuff isn't inherently perfect because it looks precise, and we all love baseball." -- Bill Parker, SBNation.com Designated Columnist

To DH or not to DH

"The DH debate is stale. I don't think anyone will debate that. Yet for some reason, whenever a DH/no-DH argument comes up on the Internet, it becomes a holy war.

Here's what the debate boils down to:

If your grandfather took a job in the St. Louis area in 1932, moving his whole family across the country: You don't like the DH.

If your grandfather moved to Dallas in 1932 because he could crash on Cousin Ralphie's floor for a while: You like the DH.

That is, you're probably a fan of an American League or National League team because of events out of your control. Where you were born. Where you grew up. Who your parents rooted for. And because of that, you're going to like or dislike the DH, and no one will ever, ever, ever, ever change your mind.

But by all means, argue about it on the Internet. You'll convince people to change their minds, I'm sure." -- Grant Brisbee, Baseball Nation

Oakland A's vs. San Francisco Giants territorial rights

"Twenty-three years ago, the San Francisco Giants were awarded territorial rights to San Jose, because at the time, there was a possibility they might move there. (It's a bit more complicated than this, but space is limited!)

They didn't. They built a shiny new stadium in San Francisco which is now filled to capacity almost every day. So the Oakland Athletics would like to move to San Jose.

To which the Giants say, "Nope. It's ours." To which the A's respond, "But you're not moving there." To which the Giants respond, not in these exact words, I might add: "Neener neener." To which Bud Selig says... well, nothing, essentially, since it's been almost four years since Bud promised to appoint a committee to study this issue; the results emanating from this committee are essentially nothing more than embarrassed throat-clearing.

There have, of course, been threats of lawsuits, though none has been filed. Personally, I'd like to see A's owner Lew Wolff hold a news conference, announce he's moving the team to the site already granted him by the city of San Jose, and tell Major League Baseball to sue him
if they don't like it. Now that would be entertaining, although the likelihood of Major League Baseball wanting its antitrust exemption examined in the courts is about equal to the likelihood of me being named Bud's successor.

Or, perhaps this, as was once suggested to me: if the Giants are so adamant about having San Jose as "theirs", let THEM move there and give the A's their slightly-used stadium in San Francisco.

In any case, Bud, do something. I'm tired of hearing about this." -- Al Yellon, Bleed Cubbie Blue

Stabilization vs. Regression to the Mean

"Back when sabermetrics was still a little bit young, a man going by the name of Pizza Cutter published a series that sought to discover and explain when different baseball statistics stabilized. Since then, other writers have refined Pizza Cutter's methodology, and the basic idea has permeated every bit of the nerdy corner of baseball. The problem is that every time a writer talks about stabilization, there's someone in the comments section who has to argue that really, the author should be regressing to the mean. This commenter might have a math degree, and he'll throw around some big words like Bayesian and Frequentist. If you are he, please knock it off.

I like regression to the mean. I think everyone should understand it, and I've made tools to help people use it more easily. But whether or not some blogger gets their napkin-math prediction a percentage point or two off just isn't a big enough deal to justify how annoying you are. And I don't even believe that you, comment section vigilante, actually regress numbers as you watch baseball. Let's play a quick game. Over 4139 batters he faced through 2012, Roberto Hernandez struck out 567, or 14 percent. But so far in 2013 he's faced 485 batters and struck out 21 percent of them. What do you make of that? Are you regressing appropriately in your head right now? Are you running to a spreadsheet? If you are, you can come troll me in my comments anytime. If not, let's just enjoy some baseball together." -- Ian Malinowski, D Rays Bay

Does MVP Really Mean the "Best" Player?

"I'm not here to rehash the Mike Trout versus Miguel Cabrera argument that overwhelmed the baseball world last year, but rather to talk about the terminology used in the award: "Most Valuable Player."

I've heard people make the argument that the most valuable player isn't actually the best player, but the player who does the most for a winning team, or a playoff team. I don't buy it. A ballplayer's value is tied directly to what he can do on the field, to the exception of everything else. And while a player might be uniquely suited for a particular field, I find it hard to believe that they could be uniquely suited for a particular team. Ted Williams never won a World Series.

Baseball is a largely individual sport carefully disguised as a team game. I'm not saying that a player has no effect on his teammates, but I am saying that a player should find MVP status in "actual value of player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense" first, and everything else fifth.

The Most Valuable Player should be the guy who would be the best player on any team in the league. It's up to you to decide whether that best player is Cabrera or Trout or even Robinson Cano. But who the team is -- that matters very little, except to that team's fans." -- Bryan Grosnick, Beyond the Box Score

Wins Above Replacement

"WAR, huh? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! -- Some writer, somewhere. Probably Rob Parker or Harold Reynolds.

If you don't believe in WAR, you are a Luddite impressed by meaningless stats like batting average, HR and RBI -- Some writer, somewhere. Probably Keith Law or Jeff Passan.

The WAR debate stormed to the forefront last fall when writers argued whether the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera or the Angels' Mike Trout was more deserving of the MVP award. This may seem like an oversimplification, and those in support of Trout's credentials may wish to interrupt here to say, "WAR was not the only basis for our argument." True.

But in the mainstream, where the vast majority of fans live happily far from bWAR or fWAR or UZR or VORP or FIP or what have you, the fall of 2012 is when WAR made its mainstream debut: it spilled from blogs and message boards into newspapers, ESPN and MLB Network, their local sports radio shows or bars. It was suddenly omnipresent, with opinions shouted more forcefully than when the scouts vs. stats argument at its peak.

Today, if you cite WAR, some people will cheer you, many will use that alone to tune you out. It's unfortunate, because it's a useful stat, just not one useful to the vast majority of fans -- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

For us in the middle, the debate has already grown tiresome. When it comes to WAR, what I'd give for a little peace." -- Kurt Mensching, Bless You Boys

PEDs and the Hall

"How should the Hall of Fame voters treat players who used performance-enhancing drugs? That's an unanswerable question, because which players used performance enhancing drugs? Are we 100 percent sure that guy did or that other guy didn't? Is anyone really beyond suspicion? The debate gets more granular from there (does it matter at what point in their career they started using, if we could even be sure of such a thing?). The answers to most of those questions (or the facts required for those answers to be reached) are unknowable, but that's only part of what makes this baseball's worst ongoing conversation. What puts it at the top of the list, for me, is that despite the fact that it is unanswerable, the voters are forced to answer it annually, and when they do so, even if their intent is to defer the answer, there is considerable collateral damage in terms of precedents set by voting patterns and aspersions cast, fairly or unfairly, upon some of the greatest players in the history of the game. The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to celebrate the game's greatest players and commemorate the game's history, but the annual Hall of Fame debate now serves as more of an occasion to perpetuate calumnies about those players with the effect of omitting large swaths of that history, and I don't believe there's a single person inside or out of the game who has any idea how to fix it." -- Cliff Corcoran, SBNation.com Designated Columnist

Proven Closers

"Every year, the list of the top relievers in baseball undergoes violent change. On a basic level, the reason that Mariano Rivera is an all-time great pitching is not his all-time leading saves total or his terrific postseason record, but because he's been amazingly consistent for a relief pitcher -- just to pick one season, in 2007, he shared the AL top 10 in saves with Joe Borowski, Bobby Jenks, and Jeremy Accardo, but he didn't share it for long. The truth is, every season throws a handful of new names up the saves chart and pulls another handful down -- small samples are cruel that way. Given that there's no Closer Factory, these pitchers have to come from somewhere, typically the vanilla ranks of garden-variety relievers who, until they were tabbed for the spotlight ninth-inning role, had nothing that marked them for greatness -- three kings did not appear at the manager bearing gold, frankincense, and rosin. Some, like Jason Grilli, this season's National League saves leader, hung around bullpens for the better part of a decade before anyone decided there was anything closer-ish about him.

There is a happy medium between the old, "Not everyone can close, it takes a special mentality" school of thought and the sabermetric, "Anyone can close" iconoclasm: Not everyone can close, but many pitchers can. A team doesn't need to spend a gabillion dollars on a big name to have security in the ninth inning, it just needs to try someone, anyone -- pitchers as varied as Goose Gossage (throws fire), Dan Quisenberry (throws underhand), Hoyt Wilhelm (throws knuckleballs), and Doug Jones (throws delicate butterflies that flutter gently to the plate) have succeeded in the role. If at first you don't succeed, just try someone else. You'll figure it out eventually." -- Steven Goldman, SBNation.com/mlb

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