Saturday, July 21, 2007

My January E-mail Argument With Bill Conlin

Pre-GGAS, back in January, Bill Conlin wrote this column about Pat Burrell striking out a lot. It was discussed a bit on FireJoeMorgan. I would recommend going there to read about how crazy it is. It’s an imaginary conversation between one side of Pat Burrell’s brain and Bill. Seriously, go to FJM….I’ll wait.

I’ve always sensed that Bill was a surly guy, but I took him up on his offer to “send e-mail to” Why not, right?

I don’t have the first one saved. But I wrote an e-mail regarding his column and pointed out that Ryan Howard struck out 181 times and strikeouts are not always a bad thing, etc.

His first response:

My IQ against yours. . .


My response:

“The following players struck out more than Pat Burrell last year:

Adam Dunn
Ryan Howard
Alfonso Soriano
Jason Bay
rady Sizemore
Bobby Abreu
Alex Rodriquez
Chase Utley
.... And more.

So you writing that masterpiece pointing out Joe Dimaggio's strikeout totals and giving Pat Burrell hitting tips, presumably to strike out less, was sort of a waste of time. Don't feel bad, I'm wasting my time here. You know who else struck out a lot? Babe Ruth.”

(I threw the Ruth remark in there to get him to do some research and thinking because he loves the old timey guys. I had already looked up Ruth’s strikeout marks, which were not nearly Burrell level but were high compared to hitters in his era).

His response:

Shows what you know, phony. . .Over a 22-year career, Babe Ruth struck out an average of 60 times a season and never struck out more than 93. Burrell had 84 fewer at bats than Abreu and struck out just 7 times less. Do the average strikeouts per at bat number, loser.

Phony. Loser. Bill Conlin is one mean-spirited, conceited dude.

My response:

“Different eras, Bill. Also, you INCLUDED THE YEARS BABE RUTH WAS A PITCHER!

Babe Ruth was number 1 or 2 in the league in strikeouts for 11 straight years. You have to compare them against their contemporaries. Even with the years as a pitcher, he held the all-time record for strikeouts until 1963, when Mantle passed him.

My point is only that striking out a lot is not indicative of an ineffective hitter. A point I would win.

Also - did you run the math on Ryan Howard's K's/AB? Yeah you did, which is why you cherry picked Abreu for your example.”

(Using the years that Ruth was a pitcher was pretty weak. Ruth’s 162 game K average, per, was 86. It’s funny that Conlin uses crazy math to compute Ruth’s average K’s mark while calling me a loser for not using K’s/AB.)

His response:

Nah, I kept getting stuck on Howard's RBIs. By the way, I picked this crap off my blocked list, which I check to see if some legit e-mails were diverted. You're still blocked. Click!

My response:

“All those RBI' you're saying you CAN strike out a lot and still be very very good, which is what history has born out and what I was trying to prove to you.

Well I agree Bill. I agree. Thanks for your time.”

And apparently that one was blocked or something because he didn't respond. Click!

Folks, not my best arguing. I was tempted to play with it here but that would be dishonest. I didn’t intend to defend Burrell’s performance in 2006 (which I really didn’t) but just to make the point that strikeouts are not always indicative of a bad player. I certainly could have used a better example than Ruth (Jackson, Mantle, etc.), but I wanted to get his attention with a big name that he wasn't expecting. It just seemed odd to me that he would harp on Burrell’s strikeouts when Utley, Howard and Abreu had such high strikeout rates, and Howard and Utley were especially awesome in 2006.

The column also included this:

(Pat Burrell's Brain - don't ask) Yeah, but he (Dimaggio) never had to face closers. And setup men. And guys throwing close to 100 mph.

And you never had to face big-league pitching at a time when there were just 16 teams and major league baseball dwarfed every other sport in importance.

Do you see a problem with this logic? The Population of the US in 1941 (the year Conlin focuses on for Dimaggio) was about 135 million. The Population now is about 300 million, and the MLB talent pool is hardly limited to the US (I realize that the current population is not the best benchmark, but using the two dates provides some gauge of the growth rate of the number of potential baseball players). 1941 was also pre-integration, and there were no pitchers from the Far East or Latin America that I know of (if there were, there weren't many). Also, hitters got to see the same pitchers much more often, since pitchers went later in games, pitched in smaller rotations, and there were fewer teams. They didn’t face middle relief specialists or closers in the same way they do today.

This is offset partially by the size of ballparks and various other nuances (mound heights I assume). But I have a hard time believing that it was tougher to be a major league hitter in 1941 than it is now because there were fewer teams and baseball dwarfed the other sports. Given the height of the mounds, the size of the ballparks and, if Conlin’s right, vastly inferior pitching, then the league Pat Burrell played in during 2006 must have had a much different offensive output (more runs) than the 1941 AL that Dimaggio played in, right?

Comparing the 1941 AL to 2006 NL you get the following:
Runs/Game: 4.74 / 4.76 (1941 / 2006)
League BA: .266 / .265
OBP: .341 / .334
SLG: .389 / .427
K’s/game: 3.6 / 6.7
HR’s/game: .59 / 1.1

Looking solely at the numbers, it seems to be easier to hit homeruns, but runs were scored at the same rate and hitters struck out much less. Conlin’s assertion that 1941 was a difficult year to hit in compared to 2006 doesn’t hold much water. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t (my analysis was pretty crude), but saying that there were only 16 teams and ignoring the impact of minorities, international players, and the growth in the talent pool in the US seems sloppy. He's basically assuming that baseball is the same as it was in 1941, but now there are more teams so it's simple pitcher dilution.

So, Bill Conlin, the Jerk Store called.... and they’re running out of you!


larry b said...

dont sweat it dude. that's just a defense mechanism on his part. he was crying as he sent that last email.

booyah said...

I just had a fun email argument with him myself. The dude is a total jackass. Check out the transcript of our interaction at