B Pro in DC

Turk: Hey all. So Jhon and I attended a round table/Q&A this past Tuesday presented by the Baseball Prospectus folks over at the Politics & Prose cafe/bookstore in DC. We meant to post earlier but got caught up with a few other things. Hopes this is still somewhat interesting.

Jhon:  It was a standing room only crowd gathered at Politics & Prose to listen to a presentation of a New York Times bestseller by several of its authors. Oprah Winfrey recently endorsed The Baseball Prospectus Annual and the damned thing just took off.

The roster of recent speakers at Politics & Prose bookstore includes some very distinguished names.  Add Clay Davenport, Jay Jaffe, and Steven Goldman to the list, B Pro writers who spoke about the latest addition to the series.  This release was previously discussed in Andrew (afh4's) diary.

Turk: One more note about the crowd: I had worn an argyle sweater/collared shirt combo to work that day and rushed home before going to this to change into my Carmona shirt and spiffy new C cap so I didn't look like a d-bag. To my (non) surprise, there were no less than three folks in the crowd sporting the argyle/collared shirt combo. Two of them were Red Sox fans. Make of that what you will.  

Jhon:  That new "C" cap of yours looks pretty slick.   Red Sox caps were the mode, but it was a pretty diverse fanscene.  That's the thing with DC, nearly everybody here is from elsewhere.  Anyone who shows up at an event like this is a total baseball junkie, so those Sox fans and those Yankee fans are kindred spirits.

Think it's rough being a Tribe fan, Turk?  One guy there was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  Notice his ersatz uniform?  They literally haven't won anything in decades.

Turk: As for the main event, there was nothing really earth-shattering, at least not to us savvy "in-the-know" baseball folk. They basically discussed their rational, scientific approach to baseball and how it can apply to everyday life, personal relationships, work, etc (with tongues placed firmly in their collective cheek).

The part I enjoyed the most was Goldman's comments about the steroid "scandal." He presented easily the most rational argument I had heard in regards to the situation and in response to some criticism BP has taken for not delving more deeply into the issue.  He basically said that what they do is scientfic in nature and thus far, there has been little proof that PEDs enhance things like eyesight and reaction time let alone specific baseball skills. Until somebody can test a field of ten all-stars in a double-blind study for ten years, it isn't likely that there will be conclusive evidence on the subject and until then, it's not BP's place to discuss the topic. Two quotes to take away from Goldman on the topic: "Most guys that juiced were bad baseball players before they took anything and bad baseball players after they took something." Also! "We're not going to join the witch hunt until we know what we're hunting the witches for!"

The highlight of my night was talking to Jay Jaffe one-on-one (though John joined later). I asked him about our infield situation re: Marte and Peralta's week defense (which he had brought up in reference to Carmona's extreme groundball tendencies while answering one of John's questions). He was leary about the prospect of moving Peralta to third because of not only some loss in positional value but also the uncertainty of barfield's ability to play 2B. Again, nothing earth-shattering, but cool to hear from one of the experts. He also seemed very high on Cabrera's defense, which was nice to hear, and said that one of the Indians' biggest strength is clearly their depth. Awesome guy. Forgot to ask him if he was this guy's brother.

Jhon:  Steven's anecdote about the NY Times reporters regarding steroids was revealing.  Their writers approached Steven wanting to know what evidence of PED use can be identified in game data. When he answered that there wasn't any such evidence, that even in Bonds' case it's hard to tell beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were quantifiably benefiting from a stimulus, the Times writers weren't having it.  They already had their conclusion, and just couldn't accept what they were being told. They were referred on down the line of B Pro contributors without getting an answer that satisfied their core thesis.  The B Pro writers didn't contradict each other, because the data is unchanging, and a rational appreciation of the numbers is their technique.
Because of this basic ethic their staff is able to function in a seemingly autonomous way and still harmonize. Their clique is a lot like LGT, I think, not the monolith that some have portrayed them. Clay is the stats junkie, Steven the self-proclaimed `Liberal arts' guy (Turk: the patriarch; BP's Jay?), Goldstein's more of an economist, and Jaffe's sort of a hybrid.

Turk: Take that Morissey! PECOTA IS PEOPLE!

Jhon: True. Even their stats guy Clay was comfortable behind the mic. He could teach me a few things about public speaking, for sure. At Turk's prodding I managed to prolong the Q&A session while the pizza and beer regressed to the mean room temperature.

Turk: John's being hard on himself here. It was a solid question. Better than the Yankees fan who used the word "struck" no less than ten times in his scene-stealing inquiry.

Jhon: You're right about that Yankees fan. His was pretty rude. He accused them of placing too much emphasis on the construction of metrics.  Clay was puzzled. I'm paraphrasing, but his response was something like, "what's the alternative? Pointing out the fact that so-and-so's the first player to hit 30 HRs and bat .3something with so many RBIs? Arbitrary statistical benchmarks just aren't interesting."  This was clearly a case of Jeter-centrism.

Turk: Sorry to interject... I doubt Clay meant it this way, but I gladly took this as a knock on Granderson's 20-20-20-20-20-20-20-20-whatever season and the media hullabaloo that induced.

Jhon: Another guy basically asked them for a job, which probably happens at every stop. He took the time to complain that his current work sucked and he has applied analytical talent, but the BP response was gracious: if you have an original and compelling idea(s), the bar for entry isn't as prohibitive as you might think.

I took the opportunity to express an appreciation for Keith Woolner, musing that he'd be our secret weapon in squeezing a couple of wins beyond the theoretical 89 they're projecting. It was my way of asking for a clarification as to what he's really up to in the Tribe's FO. Steven replied, "Have you seen Keith Woolner? He has, uhh, a beautiful mind". Sounds like LGT Jay's right, that he doesn't leave the stat cave too often.  Goldman added that they're really proud to have graduated him.    

A couple people approached us afterwards to share the Cleveland connection. Chuck's long-lost brother approached us with scattered thoughts on the Tigers, the parking situation at the new Nationals stadium, and Addie Joss, of course.

Turk: This guy was a riot. He approached us, the two Indians fans in the crowd, out of nowhere and immediately engaged in a conversation that was above and beyond our knowledge - really cool stuff. He asked us if there was bad blood between Detroit and Cleveland from the 1908 pennant race. Neither John nor I had much to add to the conversation, so I told him Addie Joss was a hack and left to talk to Jaffe.

Jhon: Yeah, I've read enough to cover little pieces of Tribe folklore, but that was a 100 years ago. Like, actually 100 years ago. Wrigley field wasn't even on the drawing board. But I'm happy to be around other folks who really, really like baseball.

I overheard Jaffe call our setup guys "Stereo Rafi". I loved this remark.

Turk: My favorite comment of the night. Came up in  our convo with Jaffe.

Overall, it was a fascinating night. The BP folks are brilliant, personable and much more accessible than one might think. Don't be surprised if we see Jaffe around here... I totally pimped LGT to him and he said he'd try to stop by.

So. Comments? Questions? Sure we forgot something here...

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