For our August project, the United Cardinal Bloggers are interviewing each other to give readers a bit more background into what motivates us as writers and what captures our imagination as fans. We had the good fortune to interview Bob Netherton of On the Outside Corner. (You can find more about us from Mark Sherrard’s Cardinals Fan In Cubs Land blog and about the rest of the bloggers at the United Cardinal Bloggers site.)
The following questions are ours; responses are Bob’s.
How did you start blogging?
I have blogged professionally for my job since about 2006, and it never crossed my mind to do that for something like sports, especially when there are so many great writers already doing that.
I think it was late in the 2009 season, I started live tweeting past baseball games, just as a way to introduce some characters from Cardinals history. It sort of caught on, or at least nobody asked me to stop. One of my Twitter buddies suggested that I start collecting these short stories, and that’s how it all started.
It turns out there was something of a void out there after all – somebody old enough to have seen players like Bob Gibson and Curt Flood play but still young enough to be able to use use social media (blogs, Twitter).
What writers do you like to read? Do you pattern yourself after anyone?
A great question. I do read a lot of the bloggers in the UCB. I really like the new Cardinals Conclave project as it consolidates several of my favorites in one place. Of those, Daniel Shoptaw’s C70 at the Bat is one that I read most regularly. I admire how Daniel keeps up a consistent pace with plenty of good content about each game and series.
For a bit of comic relief, I enjoyed Dennis Lawson’s work when he was writing at Pitchers Hit Eighth, another great group blog. I’ve continued to follow him as he has moved on to other projects. I’m also a big fan of Nick and Josh at PH8.
For technical analysis, your writing at Fungoes is at the top of the list. I appreciate how you introduce data without clobbering the reader with unnecessary analysis.
My favorite blogger is Mark Tomasik who writes the historical blog retroSimba. Like Daniel, he produces content on a regular cadence, and it is always something very unusual. I always learn something new when reading his posts.
As for influences, and at the risk of sounding terribly pretentious, it would be Hall of Fame writer, Rick Hummel. What I admire about Rick’s approach is that when he shares a story, there is almost always a historical context to why he is choosing this moment to tell this tale. There is a setup (how we got there), the event itself and what happened as a result. In a stumbling and very amateurish way, I try to tell stories of what I have seen in the same manner, nowhere near as well, but at least with the same approach.
What’s the most difficult thing about blogging?
This is simple – finding the next topic.
There are so many great writers that do game summaries, I have nothing to add there. As with the summaries, I can’t compete with the great technical analysis that writers like you do. This year I had planned to write about the minor leagues but John Nagel’s team blog CardinalsFarm is doing a much better job than I ever would have done. That leaves me staring at an empty WordPress page hoping for some inspiration. Fortunately, if you watch the games closely enough, you will almost always find some.
What excites and motivates you to blog on any particular day? (e.g,. a big game, a statistical nuance, historical item)
Nearly always it will be some game event that triggers a memory of something that happened in the past. An unusual play (runner hit by a batted ball) or some controversial call by an umpire will send me into full research mode to make sure I get the corresponding story right.
The most fun I’ve had as a blogger came in the last two months of the 2011 regular season. In early August I started writing articles on how the 1964 team overcame that huge deficit and won the NL Pennant and World Series. What started off as a “don’t give up, it could happen” became two months of “it really is happening, isn’t it”. Being able to introduce readers to that great team and not only what, but how they accomplished the impossible is what keeps me writing.
What’s your favorite Cardinal team?
That is easy – the Viva El Birdos era of 1967 and 1968. Of the two teams, it was 1967 that made me a fan for life. Overcoming obstacle after obstacle, the rise of a pair of long forgotten heroes (Dick Hughes, Nelson Briles) as well as all of the role players (Al Jackson, Jack Lamabe, Jim Cosman) – that was a magical time in Cardinals history. Perhaps the best part of that team was seeing Roger Maris in a Cardinals uniform.
Cardinal transaction that you liked in the last year, and one that you wouldn’t have made?
I’ll go to the second part first, since that is an easier answer. I would not have called up Carlos Martinez until after the rosters expanded in September. Martinez has such a lively arm, I would rather have seen him work for an entire season under the direction of Bryan Eversgerd in Memphis. He got off to a late start to his season, and before really settling into his role in Memphis, was called up, used sporadically and then optioned back. I think the Cardinals lost an important year in the development of what could be an elite pitcher in the major leagues.
For favorite transaction, I would have to go with the three contract extensions for Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig. Of the three, I really like the Craig extension because it took a lot of pressure off the young player. I think we see the results in his clutch hitting this year. It also gives Matt Adams something of a developmental target, so a double win.
Looking ahead, the Cardinals have a very difficult decision with Carlos Beltran. He has been everything the Cardinals expected, and more. Unfortunately, the pieces to the 2014 puzzle don’t fit too well with Beltran, Craig, Taveras and Adams on the roster. It will be a very interesting winter.
If you could design the jumbotron scoreboard, what would you have on it (statistics, graphics, etc.)?
Being interested in the history of the game and players, I would design it something like the back of an old baseball card. I would have a section showing how the player got to the team where they now play (draft, trade history, etc) and a brief summary of their minor and major league performance. And like the old Topps card, a revolving “did you know” blurb.
For the statistics, I wouldn’t go much beyond the standard avg, 2b, 3b, hr and RBIs, but would have lines for season to date, last 30 days and last 7.
That would give us the player’s history, performance trends, and some obscure fact in a single glance.
Statistics you like, statistics you avoid and why?
Being a mathematician (yes, I really am), I appreciate all of the effort to understand and quantify each of the individual events that take place over the course of a game, season and career. While I like the metrics themselves, I don’t always like how they are applied. When they are given without some sort of context or thrown at an obviously old school fan (like me) as a way to tell us we don’t understand the game, that’s where I turn away from the conversation mumbling something along the lines of “don’t they understand that baseball is governed by Bayes’ law and not a set of discrete events”. Or something like that.
In the right context, there’s nothing wrong with batting average, on base percentage and slugging for a hitter, and wins are not overrated for a pitcher. They tell a part of a story, as long as you understand they do just that.
If we are looking for a single advanced stat, my favorite would be WPA (win expectancy differential). While it is completely useless as a predictive metric, it does tell a rather interesting story of how a player has contributed to a team’s win or loss. Looking at WPA over a long enough period, you begin to paint an useful picture about how clutch or non-clutch some players are. Taking it in the microcosm of a single play, you often find the turning point in a game, and I like that.
There are two metrics that I really dislike, and they are both pitching stats, one old school and one new. For the old stat, the Save is worthless. It tells all about where a pitcher pitches and very little about the leverage in which he does so. For example, Kevin Siegrist strikes out the side in a close game against a division rival in the seventh inning a few days ago. That was more important than most of Edward Mujica’s actual saves in 2013, yet Mujica gets more credit for pitching the last inning.
For the newer type of metric, I dislike FIP/xFIP. Both of these fit into the “all things being equal” or “things the pitcher can control” category, which is fine if you are a high strikeout pitcher. Unfortunately, the pitcher can only control so much and has to live with the consequences of the players defending behind him. I understand the desire to remove a player from the conditions in which he plays (for comparative or Fantasy Baseball reasons), but that is just not how the game is played.