Monday, March 1, 2010

If Adam Kilgore Asked me for Advice

Let's be clear--he didn't, and I certainly wouldn't expect him to. Regardless, here's my unsolicited list of things I'd like to see from the Nationals' new beat writer:

1. Do not spin positive. (Or negative, though that's much less of a risk I think.) Chico Harlan always got high marks from me first and foremost because he didn't pull punches. When the team was terrible, he said so. Even though he had to say that every single day for two years.

2. Talk to scouts. Talk to a lot of them. Get different opinions from different teams' scouts. These guys will talk to you (usually not for attribution, but no one's heard of them anyway), and they'll give you a far more accurate picture of a player's value than you'll ever get just talking to the Nationals coaches or front office.

3. When covering contract negotiations, be even-handed. Avoid implicitly taking the player's side or management's side. That means, for instance, you don't refer to management as "the Nationals" or "the team." That's biased language, and it's not accurate, since the players are every bit as much a part of the organization as a front-office employee like Mike Rizzo. It also means that you avoid implying that baseball players earn too much money, unless you're writing an article about overall inequities of wealth in society and also talking about how it's even more unfair for the sons of greedy land developers to inherit bajillions of dollars or for a monopoly like MLB to extort tens of billions from taxpayers. And if you're writing about that, you're way too far afield anyway.

4. Familiarize yourself with the basics of statistical analysis. If you haven't already, read Baseball between the Numbers and The Book. I don't want you to write like Tom Tango or Nate Silver, but I do think that a good beat writer can cover the team with an awareness of the most important sabermetric concepts. Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times is a great example of a reporter who doesn't do sabermetrics, but he doesn't write as if he's ignorant of it either.

5. Corollary to #4: At all costs, avoid using the very least meaningful stats. Most taboo would be: pitchers' W-L records, batting average, and RBIs. There are plenty of fan-friendly stats that are far more meaningful. For pitchers, I'd stress strikeouts, walks, and for starting pitchers ERA isn't unacceptable, though for relievers, ERA is a lot less useful because of all the partial innings. For hitters, again I'd focus as much as possible on walks and strikeouts, OBP (present it as the percentage of the time the hitter doesn't make an out--casual fans can get that much) and extra-base hits.

6. Second corollary to #4: always always always context stolen bases with a success rate. Do not just present the sum total.

7. Avoid as much as possible the Bull Durham quotes. I'm not saying anything he doesn't already know, and it's impossible not to use them when no one in the clubhouse will give you anything else. But at least avoid spinning that stuff into a headline that doesn't really exist.

8. Don't write about Elijah Dukes's past unless it's relevant. Dukes has been more or less a model citizen since coming to DC, and yet you still see articles constantly referencing his personal problems. If it's affecting the team, it's fair game. If it's not, and there isn't any trouble to report, it's just gratuitous.

9. Work hard, have fun, try not to burn out, and don't eat the food in the press box more than once a week or else you'll get too fat to fit on the plane in no time.


Positively Half St. said...

My two favorites on your list would be the advice to talk to scouts, and to leave out Elijah Dukes' past. I would appreciate more discussion of meaningful stats, but in addition to the traditional stats that the majority of baseball fans still care about.

I am not disagreeing on their utility, but most folks still pay attention to BA and RBIs.

Steven J. Berke said...

One more tip that Kilgore doesn't seem to need (at least right now): Keep in touch. The one area where Chico had it all over Svrluga was in the willingness to use Nationals Journal; as we all recall, Barry ignored it for a good long while. Adam seems to be picking up where Chico left off in that regard (as in others); I hope we'll also see Adam do Live Q&As, which Barry did less and less as his tenure went on and Chico never really did at all.

Seattle Steve said...

Another great post, Steven. Careful what you wish for with Geoff Baker, though. He's very snippy with the blogger community out here. Yeah, he uses decent stats ocassionally, but not well enough, IMO. He was famously in favor of the Bedard deal, suggesting his familiarity with sabermetrics is pretty superficial.

Your advice to Kilgore in this regard is correct, however...respect and learn from your stathound blogging counterparts!

Pete D said...

Hey I just read your coments on this post thanks to the kind friends at the fightins. You must have very much enjoyed all the baseball played since your meltdown that day. You rock as a blogger and a person.