In Which Bill Conlin Emails a SABR Nerd

If my memory is correct, which it totally may not be since I assaulted it with beers and Flyin’ Hawaiians for the better part of the summer, this is the third Bill Conlin email string I’ve been sent this year. Either people love to point out One Chair’s curmudgeonly ways… or Conlin doesn’t back down from any grammatical challenge.

Reader Tom sends along an email chain between his buddy, Ryan, and Conlin in which our scriptual friend calls SABR nerds, well, nerds.



I am surprised you are pushing for small ball. Nothing at all supports that is smart baseball. It is so antiquated and erroneous to think bunting, stealing bases and moving runners over is a good way to win ball games. People still believe it but it takes a long time for beliefs to change it baseball. People are finally starting to come around on how insignificant closers are when compared to the rest of the positions on a team. I always figured you to be progressive in your sports thinking.

And I would blame Charlie for not using Madson in either of the late inning losses to the Marlins. I know  we were "saving" him for the save, but that is a terrible way to manage a bullpen, because about 50% of the time your best pitcher ( closer) is not even going to pitch in the game. And when you finally do get around to using your closer you are already in the lead and the opposing team is down to their final 3 outs meaning you have a 98% chance of winning that game regardless of who pitches, so why use your best pitcher to pitch  in a spot that you are most likely going to win regardless of who pitches?




Ah yes, the classic there is no such thing as a closer argument- a staple of the SABR community championed by Rays manager Joe Maddon, who, ironically, watched his team lose the World Series while a 48-for-48 stopper bore down with a runner in scoring position to cement his team’s first world championship in 28 years (but that’s just anecdotal). It’s a totally logical stance, though. It implores managers to place their best relievers in “high leverage” situations, which often times don’t come in the ninth inning. However, it makes the incorrect assumption that lesser, often inexperienced pitchers are equally equipped to deal with the pressures of facing a desperate team with 45,000 fans shaking their last nerve. Ryan says a team has just as good a chance (or close to it) of winning a game with an average reliever pitching the ninth inning as they do with someone who has previous experience in such situations.

Perhaps in a calculator they do.

Let’s see what One Chair had to say about this:

Oh, really? Well, you don't know one flippin' thing about me. I guess you've spent a lot of time picking the brains of every baseball man, Hall of Fame players,  managers, pitching coaches and great scouts to come through here the past 45 years. If you knew half what I've forgotten about the game, you could write a helluva book on how it should and should not be played. Meanwhile, good luck with your managing career.



Ryan replied.


The hall of famers, the managers, the pitching coaches have it wrong. They have been taught the wrong strategy since day one and they all feed off of one another to perpetuate the wrong strategy.  Kind of like if you teach a child the ABC's in the wrong order, and no one ever corrects them, they will always get it wrong. Sorry but the math nerds of this world like Bill James and Theo Epstein have it right.  The Charlie Manuel’s and the Joe Torres have it wrong. You could probably read 2 or 3 books on the subject and it would be better then talking to pitching coaches and hall of famers for the next 150 years.

If you'd like I could suggest some books for you to read.




Honestly, I’m not sure if Ryan is trolling here or not. As managers, Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel have won five World Series in the last 15 years. It must feel oh-so-right to be wrong. 

There are two or three books worth reading on the matter (The Extra 2% and Moneyball come to mind), but they often come with the unfortunate side effect of turning usually unathletic couch potatoes into chest-pounding know-it-alls. See: Above comma Ryan.

One Chair straightened up:

Stick your books and your math. I'll go with what I picked up covering more than 4,000 major league games over what some sallow, basement dwelling, nerd thinks he knows AFTER the fact. All those acronymic formulas work great until you're up there facing a 95 MPH fastball. So you do what you do and I'll do what I do. I guess the bottom line comes down to: My career against yours: Next time you're in Cooperstown visit the Scribes and Mikemen Exhibit. The formula for getting there is YOE + RR = HOF (Years of Excellence + Reader Recognition = Hall of Fame)


This was punctuated with the above picture. Heh

I often give Bill a hard time for his sometimes ridiculous assertions and old-world styles, but he may have just won me over. There is most certainly a place for advanced metrics- they help explain and understand a very complex game. They are textbook examples of why thinking outside the box can be beneficial. Hell, those same principles can be applied to any industry. Take "new media" for example: Most seasoned scribes would tell you that in order to accurately report and opine on a story, you must be there in person. I’d tell you that since nearly every press conference, official interview, and a transcript can be watched or read on a team’s website or a local cable channel, I can have a coherent blog post written before Grilled Reuban Frank saunters magnetically to the media food spread. However, I’d be a fool (and Mr. T tells us we should pity those) to say there wasn’t some value in being able to stand beside a player and judge his body language and tone in order to help more accurately understand his words. Any armchair psychologist could tell you that. 

That’s sort of the problem with people like Ryan.

Instead of coupling new school methods with tried and true practices (or at least acknowledging their intrinsic value), the seamheads (seamstresses, as I will now call them) uniformly chorus the same soon-to-be-tired refrain about how there’s no place for gut, emotion, and common sense when evaluating a sport played by 25 individuals in front of thousands of living, breathing, and drinking souls in often less than ideal conditions. And that’s all Conlin was trying to say… even if he did it in his typical curmudgeonly (yet somewhat hilarious) style.


27 Responses

  1. Moneyball is a good book, just finished reading it. Does a good job of explaining where the concept came from and why Billy Beane was willing to try it.
    Good post Kyle, never a Conlin fan, too much self promotion, but at least he was funny this time doing it.

  2. Conlin’s responses are always the same. I’m pretty sure the man is senile and his articles are simply him recounting flashbacks that occur on a daily basis that he can’t control. Kyle continues to lose my respect by championing this old-world retard.

  3. I hate to make assumptions, but for the sake of argument, I’ll assume it was Ryan, and not Conlin, who sent you this E-Mail. Why would he do that? To show more people how foolish he sounds while wagging his finger at Charlie after 2 meaningless losses to the Marlins? To show that he was owned hard by a HOF sports writer? There’s SO MUCH MORE to this Phillies team/2011 season. Not to suggest that Charlie and the Phils aren’t trying to win every game, but IT’S CRUNCH TIME. It’s time to see exactly what some guys on the team are made of, what they have in the tank, if they can get the job done in certain situations (Herndon, Stutes, Gload). Even if you feel Ryan is 100% correct, he still sounds like a tool for wanting to pin regular season losses to Charlie, who will most likely finish the season with the most wins in franchise history.

  4. Ryan has to be trolling here. No way someone is that arrogant to call world series winning managers straight up “Wrong”.

  5. I don’t care how a writer emails you, Bill Conlin was a real asshole here. Nothing to be proud of at all.

  6. Wait, so is anyone agreeing that saving your closer (assuming this is the best pitcher on your staff) for the 9th inning, rather than bringing him in for the 8th when there’s 1 out and a man on 1st and 2nd is the right thing to do?

  7. Also, I think think just shows how stubborn Bill (and many others) are. You are brought up thinking a game should be played a certain way primarily because that’s what you’re told to believe. A stat nerd questions a commonly held belief which causes outrage because who the hell is this nerd to tell me I’ve been wrong for all of these years.
    Step back from the situation – if a closer is your best pitcher, shouldn’t you be willing to bring in your best guy during the 7th rather than risking never bringing him in at all?

  8. SABR is so unathletic geeks who don’t understand sports can feel like men and talk sports…they think they are bright and knowledgable, but oddly they never truly understand sports. Don’t they realize that when they were acing the math test, these players were learning sports?

  9. I am the ‘Ryan’ in the above emails with Mr. Conlin. I know I cant make you believe that but so be it. I emailed Bill because I greatly admire him and have read his articles since I have been a teenager. I was surprised he was pushing for small ball and I questioned him on it. That is how this started.
    He immediately got offended and I admit I did bait him in the second email but only because I thought he was for lack of a better word, being a jerk.
    There is 6 more emails between Bill and I that this website does not have access too. Trust me Bill gets nasty and resorts to name calling. The two emails you have read are just the tip of the ice berg for Bill belive me. I was shocked that a Hall of Fame writer, enshrined in the same building with Aaron and Ruth, would act the way he did, especially putting it in writing. He behaved like a child who does not like to be questioned about anything.
    I admit to going back and forth with Bill, and getting just as nasty as him. I regret some of the things I did write to Bill after the second email.
    I dont want to go on a long boring rant about SABR. My point was not that Charlie Manuel is wrong all the time. The man knows more then I can ever hope to know about baseball especially hitting, its just that some of the long held baseball beliefs in baseball are wrong. That’s all. I dont believe math teachers should be the new MLB managers, but just don’t completely dismiss the brilliant statisticians either. The math nerds (which I am not btw) do have some good points.

  10. While Bill Conlin has clearly cornered the market on pretentiousness (to be honest, it doesn’t bother me), I totally agree with him here, and I flat out loved how he put that miserable troll in his place. Bravo to One Chair! SABRlosers and stat nerds like this Ryan clown either can’t or won’t comprehend that crunching raw numbers to death means very little when it comes to the wholly inexact science that is baseball, and the Billy Beanes of the world will continue coming up short while old school geniuses like Joe Torre and Uncle Charlie wave to the masses on the lead float in World Series victory parades.

  11. Daniel H, you’re an idiot, and that’s the stupidest response you could have possibly come up with.
    What morons like Daniel H forget when they dismiss advanced statistics is that RBI’s, saves, wins, and runs ARE STATISTICS. They’re numerical evaluations of events gathered over a period of time. Daniel H (who OBVIOUSLY has played professional baseball for years because he spent so much time “learning sports” so OF COURSE we should listen to him) just doesn’t have the capacity to realize that some statistics actually tell us more about a players performance than others. He’d rather just go with the statistics that are easy to remember (studying for that math test might have helped).
    Bill Conlin’s entire argument is “I’m famous, I watch a lot of baseball, and a bunch of people have said that I’m really good at writing”. Everything about this argument is flawed, pretentious, and idiotic.
    You people are morons.

  12. @mikebiff- If you read the entire post and didn’t just skim through it, you would have realized that Ryan did not send the e-mail to this website. After obtaining his permission, I forwarded it along to Kyle because I found it amusing and thought maybe others would too.
    Point being, he wasn’t out to cut Charlie down or lament two seemingly meaningless losses. He simply expressed a difference of opinion with a “well respected” journalist. Now not only did Conlin respond, but he responded in spades on his crusade against advanced statistics.
    Lastly, I am pretty sure we know what Herndon and Gload have in the tank. If our postseason fate rests on their shoulders, lord help us.

  13. “SABR is so unathletic geeks who don’t understand sports can feel like men and talk sports…they think they are bright and knowledgable, but oddly they never truly understand sports. Don’t they realize that when they were acing the math test, these players were learning sports?”
    DanielH – Just a heads up, these unathletic geeks are attempting to evaluate stats in baseball, not play baseball. Ignorance is bliss.

  14. I lifted this quote from a Crashburn post a couple days ago…
    “I think this is a problem that I see a lot not just in relatively unimportant venues like sports, but also in more important arenas (popular discussions of science, economics, etc.) People correctly point out that we don’t have precise answers and that our best quantifications have error bars that are [larger] than the number of decimal places reported. That’s a valuable insight and worth discussing, but then people take it a step further and use that as an excuse to remain completely agnostic on things. By denigrating the best efforts of others to quantify difficult questions and insisting that “I don’t need all that fancy stuff, just give me the basics and I’ll take my own guess since no one knows” they give themselves a feeling of smugness and superiority to those bookish nerds vainly searching for answers they can’t pin down, but they also throw away valuable information that the effort to quantify those things tells us and in most cases behave as though the uncertainty is much greater than it actually is.”
    Very well put in my opinion. People that refuse to acknowledge SABR are just kind of ignorant. The “Guys who believe in SABR are just NERDS who don’t get IT” arguments are just so, so, so tired.

  15. Screw Ryan.
    Once again the command bunker, miles behind the front lines, reading cliff note reports of the ensuing engagements, refuses to account for the human factor of those involved.
    Wen the bullets (baseballs) start flying, and that [email protected] gets real, you can throw numbers out the window. It’s the human who decides he’s not going to settle for being a statistic.
    You can always read the numbers, but numbers don’t tell the stories of heroes.

  16. Not a Conlin fan by any means but put yourself in his shoes. Like he reminds us all the time: the guy has seen 1,000’s of games and knows more people in pro baseball than many of the players themselves, yet he probably gets HUNDREDS of e-mails a week from smartassed know-it-all’s telling him how much of an idiot he is because he doesnt like fancy stats. Leave the old man alone. If you dont like his articles then dont read them. And if people dont want to learn about UZR rating and WAR then dont try to shove them down their throats.
    Enjoy the game however you like. Whether it be combing through advanced statistics or just because you like to watch the insane athleticism it takes to hit a 95mph baseball really really far. It’s all good.
    Go Phils

  17. @Tom- He gave you permission, didn’t he? Doesn’t change anything, he was still fine with everyone seeing it. The fact that you actually hit the send button doesn’t change my point. Second, only sending 40% of a conversation is pathetic. Allowing only the parts of the conversation you find acceptable to be seen is absolutely ridiculous ( 4 emails on this page, and Ryan commented that there were 6 more emails, which we don’t have access to.) Third, what do you mean that Ryan didn’t mean to “cut Charlie down”? That’s exactly what he did in the entire second paragraph of the first Email. Lastly, I never even suggested any post-season hopes rest on the shoulders of Herndon or Gload. But, I’ll bet you’d kill Charlie if, say, Herndon made the playoff roster and Stutes didn’t, even though Herndon has pitched great over the last 2 months (besides Marlins series), and Stutes certainly hasn’t. If Charlie has to leave guys off the playoff roster, you want him to be sure he’s leaving the right guys off.

  18. @mikebiff- Yes he did, which is why I sent it to begin with. I wasn’t trying to change your point or “anything” for that matter, whatever that anything may be.
    I see you calculated that math pretty quickly on the e-mails, maybe you’re a stat guy after all. Truth be told, I was never forwarded the remaining e-mails. However, after learning he actually got posted, Ryan was going to forward the rest to me so I could see how nuts Conlin became. If he’s willing, I will forward the rest to crossing broad so everyone can continue to go nuts and misconstrue his original point, So please, look for more to come.
    To your third point, the entire thread had a theme. The quip about Charlie was but a minor detail. All he said was the loss to the Marlins was on Charlie, because in his opinion, saving your closer in extra innings games at home is not the right play and Charlie decides who to use when. If you’re .500 in those situations, you don’t use your “best” reliever half the time. This seems counterintuitive. But I a digress, I am not trying to make a point for saving your closer or not. I am just saying he wasn’t indicating Charlie is an idiot or ruined baseball or anything close to that. He loves Chuck. I love Chuck. Just about everyone loves Chuck, so please move on.
    Finally, and I quote, you said “It’s time to see exactly what some guys on the team are made of, what they have in the tank, if they can get the job done in certain situations (Herndon, Stutes, Gload). ” This is implying that we should vet guys like Herndon and Stutes now, especially in late innings games like the one Ryan referenced in which Madson wasn’t used, to see if they can produce in certain situations. Now I can only imagine you were referring to the playoffs when you said certain situations. If so, you are implying that if they succeed now, we may/will have to rely on them in the postseason if they make the roster. Hence my point, that if we are replying on Herndon or Gload in the postseason, we’re in trouble. If it’s not clear by September “what they have in the tank”, then I hope we don’t have to find out in October. That is all.
    And no, I wouldn’t kill Charlie. It’s easy to be a Monday Morning QB so to speak (not sure of the baseball equivalent) and dissect everything Charlie does. I’m not into that. He sees these guys every day, along with Dubes and the other coaches, so I think they know the right choices to make. So please refrain making inferences that are way off base.
    Take a lap…

  19. Benjamin, that answer was so absurd I’m really hoping it was sarcasm. I’m really not sure. Baseball is in no way whatsoever anything remotely like war. Not even close. To compare the two just shows a profound lack of understanding of both war AND baseball.
    Also, it’s “when”. The silent “h” always gets me too.

  20. Oh, wow, you mean war and baseball aren’t the same?!! Really?! Holy crap! How incredibly stupid I am. (an [email protected] crazy)
    It’s called a metaphor, and if you actually pulled your head out your @ss, I’m not literally comparing the two, but comparing the number guys calculating the statistics of both in a vacuum, without regard for the humans factors and the individual circumstances.
    And since you have no idea who I am, refrain from suggesting what I know and don’t know, and what I might do for a living. Another day I regret reading beyond the story section into the comments area.

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