The Electric Commentary

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Feel Good Sports

On Sunday the Chicago Tribune Sports Section included a column by David Haugh about the Bears "lacking chemistry." Stories like this are the epitome of lazy sports journalism.

If you watch ESPN for 5 minutes you will probably see something about the Yankees losing due to A-Rod breaking up with Jeter or some other off-the-field nonsense. You will see Shaun Alexander's crappy running blamed on coaching or infighting or other such nonsense. Perhaps most infuriating is the analyst who concludes that a team lost because their players need to "play better." Thanks, genius.

Anyway, the Bears were bad due to extremely tangible causes which have nothing to do with chemistry. They had a horrible QB, half of their defense is hurt, and they were playing certain people out of position. Plus, teams have finally stopped kicking to Devin Hester.

The Bears have, shockingly. addressed the first problem by inserting the competent Brian Griese into the starting lineup, and they have played much better as result. In fact, they will probably contend before the season is over.

Here are some lazy myths actual explanations.

1. Lazy Myth - The Rams are bad because of their coach, Scott Linehan.

Truth - The Rams are lousy because almost every good player they have has been injured or retired this year. Their coach may be good, or bad, but this team is so bad that there is really no way to tell.

2. Lazy Myth - Joe Torre is a great manager and the Yankee offer to him is an insult.

Truth - A parrot on opium could manage the Yankees, especially in the late 90s/early 00s. Joe Torre might be an OK manager, but with an AL team with a $200 million payroll, managing is easy. Really, really easy. Will Don Mattingly be able to fill his shoes? Probably yes. Because he's carbon-based.

3. Lazy Myth - Tarvaris Jackson just needs to play better.

Truth - You could put almost any terrible player in place of Tarvaris. Sportswriters love to accuse untalented players of not playing hard, or "up to their potential." As if there are a bunch of guys out there who just aren't trying. You used to hear this a bunch with Rex Grossman too, and you still hear it with Cedric Benson. Same goes for Michael Vick.

The fact is that these players are playing (or played) just like you would expect. They're bad players and they play badly. No amount of wishful thinking will ever change it.

4. Lazy Myth - Shaun Alexander is in a mental slump.

Truth - I heard this one on ESPN just this morning. The fact is that Shaun Alexander is suffering from the same physical breakdown that almost all 30-year-old RBs who were not members of a RB-by-committee go through. Moreover, he broke the 370 carry rule two years ago and that will finish you off right quick.

As players age, they get worse. Unless they take massive amounts of performance-enhancing drugs like Barry Bonds. But most player decline. The media tends to ignore this trend and expects all stars to play at their peak level forever.

5. Lazy Myth - His first at-bat set the tone for the game.

Baseball is a sequence of individual events, and in general, what happens before doesn't have much of an effect on what happens next. For every five lead-off HRs that lead to wins, there are four that lead to losses. The value of that HR is that it gives you a 1-0 lead. Tone-setting has nothing to do with anything.

There are many others, but unfortunately lazy sports writing just doesn't stick in my brain well. For a comprehensive example, check out this Fire Joe Morgan fisking of Mike Lupica.


  • I hate lazy sportswriting. And I love FJM. But I want to make one comment about chemistry.

    Chemistry does matter. At least, it matters to the extent that it helps you play up to your potential. It's as true in sports as it is in the office -- people perform better when they're happy. When you and I get along better with our coworkers, we perform better. When we work with a bunch of jerks who don't care about us, our performance suffers. It's obvious that the same is true in sports (though I think it's also obvious that it matters more in some sports (e.g., probably basketball and football) than it does in others (e.g., probably baseball)).

    Of course, it's equally obvious that any "intangibles" David Eckstein brings to the table can't overcome his awful, awful tangibles. And please don't think for a second that I'm suggesting that a team with "intangibles" that scores three runs a game is better than a team without them that scores five runs a game. I'm not an idiot.

    But do I think there's something to the theory that a group of guys who gets along really well is more likely to play up to their potential? Of course.

    Did any of that make sense? I'm rambling here. My point is simply that having chemistry with his teammates might help the guy with the career .275 EqA bump that to .276. Or maybe even .300, I don't know. But I do think it can happen.

    By Blogger Nye!, at 6:48 PM  

  • If by chemistry you mean love fest on and off the field, I think chemistry has little to do with it. If by chemistry you mean being on the same page or playing as a team and not as individuals, then I think it helps a lot. Of course I think that good play helps create chemistry, because if you can't count on some idiot to do his stuff right, your chemistry will suffer.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 12:50 AM  

  • Oh, and I agree about the lazy journalism. Sometimes I think journalists may either be not that bright or trying to read too much into things they see.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 12:51 AM  

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