22 September 2014

I Am Not There, Yet.

“Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it”
Flannery O'Conner, Wiseblood

This post consists of my tenure at Camden Depot and me passing the baton over to Matt Kremnitzer.

In the midst of a funding lull in my research laboratory back in 2007, I created Camden Depot.  I wanted a permanent place where I muse upon some thoughts about baseball to a greater degree than the rough and tumble pre-subscription Baltimore Sun Orioles forum.  At the time, I realized that my understanding of baseball was mired in five year old data science.  I had become essentially a stat-based message board hero, a sabermetric dandy.  A guy who could drop in on traditional notions and discuss linear weights, pythagorean win expectation, and a whole host of other concepts.  These concepts were good ones to have, but my application of them had become too generic.

My journey into baseball became more intertwined with my day job.  I was becoming more logic-based and less fixated on being defensive.  I began assimilating my research methodologies into how I asked questions about baseball.  Perhaps, the first article that really struck a tone was this one on whether to play Matt Wieters behind the plate or at first base.  It is a simple article and one that I would do much different today than I did then, but it was the one that convinced me that I could write somewhat intelligently about the game.  It was also the article I submitted to Baseball Prospectus in 2008 to be considered for Prospectus Idol.  They declined.

Anyway, more and more I directed myself toward writing about statistics and the Orioles in a somewhat mainstream accessible way.  I added on Nick Faleris, now with Baseball Prospectus, to provide in-depth writing on Orioles' prospects.  I found him on the Baltimore Sun forums and encouraged him to write more at length his thoughts about prospects.  It has been amazing to see him develop and really become a major force in the public scouting world.  I would argue that he has implemented changes to writing and presentation that both Baseball America and the new Fangraphs Scouting incarnation have adopted.

I was also privileged to work with two generations of Orioles blog writers.  My era was one with Heath Blintiff of Dempsey's Army and Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies.  We messed around with ideas like the Baltimore Orioles Round Table, which has been emulated by others since.  It has also been great to work with new talent like Matt Kremnitzer, Nate Delong, Matt Perez, Stuart Wallace, Joe Reisel, and Patrick Holden.  I would also like to mention Steph Diorio who provided us with a Sunday Comics section for a while.

In 2010 as Osama Bin Laden's compound was being infiltrated with Seals and I was watching a rerun of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, I signed a contract with ESPN to represent the Baltimore Orioles in their Sweetspot Network.  At the time, I knew it was a big deal in terms of providing more opportunities for me to explore baseball.  It got me onto the field, into the press box, and in contact with a variety of people working for several organizations.  What I was able to do with ESPN behind the site and a growing legion of great baseball writers was to increase our awareness 20 fold to the point where we are a million views a year site, which is something pretty amazing considering that we lack a message board and post about five times a week.

I do not like saying this because it can ruffle feathers and other local sites have boasted the same, but I truly believe that we deliver the most interesting, unique, and thoughtful analysis on the Baltimore Orioles.  We have been able to do this because we despise filler.  We said no to box scores and game reviews because those are commonly available.  We got rid of player summaries unless there was something unique about the player or in projecting him forward because a simple review of a player is something you can easily do by look at his statistical page at Baseball Reference or wherever.

What we said yes to in creating this site was to encourage our writers not to write, but to ask questions that interest them and then have them try to answer them.  We never presented ourselves as experts.  We let the ideas and studies speak for themselves.  We pieced together our constructs to try to make it clear why we thought something.  We tried to show as much as possible and tell as little as possible.  We tried to stay within the scope of the processes of a front office.

In the end though, the move to ESPN and my development into an editor has progressively pushed me away from the exploration I used to do.  My little pilot study hits are not as frequent as they use to be.  I am not producing questioning of UZR and DRS outfield statistics for Camden Yards, something that BIS and other organizations discussed intensely.  That also led to John Dewan to write a chapter on the issue after several data science folks as him about it and the issue got raised a few months down the line by a member of Orioles Hangout.

Anyway, those kind of studies are what I want to get back to and I am taking steps to move on.  This post is announcing that I am ceding my editor status to Matt Kremnitzer and becoming a statistical analyst for Baseball Prospectus, six years after my previous application and this time I did not send in a sample post.  I will be doing a lot of thinking over there and hope that I come up with some interesting takes on evaluating conventional wisdom as well as taking a few stabs at trail blazing.

It is difficult to leave this site.  It gave me so much.  It let me communicate with a wide variety of audiences as I wrote for ESPN, MASN, Huffington Post, and, yes, I had an article at Baseball Prospectus.  Writing here also enabled me to see my work discussed in the magazine that the journal Science produces, which is something that my work as a toxicologist has never come close to accomplishing.  I owe so much to the site and the people who made it what it is.

That includes you.  Right now, you reading this column is one of the million or so times that this site will be read this year alone.  That is written not to make one feel insignificant, but to signify how many of you are out there.  That is a ringing endorsement of the fandom that Baltimore enjoys giving the Orioles.  It is an amazing thing and I have been so lucky to be born into this fandom as well as being fortunate enough to communicate with all of you through my writing.

I will not be far away.  You can still chat with me through my brand, spanking new twitter account: @jsbearr.  You can also reach me via email through jsbearr at gmail.  The writers here will still be providing you with great content and asking questions that interest them, so I am no Pied Piper.

In the end, I hope my time here is one that gave some appreciation for Apollonian and Dionysian thought.  That is that logic and reason is woven into emotion and chaos.  Yes, we can explain and account for much of our world, but not everything.  What we cannot account for is meaningful.  That said, even though there are important things for which we cannot account, it does not render meaningless the things we know.  This is what empowers my methodology, what informs my journey in exploring this sport.  I am not done.  I am not there, yet.  I cannot even imagine what there looks like.


Pat Holden said...

Official and public congrats to you, Jon. It's well deserved and long overdue.

I've considered Camden Depot the best Orioles site on the internet long before I convinced you to let me write here, by means of extortion. Thanks for creating such a great space for us to talk about, in your words, guys in matching laundry running around after a ball.

philip said...

I'm a baseball novice, even though I'm in my 50s. I remember asking my dad abouot batting average during a Texas Ranger game in the early 70s. The batter was batting .215, and I asked if that was good.
I've learned a lot since then. I don't mind advanced stats, but I find laughable the idea that everything can be calculated. God laughs when we try to measure Him.
Having said that, I've enjoyed this site immensely. You avoided mere emotional reactions(sometimes to a fault) gave logical reasons for your suggestions, and gave your best ideas about what should/shouldnt be be done.
I wish you every good thing, and I hope you'll find your Eternity.
And until then, a lot of appreciative readers.

Michael Wallace said...

Thank you very much for your time and dedication. I've enjoyed your site for several years now, and even today there really is no other site like this out there with the Orioles focus. I'm very grateful you started this site and kept it going for so, so long even while other Orioles blogs out there have ceased to be active. I wish you the best of luck for whatever the future holds, and even though I don't know you personally, the work you have done on this site leaves me little doubt that you will be successful in whatever it is you choose to do. Again, thank you for the time you have spent on this site and thank you for making all of us a little bit (or a lot) smarter about baseball.

Anonymous said...

Well done Sir. This site has provided meaningful content, and I have enjoyed it.