Monday, April 16, 2007

I'm Not Sure Steve Phillips Is Your Best Source For Baseball Information

I hate to say this, but Steve Phillips and I construct arguments in much the same way: by clearly missing or avoiding multiple sides of the issue at hand, utilizing shoddy examples for the crap that we do produce, and trying to make up for a lack of knowledge or understanding by consistently talking down to our audiences. We both have some skills – he can talk fairly well, I can write fairly well – but there just isn’t a whole lot of substance to either of us.

At least I can admit my shortcomings. Phillips, not so much. He’s pretty much been sucking at his job for several years now, first as the general manager of the New York Mets and lately, as a baseball analyst for ESPN.

On Baseball Tonight this evening, Phillips put his analyst hat on, picked up a baseball bat, and began sounding like someone who has never actually seen people play the game before. The basic point of the segment was that whenever a color analyst refers to a power hitter who failed to extend his arms and thus failed to generate maximum power, he is misleading the viewers with an incorrect statement. Real power, says Phillips, is generated through the hips and speed with which the bat passes through the hitting zone. I can accept both of those, largely because they sound consistent with what little I actually know about hitting.

What I can’t accept is the reasoning and examples provided by Phillips. For instance, in talking about bat speed, he insisted that the closer a hitter’s hands are to his body, the more speed he can generate; if the arms are extended, less bat speed is possible. Sounded a little fishy at first, but I chose to totally dismiss it after he introduced the first example: figure skaters. Yes, Phillips tried to tell me that Albert Pujols extending his arms while swinging a baseball bat is the same as Brian Boitano extending his arms to slow down a spin. I’m not a physics expert, but they don’t really seem like the same thing. At all.

Phillips then compounded the crappy analogy with similarly crappy video examples. As “evidence” of his point, he showed three video clips of players with full arm extension who were unable to hit the ball with any authority. One problem: all three clips showed a player who had been fooled into chasing a bad pitch low and away, leaving him off-balance and reaching for the ball. Of course one’s arms will be fully extended in that situation. But when an analyst talks about a player extending his arms, that’s generally not what he means. He is usually referring to a guy who gets jammed inside, forcing him to pull his hands in and limit the natural flow of his swing.

Try it: take a baseball bat (real or pretend, doesn’t matter) and take a few imaginary swings at a nice fat pitch over the middle of the plate. If you get a good swing on the ball, both arms will be fairly close to full extension and the motion will feel good, natural. Now pretend Mariano Rivera’s out there on the mound, pounding cutters in on your fists. You have to bring your hands in toward your body, making the swing look and feel more awkward.

To demonstrate his point, Phillips showed footage of several players taking good swings at pitches out over the plate. In every single one, the front arm was fully extended, the back arm nearly so. For whatever reason, Phillips chose to consider full extension as the point where the arms are almost uncomfortably straight, on the follow through, rather than when they are comfortably extended, at the point of contact.

Like I mentioned above, I don’t know a lot about hitting, so this could be off-base and Steve Phillips could actually know what he’s talking about. Or you could have just spent the last several minutes reading the insane ramblings of a man who should have been in bed two hours ago. But it doesn’t seem likely (the first option; the second is completely true). Anyone who tries to compare baseball players to figure skaters (I’m picturing John Kruk and Michelle Kwan, for the record) doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.


Redhead said...

Yeah, I'm not sure how a figure skating analogy ever seemed like a good idea - but IT IS Steve Phillips we're talking about here. And while I've always been a fan of even flat out lying to win an argument, providing examples that don't back up your (possibly made up) point is just bad form. I don't trust anyone who doesn't know that.

Mini Me said...

I don't like Phillips at all. He isn't good.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Phillips is right. He may have used the wrong examples, but the basics of his analysis is correct. the more compact your swing the less actual distance the bat travels. the less distance the less energy expended, which means that excess energy can be used to increase the swing,generating more power through the zone. there are also physics involved and actually a figureskaters spin is an on point analogy.

But, the bottom line is Steve Phillips sucks.

AwfulOfficiating said...

Steve Phillips needs to go. He was brutal with the Mets, he's even more brutal on ESPN. Just one of the many reasons I don't watch anymore. Thanks for letting me know I haven't been missing out on anything important.

AwfulOfficiating said...

p.s. -- congrats on the blog show "screen shot"