Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Washington Post Sports Watch: Fun with Tom Boswell and Statistics

Welcome to Washington Post Sports Watch, where I track the problems with the Washington Post sports page--whether it is errors of fact, bad analysis, overlooked stories or other issues that affect the Post's sports coverage and, in the long run, hurt Washington sports teams (I'll explain that in a future post). Why focus on the Post? Because it's by far the most powerful and important part of the sports media in D.C.--sports radio stations frequently refer to articles in the Post, its writers and columnists frequently appear on radio and TV shows, and, most of all, anyone who is a D.C. sports fan checks the Post web site or print edition at least once a day, if not many more. I grew up reading the Post section, still read it every day and want it to be good--my goal is, hopefully, in my own small way, to make it better.

I thought about taking on John Feinstein's somewhat ridiculous column about the Caps from last week, but I'll get to that later in the week. Instead let's start with something that offers some of the best and worst local sports analysis every week--Tom Boswell's weekly Monday chat with readers. Boz often will drop news nuggets and provide interesting analysis in this space (in fact, his comments about the Caps offseason and the team's lack of activity were strong and, I think, pretty accurate.) And then he writes something like this:
BTW, Nats could move up in offensive ranking by a LOT very quickly. They were 29th a few days ago in runs-per-game. Just to illustrate how far they have come already, if they score as many runs in the four game series in Philly as they just scored in their last four games (32), they would move up to 4.02 runs-a-game and move up 10 spots in 10 days to 19th overall. And, if they do that, either in Philly or fairly soon, maybe in M iami over the weekend, the teams they'd pass in scoring would include the Dodegrs, Pirates, Phils, Giants, Yankees and Brewers.
This is a great example of Boswell--who I think is often a very good sports columnist--succumbing to his biggest Achilles heel. While he can be critical of the team, he's become such an cheerleader for the Nats that he too often can't see clearly through his optimism. In this case, his rose-colored glasses have led him to come up with a wild scenario that is both unrealistic and not even statistically sound.

Sure, the Nats could score 32 runs in their four-game series with the Phillies. Of course, that would entail averaging eight runs a game for four games--with two of those four games being pitched by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Sure, they did that in their previous four games, but that seems wildly optimistic for a team averaging 3.82 runs per game over the season. And now that they've only scored two runs in the first of four games against the Phils, that means they need to average 10 runs in the remaining three games to reach that pace. Does any serious person other than Boz who has watched the Nats play this season think that's likely? (This is a team that has averaged 3.45 runs per game on the road this season.)

But even if they were to reach those remarkable run numbers in the next three games, the Nats don't exist in a vacuum. Boz doesn't have any idea how many runs the teams between the Nats in 26th place and the Padres in 19th place are going to score. What if three or four of them average seven or eight runs a game themselves? The Nats aren't going to pass them. And to top it off, Boz also says that, well, they may not score that many against the Phillies, but if they score that many against the Marlins, they'd still move up to 19th. Well, if they continue their pace of two runs a game against the Phillies, no, they're not--because, then, instead of averaging eight runs a game over four games, then they'll have averaged something a little over four runs a game over seven games--which could move them up the rankings, but certainly not seven places (Actually, to be fair, I don't know what those other teams are going to do--so I suppose if many of them were shut out for seven games straight, the Nats could move up to 19th....)

 Tomorrow, Feinstein on the Caps.



Anonymous WFY said...

The big problem is Bos is the only columnist who writes about the Nats (or Caps for that matter) with any regularity. Didn't you point out that there were something like 28 NBA columns (not even Wizards) in a 2 month span or something?

The columnist lineup is weak overall. Promoting Barry Svrluga would go a long way, but that doesn't seem to be of interest to any one except...readers.

7/9/13, 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Stumbled across this via twitter. As a DC-native living in France at the moment I still rely on the Post for most of my sports news (it's my homepage, after all). Great idea for a blog post. I'll keep reading.

7/9/13, 9:31 AM  
Blogger Eric Fingerhut said...

WFY--Yes, that was me with that crazy NBA column stat, and there are way too many NBA columns in the Post. But I'm pretty sure every Post columnist (other than Jenkins) has written multiple columns on the Nats this year. Many of those columns by those other writers haven't offered much insight, but I would say Wise's piece a couple weeks ago questioning how good the Nats' offense is wasn't bad.

As for the Caps, Boz only wrote one column about the Caps this year, and that was after the season was over, which was disappointing.

I agree overall with your assessment of the columnists--Svrluga would be a great addition, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen anytime soon.

7/9/13, 4:03 PM  
Blogger Eric Fingerhut said...


Hope I can keep you coming back to the site.

7/9/13, 4:03 PM  

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