Newspaper columnists tend to be respectful to one another. Whereas bloggers are prone to pissing matches of all shapes and sizes, our mainstream media counterparts will rarely call one another onto the carpet. They represent the civility of a bygone age … or they just don’t get the fun of calling another writer a mouth-breathing troglodyte. Either way, a columnist has to have written something really dumb in order to get another columnist to spend an entire piece railing on a bad argument.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Drew Sharp. I read Sharp for my four years in Ann Arbor and his sole value was to raise my blood pressure. Sharp is a Michigan graduate who quickly figured out that his place in the world is to make bomb-throwing statements to anger the local fan bases, most prominently that of his alma mater. In his mind, Sharp probably thinks of himself as a noble scribe telling truth to power, regardless of the reaction. In reality, the next well-constructed argument he makes will be the first. Remarkably, both approaches can lead to a negative reaction, only Sharp (and apparently his bosses at the Detroit Free Press, who have employed Sharp for years) doesn’t understand the difference between the two.
I haven’t clicked on the Free Press’s web site since that newspaper committed journalistic malpractice by giving Mike Rosenberg license to publish a wildly slanted and misleading piece about the practice habits of Michigan football players.* Mark Bradley does not operate under the same constraints, so he found Sharp’s piece about how Jair Jurrjens would be a .500 pitcher in the mighty American League and tore it to pieces. Again, when you have caused a veteran columnist to go Fire Joe Morgan on you, then you have really screwed the pooch.
* – Here’s a thought experiment: if Michigan took Ohio State’s approach to NCAA violations, what would it’s response to the NCAA’s notice of inquiry have been? Maybe a letter suggesting that Michigan get more practice time than the rules permit for the trouble of having to respond to such trivial allegations? Seriously, look at the disparity between one school referring to “a day of great shame” when it concluded that it had misclassified stretching time and another school stating that it would be “shocked and disappointed and on the offensive” if the NCAA went beyond the ludicrously light sanctions suggested by the school in response to its head coach burying evidence of violations and thereby riding five ineligible players to a Big Ten title. With that hyper-partisan aside behind me, we can get back to mocking Drew Sharp.
Because he is polite and I am not, I was expecting to have to pick up where Bradley left off, but Mark hit all of the high notes: the minor statistical difference between the AL and NL (Sharp has apparently missed the fact that offense is down in both leagues this year), the fact that Jurrjens has done well against the AL in 2011 (in two starts, Jurrjens has allowed one earned run in 14.1 innings, striking out 12 and walking three), and the fact that velocity isn’t the be-all, end-all for pitching (a point to which Braves fans are especially keen after years of watching Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux mow through opposing lineups without cracking 90 on the radar gun).
The one point that I would add to Bradley’s fine work is that Jurrjens has gotten better this year despite dropping his average fastball velocity from 91 to 89. Dave Allen at Fan Graphs noted this change at the start of June, positing that Jurrjens controls his slower fastball better, thus leading to fewer walks and more bad contact as Jurrjens gets opposing hitters to swing at pitches just outside of the strike zone. Christina Kahrl has noticed that Jurrjens has dropped both his walk rate and his opponents' ISO rates. We are dealing with a sample size of 110 innings, so there is a good chance that there is noise in the numbers. It’s eminently reasonable to assume that Jurrjens will not be able to keep his ERA at Maddux levels for an entire season. However, there’s no way to deny that Jurrjens has been outstanding in 2011, possibly because of a reduction in velocity that has yielded better control. In that sense, Drew Sharp is backwards when he criticizes Jurrjens for noth throwing hard enough. After a sample size of thousands of columns, we can safely say that Sharp’s performance is representative of his true quality.