The History of the Decline and Fall of the FanGraphs Empire

I am sick and tired of FanGraphs. Their player pages remain the gold standard, both in information and usability. But it’s their “stories” that really bother me. What happened to actual analysis or discussing interesting baseball issues? Questioning the conventional wisdom? Nowadays, the author picks a player, spends 15 minutes looking at his player page, decides whether to highlight his xFIP, BABIP, LD%, or HR/FB, and spends another 10 minutes writing up why Player X is underpeforming/overperforming because his Stat Y is so far from the league/his career average.

Unless it’s Dave Allen or Albert Lyu, in which case the author spends a couple of hours writing an R script to perform a local regression of swings, home runs, or ground balls by plate location. Having done that, he picks a player, spends 10 seconds updating his script with the right player IDs, runs it, takes 2 minutes uploading his graphs to WordPress, and 5 minutes explaining what’s in said graphs. It’s important to avoid giving anything that could be construed as an opinion in this last step.

As “FagGraphs” said succintly in a comment on another post here, “You might as well have just posted a link to his player page.”

(I won’t ape the Pozterisk, but to play devil’s advocate, it’s nice to know that sabermetrics has grown to the point where someone can now earn a good amount just by mailing it in with some vaguely-sabermetric articles. Mainstream acceptance, here we come!)

I looked over the 30 or so most recent posts. And only those written by Dave Cameron, Carson Cistulli, or Alex Remington didn’t neatly fit into my overly-simplistic description. That’s pretty sad. There was word vomit on Matt Stairs, Juan Uribe, the Rockies, Madison Bumgarner, Will Venable, Zach Greinke, P.J. Walters and James McDonald, Robinson Cano, Pedro Feliciano, and Carlos Lee, to name a few. And not one has any analysis I could see.

As for the writers who break the mold, in Remington’s case, it doesn’t matter in the end since his articles were–as always–super boring and on the intellectual level of a middle schooler. Cistulli’s writing often crosses the Kahrl Line, but he has his fans (graphs! I hate myself). And everyone knows that Dave Cameron is the rock of the FanGraphs blog.

The decline of FanGraphs may be overshadowed in intensity by the decline of the Hardball Times or in longevity by the decline of Baseball Prospectus, but it was a site that held promise to be everything  a SABR could hope for and didn’t strive to appeal to idiotic mainstream fans. That the blog is now nearly indistinguishable from TMI activates the weeping circuit in my robot motherboard. If the FanGraphs overlords could manage to fire a few (or all) of the other contributors, SABR everywhere would have reason to smile.

Attention, Daves: for $10 a post, I’ll rip all the SABR out there a new one. Hell, it’s got to be better than Jack Moore finding the world’s stupidest correlation.


22 responses to “The History of the Decline and Fall of the FanGraphs Empire

  1. This is what happens when you hire something like 50 writers and pay them by the post. It’s just desperation to find something, anything, worth writing about.

  2. Canary Truncated Saxaphone

    Spot on. There is some pathetic writing going on there. Mostly by intelligent people capable of writing well about interesting things.

    Aside: I’m intrigued by the fact that has not been registered.

  3. Why did you include Dave Allen?

  4. And it’s not any better for the few sabers that doesn’t write for one of those 3 sites.

    Tango – Good researcher, really hard to read.
    Lichtman – Somehow gets more insufferable every year.
    Szymborski – Irredeemably silly.
    Kalkman – Does he still exist?
    Pinto – More reporting than analysis.
    Law – Didn’t he used to be a saber guy?

    • Szymborski – Irredeemably silly.

      When haven’t I been? I’m not a very serious person.

    • I think that Kalkman works for the Cleveland Indians now.

    • “Tango – Good researcher, really hard to read.”
      I’m pretty sure he does this deliberately. It reduces the number of elementary questions/comments. He wants to set high the bar for participation. I wish he’d sacrifice some specificity in favor of accessibility from time to time, but it’s his (and MGL’s) blog. He leads the discourse.

      “Lichtman – Somehow gets more insufferable every year.”
      I want to see a reality show in which MGL is repeatedly forced to interact with saber groupies who possess just enough knowledge to be horribly mistaken. People like me, I guess. We could just push his buttons and watch him try to make sense of the barrage of cognitive dissonance.

      “Szymborski – Irredeemably silly”
      Honestly? This doesn’t seem like criticism. Some people don’t like his delightfully obscure middle-brow cultural references. These people are joyless automatons and/or CPA’s.

      “Law – Didn’t he used to be a saber guy?”
      Now he’s a saber/prospect guy. If not the best, then definitely among the best handful of talent evaluators. The guy skips Champ. Series to watch AFL games.

      Cistulli – As a human, we shoot for the stars and hit the roof. Such is life.

      • Cistulli may hit the roof usually, but he will hit the stars from time to time. I almost went to the NYC Fangraphs thing just to meet him. (Although Cameron sometimes has something interesting to say, I could have cared less about the other attendees.)

        Although I disagreed with the premise of that particle piece (Some of my favorite baseball experiences have involved going to a D-III college game or a Twilight League game with no one their except friends and families of the players.), it was thoughtful and he hinted at more like that instead of the “One Night Only” articles featuring starting pitcher NERD Scores.

  5. I’m sorry you haven’t enjoyed the blog posts on Fangraphs of late. When they brought me on, I wanted to try to write without numbers as best I could: to examine some of the provocative and interesting stories in baseball that might not otherwise be covered by regression analysis and graphing, and take a stance that will inspire or provoke a response in others, whether they agree or disagree with me.

    Some of what I’ve written is, undoubtedly, dumb. I’m sorry about that, and I’ll try to keep doing better. If you have any other ideas of what I should do, or critiques of how I should do it better, please feel free to let me know.

    • I have no problem with non-numerical posts, e.g. Dave Cameron’s work. Nevertheless,I can’t write your articles for you. But original opinions would be a good start.

  6. This is a great post. The first paragraph in particular really hit home with me. There had been something sort of repetitive about reading Fangraphs lately but I chalked it up to my growing familiarity with sabermetrics. On most days lately, I read Carson Cistulli and maybe one or two more articles and call it a day. I figured there wasn’t anything wrong with fangraphs but maybe that it was just more exciting back when I wasn’t entirely sure what FIP was or was still irritating my friends by saying jerk-ish stuff like, “pssh, I can’t believe these idiots. Don’t they know Livan Hernandez is bound to regress to the mean? I mean, look at his LOB%!!”

    But really you’re right. The articles have a template feel. And I wonder if a lot of it is simply because there’s just not that much more to be said. I think Colin Wyers wrote a little while ago that we’ve figured out a substantial part of offense (80% or something like that). We seem to have a real solid handle on pitching and considering Pitch F/X, the picture is only going to get more complete. There’s a lively debate on defense (relatively speaking) but honestly who can read that much about defensive metrics?

    Anyway, after all that rambling, I guess my point is that there probably isn’t that much earth left to shake in the statistical landscape. It’s not all fangraph’s fault that there isn’t much to say (though arguably their fault that they continue to put out such a volume of work regardless). But I do believe they should get more writers like Cistulli who have a unique voice and style. There’s still a ton to be written on the narrative of baseball and the fan experience while still staying true to any sabermetric principles.

  7. lol “faggraphs” is hilarious

  8. holy hell you nailed it. their player pages are awesome and I go there every day, but dammit I really can only stand Dave’s articles at this point. For Example: the Braves playoff pitching preview doesn’t have the word fastball in it, however it did pick all the peripheral stats from the player page and put them into full sentences of pointlessness*.

    Oh, and the podcasts are excruciating in the same way, it’s atleast 50% finding player pages, reading the E-F column, and casually mentioning regression to the mean. BPro’s podcast is much better. If only their site wasn’t so much worse…

    *this is just poetic:

    “After two excellent seasons in Atlanta, Jurrjens experienced his worst in 2010. Much of that was due to injury. He got off to a terrible start, but then bounced back. But he has had problems lately, and hasn’t started a game since September 14. There was a chance he’d throw in the bullpen this weekend, but that didn’t happen. It sounds like he might make a Game 4 start, but there are no guarantees.”

  9. Haters Gon' Hate

    “It’s important to avoid giving anything that could be construed as an opinion in this last step.”

    Isn’t this what journalism should be? Just the facts and analysis. No opinion.

    In response to the rest of this post:

  10. There’s some funny stuff here and some of it is true but it’s important to remember that most of the sabermetrics writers on the internet have full-time jobs that have nothing to do with sabermetrics. Most of them blog as a hobby and don’t have sufficient time to churn out great articles and analysis on a regular basis. As long as it’s a free site, I’m not expecting brilliant writing every day.

    Personally, I use the stat pages all the time. They are the easiest to use and most informative on the internet. I scan the articles daily to see if something looks interesting. Sometimes an article serves as an introduction to a good discussion in the comments section. If they produce a couple of really thought provoking articles a month I’m happy.


  11. PS – Remington writes some interesting stuff, but I don’t think he appears much at FanGraphs.

  12. Pingback: Kyle Boddy in a Nutshell | Praiseball Bospectus

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