I’ve been hanging around at Viva El Birdos for more than a decade now. I lurked for a while, and commented for a long time (if you’re not familiar with the handles I commented under, all the better for you). Around a year ago I started writing for the site, under one of those pseudonyms, and earlier this year I started using my real name. This is my last post here.
It’s been a thrill to contribute here, because I have loved this place for a long time. I don’t use the word “loved” lightly. I’m a huge Cardinals fan. I’m also attracted to the advanced analytical side of baseball coverage. This place was and still is the place to combine those two things. But that’s a recipe for a site you like, not one you love. It goes beyond that, for me. I love this place because VEB has made me meaningfully smarter.
When I started frequenting the comment sections at VEB, I was simply out of my element. VEB’s commenters are notoriously relentless. If you say something inaccurate, somebody will let you know. You can choose to pout about that, or you can shake it off and learn stuff. I’m certain I did some pouting at times, but I’d also like to think I learned my share. Thinking about and investigating baseball isn’t my profession and never will be, but it’s been my primary hobby for a while. I’m a lot more confident that I’m good at it than I was when I first stumbled upon this place. It’s hard not to love a place where you got a good education, and I got a good one here. To all of you, past and present: thanks for that.
That ethos — being relentless about making sense — is what makes this place what it has been. Baseball is a sport with a ton of randomness inherent to it. Our brains are easily victimized by things like baseball, because they are hard-wired to try to make sense of randomness even if there’s no sense to be found. Thus, in baseball coverage a whole lot of pure nonsense has always been passed off as sense.
Put simply, conversations about baseball contain a lot of bullshit. They always have. They still do.
The rise of baseball analytics hasn’t solved that. It’s helped, but it’s also provided new avenues for new types of nonsense – takes that are dressed up in new stats, but upon interrogation, are just as empty as the old nonsense. And because the new stats are often hard to understand and user-unfriendly, a new breed of saber-conversant hucksters has sprung up to peddle this new brand of bullshit. They’ll talk to you about pitch tunneling, or xwOBA, or UZR, or whatever it is, to get you to click on their stories about your favorite players – but they won’t tell you what those things mean, because they often don’t understand (or don’t care). And around the carousel we go, knowing more facts but understanding just as little, if not less, about the sport.
This sounds corny, but baseball analysis, done well, is a discipline, in every sense of the word. It’s an extremely inconsequential one, which is why it remains a hobby rather than a profession for nearly everyone who does it. But it’s a discipline nonetheless. It’s a thing to be approached with deference and even fear, and good lord, not a thing to be assumed one can do with just intuition and Google. It’s hard.
VEB has been, I believe, a positive force in treating baseball analysis as a discipline rather than as just another winner-take-all form of content generation in an internet machine where bullshit sells. And this community – you people – are part of what keeps it that way. The reason other sites traffic in “Fix Adam Wainwright With This One Weird Trick (Hint: Fastballs)” and “BENCH THE SLUMPING PLAYER IMMEDIATELY” and this one doesn’t is that those garbage takes don’t fly here, and people who write them here get tired of the pushback and leave. That’s a good thing.
VEB’s leadership also deserves a huge amount of credit for the tone they’ve set and the editorial direction they provided. I never knew Larry Borowsky, but I want to think him for founding VEB and laying down the ground rules that remain (at least nominally) in effect. I did get to know (to various degrees) former site managers Dan Moore, Ben Humphrey, and Craig Edwards, and I want to thank them for keeping standards here as high as they did (and in Craig’s case, for giving me a chance to be a part of the show). All of you guys were great. Thanks; we owe you.
To folks who don’t know, I want to emphasize how lucky we all got with those past leaders. It wasn’t all luck; Dan was hand-picked by Larry back when it wasn’t a corporate decision, and he was hand-picked because of course he was the person to take over. But after SBN fired Dan (the best writer this site has ever had) in 2014 for not getting enough posts up, they made a disastrous hire. It was some guy from outside the community. His body of work was not good – his first substantive VEB post was nothing more than a list of a few players appearing at the Winter Warm-Up; it misspelled the word “ado” and included maaaybe a rape joke – and the fact that they went that way betrayed an uncomfortable fact: the powers that be really don’t care about what the content here is like. They just care that it exists.
Back then, the community erupted, and successfully chased that guy off. Next, as I said, we got lucky: SBN hired Ben, a holdover from Dan’s VEB, instead. The previous choice made me cynical that it was done for good reasons, but it was at least a good outcome. VEB stayed VEB. When the next turnover came, they did the obvious thing and hired Craig, who by then was already a writer with a national platform at FanGraphs. VEB stayed VEB again. From Larry to Craig, VEB has had a tradition of from-the-top entertaining and insightful analysis. I’ve produced a tiny percentage of VEB’s total output during my time here, but I’m truly honored to have been part of that tradition.
Today, that tradition includes some fantastic writers. Although John Fleming left shortly after Craig, I greatly miss his contributions, and I hope everybody appreciates what a loss to the site that was – and I’m glad he’s still publishing, at stlbullpen.com. But John LaRue, Tanner Puckett, Bclemens6, and stlcardsfan4 have been outstanding new torch-bearers for what we all want this place to be. A.E. Schaefer, Ben Godar, and Tyler Kinzy are still here and I love reading their stuff. Andrew St. John and austinward41 have kept the Daily Farm Reports going strong. And lil_scooter93 is the beating heart of the site, mixing light-hearted fluff with incisive commentary in what is, for me, the site’s daily must-read material.
I’m not praising these folks just to praise them. Every day, the people I just named provide free, original, and insightful opinion and analysis about the St. Louis Cardinals. Thankfully, the people who crank out the content here are awesome.
I liked being one of those people very much. But I’m quitting because lately I’ve been looking at my own work here, and frankly it isn’t up to par with what I expect to see at VEB. I just don’t have time to do a VEB-worthy job of this these days, and that’s not changing anytime soon. I’m not going to bore you with the details of my life. I’ll just say that I’d had some changes earlier this year that I thought might make publishing regularly easier, but even so I wasn’t able to do as good a job as I wanted. Now I’ve done not quite a 180 (call it a 120?) on those changes, and I know I’ll no longer have the time.
I’m not going to mail in stuff I’m not proud of – what you read at VEB should be better than that. I’d rather hang it up.
So this is it for me, and thanks very much for reading. In conclusion: Harrison Bader is a four-win player; healthy Luke Weaver is better than healthy Michael Wacha; the bullpen is nobody’s fault; John is right, a lot of the Dexter Fowler stuff is racially charged; anybody who claims (over and over and over) that pitchers would be better if they’d just listen to them is a charlatan; Mike Matheny should absolutely be fired; and Jose Oquendo is almost certainly not the answer. I can’t prove any of this, and now I am liberated from having to try.
I’m sure somebody new and good will help fill the spaces I used to here. But if they replace me with somebody bad, I hope you all yell at them a lot. I’ll probably help. Long live the places where bullshit doesn’t fly.