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Let’s Be Better in 2021

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A Saturday stream of consciousness about baseball writing, resolutions, seeing things 75% through, and hearing more from you, our faithful readers!

I’ve devoted these Saturday spaces to some “stream of consciousness” writing. I try to devote Thursday to in-depth analysis, which takes quite a bit of time during my week to meet my relatively high standards. That doesn’t leave me much time for detailed work on the weekends. Instead, on Saturdays, I try to explore what I find fun, interesting, or on-my-mind at the moment.

I’m writing this on Friday morning. New Year’s Day. For me, that’s a day of natural introspection.

It’s a day to honestly consider how the coming year could be better than the last.

I know for a lot of people New Year’s Resolutions are exciting for a day and forgotten within a week. That’s not the case for me. I’m a goal-oriented, type-A planner. I love ideas and I love playing with new things.

So, when an idea – like a resolution – gets stuck in my head, I’ll usually play with it for quite a while before getting bored or distracted by another new idea. That’s what I do. I see things through to about 85% completion.

Case in point, as the wife and daughter are upstairs watching musicals in place of the canceled Rose Bowl Parade, I’m down in our “new room”, which functions as a quasi-study and studio for me and the kids. We have incredible French doors and a huge window installed in what was just basement storage space. The walls are calming cream-in-coffee brown. I’m surrounded by musical instruments, my own artwork, and the kid’s gaming supplies.

It’s a room that’s designed to inspire creativity and it’s done its job! We’ve creatively explored so many fun new ideas, art and music projects, and writing endeavors in this “new room” that we’ve neglected to actualy finish it.

The floor is still bare concrete. The ceiling is exposed floor joists. The baseboards and molding are installed but in need of some caulking and filling.

We’ve been working on the “new room” for 3 years.

That brings me to the point of this already rambling article.

It’s time to explore some new ideas. It’s time to get more creative with what I do here at Viva El Birdos.

Writing this year has been a grind. With very little new content (stats, transactions, actual games) to work with – and the content we have considerably marred by small sample sizes and extreme conditions – it’s been a challenge to come up with new writing ideas for the community.

That’s where you come in.

Just yesterday I got an email from our own LondonBird, one of our regular readers and commenters here at VEB. LB outlined an interesting idea for an article that he thought I might be interested in. It was quite detailed. I’m going to try to work it in sometime soon.

I’ve also noticed in the comments on my articles – which I try to read and engage with as often as I can – that some of you have had pretty interesting ideas for follow up articles, areas of future research, and things we’re not doing but could do.

I mean this sincerely: I want to hear from you about what to write about in 2021.

Writing two articles a week gives me plenty of space to address the things that I want to write about. It also gives me plenty of space to tackle ideas that are a bit outside of my comfort zone but would improve the quality of conversation in our community.

So, if you have ideas for articles, styles of articles, concepts you are interested in, things you think we are missing, etc. please mention them in the comments below. I’ll try to take some of them up this year and see them roughly 75% of the way through!

Here are a few things I would like to do better in 2021. Let’s see if any of these spark ideas or interest in you:

1. More Scouting/Video Analysis

I think this is the kind of thing that VEB has done well at in the past but is missing from our current repertoire of writers, including myself. I know this has been mentioned in the comments several times.

The reason I haven’t done much of this is that it is outside of my analytical expertise. I’ve done statistical analysis on the Cardinals for 20+ years. It’s my wheelhouse. I can do it in my sleep.

At the same time, it’s an area that I have had to learn and grow in over time. It wasn’t that long ago that I was debating the relative value of OPS vs. wOBA with JL. Just in the last year, with help from many of you and the blogging community on Twitter, I’ve become more comfortable and adept at Statcast analytics, expected stats, and pitch-type data, and have worked a lot of those things into my comfortable conversations on projection systems, and payroll and roster analysis.

In other words, I’ve learned this year. I need to learn to be a better scout in 2021.

Some might assume that I don’t do much scouting/video analysis because I value statistical analysis more than scouting analysis. For me at least, that’s FAR from true. I feel like I can tell you with some level of certainty WHAT is actually happening with a player through Statcast and statistical analysis. It takes scouting, video and an in-depth knowledge of baseball mechanics to tell WHY something measurable is happening.

Take Harrison Bader as an example. I know that Bader struggled against breaking pitches in ’19. I know he improved in ’20. That’s “what” is happening with him. Why is it happening? Why does his swing or approach cause those troubles? Why did he improve in 2020?

I have some ideas, as I’m sure many of you do, but I’m not confident enough in them to put them in print. I’m probably never going to be as confident with scouting mechanics as I am with statistical analysis, but a determined effort to learn those things will improve my ability to integrate stats and scouting together.

Ultimately, that’s what I want to be able to provide – what is happening through analytics and why it’s happening through scouting. The best baseball analysts can do both

So, I’m going to try to be better with scouting and mechanical analysis. I’ll be looking at many of you (and some former Birdos) to help me out with that.

2. Better Understanding of Evolving Trade and Contract Values

I get a lot of emails about trade suggestions. Some of these are a bit on the absurd side – “THE CARDINASL SHULD TRADE MATT CAPRENTER FOR WHAT’S HIS NAME MIKE SALMON FISH-SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!” Ok, so, I never got that email, but the point stands that I know many of you are interested in speculative trades.

Here’s where I feel like I could scratch a community itch while also maintaining my commitment to the practical and realistic. It’s probably past time to dig more deeply into the rapidly evolving world of relative trade and contract values.

Just this past week Birds on the Black blogger Ben Cerutti and I had a fascinating DM exchange where he was working on re-scaling contract $/WAR values based on the new spending environment. Simply put, contract models from 2-3 years ago are outdated and using them leads to poor analysis. The same thing applies to trades.

I’ve avoided a lot of this in my articles mostly because I knew that player and prospect values were changing faster than our understanding of them. When I have talked trade values and concepts over the last two offseasons, it’s been in a generic way, lacking both analytical bite and knowledge-centered conviction.

I also think this is something that writers and analysts throughout the league are currently struggling with.

Many of you like to speculate. I’ll try to give you better ammunition to do so in the future. That means embracing the struggle to keep up the rapidly evolving financial and player value dynamics in the game.

Those are two areas that are on my mind today. There are probably more. In the meantime, let me know what you want to read about in 2021! You can post your ideas right here in the comments section or tag me on Twitter at @JPHill_Cards.

I promise I’ll get to some of your ideas and follow through on them at around 75% commitment level!

Let’s be better in 2021. Have a very happy New Year’s weekend!