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Right now, a bunch of rich guys are gathered in a room bidding to purchase the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, the website that features content from both papers (as well as video reports on life at the Jersey Shore filed by bikini-clad young women).

There are a lot of reasons why these failing media companies are once again on the block: declining ad sales, competition from websites like Craigslist.org and bloggers — the list goes on and on.

Here’s one more reason why these companies are failing: they rely on their sports coverage to sell papers and their sports analysis sucks.

Take a look at their response to Ryan Howard’s contract extension. Both papers devoted a lot of ink to the signing. But neither wrote anything worth reading.

First, Rich Hoffman was on the scene defending the extension as a just reward for a player who has worked hard to improve. Hoffman says all contracts are a gamble:

“I cannot predict the future. Howard can’t. The Phillies can’t. This is all a guess. Skills erode sometimes. Injuries happen sometimes. Happenstance happens sometimes. To pretend to know the future is to tell a lie.”

Actually, Rich, skills erode every time. Some players decline faster than others, but the vast majority of players start declining at age 29-30, and that decline speeds up as the player ages. This trend is even more pronounced in players built like Howard. It’s true, we can’t predict the future, but the Phillies have bet big money that Howard is the exception, not the rule. That’s not a safe bet.

Next comes Phil Sheridan, who concludes that Howard won’t decline as he ages because, again, he works hard. Sheridan points to Howard’s infield single on opening day as proof:

This easily overlooked bit of hustle was consistent with his improved fitness and his dedication to better defensive play and his off-season master class with Barry Bonds. After beginning his career with historic power numbers, Howard has continually worked hard to improve every facet of his game.

Sheridan, like Hoffman, seems to think that hard work will trump the aging process. We’ll see. Cal Ripken worked pretty hard. He was the Iron Man, after all. At age 30 he posted a career high OPS+ of 162. The next season he fell off a cliff, posting an OPS+ of 92. Over the next nine seasons he only once came close to repeating the offensive numbers he posted in his age 30 season. That was in 1999 when, at the age of 38, he posted a 143 OPS+ in only 86 games, thanks to an unsustainably high .332 babip.

(By the way, if you’re wondering what the Barry Bonds master class looks like, it’s six weeks of instruction on where to stick the needle, how to dodge the IRS, and where to find oversized hats.)

UmpBump favorite Paul Hagen applauds the Phils for not being cheap, saying, “maybe the Phillies won’t be able to hold that window open as long as they think they can. Gotta like that they’re at least trying, though.” To which I say, really? We’re giving points for good intentions now? The Cubs were trying to win when they signed Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year, $136M contract. The Giants were trying to win when they signed Barry Zito to a 7-year, $126M deal. But you know what? Those teams’ good intentions didn’t matter much when the players didn’t perform as hoped. And it was entirely predictable that they wouldn’t perform as hoped. I predicted it, and I’m a guy who only reads enough to survive in his fantasy league.

Finally, we’ve got John Gonzalez, who is thankful Howard won’t join the list of players who left Philadelphia for greener pastures. Unfortunately, Gonzo can’t resist the urge to take a swipe at fans who like advanced stats:

It’s a pretty sweet deal for Howard. There will be critics, of course, detractors who don’t like the extension because of the money or the length or Howard’s age or because their default position on the emotional dial has long been locked on cranky. Everyone else around here should be thrilled.

This was a neat trick. Gonzo takes all the legitimate criticisms of the Howard extension and dismisses them in one swoop by lumping them in with the perpetually cranky. The implication is that sabermetricians like stats because they hate fun. And America. And puppies.

I wonder why Philly sports writers who are obsessed with hard work (they’ve also lauded Roy “The Hardest Working Man In Throw Business” Halladay and Chase “The Hardest Working Man in Baseball” Utley) don’t value the research-intensive analysis being done by the likes of Keith Law, Dave Cameron, Tom Tango, etc.?

Moreover, they disdain people who value advanced metrics. Sheridan writes, “(Howard) continues to try to work to be a better player. This kind of talk galls those who worship the almighty stat to the exclusion of all else. Howard’s entire career rattles their cages, which is one more reason to enjoy his work.”

That’s pretty glib. It strikes me as ironic that while newspapers are fighting a waning public desire for information, writers like Sheridan and Gonzalez are so flagrantly dismissing the analysis done by the most progressive baseball thinkers. Philly newspapers still do good work, but the sports commentary is nothing more than talk radio in print form. Somebody wake me when “ESPN Philadelphia” launches.

3 Responses to “Ryan Howard’s extension prompts Philly columnists to write crap”

  1. I was waiting for this post – I knew it was coming when I went to philly.com the morning after this ludicrous contract was signed. I couldn’t find a dissenting opinion.

    Ryan should keep these articles on file – in 3 years Gonzo will be calling for Howard’s head on a platter.

  2. Why would someone write a dissenting opinion about this? He’s mashed at least 45 homers and driven in 130+RBI in each of the last four seasons. Also, he’s shed a ton of weight and improved his defense which means he shouldn’t go the route of say, Cecil Fielder and manage to still be a productive player.

    • John, I’m not going to go into great detail explaining all the reasons Howard is likely to decline sharply in the next few years. Suffice it to say players generally decline quickly after they turn 30, and players of Howard’s size who share his propensity to strike out tend to decline the fastest of all. It’s INCREDIBLY unlikely he’ll be worth anything close to $25M a year in the last three years of his deal.

      For more on why this was a colossally stupid contract, read Keith Law, Rob Neyer, or anything written on Fangraphs. Those guys have covered the extension in detail and they do a great job breaking it down.

      Or, if sabermetrics isn’t your bag, read what Joe Posnanski had to say about the extension.
      http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2010/04/28/howards-end/

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