Interviewing David Pinto
May 17, 2008 2 Comments
I was planning on posting the third and final part of my Greg Maddux analysis today; however, I am making updates to my Pitch F/X database and will have to delay the final part, a look at his selection and results in 1-1 counts, until next Thursday.
There are several great baseball websites with statistical analysis as its calling card but few are more popular and well-known than Baseball Musings. Founded and maintained by David Pinto, the site offers a wide array of features ranging from news updates across the blogosphere to a nifty little tool that allows readers to find their team’s optimum run-producing lineup.
I recently sat down with (e-mailed) David and spoke (typed) to him about his career as a baseball writer and analyst as well as a few other topics.
ES: Let’s start with an introduction for anyone reading who does not happen to know who you are. If you could sum up your work and career into three sentences, what would you say?
DP: I started as a biochemistry major, was working in immunology, got interested in computers, and found my way to STATS, Inc. They supplied me to ESPN as a consultant for ten years, where I was essentially the lead researcher for Baseball Tonight. I’ve also done research for Fox Sports and Baseball Info Solutions, as well as hosting Baseball Tonight Online.
ES: When working for STATS, Inc and ESPN, what was your normal day like, if you had a normal day, in terms of your responsibilities and hours?
DP: The two jobs overlapped. I worked from my home for STATS, and would spend the morning working on any programming issues that came up. In the afternoon I would travel to Bristol (ESPN HQ) and spend my first hour there putting together reports and coming up with graphic ideas for the show meeting. Other people would bring up graphics ideas and I would spend a couple of more hours working on those. I’d then spend some time working on game notes for the ESPN telecasts. While games were going on, new graphic ideas would come up and I’d work on those as well. During the show I was just off camera offering any support needed. During the offseason, though, I would spend all day programming for STATS.
ES: Looking back on your time at both of these jobs, including hosting BBTN Online, how would you rate your overall experience? Fun? Or more along the lines of an everyday job?
DP: The experience was very good. It was grinding at times, but always fun. It definitely wasn’t just another job.
ES: Now, in 2002, you started blogging full time with Baseball Musings. So… Baseball Musings… great website? Or the greatest website?
DP: People seem to like it, so I’m happy.
ES: How does one get to blog full time? Is it based solely on ad-based revenue or did it need some start up from investors?
DP: I had been blogging for three years when I lost my job. I decided blogging was what I really wanted to do. My business plan was Blog -> ? -> Profit. Fortunately, the ?, filled itself in as advertisers found me.
ES: Musings is slowly becoming what MLB.com used to be for me in terms of showing interesting stories spanning the entire league, but there is so much more your site offers that many still fail to take advantage of. Could you explain how features like the Day-to-Day Database, Lineup Analysis, and Defensive Charts could enhance someone’s work?
DP: The Day to Day database has batting and pitching lines for each player back to 1957. Because it’s date based, you can look at a player or group of players over any time period. There is also batting event data going back to 2000. Again, since this is date based, you can find out for example what someone is hitting with RISP over the last two weeks or last two years. More splits out there are season based. The Lineup Analysis is a fun tool that, given nine on-base percentages and slugging percentages, calculates the optimum lineup. The defensive charts are from the Probabilistic Model of Range, a new way of measuring range based on the probability of turning a batted ball into an out based on a number of factors.
ES: In terms of blogging full time, something I’m sure many, many people would love to do, what goes into running and maintaining an extremely popular blog?
DP: I get up early, update the Day to Day Database, look at late box scores and headlines, and when I see something interesting I write about it. About 10 AM I go off to my part time job. I get back after 2, watch games, write articles or prepare for my radio show, and blog about anything interesting that happens. I stay up late if there’s anything interesting happening in the late games.
ES: I hate beating a dead horse, and this is not directed towards Bissinger’s comments, but what do you think of the disgust and ignorance directed towards blogs by the mainstream media to the point that some have no idea how to differentiate between a post and a comment?
DP: Doesn’t matter to me. There are many more journalists who read blogs every day. I’m linked by many more beat writers who blog than there are columnists who don’t care for the medium. Bissinger proved himself to be a dinosaur. I like new things. I got into blogging early, which is a reason the site is popular today. New, in general, tends to be better. I’ve learned more from blogs about all aspects of the news than I ever learned from a newspaper.
ES: When did you realize statistical analysis would be in your future?
DP: I’ve pretty much done it in all of my jobs. That’s what science is all about.
ES: What area of science first interested you in this aspect?
DP: We did a lot of it in genetics class, and I really loved that.
ES: Working with science got you in the door, so to speak, but how did you get attracted to the statistical analysis of baseball?
DP: Probably when I read my first Bill James Abstract. That pretty much clarified things for me and I knew this type of research would be cool.
ES: Give me one position player and one pitcher you would like to build a team around.
DP: Hanley Ramirez and Cole Hamels. When you’re building, you want young, great players.
ES: What about if you had to win right now?
DP: Alex Rodriguez and Johan Santana.
ES: I remember reading you were very interested in the analyst position with the Mets a few years back. Have you ever worked for a team in such a capacity and is it something you would like to do in the future?
DP: I have done some consulting for a team but, at this point, I just want to write the blog.
ES: What do you see as the next big area of exploration for sabermetrics?
DP: The whole PITCHFX has opened up a new world of exploration, although I do hope people work on macro issues as well. I’m much more interested in those at the moment. I really believe that baseball should radically redesign divisions and scrap the draft and reserve clause and everyone becomes a free agent at the end of their contract.
ES: Moving away from baseball for a minute… favorite movie?
DP: It depends on the day. Comedy – Annie Hall. Musical – My Fair Lady. SciFi – Blade Runner. Drama – Casablanca. Rockumentary – Hard Day’s Night. I also love Hitchcock’s 39 Steps and Lady Vanishes as well as anything with Kate Winslet.
ES: TV show?
DP: Now, probably House. Of all time…. Cheers.
ES: Okay, back to baseball. Who was your favorite player growing up?
DP: Thurman Munson. I liked the way he blocked the plate.
ES: Has blogging full time effected your allegiances to the team you grew up rooting for?
DP: My childhood team was the Yankees. When I started working for STATS in 1990, I was already moving away from rooting for a single team toward rooting for good organizations. When I joined ESPN I decided I would be a baseball fan, and not a fan of a particular team.
ES: Okay, before I let you go, of the following, who is a Hall of Famer, and why? Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Fred McGriff, Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin.
DP: Mussina – dominant pitcher for a long time. He has a large repertoire of pitches that he threw equally well. And Tim Raines – the second best leadoff hitter of all time.
Well, thanks a ton David, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk. If you haven’t been there yet, definitely check out Baseball Musings as it is not just a one stop shop for interesting stories but also has some very underrated statistical tools.
Next week I will finish off my analysis of Greg Maddux on Thursday and begin the first in a monthly series of General Manager Evaluations, looking at JP Ricciardi.