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interview_of_craig_calcaterra_braves_fan_and_hardball_times_shysterball_blogger | March | 2009 Articles

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Interview of Craig Calcaterra, Braves fan and Hardball Times ShysterBall blogger

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Craig Calcaterra has been around the Braves blogosphere for a long time. He agreed to answer a few questions for Chop-n-Change. (By the way, I did a 5 Questions-type interview with Marlins blogger Alex Carver about my predictions for the Braves' 2009 campaign.)

Many of our readers will know you as the resident blogger on The Hardball Times, the prolific author of ShysterBall. The casual readers may not be aware that you're a dedicated Braves fan, though.

I was born and partially raised in Michigan, so I have the pre-1985 Detroit Tigers in my baseball DNA.  But when I was 11, my family moved to West Virginia. My primary coping mechanism with the culture shock was professional wrestling and Atlanta Braves' baseball on TBS. I eventually grew out of the wrestling, but the Braves stuck with me and now, some 24 years later, I'm still hooked.
For those of us who care about stats, and have been enjoying The Hardball Times for years, you've got what looks like a pretty sweet gig. What's the story of how you ended up there? What advice would you give to baseball bloggers who are looking to carve out a niche on the blogosphere?
There wasn't some big moment of truth that got me to THT.  I had been bumming around the sabermetric blogosphere for years, mostly in the newsblog at Baseball Think Factory, and kinda sorta already knew a lot of the THT people in that way that people know one another on the Internet.  I got ShysterBall going in early 2007, and by the middle of last year had demonstrated that, hey, maybe I can write a little bit. 

Around that time Dave Studeman asked if I'd be willing to contribute something to the 2009 THT Annual about the Mitchell Report, and I did.  A little later he asked if I'd be willing to simulpost my daily "And that Happened" recaps on THT, and I thought that was a great idea too.  It was a great arrangement for everyone because it gave THT a bit more regular daily content and gave me the much bigger audience and, more importantly, the credibility that comes with being associated with a class act like THT.  Finally, in October or November Dave asked if I'd be willing to move the whole kit and caboodle over to THT.  Given the previous baby steps, it was a no brainer for me, and ShysterBall went live on THT on December 1st.
As for advice, I'd simply say that I think the keys to blogging success, such as it is, are to (a) write about what interests you rather than what you think people want to see, because otherwise you'll lose interest; and (b) update often, because if you don't readers will lose interest.  If you do (a), (b) will be no problem.
Now that you're in the garden of the stat nerds, how have your methods of player evaluation changed? What are some of your favorite stats, and how do you like to use them? Are there any less well-known ones that you'd like to tout?
I have to come clean here and admit that I am so very much not a stats guy.  Sure, I have a generally sabermetric mindset, but it's really more of an appreciation thing than an applied thing.  Yes, I've learned the catechism and know that OBP and K/BB ratio are important and that RBI and win totals are not, but I don't do any real number crunching myself and couldn't calculate my way out of a paper bag.  In practice, I probably rely on OPS+ and ERA+ more than is prudent, and I fully cop to outsourcing all of my fantasy baeball decisions to Tom Tango's MARCEL projections and Dan Szymborski's ZIPS.
What do you think about the 2009 Braves? Is there enough firepower to unseat the World Champs and brush aside the Mets from the top of the division?
I'm cautiously optimistic as I always am this time of year, but I can't see them winning it.  If the injury bug hits either the Mets or the Phillies I can maybe see a second place finish and possibly some wild card action, but if you put a gun to my head I'd say that a third place finish is about as much as we can expect. And if WE don't stay healthy, there's a distinct risk of fourth or fifth.  I harbor the belief that the suits are content to punt 2009 and gear up for 2010 or 2011, when we can expect more significant contributions from guys like Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward.  And I'm not necessarily convinced that that would be a bad strategy.
Considering that you don't get to do much Bravesblogging at a general-interest site like THT, do you ever get the itch to return to the private blogosphere? What Braves stories from the past year really captured your interest? What are you especially keeping your eye on this year?
The beauty of THT is that, at least until the lawsuits come, they really don't care what I write about, so if I really wanted to jam on the Braves for a while I certainly could. What really reins me in is that every time I feel like really writing about the Braves I'm reminded that there are many people who do a much better job of it than I could, including you, Mac Thomason, Gondee at Talking Chop, or any other number of Braves bloggers.  I'll hit the big stories and occasional vent some Braves-related angst, but I leave the hard work to the professionals.
The past year was just awful for me from a Braves perspective. Skip Caray dying just ripped my heart out, and watching super heroes like Tom Glavine and John Smoltz break down were both painful reminders of one's mortality as well.  Objectively speaking the offseason has actually been pretty decent for Atlanta, but the whole dynamic in which Frank Wren can't seem to competently close a deal has been rather embarrassing.  Hey, I don't think that Furcal, Andruw, or Griffey are the answers to any of our problems, but man, there had to have been a better way to handle all of that.
Going forward for me it's all about tracking the progress of Hanson, Heyward, Schafer, Hernandez and the other guys who are going to make us better over the long term.  To be honest, I haven't been this excited about the future in Atlanta -- as opposed to being pleased with the present -- since 1989.
If you were the Commissioner of Baseball, what changes would you make?
I'd abolish the teams' territorial rights and allow anyone who thinks they're man enough to move their team to New Jersey or Brooklyn or Riverside/San Berdoo or San Jose and compete with the teams that currently claim -- but don't necessarily serve -- those areas.  I'd also dictate that rules which impact the speed of games are more strictly enforced, limiting the number of times batters can call for time and leave the box and penalizing pitchers who wait too long before throwing the next pitch.
Assuming both of those went off without a hitch, I'd have MLB's finance department requisition me a 1964 Pontiac GTO convertible and embark on a summer-long road trip during which I'd visit every Major League park, compile a report of some kind with my findings or something, and otherwise stay the hell out of the way of what is still the greatest game there is.

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