Tuesday, August 7


It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Errors are a lousy metric. Everybody knows it. You know it. Jose knows it. In the entire world, every single man, woman and child and possibly dolphin, save those who vote on Gold Gloves, knows that simply counting up the number of errors does not provide an accurate reflection of a player’s defensive performance.

Using errors as a defensive metric rewards the sure-handed yet slow-footed. The Kids in the Hall sketch comedy group used to have a character called M. Piedlourde (note: Mr. Heavyfoot in English) who had, get this, incredibly heavy feet, thus when he tried to do things like kick a ball or run a marathon, hilarity ensued. If errors are your primary defensive metric and Mr. Heavyfoot is sure-handed, there could easily have been a sketch called “Mr. Heavyfoot Wins a Gold Glove.”

But Jose is not writing anything new or particularly interesting here. Rather, than making a detailed dissertation on defense, he is offering a bit of self-defense. If errors are a bad way to measure defensive competency, then surely they must be a bad way to measure writing competency as well.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that someone made a blog entry on August 2 teasing the Red Sox about poor sentence structure in a Bobby Doerr tribute ad. And let us suppose further that in what claimed to be a grammatically sound counter to said add, the author made at least three major spelling and grammar errors. Could you rightly conclude that he is incompetent? No, of course not. Judging a writer by his errors is every bit as foolish as judging an infielder by them.

As you may have guessed by now, the writer in question is Jose. Jose makes errors. He makes a lot of errors. He misuses apostrophes, he misspells words and he appears to have what one clinician has diagnosed as “homonym dyslexia.” Jose knows all the rules; he never used to make these mistakes when he was a “hunt and peck” typist, but as he learned to touch type, the errors came in sheets. At full, major league speed, doing the little things got a lot harder.

But don’t judge Jose on his errors alone. Jose will concede he makes a lot of errors, but he also shows tremendous range in his use of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation. That’s a better measure of competence isn’t it? Would you rather have a writer who can describe Pedro Martinez’s pitching motion as smooth every time and spell it perfectly or one who can describe it as mellifluous? Would you rather see Barry Bonds called arrogant in eight flawless letters over and over again, or would you prefer to see him called supercilious? Newspaper writers almost never make errors, but they are required to write at a sixth grade level. And Jose? Well, you are reading Jose right now aren’t you?

So the question is how to measure writing competency beyond errors. Jose has come up with two metrics that he thinks could help. The first is called range factor. This statistic measures the range of a writer’s vocabulary. The average English word has 4.5 letters. Range factor assumes that words with more letters are more complex and words with fewer are less complex. Word length is not a perfect measure of complexity or obscurity, as any Scrabble player ever to use “xu” or “aa” knows. However, it is a reasonable representation. What range factor does is look at how far each word a writer uses is from 4.5 letters and adds one point for each letter over 4.5 and subtracts one point for each letter under 4.5. For instance, strike is five letters and is thus +1. Ball, which has four letters, is -1. Proper nouns and names are not counted, so writers can’t up their numbers by writing about Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Jose’s other innovative metric is called zone rating. Zone rating is a punctuation metric that evaluates the complexity of punctuation and by extension sentence structure. Different punctuation marks have different complexities. Everyone knows how to use a period or a question mark. Many know how to use a comma. Few know how to properly use a semicolon. Zone rating assigns a complexity rating to each punctuation mark. Proper use of the mark results in the addition of a number of points equal to that mark’s complexity rating to one’s zone rating. Improper use results in the subtraction of a number equal to ten minus the complexity rating from one’s zone rating. For instance proper use of a period is one point, whereas proper use of an em dash is eight points. Thus, the statistical reward for using a period properly is one and using an em dash properly is eight. Conversely, the punishment for using a period incorrectly is a deduction of nine points (10-1) whereas misuse of an em dash is only a two point deduction (10-8).

By combining these two metrics, one gets a much better picture of whether a writer is competent and effective than one does simply by counting up errors. Thus, Jose reminds those who point out his numerous errors in spelling and grammar that they should stop hassling him and go back to writing about how Derek Jeter is a great defensive shortstop.

2. Speaking of errors, Jose would like to make a correction. In yesterday’s KEYS, Jose compared Curt Euro’s return to the French film The Return of Martin Guerre. This was an error. While the comparison was not wholly inaccurate, Jose used the wrong film. Instead of comparing Curt’s return to the Depardieu vehicle, he should have compared in to the American version of the film, Somersby, starring Richard Gere and Jody Foster.

Just as Somerbsy was a twisted reflection of Martin Guerre, Curt Euro’s performance last night was familiar yet disappointing. If the Curt Euro of old was a dark and passionate film about the nature of identity and modernity, Curt Euro’s effort last night was Hollywood fluff centered around Richard Gere taking his shirt off. It probably looked really good to some people, but Jose just found it uninspiring.

3. Congratulations to outfielder Brandon Moss on getting his first major league at bats. Jose is glad Moss has been able to fulfill the second of his life’s ambitions. Sadly, the first was to play with the Rolling Stones, which will never happen, as “A Rolling Stone gathers no Moss.” Thankfully, for Brandon there is no saying that a rolling baseball team gathers no Moss.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

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