An Omega’s Corner version of Baseball Reactions today. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with Thomas Boswell and the Legend of Jeter, but somebody needs to call this stuff out.
Thomas Boswell was at it again the other day. In a recent column, he criticized Bryce Harper for some comments he made during an interview on the day he returned from the DL. Let’s take a look at some of what Boswell and Harper had to say:
“Manager Matt Williams put Ryan Zimmerman at third base, Anthony Rendon at second base, Harper in left field and benched Danny Espinosa. He also batted Harper sixth, exiled from the glamorous heart-of-the-order spots. Harper disagreed, on all fronts, and said so several hours before the game.
“I think [Zimmerman] should be playing left. Rendon’s a good third baseman. He should be playing third. We’ve got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa,” said Harper. “Of course, we want the best-hitting lineup in there. [But] I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team. I think that should be what’s happening.”
First of all, we have no context for what Harper said. Secondly, we don’t know what question Harper was answering, or if the interviewer was trying to trap him, as they are prone to do in order to fabricate their narratives. Thirdly, and most importantly, Harper is absolutely right. It’s a crying shame that the 21-year old with maturity issues is better at lineup construction and talent evaluation than the man that the Nationals actually pay to do it, Matt Williams. Williams has just been terrible this season and continues to exhibit further proof that playing baseball and managing baseball are two completely different skills. Hopefully front offices will figure this out some day.
“This Harper proposal would also put Denard Span on the bench and Harper himself in center field, the position he’s politicked for weeks to play.”
This is a good example of a biased argument being a good one. Implying that an argument is invalid because the arguer is biased, or just perceived to be so, is a complete non-argument and a bit of a strawman. Claiming bias can explain why the arguer arrived at the wrong conclusion, but not why the conclusion itself is wrong. As a Mets fan, I hate the Phillies, but I doubt any Philly fans would argue with my belief that their GM, Ruben Amaro Jr., is the worst GM in baseball. I hate the Yankees, but I could’ve made a good case against the Yankees chances going into this season1. Unfortunately, accusations of bias tend to be incredibly successful. Asserting bias is a convenient cop-out for the close-minded out there who are too mentally lazy and weak to deal with the cognitive dissonance that an opposing view causes. In other words, it’s easier to wipe away an argument by crying bias than it is to actually go through the trouble of mounting a counterargument using actual facts and logic.
I doubt Boswell is aware of the contents of my last paragraph. He expects that his readers will buy into his “politicked for weeks to play [center field]” propaganda against Harper because he’s falling for it himself.
“I haven’t talked to nobody about anything, so I have no clue,” said Harper, who frequently mentioned how happy and excited he was to return but never smiled.”
What? A professional athlete wasn’t being straight about his thoughts and feelings to a reporter? How is this not the leading story on every sports website?
I cannot believe a journalist with 45 years experience is accusing a professional athlete of being disingenuous. I guess you just go with whatever feeds the narrative, right?
“And what about batting sixth?
“I’m in the lineup. That’s all that matters. If I had the lineup, it would maybe not be the same. He’s got the lineup card. He’s got the pen. That’s what he’s doing,” said Harper. “So there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m hitting sixth tonight.”
For what it’s worth, I really do believe that Harper would do a better job with the lineup card than Williams. However, Harper isn’t without fault here. Even though Harper was right about everything he said, he should’ve said it to Williams behind closed doors, and not undermine him in front of the media. It’s similar to when Williams benched Harper for no good reason. Don’t publicly embarrass a player or coach. It accomplishes nothing except to serve as a distraction.
All in all, Boswell’s article was just terrible and logically fallacious baseball writing. Harper hasn’t fed him the narratives he wanted by becoming the Mike Trout-like superstar that he was projected to be, so he’s creating his own narratives to fill the void. Harper WILL become a superstar someday, but the mismanagement by Williams and the smear campaign by Boswell make it increasingly likely that Harper will choose to give his best years to another team. Heck, as a Mets fan I would love to see Harper move out of the NL East.
Check out this gem from Jon Heyman of CBS sports.
Click on the tweet above if you want to read the responses. They were glorious. Here’s one for example:
Bingo. It’s so refreshing to see regular baseball fans show such intelligence. Don’t misunderstand me, I actually believe that serious baseball fans are very smart and follow the modern principles of analyzing baseball, at least in general. The thing is that the internet tends to bring out the idiots. I would’ve expected some die hard Yankee fans to blindly defend Heyman and attack his detractors in the name of their beloved Jeter. That didn’t happen here.
Derek Jeter is the greatest hitter of all time among players whose primary position was shortstop. The offensive numbers he put up at that high value position easily qualify him as an upper-tier Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, the horrible truth is that he just may be one of the worst defensive shortstops of all time among players who regularly started at the position.
The history of Jeter and his defense is a strange and unique one. Jeter maintaining his job as a shortstop was the result of a perfect storm of good fortune. He played his first full season in 1996 for the most prestigious team in sports. The Yankees were already quite good, and were 2 years away from dominating baseball by winning 3 straight World Series2. Jeter’s excellent bat, good looks, and likability, combined with playing on an excellent Yankee team, blinded everyone to his terrible defense. Nobody noticed that Jeter had poor lateral agility and reaction time. He simply did not have the speed nor the range to handle the position. It may very well be true that Jeter does the backhand so well because being incapable of getting in front of the ball has given him a lot of practice.
Let’s say that Hal Newhouser actually convinced the Houston Astros to draft Jeter. The Astros, to put it mildly, do not have any where near the prestige that the Yankees do, not to mention that they weren’t anywhere near as successful when Jeter got started. Jeter likely would’ve also been overshadowed by should-be-in-the-Hall-of-Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in their primes. Under those circumstances, I guarantee that there would’ve been nowhere for Jeter’s defense to hide. He probably would’ve still been a Hall of Famer, but it would’ve been interesting to see how differently he would’ve been perceived had he spent his career on a smaller market team without all the regular and postseason success he enjoyed. He would’ve been exactly the same player, just without the mythical aura that others see. Quite the “what if”, huh?
To be clear, I’m not criticizing Jeter, so much as I’m criticizing the perception of Jeter.
Jon Heyman said what he said because nobody is more susceptible to the Legend of Jeter than the BBWAA. Let’s face it, a guy like Jeter is narrative crack. First, let me give credit where credit is due. Heyman is an excellent journalist. It seemed like he broke every major story of the offseason. He’s obviously very well connected and it allows him to get lots of great scoops. Heyman, however, is another example of a journalist who doesn’t know how to analyze baseball. He’s a terrible analyst. Whenever I see him on MLB Network, I change the channel. I don’t know why people don’t understand that journalism and analysis are two completely different skills. Some people like Eno Sarris and Ben Lindbergh can do both, but that’s not the norm. I would suck at being a journalist. Just completely suck. Joe Sheehan is one of the best minds in baseball, and he has readily admitted that he would be no good at journalism. Analytical writers are smart enough to stick to what they’re good at. Journalists, for some reason, think that covering baseball means that they understand it. Heyman did get a little better last year. He stopped bashing WAR, and even put Josh Donaldson 3rd on his MVP ballot. Unfortunately, he still put Miguel Cabrera first, so he still has a long way to go.
Mr. Heyman, if by some act of God you’re reading this, just stick to journalism. There’s nothing wrong with just being an exceptionally talented journalist.
Harold Reynolds seems to be much worse in the Fox booth than anyone feared. I say “seems” because I refuse to listen. I just catch a lot of his nonsense from people tweeting it out. Last weekend, he came out with the following statement that seemingly broke social media:
The color commentator covering national broadcasts for Fox doesn’t know anything about one of the greatest players of all time. He’s actually misrepresenting Williams in order to denigrate OPS. The funny thing is, he’s right to denigrate OPS. The not funny thing is that he’s right about OPS for all the wrong reasons. He attacks it just because it’s an “advanced stat”, and not because of its actual flaws. Oh, and by the way, WILLIAMS HAS THE SECOND HIGHEST OPS OF ALL TIME! Only Babe Ruth had a higher career OPS.
Now hold on, it gets worse…
Ted Williams was the most analytical and patient hitter of his time. His approach to hitting was so far ahead of anyone at the time. The man was a sabermetrician 40-50 years before Bill James pioneered it. For example, in his book, The Science of Hitting, he explained how he divided the strike zone into 77 sections and knew his batting average in each section. In fact, there’s an exhibit at Cooperstown that describes this. He knew how bad outs were, and conversely, how important it was to get on base ~50 years before OBP became popular. Nobody gave him credit for getting on base, but he took his walks anyway. Not counting his military years, he led the league in walks 6 straight seasons, and 7 out of 8. There’s no way the newspapers in the 1940s were giving him any credit for that. Yet he continued to walk anyway, because he understood its value. He knew that expanding the zone just leads to more outs, which leads to less offense.
Finally, anybody who knows anything about Ted Williams knows that he was a brutally honest person who never gave a crap about what anyone thought, ever. If the media ever got on his case about not driving in enough runs, I guarantee you that he would’ve changed nothing. He knew he was right. It led him to having the highest OBP of all time, a monstrous .482.
How does Harold Reynolds not know anything about one of the greatest hitters of all time? Like I’ve said before, I think he’s just being a contrarian. He decided a long time ago to be the anti-stats and anti-facts and anti-logic guy. If he wants to sell out his integrity and self-respect, that’s his business. It just sucks that Fox continues to screw its fans out of any kind of intelligent color commentary.
A quick thought on Reynolds’ broadcasting partner, Tom Verducci: As I had predicted, he’s adding absolutely nothing to broadcasts. Like I’ve said before, I have no idea what a journalist has to add that is of any value to the broadcasting booth. He hasn’t said anything stupid that I’m aware of, but he also hasn’t added any insight whatsoever that I’m aware of. You could say the same thing about ESPN’s John Kruk, but at least he’s funny and entertaining. Literally any baseball fan could enter the booth and do Verducci’s job. He would be much more valuable if Fox just returned him to sideline reporting. Buster Olney does a fine job doing that for ESPN. A journalist’s skills come in handy for that job.
Well this edition of Baseball Reactions didn’t turn out to be as short as I intended. I’ll try and do a better job of keeping it short and sweet in the future.