How to Talk to Baseball Writers on the Internet Without Making Yourself Look Like a Simpleton

We’re winding down this year’s All-Star festivities with the game itself this evening. Personally, I don’t care if it counts, because the Phillies are so far back as to render home field advantage in the World Series irrelevant. I’ll watch, if only to cheer for the National League and to warm down from the athletic euphoria that was the celebrity softball game.

But tonight’s All-Star game means two things: 1) tomorrow is the most boring day in American sports. There’s the Tour de France in the morning, and the U.S. Open Cup semifinals at night (one of which involves the Philadelphia Union, so there’s at least a little local interest there). But there’s no baseball, no hockey, no football, no college sports of any kind, and no top-flight televised auto racing. A true dilemma for a fan of televised sports.

As a side note, how does MLS only have one game going tomorrow? They’ve got to know that the day after the MLB All-Star Game is almost totally devoid of sports? If I were Don Garber, I’d throw a full slate of games out there and see how much of it ESPN, NBC Sports, and the local affiliates would carry. It’s prime time on a weeknight without any original network programming or sports, and you give us one game? And worse than that, put it in Canada? For shame, Don Garber.

Anyway, none of that is even remotely to the point. I apologize. The second All-Star Break effect is that we’ve got nothing to talk about from now until July 31 except the trade deadline. This is the time of year where you need to start looking at the standings every day. This is where you figure out who’s close to free agency, what team needs what, and who their best prospects are.

And in this day and age, that means asking people who write about baseball for a living, usually via Twitter, to validate one’s own opinions about players, prospects and trades. However, it happens from time to time that the person asking the question really makes an ass of himself (or herself) by being argumentative or just asking a really really dumb question.

I’ve made an ass of myself on the internet before, and through my own embarrassing experiences, and through observing the mistakes of others, here are some easy steps to avoid having a flag marked “asshole” planted in your forehead in front of Keith Law’s 370,000 Twitter followers.

Don’t pretend to know more than you actually do

You’re not going to impress a Baseball America writer with your knowledge of prospects, nor a beat writer with speculation about a team’s needs. These guys do this for a living, and while they’re not always right, they usually have knowledge or information that you don’t. So while you might be able to impress your friends by saying Ryne Stanek is the college pitcher to watch in next year’s draft, don’t go around telling professional prospect writers that Stanek is going to be the next Stephen Strasburg. You’re not going to tell these guys anything they don’t already know, and if you’re wrong, you stand to be put in your place.

Err on the side of caution when discussing prospects

We like to dream on prospects. A couple years ago, I had images of a 2014 or so Phillies team headlined by Jarred Cosart, Jason Knapp and Kyle Drabek as a latter-day Palmer, Cuellar, and McNally, with Domonic Brown and Jonathan Singleton providing roughly the same kind of production Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco posted for the late-1980s Oakland A’s. Most prospects fail outright. Many that don’t fail to reach their ceiling. So rather than asking, as I once did, “Do you think of Jackie Bradley as more of a Mickey Mantle type or a Willie Mays type?” tone it down. Leave it open-ended. Instead of asking if a prospect is going to be a star, ask if he’s going to be an everyday player, and if the writer you’re asking thinks he’ll be a star, he’ll say so.

Future stars are rare. I doubt there’s even one in the entire Phillies’ minor-league system. So don’t get upset when, for instance, Bradley Ankrom says Jesse Biddle can turn into Randy Wolf. Which reminds me.

Don’t ask for comps. And NEVER EVER provide your own.

Player comparisons are tricky, because they have the tendency to mislead. Mike Olt is a third baseman with a pretty good glove and good power. That could be Mike Schmidt or Evan Longoria. Or it could be Dave Hollins. If you ask for a comparison, make sure you ask for a ceiling and a more realistic expectation for precision’s sake. Insofar as you can have precision in a player comp. That imprecision and fear of “Hey, guys, Kevin Goldstein said Trevor Bauer is going to be the next John Smoltz!” (note: Goldstein has never, to my knowledge, said this) are the reason many scouts and writers will refuse to give comps. Better to just describe the player for what he is.

If you can find a prospect expert who will give you a comp, don’t ask him if Jiwan James is going to be like Tim Raines just because he’s fast and he’s black. That’s a good way to get yourself laughed out of the room.

Know the benchmarks

I still don’t entirely get the 20-80 scouting scale, but know that if your prospect is graded out as average, that’s not bad. Average players are valuable–the Phillies have built an entire team of them. So if a prospect guy calls your favorite minor leaguer a 55 runner, don’t get all huffy. A 55 is still fairly fast.

Speaking of speed: no one is as fast as Billy Hamilton. Not Mike Trout. Not the young Jose Reyes. No one.

And speaking of Trout, just because the Nationals and Angels have generational talents doesn’t mean there’s such a diamond in the rough in your team’s system. An internet personage who asked after the Futures Game about the similarities between Anthony Gose and Bryce Harper, and was deservedly and roundly pilloried. If not all teams have future stars, then they certainly don’t have future Trouts and Harpers.

Oh, and for my own sanity, stop asking about rotation spots. The debate over what constitutes a No. 1 starter in the majors might irritate me more than any single thing about baseball. Everyone has a different conception of what makes an ace, everyone has a different number of aces currently in the majors, and everyone’s definition is completely arbitrary. It’s worth making the distinction between back-end starter, mid-rotation starter, and front-end starter, but please stop asking about what makes a No. 1.

Don’t make up fake trades

So you’ve read an article on Baseball Prospectus, scanned MLB Trade Rumors, and you’re ready to play GM. “Say, the Orioles need an outfield bat for the stretch run–do you think the Phillies could get Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy for Shane Victorino?” Last summer, someone (I presume a Padres fan) wrote into ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast to suggest that the Phillies could shore up their bullpen by trading Domonic Brown and Jarred Cosart for Heath Bell. I was driving at the time, and I managed to keep listening while I struggled not to steer my car into oncoming traffic and end this cruel and unforgiving existence once and for all. But while I was doing that, I also noticed that Keith Law went ballistic.

Let me put it this way: if you go to Law, or one of the beat writers, with a fake trade, what do you think will happen? Because I’m pretty sure some people do that thinking the person they write to will think: “Fascinating! I don’t think the Brewers had ever considered trading Zack Greinke before! And to get Jerry Sands back from Los Angeles! I must call Ned Colletti at once and make this trade happen!”

No.

Trades are conceived, negotiated and consummated in relative secrecy. As the trade gets nearer, we gradually get a better idea of what teams are talking to each other, what names are getting discussed, and eventually, who will go where. That’s the way it’s always worked.

And another thing, when making up fake trades, “prospects” are not an unlimited and completely fungible commodity. And no one team is going to give up a star without expecting at least one significant piece in return, no matter how much feckless quad-A roster detritus you throw in your fake trade.

Don’t be a douche

As in most things, manners count. Ask a reasonable, well-considered question and the response should be the same. Don’t go around slinging accusations of bias (which, in addition to being generally untrue, don’t hurt most writers’ feelings anyway). And if you do get stomped on, take it like a grown-up. Don’t get your back up and throw ad hominem insults, particularly if they’re offensive or homophobic.

Or just do what I do, and only talk to baseball writers on the internet about soccer and beer. That way, no one needs to look stupid and no one gets his feelings hurt.

Enjoy the All-Star Game.