Mike Trout and False Equivalence

I love it when I wake up and The Internet, or at least that very small, strange, baseball-related corner of The Internet that I inhabit, has chosen a topic of discussion for the day. I got online this morning to see that today’s topic du jour was whether or not thinking Miguel Cabrera‘s potential Triple Crown run made him a better AL MVP candidate than Mike Trout makes you an idiot.

I want to focus on the position taken by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in this debate, because he makes several points that, purposely and otherwise, speak volumes

 

 

 

Caveats:

  • I’ve always respected Crasnick a great deal as a writer, and because of that, I feel like I can discuss what he said honestly without implying that I don’t like him.
  • I’m picking out four tweets–there’s more context here, and I’m eliminating a lot of nuance from this argument for simplicity’s sake.
  • Crasnick was just the first person I picked out–I could have commented on any number of other writers.

Okay, now for my thoughts:

  • Trout deserves to win, and I’ve yet to see a convincing argument to the contrary. Bill from The Platoon Advantage wrote astutely on that topic this morning. I believe the evidence for Trout is so overwhelming that I do question anyone who thinks otherwise.
  • Could there be more civility from the statistically inclined? Yes. Absolutely. NBC’s Aaron Gleeman objected immediately to Crasnick’s characterization of Trout supporters, and frankly, I think he overshot the mark. Gleeman is not just a blogger but one of the founding fathers of internet baseball writing, but he’s got the legitimacy of a major media outlet behind him. I’ll admit that I had to go back to last Friday’s Crash Bag, the only place I’ve written about Trout, to make sure I hadn’t done exactly what Crasnick accused (not me in particular, but people like) me of doing. When you’ve got nothing but your prose to make you stand out, you can easily overcook your rhetoric.
  • The combination of the Fifth-Column Blogger Ethic, Youthful Bravado and training in mathematics, statistics, philosophy or social science is a volatile one. That describes not only me but a large segment of the latest wave of sports bloggers: we’re sure we’re right and we’ve got no qualms about telling you so. It’s the same patricidal instinct that fuels revolutions. We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t make us impolite.
  • Mainstream writers are getting better at understanding advanced stats. I don’t know if we appreciate this enough, but in less than a decade we’ve gone from complete innumeracy to WAR, BABIP and FIP being mainstream. If there’s a way to applaud this progress without 1) being patronizing and 2) stunting faster progress by praising foot-dragging incrementalism, we should.
  • I wish there were a shorthand for questioning someone’s methods or understanding without questioning his mental fortitude. There’s a difference, but there’s no one word for “Your argument is specious and/or unfounded.”

Here’s where I do have to criticize Crasnick:

You can’t do that. I don’t think he meant it like this, but “Just Saying” is one step above “You can’t disprove it” or “Coincidence? I Think Not” on the snake oil salesman scale. If you’re just trying to stir the pot with an argument that you know to be faulty, just to get people excited, you’re not an idiot or a moron, you’re a troll. Now there are two kinds of trolls: the ones who bait people into exposing their own ignorance (there may be no better example of this than Yahoo!’s Ryan Lambert, though we in Philadelphia Sports Internet are no stranger to this type of troll ourselves) and the ones who just try to piss people off. I don’t think this is what Crasnick meant to do with his statement about September OPS, but that was the effect. And while his larger point about the civility of discourse is right, I do take issue with his dropping the “Just Saying” line, then hiding behind that particular shield.

Which brings me to my main point: there are multiple viewpoints on every issue. This does not mean that there are multiple valid viewpoints on every issue, or that every viewpoint should be treated with equal weight. This is known as false equivalence, and it’s my biggest beef with mainstream journalism. We’re being suffocated by the fetishization of even-handedness, and we’re only now starting to realize that it’s a problem. This extends beyond sports to politics and culture in general, but I think Bill would be more comfortable with my limiting the scope of the discussion to baseball.

You can claim that Cabrera is more valuable than Trout. I’ll disagree, and with a mountain of empirical evidence on my side, I don’t have to consider your argument as legitimate unless your empirical evidence beats my empirical evidence. My responsibility is to consider your argument in good faith and treat you with civility until your behavior warrants a different reaction. I am not responsible for acting like your evidence is as good as mine when it’s not.

From a Phillies-centered perspective, that’s where the Monkfish stuff came from. I have overwhelming mathematical evidence that the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re going to talk me off of that evidence, you’re going to have to come up with something better than “Stop being a stick-in-the-mud.” I have overwhelming empirical evidence that Darin Ruf will not be a good major leaguer. If you’re going to talk me off of that viewpoint, you’re going to have to come up with something more compelling than “I think you’re wrong.”

Not every argument is so one-sided as Trout/Cabrera, and it’s possible that reasonable, intelligent people can look at evidence and draw different conclusions–I’d argue that most baseball arguments end up in this bucket. And when people don’t get the evidence, it’s our job to educate them if they want to be educated. Jerry Crasnick is right–there’s no need to be an asshole when you think somone’s wrong. But let’s not fall into the trap of believing that different perspectives are equally valid.

Leave a Reply

*

25 comments

  1. Dan K.

    September 19, 2012 10:36 AM

    Agree on the whole, but I would probably give Crasnick more slack for the “just saying” line. He was literally just answering from his given options. If he had said it in his Sept. OPS tweet I would have taken more exception to it.

  2. Gaël

    September 19, 2012 10:43 AM

    Slight nitpick: you don’t have “overwhelming mathematical evidence that the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs.” What you have is overwhelming mathematical evidence that the Phillies are very highly unlikely to make the playoffs, which isn’t exactly the same thing. The valid counterargument isn’t “stop being such a stick in the mud,” it’s “I acknowledge that the Phillies stand a basically infinitesimal chance of making the playoffs, but I’ll keep hoping they do anyway until they’re mathematically eliminated.” As long as you recognize how historically stacked the deck is against them, this isn’t any worse an approach as considering they’re already eliminated, as has been already discussed by Bill and others here.

    Why does that matter? Because we’re talking about something entirely different with the Trout vs. Cabrera debate. We do have overwhelming mathematical evidence that Trout has been better (and, in many cases, much better) than Cabrera this season. We’re not talking in hypotheticals, as we are with the Phillies’ playoffs chances. We’re talking about hard, empirical data, and the only way to defend Cabrera over Trout is by misreading said data (by, say, giving some importance to RBIs or to a couple batting average points).

  3. Bill

    September 19, 2012 10:45 AM

    I think the “Attention MVP voters” was the problematic phrase.

    Thanks for the link!

  4. Bill

    September 19, 2012 10:46 AM

    I think the “Attention MVP voters” was the problematic phrase.

    Great piece, Thanks for the link!

  5. Bill

    September 19, 2012 10:47 AM

    Alas, my initial thoughtlessness exposed for all to see

  6. Mac

    September 19, 2012 10:57 AM

    Some may have a different view on what constitutes “Most Valuable” and consider subjective measures other than WAR. So overwhelming empirical evidence for apples may not fully address someone else preferring oranges.

    Most valuable player does not always mean best player to some voters.

  7. BradInDC

    September 19, 2012 11:10 AM

    And Mac’s statement is why I don’t really care about MVP. Who’s should be the MVP? The guy with the most “value”, which some writers believe can’t be measured by stats. So who gets voted MVP? The guy who is most “impressive” to writers, with consideration for whether the te he plays on is actually good. Sometimes they are the same player. Sometimes not.

  8. hk

    September 19, 2012 11:38 AM

    Who gets the credit or blame for naming the award the Most Valuable Player instead of the Most Outstanding Player in the first place? In the case of the AL this year, Trout seems to be the most outstanding player and, since he’s on a minimum contract, the most valuable as well.

  9. jauer

    September 19, 2012 12:42 PM

    VALUABLE: adjective
    1.
    having considerable monetary worth; costing or bringing a high price: a valuable painting; a valuable crop.
    2.
    having qualities worthy of respect, admiration, or esteem: a valuable friend.
    3.
    of considerable use, service, or importance: valuable information.

    1) The MVP award is obviously not meant simply for the player who is paid the most. The first definition of the word “valuable”, in this sense, should be interpreted as the baseball player who “deserves” the most monetary worth.

    A player’s value on the baseball field should be judged relative to all his other peers, regardless of the salary that someone who looks like RAJ decided to pay. Otherwise, Trout would be at least ten-thousand times more valuable than Cabrera, which is certainly not what the award is trying to judge.

    2) This definition doesn’t apply to baseball or the award, at least not more than the other two.

    3) “of considerable use, service, or importance”

    This definition portrays the word “value” as directly tied to how useful or important they are to their service.

    I have NEVER understood the viewpoint that MVP and MOP should be different awards. If you are more outstanding than player X, than you are inherently more valuable than player X. If your GM decided to pay you 10 times more than player X’s GM, then you shouldn’t be discredited for how dumb your GM is. Otherwise, it seems like this award would always go to the cheapest good player in the league.

    This type of argument is more often used to support MVP candidates on playoff-teams while discrediting the contributions of players on weaker teams. Ignoring the lineup effect of having better players around you, I feel it is INSANE to say that someone’s ABs are more “valuable” because he is in a playoff race.

    People mistake the word “valuable” for an idea that seems to be “WPA relative to playoff positioning”, which to me, is extremely frustrating.

    MVP should always go to the best player in the league, regardless of his salary or his teammates. I don’t get to watch every MLB game; I don’t even get to watch 95% of them. It would be nice if this award were standardized and people actually understood what the term “valuable” means.

  10. pedro3131

    September 19, 2012 01:24 PM

    @jauer, a great example of the MVP/MOP debate would be Arod in 2003. Statistically he was clearly the best play, but how much “value” did he provide to a team that finished 24 games out of a playoff spot? Now in 03 there wasn’t really another candidate on a better performing team, but even looking at a guy like pedro who posted a 7.7 WAR in an abbreviated season and headlined a rotation that won 95 games and came within a few outs of a world series birth.

  11. Richard

    September 19, 2012 01:40 PM

    “but how much “value” did he provide to a team that finished 24 games out of a playoff spot”

    the same value he’d have provided to a playoff team

  12. JB Allen

    September 19, 2012 02:43 PM

    If a bad team with an MVP candidate would be better off unloading that player’s salary and trading him for prospects, why shouldn’t that be a factor in voters’ thinking? Baseball Prospectus has considered these factors for years in evaluating players’ relationships to their teams; should that kind of thinking be prohibited in MVP voting?

  13. pedro3131

    September 19, 2012 02:56 PM

    @Richard, if you remove Arod’s 9.1 WAR from the Texas season, they’re still over 24 games out of the playoffs. However, if you remove Pedro’s 7.7 WAR from the Sox that year, they come up with 88 wins and finish out of the playoffs. There’s also the affects of how teams play against bad teams (see the Phillies v Astros these past 2 years) that most likely has an inflationary affect on players stats on bad teams. In either case, it’s quite clear that value isn’t a constant and has to be considered relative to other factors

  14. CJ

    September 19, 2012 03:03 PM

    1. Let’s not fall into the trap of believing that different perspectives are equally valid.

    2. There’s no need to be an asshole when you think somone’s wrong.

    This should be stamped onto the back of everyone’s Internet License. It would eliminate 75% of the douchebaggery.

  15. Jar

    September 19, 2012 03:04 PM

    I’m not sure there can be a wrong decision for a reward that has absolutely no criteria for the voters to adhere too. This guy made me feel fuzzier inside and sold more newspapers has just as much merit as this guy was bar far the best statistically in a contest as stupid as the MVP award.

  16. Richard

    September 19, 2012 03:10 PM

    Sorry, pedro, I don’t buy it for one second (other than the obvious point that Texas could have finished last without ARod).

    By buying into that kind of argument–devaluing players who play for losing teams–you’re really doing little more than giving another player credit for having better teammates. Simple as that. But it’s not a team award. I could see ‘play for playoff contender’ as a tiebreaker if two players are close, but these two players are NOT close.

    And the ‘stats against bad teams’ bit is a non sequitur.

  17. Scott G

    September 19, 2012 03:13 PM

    @pedro3131

    The award should not include a discussion of team effects. It’s an individual’s award, and nothing but who the best player is should matter.

    If you’re going to use your logic in the ARod/Pedro argument, then ARod’s 9.1 WAR would have helped the Red Sox more than Pedro’s 7.7 WAR actually DID help the Red Sox.

  18. Phylan

    September 19, 2012 03:34 PM

    “Just saying” is the slimiest way of making an insinuation about something and simultaneously divesting yourself of any accountability for it, and I immediately ignore anyone who uses it.

    If someone ever asked me to define “arguing in bad faith” in 2 words I would say “just sayin’!”

  19. jauer

    September 19, 2012 04:22 PM

    “I’m not sure there can be a wrong decision for a reward that has absolutely no criteria for the voters to adhere to”

    Then your argument is with the definition of the word “valuable”, not with the person who applies it.

  20. Jar

    September 19, 2012 04:47 PM

    jauer
    I guess, I was mostly just being sarcastic, in that many writer’s seem to vote for who has the best story because that’s what’s “valuable” to them. “It’s been really fun writing about the greatest young rookie season in years but if this guy hits for the triple crown that will be REALLY fun to write about so I value that.”

    Getting upset about it just seems silly because the award is meaningless.

  21. Michael Baumann

    September 19, 2012 05:04 PM

    To defend Crasnick, he was just repeating the phrasing of the question, which he pointed out to me on Twitter after the post went up.

  22. Shannon

    September 19, 2012 07:03 PM

    “The combination of the Fifth-Column Blogger Ethic, Youthful Bravado and training in mathematics, statistics, philosophy or social science is a volatile one. That describes not only me but a large segment of the latest wave of sports bloggers: we’re sure we’re right and we’ve got no qualms about telling you so.”

    This is so pretentious.

    Your article is about false equivalence, but the main example you site is Crasnick and he doesn’t say Cabrera is MVP or asks for the argument to be taken seriously. All he asks is that you don’t call people idiots if they look at it from that viewpoint. Why are you using a straw man here?

  23. Bill Baer

    September 19, 2012 07:12 PM

    I think you misinterpreted what he was saying. You two actually pretty much agree about the attitudes and consideration.

Next ArticleSmall My Nose? Why Magnificent, My Nose!