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Mike Trout and False Equivalence

Posted By Michael Baumann On September 19, 2012 @ 10:21 am In MLB,Sabermetrics,Talking about feelings | 25 Comments

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.


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