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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, August 27, 2001
Jeane Dixon?s Got Nothing on Me
How about Miss Cleo?
Let?s assume for a moment that I ran a restricted access pay web-site that provided projections and player and team comments for the upcoming baseball season. Now let?s say the homepage of this site provided the following information as an enticement to sign up for the service:
?If you had subscribed to our site for the 2001 season, you would have had the advantage of getting valuable pre-season evaluations like these:
?It’s unclear what Sandy Alomar Jr. does to improve over Mark Johnson.?
?Having Juan Gonzalez as your sleeper sounds strange.?
?If Shawn Wooten can catch at all, he’d deserve a real long look from the Angels.?
?The Ichiro projection is a somewhat educated guess that the system spit out. It seems real high but this is someone who was hitting for consistent averages virtually unprecedented in Japan. Who knows, but I guess I’d count him as an above average corner outfielder from jump street until further results come in.?
?As it stands now, the Rangers offense is obviously pretty loaded led by the two Rodriguezes. But I think it’s reasonable to put question marks next to the projections of Galarraga, Caminiti, Mateo and maybe Velarde.?
?If the Astros think they need a bat off the bench, don’t rule out a reappearance of Orlando Merced.?
?Kerry Robinson can run like hell and is exactly the kind of player LaRussa occasionally takes a shying too. Might get some PT.?
?I’d like to see what Kevin Millar would do with 500 At Bats.?
?I consider Jimmy Rollins to be one of the better prospects around.?
Now I?ll state that this site indeed had posted these comments before the season and in fact have shown themselves to be more or less right on the mark. Many of them could have some value to a roto-player, and others can be seen as unexpectedly accurate (like the Kerry Robinson comment).
The picture the site would have painted for you would be very pretty, would it not? Just sign up for the site, snag up all the little gems of insight and cruise easily to the title in your roto-league.
Of course, life is never that easy. The above comments did actually appear on a site before the 2001 season though the site offered them up for free. The site which provided them was mine, and as such I can tell you with some authority not to be overwhelmed by the apparent accuracy of the comments.
You see as the guy who wrote all those comments, I can tell you that I wrote at least 100 more such comments, none of which were printed above. Many were simple explanatory comments to use with the projections. A good number of them turned out to be irrelevant, either the comments accuracy never got a chance to be tested or there wasn’t really anything of import said. Of course some of them turned out to be ?wrong?:
?A lot of people have written the Reds off and I think that’s a mistake.?
?If someone asks me, ?Voros, who is your number one sleeper this year?? My money would be on Chris Donnels.?
?Michael Tucker is starting to show flashes of the player many thought he’d become.?
Now if I was trying to sell you my site, you?d be sure not to see those on there. And that is the problem with judging assessments by picking out various individual comments from a group of many. Quite often you?re provided with a limited view of everything that has been said.
Here?s a good example: I want all of my readers to pick a number from 1 to 50 , with the only restriction being that both digits in the number have to be odd. You have your number? Okay, here it goes?
How?d I do? Now many of you are sitting out there going, no you idiot, you were way off.
But there?s also going to be a fair number of you whose reaction will be, ?Wow! Good guess! How?d you do that?? The key is that the people for whom I was correct wouldn?t know anything about the people for whom I was wrong. As far as they know I?m batting 1.000.
They are gambling tout companies who use this shady trick. They have several ?independent? touts front for them, knowing that at least one of them will do very well over the season by chance alone. Then the next year they advertise the incredible season that tout had last year, meanwhile having all their other independent touts continue making picks. Then the next year, the guy with the big win percentage becomes the expert. Every year the company will have at least one tout that they can advertise as having tremendous success last year and not actually be lying. I had a friend who fell for this con one time and before making his bets he was convinced that he had tapped into somebody others didn?t know about and who could produce remarkable results. My friend didn?t lose a lot, but he lost enough to ignore anything the guy had to say from that moment on.
Bill James wrote an article on ESPN.com recently on the subject of people selectively picking out decisions that turned out badly for MLB GMs. However, he didn?t talk about the kind of nefarious activity described above, but rather of a mindset of a certain set of fans to dwell on the negative about the teams they root for. Where I believe James erred was in putting himself above this kind of behavior. This isn?t the behavior of a distinct individual group of people. No this is really one of the most fundamental characteristics of human behavior: the search for confirmatory evidence of one?s beliefs. All of us (myself and Bill James included) engage in the behavior James describes (ironically one could argue that James is engaging in it in the article itself). There are a few theories in Psychology as to why this is, and several related theories as to what times and instances this behavior exhibits itself most strongly (all of which have nothing to do with baseball and I probably don?t understand them well enough to describe them anyway). To be sure, this is not the behavior of some deranged egomaniacal anti-fan.
Using myself as an example (as both someone who engages in this behavior and also as someone accused of being a deranged egomaniac), I know that I?m likely to rationalize away the disappointment of Chris Donnels? season. The way I do it may contain perfectly valid reasoning (e.g. he didn?t get many at bats and I did comment that the projection was a bit iffy), but the fact that I don?t take the same pains to rationalize away my correct predictions (e.g. predicting Juan Gonzalez would hit well isn?t hard and while Sandy Alomar hasn?t been great, Mark Johnson might not have enough at bats so far for someone to conclude he?s been better). It?s fairly standard behavior for someone to scrutinize why their incorrect predictions aren?t as bad as they appear, but rarely do we talk about how our correct predictions aren?t quite as good as they appear.
The thing is, people shouldn?t be made to apologize for such behavior, as James seems to suggest. It?s like apologizing for creating mucus, or wasting time sleeping eight hours a day. We?re human, that?s the way we work and there are good reasons for why that is. Fundamentally, that?s why concentrating on ?who said what? provides very little insight into finding the answers to life?s (in our case baseball?s) questions. We are all subject to these kind of flaws, so we are all going to have these moments where we fail to think or speak logically about a situation. This is fine. The key should be to shift the focus away from the person indulging in faulty logic and instead focus on the faulty logic itself.
I?m sure Billy Beane has made decisions in the past that the Drive-Thru guy at the Jack in the Box has disagreed with. I?m also fairly sure that, at times, the Jack in the Box guy turned out to be right. The fact is that the dumbest of us are often right and the smartest of us are often wrong, and that the things we say and the points we make should be evaluated on their own merits, rather than on some imaginary scorecard which keeps track of how often we?ve been right in the past.
The advancement of everyone?s knowledge of baseball, be they ?stat-head,? ?baseball insider,? ?sportswriter,? ?Joe-fan? or ?talk-radio junkie,? would be greatly increased if we stopped concentrating on who was a ?stat-head,? ?baseball insider,? ?sportswriter,? ?Joe-fan? or ?talk-radio junkie,? and started concentrating on their respective arguments. Then again, what the hell do I know? I?m just another arrogant stat-head.
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