It was Friday March 15th, and I received an email from an established source of fantasy baseball material as I do on every Friday during this time of year. I’ve been using this service’s software program for my baseball fantasy drafts for a number of years, and part of the deal is a weekly offering from them containing various relevant insights and material. I’ve been holding off from writing about this, because I really wanted to flame out on this person like a pyrokinetic. Over two weeks later, I’m still feeling hot, so I’m going to refrain from naming names, as the goal here is to hopefully reach more than just this particular offender.
Here’s the back story: the person who wrote what set me off is a well-established editor of what I believe is a successful business venture writing and producing content relevant to fantasy baseball players. I’ve seen many of my favorite writers list this man as one of their original influences. I actually started following his work and buying his service, because I joined a new league some time ago and realized that the majority of managers were using his service’s projections.
This year, he made it his calling to go against the grain and argue against drafting Mike Trout early in the first round. He wrote an article earlier in March citing 12 reasons why he recommended people should temper their expectations for Trout this year. His service also wrote an article last season recommending that owners should trade Trout before he inevitably cooled off, assuming they would get a haul and a half in return. For whatever reason, he has decided to make the Trout regression call his signature position over the last year. Apparently, he was displeased that others have not shared the same view, and on the 15th decided to add more reasons to not draft Trout. Whether he proves to be right or wrong doesn’t matter to me, but his 15th reason for not drafting Trout just pisses me off. Here it is, quoted verbatim:
15. Though I hate to mention it, everything needs to be on the table. When a player puts up an historic season, especially one that is so far above his contemporaries, you have to consider that he might have had outside help. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez. If it's true, Trout pulled off his feat during a pitching-dominant era which makes it even more notable. There, I said it. Now let's move on.
Where do I begin? Well, let’s just examine the argument at face value. I think we can call it the "Extraordinary Clause." Basically, if anything ever happens in baseball that is appropriately described as "extraordinary," then we should assume that the cause was something other than the agent under discussion. In reference to Trout, this means that because he produced one of the greatest rookie seasons ever measured by WAR, we should assume something other than his own abilities led to that remarkable event.
Wait. That’s not it, because then something like luck could cause the extraordinary feat. What our Mr. X specifically says is that we should assume that some form of illegal act led to that extraordinary feat, which he clarifies by associating Trout with the names of known and believed users of substances now referred to as PEDs. It seems to me that there is a real logical problem here. In Mr. X’s world, as his statement seems to suggest, he doesn’t believe that any extraordinary events can occur in baseball outside of luck. I guess that would make his world the Land of Constantly Regressing Mediocrity.
As long as a given ballplayer’s production doesn’t occur too far away from his contemporaries, then it is safe to assume that everything is legit. Now, that doesn’t account for the even greater number of known users of PEDs who clearly fall well within the scope of what we would likely call the mediocre, but I don’t want to digress too far away from what I believe to be a logical flaw in his argument. You see, Mr. X also stated very often in his work that good fantasy players should always draft for player skills, and not estimated playing time. So on the one hand he seems to believe that there are players with significantly differentiated abilities, but if that performance crosses some threshold that’s too far away from the others, then we’re to assume foul play.
First of all, I don’t want to live in the Land of Constantly Regressing Mediocrity. What would be the point of having the major leagues? Any set of people grouped together would qualify since the primary arbiter of performance would be nothing more than luck. The problem with the world view of mediocrity is that it neglects to explain what I think is best exemplified by the Yin and the Yang. Once you argue that you shouldn’t draft someone for whatever reasons, then you are also arguing that you should draft someone else at the same time. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two sides, and I don’t think any of that would exist in a world where everyone regresses into mediocrity. If you wish to argue that the separation only matters in dissecting the subtleties of the mediocre, (sort of a micro view versus my macro argument), then I would retort that you are splitting atoms to try and convince yourself that your actions still have meaning while arguing against the reality that there are differences to begin with. Once you acknowledge that there are differences, then you have to accept that there can be both magnificent and horrible outcomes at the same time. I’m not interested in living in the Land of the Mediocre, and I don’t think that our Mr. X really believes that either.
In all likelihood, he made this statement out of frustration, and maybe a tad bit of desperation. He attempted to deflect the criticisms he received by pushing the argument back on his critics in a manner which was completely irrefutable, because of course there hasn’t been any evidence whatsoever to implicate Trout with his #15 reason. Consciously recognizing the thin ice he is about to cross, he pretends to denigrate the very notion of what he is about to bring up by starting with, "Though I hate to mention it, everything needs to be on the table." If you really hated to mention it, then why did you? Where is the evidence to suggest that all extraordinary performances should be considered suspicious? If you are going to link someone with PEDs, then you better come up with some real evidence. And I mean you better go back to prove that all extraordinary performances are suspicious. (Trout is #83 on the Fangraphs career single season WAR list). If you don’t have people like Babe Ruth in there, then just shut your mouth right now.
I have to admit though, that what really ticks me off is how he ended the statement: "There, I said it. Now let's move on." This is designed to evoke that sense that we were all thinking this already, and of course he never wanted to bring this up but was in some way forced to by good conscience of needing to discuss every possible reason. I’ve tried to re-type this sentence five times already, but I can’t say what I want to in any sense that doesn’t sound really mean. So I’ll just end this by pointing out that you brought this up, Mr. X, not I, the reader. Don’t pretend that anyone else is drawing a link between Trout and nefarious means to his production last year. You are the one, and next time you should at least have the decency to put some real evidence as to why we should be listening to your reasons that are more than just evincing names associated with these substances. In the end, this is propaganda. That doesn’t have to be a dirty word, but drawing suspicion to all extraordinary performances to PED use makes it so.
I don’t have anything new to say about the subject of PEDs in Baseball that hasn’t been said by many others before me. I’m not even sure where my views fit in the landscape of positions that are out there. I am tired though, of all of this. What we are talking about here is called libel, because right now our culture has its own love affair with obliterating celebrities and professional athletes. I freely admit that I dislike the culthood of celebrity too. There are entire genres of television shows that are essentially derived to mock and ridicule their featured celebrities' pseudo-realities. I’m not going to address the strange psychological behavior that it takes to have someone actually desire to trade celebrity for public derision, but the fact is this stuff is attractive to the lowest common denominator right now. Pandering to PEDs on baseball athletes right now is the equivalent of launching another random "Housewives of XYZ" show. It’s too easy, but make no mistake it is slander.
There are district attorneys and FBI agents who have already spent millions of taxpayer dollars trying to land a big fish in this media storm. Dragging other people’s names into this with absolutely no evidence is messing with their lives. We do not live in a land of innocence until proven guilty. In school, they used to say that was a rule of law in the United States. That’s the problem with growing up and seeing the truth, rather than just being told it. Have people really forgotten that whole Raul Ibanez ridiculousness in 2009? Ibanez goes on a tear for a half of season and someone wrote that PEDs must have caused it. Now, if that writer had done better work, then he would have seen how Ibanez could have done that, because he in fact had done it before in half-season chunks. He had just never done it for a full season, and in fact, that historical pattern held as well for his second half of the 2009 season. That uproar was triggered by a blogger. Someone more akin to what I’m doing right now, and there was at least some discussion about whether or not everyone needs to take more responsibility for what they say when the result could be viewed as slanderous.
The Mr. X I’m talking about here is frankly more than that. He has a business that makes money indirectly off of these baseball players’ services. He calls himself an editor. He should be held to a higher standard. The New York Times and the professional newspaper industry tries to separate themselves from the mass media formats by pointing to the editorial layer in their process. I would argue that they use it more as an excuse than an actual tool for improvement, but I don’t disagree with the concept in principal. Random speculation needs to stop. Back it up with something more than armchair speculation, or just shut up. If you’ve got pink cream and a book, fine, but if you’re stooping down because you can’t take the critique of your own analysis, then saying "shame on you" just isn’t enough.
At a minimum, I would like to see a public apology from Mr. X, but it has been over two weeks now and I haven’t seen any other public furor articles about his statement. So I may be a lone wolf howling at a graffiti-covered wall at the end of a dark and lonely alley. This may be nothing more than a plea, because it seems like a witch hunt when it’s considered fair to just start randomly associating ballplayers to drugs with absolutely no evidence beyond amazing seasons. I don’t think I’m being naive about drugs in sports. All I ask is that we stop being so cavalier about what is said and when it’s said in regards to PEDs. Personally, I still want to believe that baseball players can do amazing things, sometimes without a needle or a cream. At least, it seemed that they used to.
P.S.: I’m not buying that software program next year.