The Wilpons’ expert witness has an interesting past

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Barring a settlement, it looks as though the trial in which the Mets owners are being accused of either knowing about or being negligent regarding the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme is going to go down next month.  And though the ultimate outcome of that trial will have a big impact on the Mets, the blow-by-blow of it all is not really about baseball — and it’s kind of boring — so we haven’t been following it too closely recently.

But there’s a story in the New York Times that is interesting enough to catch my attention.  It’s about the Wilpons’ sole expert witness in the case. An expert witness — by the name of John Maine, which is cool — who will testify that the Wilpons had no reason to know what was going on and had adequately fulfilled their duties once they learned what was happening.  He did that once before in another case, however, and it didn’t go so well:

Maine testified that the supervisor’s responsibilities for protecting against fraud were limited, and effectively ended when he reported suspicions about the broker up the chain of command at Dean Witter. The expert testimony didn’t fly. Indeed, the S.E.C. judge overseeing the case against the supervisor actually offered a withering critique of Maine’s testimony.

Maine “had not read any case law on the topic” at hand, Thomas Kelly, the administrative law judge, wrote in his opinion. The judge also said that it appeared Maine’s “written expert testimony was prepared in large part” not by Maine, but by the supervisor’s lawyers who had hired him.

Now, this was a long time ago, and he has since testified in many, many cases.  If they had consistently gone bad, you can imagine that the Times would have dug them up too.  Being an expert witness is quite often a professional gig, and sometimes an expert’s testimony and credibility is blown out of the water in one case while it carries the day wonderfully in the next.

But it’s still kind of interesting. And it reminds us that the Wilpons have an awful lot riding on this case.

A scout thinks the Astros strike out too much. The Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball.

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Great moments in scouting. MLB.com’s Richard Justice spoke to an unnamed scout about the Astros, currently holding the American League’s best record at 76-47. The scout said that the Astros strike out too much and it will catch up with them. Justice pointed out that the Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball. The scout responded, “I don’t believe that.”

Justice, of course, is correct. The average major league team has struck out 1,006 times entering Sunday’s action. The Astros have by far the lowest total at 827, followed by the Indians at 881 and the Pirates at 882.

This scout doesn’t represent all scouts, but this is one of the major problems that advocates of statistics were trying to highlight before Sabermetrics became popular a decade ago. It’s a pattern. Person believes thing. Person either cherry-picks evidence to defend belief or is shown evidence that belief is not factually true and ignores it. Person refuses to change belief, using one of many excuses.

The other problem this highlights is the fallacy of “the eye test,” which is shorthand for treating a scout’s observations as sacrosanct due to his or her experience and knowledge of the game. In this case, the scout ignored easily accessed information, went with his gut, and turned out to be completely wrong. Furthermore, if “the eye test” were legit, the scout would’ve known that, for example, Yulieski Gurriel and Jose Altuve hardly ever strike out (11.1 and 12.4 percent strikeout rates, respectively). In fact, no one on the Astros’ roster (min. 230 PA) has a strikeout rate above 21 percent; the league average is 21.5 percent.

This isn’t to impugn the practice of scouting as a whole. There are a lot of things scouts can tell you about a player that data cannot and that has value. But for easily-researched claims like “the Astros strike out too much,” there’s no reason to trust a scout over the stats.

Mets acquire Jacob Rhame from Dodgers

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The Mets acquired right-handed reliever Jacob Rhame from the Dodgers, the team announced on Sunday. Rhame is the player to be named later in the trade that sent outfielder Curtis Granderson to Los Angeles on Friday night. He’s expected to report to the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.

Rhame, 24, pitched through his second Triple-A campaign with the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017, collecting two saves in 41 appearances and logging a 4.31 ERA, 1.9 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 48 innings. While his ERA saw a sharp spike from its modest 3.29 mark in 2016 (perhaps thanks in part to a midseason DL stint due to an undisclosed injury), he’s controlling the ball better than he has in several years and has drawn some attention with a fastball that occasionally touches 98 MPH on the radar gun.

The Mets’ bullpen hasn’t been at its finest over the last few weeks, ranking 16th among its major league competitors with a collective 4.50 ERA and 2.4 fWAR, but likely isn’t looking to add an extreme fly ball pitcher to its staff just yet. Until he gets his big league break, Rhame will beef up Triple-A Vegas’ relief corps alongside fellow right-handers Yaisel Sierra, Joe Broussard and Josh Ravin.