When simply “stating the facts” is actually criticism


Bobby Valentine talked yesterday about his reputation for criticizing ballplayers. He bristled at the notion.

He says he has never thrown anyone under the bus ever, and that when he is construed to have done so — like, if he says that Mark Melancon got all of his running in backing up the bases after giving up hits — it’s because he’s simply stating facts, not ripping anyone:

“A statement of fact should never be misconstrued as criticism. I don’t think it is, or should be. I don’t have time to deal with intelligence or morality. I can’t deal with those. If ignorant people misinterpret simple statements, it’s not my fault. If factual statements are misconstrued as criticism, that’s somebody else’s problem.”

Maybe I’m about to go too far down the rabbit hole here, but I think this is a fascinating subject that actually illuminates some stuff about how blogging works. And I think I’m taking Valentine’s side here to some degree. But there’s an important caveat.

I can’t think of how many times I’ve simply passed along a fact like “the Mets finances are troubled” or “an unfortunate event happened in Citizens Bank Park involving an unruly fan,” only to have people accuse me of being a hater.  When I hate — or troll or whatever — I would hope that it’s pretty obvious. I have a lot of fun with that. But simply stating facts? Bah, that’s not hating. Fred Wilpon did screw up the Mets finances. That guy did intentionally puke on that little girl at CBP.  Those things happened, even if a bunch of people got all mad after I wrote about, saying stuff like “there you go again, picking on the [Mets of Phillies].”

When someone reacts all hurt about that kind of thing, it says way more about them than it does about whatever it is I have to say. Mets fans don’t like to be reminded that their franchise has issues and Phillies fans don’t like to be reminded that there is a history of ugly things happening in the stands. But that doesn’t change the facts of it all.

But here’s the caveat:  Context matters too. If I have a reputation of hating or trolling — and I’m so happy I do! — it stands to reason that my straight-up statements about the subjects of that hating should fall under greater scrutiny. I try to be fair, but I have a higher burden on me when it comes to subjects I’ve criticized in the past. I have to be careful to play it more straight than usual because I’ve dug myself a bit of a credibility hole, even if it was intentional and, in my view, acceptable to have done so.

Indeed, I want you to hold my feet to the fire on, say, an objective piece of analysis about the Phillies more so than you would other teams, because if you don’t, I get lazy.

Back to Valentine: he’s right. Simply stating the facts, however poorly those facts reflect on a given player, is not ripping them. But if he has a pattern of stating the facts about some players more than others, or if he rarely states the facts, as it were, about other players, that creates a pattern of its own that, in the whole, can be construed as being unfair or throwing guys under the bus or what have you.

To suggest otherwise is to play it a bit too cute.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West