Old story: The insiders go after the stat guys. New twist: in politics

78 Comments

Nate Silver is known for two things: (1) being one of the old school Baseball Prospectus people, where he developed the PECOTA projection system; and (2) being a political polling analyst/prognosticator and proprietor of the FiveThirtyEight.com blog, which appears in the New York Times. He used to crunch baseball numbers. Now he crunches political polling data. Viva varied interests and transferable skills.

One of the facts of life for the early Baseball Prospectus folks was the skepticism to the point of disdain they received — and in some cases still receive — for their methods, conclusions and tone, with said skepticism and disdain coming most significantly from the establishment baseball press.  The worst of that is long over — most baseball writers now accept that general take — and it’s actually notable now when someone whips out a decade-old criticism of sabermetrics and other Baseball Prospectusy things.

Silver is reliving the bad old days in the political arena, however, as in recent weeks a healthy portion of the political punditry has become consumed with attacking Silver, his methods, his conclusions and his tone. While I don’t have nearly the investment in the political stuff as I do the baseball stuff, as far as I can tell, most of the criticism of Silver’s work is based on (a) a basic misunderstanding of statistics and what they can and cannot prove; and (b) a resentment of sorts that someone from the outside, as opposed to political writers who have made their bones pressing the flesh, is making headlines and earning a paycheck in their business.

Gee, sound familiar?

I am not going to jump into the specifics of that debate here because this is a baseball blog and not a political one, but the broad strokes of it all are instructive for our purposes.  The best summary of it I’ve seen so far — one which actually explains why these camps fight the way they do as opposed to merely arguing up one side or down the other — comes from Mark Coddington, who has a great post up today talking about it all.

The executive summary: when someone gets their information and their authority from being on the inside, they are inevitably wary, and often hostile to those who seek to play in their sandbox without getting their information and authority from the inside themselves.

I would also add that those on the outside have historically tended to be overly dismissive of information from people who work on the inside, and have their own history of hostility toward their inside counterparts. There are differences in how that is all manifested — one side clearly is the establishment here and one side the newcomers, which shapes the rhetoric of it all — but it’s mostly a fight about how one comes by information and what one considers to be legitimate information.

It’s a fascinating topic. One which I think serves all of us who care about the information we get and are critical of its sources. And Coddington, I think, does a great job of laying it all out without getting sucked into the minutiae of the actual warring camps.

Reds sign catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year deal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports that the Reds have signed catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year contract extension. The terms: $16 million total, with a $7.5 million club option for the 2022 season that has a $500,000 buyout. He also received a $1.75 million signing bonus.

The deal buys out all three of his arbitration years — he was going to be eligible for the first time this offseason — and the first year of his potential free agency. The club option buys a second. Barnhart made $575,000 this season.

Barnhart, 26, is finishing his second season as the Reds primary catcher. This year he’s hitting .272/.349/.399 with six homers and 42 RBI in 113 games. For his career he has a line of .257/.328/.366 in 330 major league games. His real value is defensive, however. He leads the National League in caught stealing percentage and number of base stealers caught (31-for-70, 44%) and leads all players at any position in the league in defensive WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Dodgers owner Mark Walter is involved in a scandal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Dodgers last owner, Frank McCourt, was a mainstay of the gossip pages. The new administration has been pretty drama free since taking over five years ago. That is, until now.

Multiple outlets, ranging from the New York Post to the Wall Street Journal, have been reporting on a scandal brewing at Guggenheim Partners, the multi-billion investment firm led by Mark Walter, its CEO. Walter is also the head of Guggenheim Baseball Management, the offshoot of the firm which owns the Dodgers. Walter is the Dodgers’ named owner — the “control person” — as far as Major League Baseball is concerned.

The scandal does not directly relate to the baseball team. Rather, it involves allegations that Walter bought a $13 million Pacific Palisades home for a younger female executive named Alexandra Court:

In the past 24 hours, the company has pushed back on multiple reports that CEO Mark Walter will step down; its chief investment officer has claimed on CNBC that there’s “no tumult” at the company; and Guggenheim has denied reports on a real-estate blog and in the New York Post that Walter bought a California mansion for a younger female executive at the company.

The denial regarding who bought the mansion is a bit too cute, though, as the company only denies that Walter bought it or owns it. In fact, the mansion is owned by a holding company that also bought Walter’s personal residence in Malibu. Billionaires don’t go to closings at title company offices, of course. They buy houses through companies and LLCs and trusts and stuff. As such, the claim that Walter didn’t buy the house may be technically and legally true but entirely misleading all the same. For what it’s worth, The Wall Street Journal has reported that Walter and Court have a “personal relationship.” Walter, who is married, and the company deny this. Court is on an extended leave of absence.

Walter and Guggenheim are denying that Walter is going to step down as CEO. That remains to be seen. The question for our purposes is whether, if he steps down from Guggenheim Partners, he would necessarily have to step down from Guggenheim Baseball Management and thus relinquish control of the Dodgers. I suspect not — they’re distinct legal entities, and his departure from Partners would be unrelated to stuff having to do with the baseball team — but you never know. It’s not like he put up $2 billion of his personal dollars for the team. There are likely a lot of strings attached and contingencies involved to the arrangement.

Something to watch.