Ryan Howard, Ryan Hanigan, Bruce Dreckman

Ryan Howard’s ability to hit lefties is not a matter of opinion

133 Comments

I was just reading this profile on Ryan Howard over at Philly.com. It’s your standard spring optimism piece. Howard feels way better now than last year and is ready to return to form. Nothing all that notable in the story.

But midway down the story, a poll appears:

source:

Internet polls are all pretty meaningless, especially the actual results. But this one is particularly astounding to me inasmuch as it treats something which is wholly empirical — whether or not Ryan Howard can hit lefties — as though it were a matter of opinion or belief. Which may not seem like a big deal, but when you think about it this is the exact reason why so much sports conversation is stupid.

For better or worse, people have been conditioned to think that their opinions and beliefs, no matter how loony they are, are just as valid as anyone’s else’s. So when one challenges a given opinion or belief, one understandably gets an extreme amount of pushback and intransigence. That’s well and good when we’re talking about a lot of opinions or beliefs. I believe that “Tonight’s the Night” is the best Neil Young album. I don’t care how many of you ninnies think “After the Gold Rush” is better, I’m simply not going to buy it and if you insist on it I’m ultimately gonna think poor things of you and ignore you. For your part, I hope you feel the same way about me in this respect.

But when someone treats something that is purely empirical as thought it were belief, that’s the road to lunacy and ignorance.  No matter how big a Phillies fan you are and no matter how badly you want to see Ryan Howard take Clayton Kershaw downtown the next time they meet, it is inescapable — it is a matter of pure, immutable fact — that Ryan Howard has struggled mightily against lefties for his career and that he has gotten worse, not better, at hitting them as time has gone on. This is true whether he has been healthy or injured. With few, long ago exceptions, he has always been a liability against lefthanders.

Sports fans — and even a lot of sports writers — treat empirical things as though they were matters of belief. They believe Howard can hit lefties. They believe Jack Morris was the best pitcher of the 1980s. They believe that Michael Young’s leadership and professionalism make him an MVP-caliber player. They believe that Derek Jeter is a good defensive shortstop.  And if someone says “he can’t,” “he wasn’t,” “it doesn’t” and “he isn’t,” you’re not just wrong, you’re assailing one’s belief system, and that makes you an awful person.

Empiricism vs. Belief. It’s the core of a lot of political arguments. It’s also the core of a lot of baseball arguments. If only we could all agree which things are matters of which, imagine how much better everyone would get along.

Nationals acquire Derek Norris from Padres

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Derek Norris #3 of the San Diego Padres prepares to bat against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a MLB game at Chase Field on October 1, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Getty Images
3 Comments

According to an official team announcement, the Nationals have acquired catcher Derek Norris from the Padres in exchange for right-hander Pedro Avila.

Norris, 27, batted a career-low .186/.225/.328 in 458 PA with the Padres in 2016. He hit career highs with 14 home runs and nine stolen bases, but his dismal production rate through the second half of the season spelled the end of his time in a starting role in San Diego. Norris’ departure from the Padres also confirms 24-year-old Austin Hedges‘ spot on the roster, as reported by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell:

Heading to San Diego is 19-year-old right-handed starter Pedro Avila, who was acquired by the Nationals as an international free agent in 2014. The 19-year-old spent his first season in Single-A Hagerstown and went 7-7 with a 3.48 ERA and 2.42 K/BB rate in 93 innings.

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame ballot: Bud Selig

Bud Selig
Associated Press
Leave a comment

On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. The final candidate: Bud Selig. 

The case for his induction:

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, in January 2015, as Bud Selig was stepping down after 20+ years as baseball’s commissioner, I wrote a column claiming that he was “The Greatest Commissioner in Baseball History.” I stand by that assessment.

Which is not to say that he was perfect or that he was, in an absolute sense, good. He was simply better than all of the other commissioners, most of whom weren’t worth a tinker’s damn.

More important to that analysis than his historical comps, however, was that when people talk about how good or bad a commissioner was, they’re usually judging him by their own, subjective terms, not the terms of the commissioner’s employment. Contrary to popular belief, the commissioner is not a president, governor or mayor of baseball. He is not elected by nor answerable to the fans or the public. He may play up all of the trappings of political leadership because it makes him seem important and noble and serves to justify the power he wields, but in reality the commissioner of baseball is merely the Chairman of the Board for Baseball, Inc., answerable to anywhere between 16 and 30 owners depending on what time in baseball history he happend to serve.

People hate being reminded of that. They want to say Bud Selig was a failure because he did things they did not like, but that’s beside the point. He did things his employers liked and did them better than most others who preceded him. In the process he made a lot of people very rich, including all of the other owners, broadcast executives, players, agents and just about anyone else who holds a stake in baseball. His transgressions — discussed below — were real, but they were not considered deal breakers for anyone to whom Selig actually owed a duty. He may have betrayed you or me and he may have done things that harmed our love of baseball, but it was never his job to make us happy. Sorry I had to tell you that so bluntly, but it’s better you heard it from a friend.

So, the case for Bud: he did his job the way he was supposed to and he grew the game and made his employers rich. That’s not an inspiring case, but it’s the case we have.

The case against his induction:

Personally, I don’t think any commissioner should be in the Hall of Fame, but as we noted with the other executives, that ship has sailed. Bowie Kuhn is in the Hall of Fame for Pete’s sake and he bungled just about everything that came his way. Hall of Fame induction for a commissioner is a gold watch. A lifetime achievement award.

It may also be worth noting that he’s on the Hall of Fame board for crying out loud, so he has a blatant conflict of interest here, what with having been part of selecting or approving the very people who will vote for him on Monday. Based on what we’re seeing in other arenas, however, I suppose we’re over things like conflicts of interest in late 2016 America, so that gets us nowhere.

Still, let’s not pretend that Bud Selig was not an accomplice and, according to many, a ringleader of a literal criminal conspiracy that harmed people’s livelihoods and, in turn, compromised the product on the field. Let us not pretend he did not launch a disastrous, cynical and greed-inspired labor war that cost us the 1994 season and World Series. Let us not pretend that he did not turn the ownership ranks into a secret society open only to those who know the secret knock, rewarding those inside the club, however incompetent, and destroying entire franchises. Let us not pretend that he did not willfully turn a blind eye to steroid and performance enhancing drug use in the game, knowing that the resulting dingers helped boost fan interest and revenue, only to then turn around and vilify and scapegoat the players who used those drugs in a comically grandstanding and self-serving manner.

Should all of that be held against him? Absolutely. Will they be? I seriously, seriously doubt it.

Would I vote for him?

We hear from BBWAA voters so very often that to withhold a Hall of Fame vote from someone is not a “punishment” as much as it is a mere denial of the highest honor. We hear that withholding a vote does not deny a player’s greatness, just a place in the Hall. If that’s the case I see no problem withholding a vote from Selig, even if he was the greatest commissioner. Yes, he was great, but he also did a lot of stuff which brought ignominy to the game and which actively harmed people. Many, many players have been effectively barred from entering the Hall of Fame for far lesser transgressions. Bud Selig is not, in my view, worthy of baseball’s highest honor.

Will the Committee vote for him?

It’s a mortal lock. Baseball loves nothing more than patting Bud Selig on the back. He made everyone involved with it quite wealthy. I’d place the odds of him making it in on Monday’s vote at 100%.