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

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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.

Jack Morris and Alan Trammell make the Hall of Fame on the Modern Era ballot

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The Modern Era ballot was revealed last month. The results have been announced on Sunday night. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next summer.

Morris, now 62, pitched parts of 18 seasons in the majors, 14 of which were spent with the Tigers. He played on four championship teams: the 1984 Tigers, the 1991 Twins, and the 1992-93 Blue Jays. While his regular season stats weren’t terribly impressive beyond his 254 wins, Morris has always had a decent amount of Hall of Fame support due to his postseason performances. Morris shut the Braves out over 10 innings in Game 7 of the ’91 World Series. That being said, his postseason ERA of 3.80 isn’t far off his regular season ERA of 3.90. If you ask me, Morris doesn’t pass muster for the Hall of Fame. He now has the highest career ERA of any pitcher in the Hall.

Trammel, now 59, had been unjustly kept out of the Hall of Fame despite a terrific career. He hit .285/.352/.415 across parts of 20 seasons from 1977-96, all with the Tigers. He was regarded as a tremendous defender and made a memorable combination up the middle with Lou Whitaker, who also played with the Tigers from 1977-95. According to Baseball Reference, Trammell racked up 70.4 Wins Above Replacement during his career, which is slightly more than Hall of Famer Barry Larkin (70.2) and as much as Hall of Famer Ron Santo (70.4).

Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant, and Marvin Miller were not elected to the Hall of Fame. Miller continuing to be shut out is a travesty. Craig has written at length here about Miller’s exclusion.