This is less news than random deep thought territory, but whatever: Stephen Strasburg gave a quote over the weekend and Andy Martino tackles it. A well-known cliche about hype, made in reference to Zack Wheeler: “They build you up just so they can bring you down.” That idea, at least in baseball, has always bugged me, in much the same way it seems to bug Martino.
Why? Because it suggests an actual desire on the part of whoever “they” are — be it fans, media, talk radio, whoever — to actually tear down ballplayers. I don’t think that desire exists. And even if the tear-down does eventually happen, I do not think it means that the build up was cynical or calculated.
To be fair, there are some who do this. Professional trolls like T.J. Simers and a lot of the sports yakkers on the more obnoxious end of the spectrum seem to enjoy ripping players for the hell of it. But I don’t think they’re anywhere close to the majority or that whatever they do plays a major role in the hype machine to which Strasburg is referring.
I think the hype of guys like Strasburg and Wheeler is borne of perpetual, unstoppable yet irrational optimism. A genuine excitement whenever a young prospect shows unusual promise. Especially pitchers. Fans act like they’re the second coming. A large part of the media abdicates its critical thinking and plays the “on pace” game or compares extremely early results to that of Hall of Famers. The line between fan and analysis is almost erased and those who try to be cautious are scolded as kill-joys.
Against that backdrop there is almost always going to be disappointment, at least comparatively speaking. Strasburg is still great but, amazingly, is not yet Tom Seaver at his height. Wheeler has great stuff but, amazingly, is not a great pitcher with 16 whole innings under his belt. There are lots of guys like each of them every year yet, because of that early hype, they seem like disappointments and, inevitably, the cold water splashing everyone feels like a tear-down when it’s really just reality.
Anyway, no real point to this other than to observe that just as most players are not as good as their early hype, most criticism of those players is less hate and agenda-driven than it is natural disappointment after irrational expectations.