Indians, WWW

Anti-information coverage and the Response it Engenders

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Major League Baseball fans have a disagreement over the nature of information that can be considered illuminating when watching a baseball game. Perhaps more divisive than the information itself is the type of coverage a fan may want. There are two competing assumptions from each camp:

  • The old school camp assumes analytics-leaning fans yearn for a technical and boring broadcast, a sort of snobby erudite affair wherein the coverage drones on and sounds like your calculus teacher down to the nasal voice-overs.
  • The analytical crowd assumes traditional fans do not wish for insight nor creative analysis but rather a sort of rapid-fire cliche machine that is not dissimilar to Jon Gruden.

Both assumptions can be described as straw men; intentionally misrepresenting a position, which is easier to defeat rhetorically.

The debate is futile and unending, with the two sides fighting the ghosts of their misconceptions. The sort of volatile responses that these assumptions can trigger are expected. As is the case in many larger social conflicts, there is common ground that can be found, a space where both schools of thought can be satisfied.  Indeed, baseball traditionalists have no fundamental opposition to learning nor stat-wonks an interest against the consumption of moments ill-described by sheets of data.

However, there is one true enemy who endangers the bridging of this intellectual gap: the attention-seeking troll. The troll uses these base assumptions enumerated above to create straw men and then attempts to assert the ultimate truth rests in whatever corner they purportedly support. This anachronistic rhetorical approach calls to mind Plato’s Gorgias. In Gorgias, Plato describes a dialogue including his mentor Socrates and a famous rhetorician named Gorgias. Socrates discusses the true and the false arts, arguing the important distinction between flattery or rhetoric without virtue and rhetoric for the purpose of virtue.1 Socrates seems to criticize Gorgias throughout the dialogue for using his rhetorical powers and position on non-virtuous noise. This sounds like the attention seeking troll though in more complex and descriptive language.

In this vein, certain commentators wield their large platform with skill; to leverage their position either for deceptive analysis or as an authority for illumination. Jensen Lewis though is an exquisite example of simplicity.

Lewis’ straw man is constructed on Roberto Perez walkoff-bunt from Monday night’s win. Perez executed what was a poor bunt and- but for a double-clutch by the Boston first baseman- would likely have ended in the lead runner being cut down. But what is bigger is that Lewis assumes “saber geeks”2 operate with the belief that all bunting is the wrong decision. However, situations shift the efficiency of the bunt. Thankfully, WFNY’s thorn in the side of extremism, Michael Bode, pointed out Lewis’ misconception.

By eschewing the pursuit of actual understanding and constructing a straw man that does not reflect the approach of sabermetricians, Lewis is merely creating noise, which undermines the greater conversation, a dialogue between pure aesthetics and analytics. There is substantive criticism to be found of any approach but criticizing one blindly with the only purpose being to goad reaction from opponents is the sort of rhetorical and influential malpractice that impedes intellectual progress.

  1. Feel free to criticize this interpretation of a Platonic dialogue. []
  2. Nothing less persuasive than an ad hominem attack []