The Shady Non-Story of Keith Law and the Astros

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How is it possible when any tiny little bit of baseball news on and off the field is reported by multiple outlets that—during a relatively slow time—no one has any details of the job Keith Law was supposedly offered by the Houston Astros?

What you’re telling me is that Jon Heyman, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick and Jayson Stark (both of whom work for ESPN with Law) don’t have any details on this bit of “news”? On a baseball news day in which MLB Trade Rumors was posting stories entitled “Phillies Release John Bowker”; “Cardinals Shopping for Right-Handed Reliever”; “Phillies Interested in Jeremy Accardo”; and “Mets Re-Sign Miguel Batista”, the Law-Astros story received no attention and no digging apart from what Law himself said on Twitter?

Really?

What would be said if Sergio Mitre came out and said that he’d chosen to leave the Yankees rather than be the number two starter behind CC Sabathia?

Or if Grady Little said he’d chosen not to return to manage the Red Sox to replace Terry Francona?

They’d be ridiculed.

But because of his status as a former assistant in the Blue Jays front office who has carved out a snarky niche for himself as something other than a stat guy and is now a TV analyst and scout, his pronouncements are given credibility.

Do they warrant credibility?

It’s circular.

Highly educated at Harvard and other fine institutions of higher learning>>writer for Baseball Prospectus>>former Blue Jays assistant>>ESPN analyst/scouting and draft guru>>interviewing with the Astros.

But is it real?

Should we believe him?

It’s hard to tell.

Weeks ago, it was reported that Law interviewed for several front office positions with the new Astros braintrust led by Jeff Luhnow.

Luhnow proceeded to hire Sig Mejdal as his “Director of Decision Sciences” (whatever that is); and Stephanie Wilka as his Coordinator of Amateur Scouting.

But no Law.

Yesterday Law said the following at about noon Eastern time on his Twitter feed:

I have chosen to stay with ESPN. It was a difficult decision, and I’m very grateful to the Astros for the opportunity.

The opportunity for what is unclear.

Did they offer him a job or not?

The tweet was so opaque and laden with ambiguous phrasing and plausible deniability that it looks like a political cover story to protect Law’s reputation as the ultimate baseball insider; someone who knows his way around front offices, crunches the numbers and travels around doing “scouting”. He has a breadth of experience and knowledge, thereby according him as an “expert” in the media.

But is he?

Where is this story and why doesn’t anyone with inside informers and leaks have the details of the job that Law implies—doesn’t say, but implies—the Astros offered?

The only reporting I can find online ends up back with Law’s pronouncement. Here on Hardball Talk, Aaron Gleeman reports what Law said on Twitter.

No one knows what job he was offered?

Circular.

And back to Law.

Law has me blocked on Twitter. Why? Probably because I call him an armchair expert who regurgitates scouting terminology. I don’t call people names or curse at them; his decision to block me is indicative of a skin far too thin to say the things he does in the tone he says them.

Blocking me on Twitter was, retrospectively, a bad idea. Truth be told, I don’t remember if I ever even followed him (I don’t think I did), so blocking me informs the world at large that he knows who I am. That’s unless he scours Twitter during his off hours and blocks random people. With (at the time of this writing) 364,584 followers, that’s highly unlikely.

Law strikes me as someone who’s very conscious of how he’s perceived and is desperately seeking to maintain and bolster his reputation; but when one is caught in prevarications or twisted facts as he was when he had his somewhat embarrassing slap fight with Michael Lewis over Law’s negative review of the film Moneyball and then backtracks like a trapped waterbug, his agenda reveals itself.

Later, in what was clearly an effort to say, “look, the Astros aren’t done hiring after Mejdal and Wilka”, Law tweeted:

Astros have received permission to interview Cardinals regional cross-checker Mike Elias for a Special Assistant role in scouting

Someone asked if that was the same job Law was offered and he replied:

no, I don’t think it’s the same job.

Here’s what I suspect: the Astros interviewed Law as a courtesy without any intention of hiring him; the story of said interview was leaked (possibly by Law himself); this was either an attempt on the part of Law to extract a better deal from ESPN or to shoehorn his way into a front office job with a GM in Luhnow who believes what Law believes in building an organization; the Astros may or may not have offered him a position, but that position was such that it was either designed for him to turn down because it was so low on the totem pole or didn’t happen at all and they’re letting him kindasorta say they did in a face-saving gesture; and now he’s made a great show of “choosing to stay at ESPN” when he really didn’t have much of an alternative to leave from the beginning.

How is a story that begins and ends with one source—the subject of said story—to be taken at face value?

It can’t.

If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

But through the principles of deduction, what we’ve learned so far and from whom we’ve learned it, I don’t think I am.

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Hoping the Astros Hire Keith Law

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The new front office of the Houston Astros led by Jeff Luhnow interviewed ESPN analyst and former Blue Jays assistant Keith Law for several roles.

He has yet to be offered a position.

I hope he gets one.

Because Law has become such a polarizing, prominent and referenced voice in all things baseball, he’s accumulated a large number of fans that take every word he says as gospel and others who think he’s obnoxious and thin-skinned.

Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I don’t.

In matters of scouting and analyzing prospects, I’ve always seen him as one who regurgitates stuff he’s heard and repeats terminology designed to sound as if he’s assessing when he’s simply attempting to sound more knowledgeable than he is.

He doesn’t have a thorough understanding of the game itself in most contexts other than those he’s soaked up from scouts and his statistical knowhow.

As simplistic as is the overused, final say argument-ender from players and managers of, “What do you know? You never played professionally,” in response to a questioning of their performance and strategy, to use a Law statement in the aftermath of his silly online slapfight with Michael Lewis over his mostly accurate review of Moneyball, there’s a kernel of truth to it.

It’s very easy to sit on the sideline and say to a Jeff Francoeur that because he bats .420 with the count 3-1, “Well, why don’t you take more pitches?” Or to tell Gio Gonzalez that (I’m making these numbers up) that when he throws a first pitch strike, he gets the hitter out 97% of the time and should throw more first pitch strikes as if he’s not trying to do exactly that.

It’s not that easy in practice and if you’ve never physically played the game, you’re missing an imperative facet to accurately gauge and understand why a player doesn’t do what seems so simplistic on paper.

The aforementioned Lewis dustup showed Law to be skittish and disingenuous. He got caught in a lie and knew he was caught in a lie—if Lewis had the interview on tape or kept his notes, it would’ve been known immediately—so he bailed out before the facts were exposed and tried to “explain”.

You can’t be smug and condescending and completely unable to take legitimate questioning of your agenda and credentials; you can’t rip into front office people and managers and hide when your own “expert” analysis is disputed.

It doesn’t work that way.

His ESPN “mock drafts” are for public consumption only and essentially irrelevant.

I could scour the web right before the draft, find the top 40 ranked prospects, look at their amateur stats and physical attributes and formulate a “mock draft” that would look like I knew what I was talking about whether or not I’d seen and heard of any of the players; there would be people who read what I wrote and defend it based on my skills at sprinkling key words into the piece based on what I wanted to convey.

If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, there will be a vast percentage of readers/listeners who take it as fact that you do, even if you don’t.

The Twitter tough guy responses to anyone who dares question him are indicative of one who has a lot to say from the safety of his computer or phone, but disappears when directly challenged.

If you examine his current Twitter feed, you’ll see that he’s still making snide and—in my opinion—unprofessional comments about people in the game; about contracts; about trades; about drafts; about everything. It’s strange from someone who clearly wants and is waiting for a potential job offer to get back into the trenches and will have to deal with those same people who will remember what he’s said about them.

Wouldn’t shutting down the tweeting until he knows about the job be the wise, intelligent thing to do?

Incidentally, Law has me blocked on Twitter. Never once have I said anything abusive. Like him, I say what I think and what I’ve said about Law is that he’s an armchair expert; I’ve pointed out his cluelessness of baseball history, and ridiculed his silly mock drafts.

Having a thin skin is unsustainable and an invitation to disaster; if he’s going back into a baseball front office, he’s going to have a big problem with those who are waiting for a chance to get back at him for the things he’s said over the years.

To use the title of his food/culture blog “The Dish”, my advice to anyone and everyone is don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

As popular as Law apparently is with his fans, his critiques are disguised as “honesty” and devoid of accountability.

If he got back into the arena and was the person making the decisions, there would be nowhere for him to run if they failed; but he’d also get the credit if they worked.

It could mean nothing that he was interviewed last week and that he’s yet to have been offered a position; presumably it he’s not, he’ll find a way to spin it to save face and stay at ESPN. But why take the interview if you don’t have serious interest in the job?

That the Astros are a front office that is using the statistical template that Law believes in makes it a good match; but if they don’t want him, it’s going to be quite embarrassing and a window into his actual credibility within baseball.

I want him to get a job with the Astros.

I don’t want him to fail; I don’t want him to succeed.

I’m indifferent.

I’d just like to see what happens once he’s out of the studio and off the web, making decisions for a franchise and has to answer to critics rather than being one himself.

He’d better be a success.

Because people don’t forget.

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Let’s Put Keith Law And Michael Lewis In A Room Together

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Then we can lock it and leave.

That’s it.

Here is Law’s review of Moneyball, the MOVIE; and here’s Lewis’s retort to Law’s review of Moneyball, the MOVIE.

After getting past the pure comedy aspect of an online duel between two extremely smug, pompous people who think they’re smarter than they really are—neither of whom knows very much about in-the-trenches baseball and have been accorded credibility because one wrote a bestselling book supposedly “true” but is in actuality a clever bit of creative non-fiction; and the other has memorized scouting terminology and is fancied as an expert by those of like-minded beliefs—we see that someone here is lying.

The quote from Law regarding Lewis’s mentioning of him in Moneyball from The Projector on Yahoo:

Law tells us that the section of the book he is mentioned in was fabricated by author Michael Lewis. Says Law: “I am mentioned in the book’s epilogue in one or two paragraphs that tell a story that never actually happened.”

Lewis retorts:

“I don’t understand why he goes from being — when I interviewed Keith Law, and I did, at length — he was so nasty about scouts and scouting culture and the stupidity of baseball insiders. He was the reductio ad absurdum of the person who was the smarty pants who had been brought into the game and was smarter than everybody else. He alienated people. And now he’s casting himself as someone who sees the value of the old school. I can’t see where this is all heading and why. But I learned from experience that the best thing to do is ignore it, because it goes away.”

One of them is not telling the truth.

If I were Lewis, I’d find my notes and or recordings of said interview—and if he no longer has them, then he’s an idiot—and present them. The case will be closed either way.

This is the first shot in what’s going to be an extended period of sniping between those who have an investment in Moneyball being a continued success.

They don’t want the truth that Billy Beane‘s not a genius; they don’t want to see that the Beane strategies worked briefly because once they came to light, of course others were going to copy them, rendering them unsustainable for a small market club. Beane’s been unable to adapt and what we see is an Oakland Athletics team that is 18 games out of first place; 15 games under .500; and all-around terrible.

Much like the comments section to anything posted on Baseball Think Factory, there will be the reviews; others will agree or disagree; the argument will escalate into name calling; then degenerate into debates about things that have nothing to do with the original argument to begin with.

It happens every time.

I have my suspicions as to whom is telling the truth; but I’ll guess a backroom deal/chat will take place and the sniping will stop without a resolution to present a united front for their “revolution”.

Call me cynical, but when agenda-driven opinion is expressed, all sides have interest in keeping their agenda believable or ambiguous.

They’ll stop fighting to, as Lewis said, make this go away.

I’ll keep hammering it though.

Because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall; you need me on that wall!!!

And like it or not, I’m here to stay. To serve and protect.

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Revolutionary Infighting

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Fiefdoms abound; tribal loyalties clash; desire for power and credit pits allies out of convenience into bitter enemies; turf wars explode.

No. I’m not talking about Libya.

I’m talking about stat guys who are already starting to bicker amongst themselves about the film Moneyball.

Keith Law wrote a negative review of the movie and was under siege for having the audacity to betray the community of which he’s supposed to be a founding and main member—the Ivy Leaguers who were meant to take over baseball front offices like a pack of roaches after a nuclear holocaust.

I have no idea who’s telling the truth in the hilarious back-and-forth between Law and Moneyball writer Michael Lewis; Law didn’t like the film; Lewis retorted to Law’s negative review. This is the first salvo of infighting and we’re going to see much, much more as the movie enters theaters. It’s going to spread like the rage virus from 28 Days Later. Fast.

It will be enlightening to see the reactions to the book and movie from people who still think the book is non-fiction and what really happened rather than a twisted bit of creative non-fiction designed to present Billy Beane and the stat “revolutionaries” as being “right”.

I’ll say this: if people are going to see the film expecting to see a direct adaptation from the book to the movie, they’re going to be disappointed.

If they think that they’re going to get a true portrayal of Beane, they’re going to be disappointed.

If they’re expecting anything other than slight flashes of recollection from the book with things that were kinda-sorta in there, they’ll be disappointed.

My advice is to enter the theater without any preconceived notions and watch the film as a film.

And that’s the same advice I have for people who will read the book before and after.

As a book, Moneyball is an impressive and skillfully presented story by a very good writer.

It just so happens that the writer had an agenda that was missed or ignored in the heady days following its publication as the so-called “revolution” was at its height.

Such is no longer the case.

I like baseball movies and am interested in the film, but am not expecting anything close to the book because the book was absurd to start with and the movie isn’t going to resemble the book in anything but the most general way.

Just watch the movie if you’re interested in seeing it and don’t think you’re getting a fly-on-the-wall treatment of what and how the legend of Billy Beane came to be. That’s something that neither the book nor the movie are going to give you because it doesn’t actually exist and never really did. Not even as Brad Pitt.

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