Brandon McCarthy vs. Keith Law—Live On Twitter

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An entertaining and extended Twitter fight went into the early morning hours (EST) between Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy and ESPN writer Keith Law after Law sent out a tweet decrying the concept of Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera being “locked in” during his three homer night against the Rangers. Cabrera also singled and walked. The Rangers won the game 11-8.

This isn’t about the debate of whether, as Law said, being locked in is a “myth.” Law’s argument centers around there not being any evidence to prove that being “locked in” exists. I don’t agree with the premise. Simply because there’s no study to prove or disprove “its” existence doesn’t mean the “it” doesn’t exist. It’s weak and pompous to suggest that there’s a conclusion one way or the other because there’s no study to footnote. Has anyone even tried to examine the brain-body link when a player is in a “zone” or “locked in” to see if there’s a difference between a hot streak and a slump? Pitchers’ mechanics and hitters’ swings are dissected through attachments of body to computer to spot flaws and correct them, so what about the brain-body link and the possibility of being “locked in”? If it hasn’t been studied, how do you prove it doesn’t exist? And how do you declare it’s a myth?

I feel some semblance of sympathy for Law here. As obnoxious, phony and as much of a created entity as he is, he tweeted one thing and found himself under siege not just by people who dislike him, but by many who actually are fans of his and a big league player who is sabermetrically inclined and cerebral basically telling him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It was one tweet that ended with a marathon that I’m sure Law wanted no part of after the first fifteen minutes, but couldn’t find a way to extricate himself from the situation while maintaining his unfounded reputation as an “expert.” It went on for hours and will undoubtedly continue throughout the day. Or the week. Or the month. Or the year. That’s how Twitter is.

I believe in the “locked in” idea and it’s not based on some throwaway line. Anyone who’s ever played a sport—or done anything at all on a regular basis—knows that there are times that it just feels “right” and there are instances when it’s not necessary to think about the things that a pitcher or hitter has to think about, sometimes to his detriment. When a hitter or pitcher has his mind on mechanics—where the hands are, where the feet are, where the landing spot is—and then has to deal with the pitches coming at him or the hitters standing at the plate, it makes it exponentially harder to focus on the one moment they need to be focusing on for sustained success. There are times when it all comes together and there’s no need to think about those mechanical necessities because all is in symmetry and it’s automatic.

The “you never played” argument is treated as if it’s irrelevant by those who never played because they can’t combat the assertion. It’s not easy to make it to the Major Leagues whether it’s someone who understands stats like McCarthy or someone for whom stats are an inconvenience like Jeff Francoeur. It is, however, remarkably easy in today’s game to make it to a Major League front office or into the media as an “expert.”

Law’s entire career has been based on an if this/then that premise. He was a writer on statistics and when the Blue Jays hired J.P. Ricciardi out of the Athletics front office as the Moneyball theory was first starting to be known and implemented, he hired Law. Law worked for the Blue Jays, left to take a job at ESPN and suddenly morphed through some inexplicable osmosis from the arrogant and condescending stat guy who Michael Lewis described in Moneyball (and after the Moneyball movie came out and Law panned it, in an entertaining slap fight between the two) into an arrogant and condescending stat and all-knowing scouting guy. In reality, there’s no scouting guy in there. He’s regurgitating stuff he heard. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s no foundation for his status as the ultimate insider and someone who knows both scouting and stats.

Law didn’t pay his dues as a writer meeting deadlines, covering games and trying to get a usable quote from Barry Bonds; he didn’t play; he didn’t work his way up in the front office from getting coffee for people as an intern to a low-level staffer and eventually a baseball executive. I don’t agree with much of what Law’s fellow ESPN “Insider” Jim Bowden says, but at least Bowden was a scout and a GM who made the primordial climb working for George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott. Law just sort of showed up and was anointed as the all-seeing, all-knowing totem of the stat people.

And there’s the fundamental issue with him.

He’s a creation. The ridiculous mock MLB Drafts, smug style and wallowing in objective data as well as his only recently discovered interest in in-the-trenches scouting is similar to the marketing of a boy band. There had to be something there to start with, of course. Law’s obviously intelligent as he constantly tries to show with his “look how smart I am” tweets in Latin, but that doesn’t translate into industry-wide respect that they’re trying to desperately to cultivate. With a boy band, it’s a look and willingness to do what they’re taught, sing the songs they’re given and be happy that they’re making money and have girls screaming their names on a nightly basis. With Law, it’s his circular status as a guy who’s worked in an MLB front office as if that denotes credibility on all things baseball. Those who hate GMs and former GMs who shun many of the new and beloved stats wouldn’t listen to Omar Minaya, Bill Bavasi or Ruben Amaro Jr. if they were given the forum that Law has, so why does Law automatically receive undeserved respect?

Just like veteran baseball front office people and players have to deal with unwanted suggestions and the presence of people they don’t think know anything about how the actual game of baseball is played, so too do the sportswriters—many of whom worked their way up as beat reporters for box lacrosse until they’re in a coveted baseball columnist position—have to look at people like Law and wonder: “Why’s he here?” “Why does anyone listen to him?”

What must make it worse for the real reporters at ESPN like Buster Olney and Jayson Stark is that for the good of ESPN webhits and advertising rates, they have to promote Law’s writing due to organizational needs and orders from above. According to speculation, Law and Olney aren’t exactly buddies. It must burn Olney to have to lead his followers to Law’s mock drafts that Olney is experienced enough as a baseball writer to know are ridiculous.

Because it was McCarthy, a player who understands and utilizes the same stats that Law propounds in practice as a Major League baseball player and not a “me throw ball, me swing bat” player who isn’t aware of the war going on in Syria let alone WAR as a stat, Law couldn’t use the argument of an eyeroll and hand wave with backup from his minions. That, more than the relatively meaningless debate, is probably what stings most of all.

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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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