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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New Yorkered

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Did you hear?

Mets owner Fred Wilpon allowed New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin insider access for a piece in the new issue—link—and the antics of the embattled owner have become fodder for more ridicule hurled at the organization.

This is on top of the Bernie Madoff mess; the on-and-off field player issues; and the attempt to sell a portion of the team while still maintaining control for the Wilpon family.

Dissected everywhere by voices credible and not, it would take far too much time to selectively retort to individual analysts. Some make salient and sensible points; others use this as ammunition to tear into the Mets and Wilpon.

This is a story because it’s a prominent piece in a reputable magazine; the Mets are always a target for abuse; and there are agenda-driven writers making it out to be more than it is.

Fred Wilpon has always been a yeller, but has shied away from actual interference in the club machinations; son Jeff was seen as the meddler, not Fred. His contribution has been signing the checks and getting his dream ballpark built. That he watches games and criticizes like a fan is unsurprising and no different from any involved owner who cares about his team.

Billy Beane was seen to have been tearing into his manager’s moves during the Moneyball fantasy and he was the hard-charger whose actions were evidence of the organizational boss who wanted things done his way; Wilpon does it and it’s more humiliation flung at the organization.

But Beane was considered an infallible genius; Wilpon a clueless fool.

It’s all about perception and framing.

For all the things that were published in the piece, we don’t know what else was said regarding Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran. Didn’t it occur to anyone that if Toobin was following Wilpon to the degree in which he was able to write a 12 page article on the Mets owner, that Wilpon probably said quite a bit more—much of it likely positive—than what was printed?

Could it be that Toobin and the editors of the New Yorker knew what the reaction would be? What the number of webhits would be? How many extra copies of their somewhat pompous magazine would sell to the Mets fanbase—a fanbase that is generally more blue collar and presumably isn’t a regular reader of the New Yorker?

The majority of the piece isn’t even about the Mets. It’s about Bernie Madoff; it’s about the way Fred accumulated his fortune; about his family and the reaction to the Madoff disaster.

Did anyone bother to read it or were they taking the same tack as Toobin, picking and choosing that which was more convenient to reach the end result of another tool to swing at the Mets?

It looks bad to have the criticisms against players in print, but in truth it won’t matter at all in the grand scheme; players are notoriously pragmatic when it comes to getting paid; if the money is there, then they’ll willingly sign with the Mets.

As for the statements about Beltran, Wright and Reyes, they were harsh to be sure, but were they inaccurate?

Carlos Beltran has been a loyal Met; he’s played hard and brilliantly, but he signed with the Mets for one reason: they offered the most money. And this was after he and agent Scott Boras tried to sell Beltran to the Yankees for fewer years and less money than what he got from the Mets.

David Wright is a terrific player, but is he a mega-star along the lines of Alex Rodriguez? Of Albert Pujols? No.

Reyes wants to make up for the signing of the far below market value contract he signed in August of 2006; a deal that precluded his arbitration years and cost him a lot of money; a deal he signed simultaneously to Wright signing his longer and more lucrative extension. Reyes is going to want “Carl Crawford money” as Fred said. If the Mets offer the highest amount of money, he’ll stay (if he’s not traded first); if not, he’ll leave.

The number of players who do as Cliff Lee did and go to the venue of their preference at the expense of money is very, very few and far between; Jim Thome did it as well, but these are veteran players who had either gotten paid already and were in the twilight of a great career (Thome), or were going to get their money one way or the other (Lee).

Reyes is not one of those players; he’s looking to cash in. All will be forgiven if there are enough zeroes on the check.

Fred has never openly meddled with the player moves as Jeff has been perceived to have done. It’s going to be up to GM Sandy Alderson and the money available whether the Mets offer is higher than other clubs pursuing Reyes and, given his history, Alderson isn’t going to take the money that’s coming off the books—Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, possibly Francisco Rodriguez, Beltran—and hand it all over to Reyes at the cost of 3-4 pieces that might provide more use to the club over the long term than one player.

The implication that Wilpon’s comments will scare off potential free agents or employees is ignoring both the past and present in terms of owner/player relationships.

George Steinbrenner was a raving maniac; a convicted felon; a twice suspended owner; a reviled and loathed madman for whom no one wanted to work—until he offered them enough money to look past his faults; beyond the rampant and repeated lunacy of the appropriately nicknamed Bronx Zoo. He got away with things because he spent cash and his teams won. Lo and behold, upon his death he turned into a “great man” rather than a capricious, mean and bullying force who embarrassed baseball and his club times too numerous to recount in a small space.

I don’t know if you can go through the list of sports owners and not find a vast percentage who were clownish and brutal in their treatment of underlings. Marge Schott; Jeffrey Loria; Ray Kroc; Tom Hicks; Peter Angelos; Drayton McLane; Vince Naimoli; Frank McCourt—all said and did things that created controversy and a media frenzy.

You can focus on their negatives or their positives based on whatever’s convenient.

Steinbrenner donated tons of money to charities and paid for the educations of the children of killed-in-action firefighters and police; Loria’s team wins under a minimalist budget; McLane’s teams were successful and his overruling his baseball people turned out to be right several times; Angelos’s teams were successful early in his ownership; McCourt’s teams have been a pitch or two away from back-to-back World Series appearances.

Had the Mets gotten one extra hit in 2006, 2007 and 2008 there was a legitimate possibility of three straight World Series appearances/wins.

How would that have altered the view of the Mets and their ownership?

Skilled writers who clearly had an agenda like Toobin can adjust stories to highlight points that will draw the most attention; the media-at-large can take that to establish or bolster their own personal biases and beliefs.

That’s what’s happening now.

It’s meaningless.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s a farce.

You can say the same about the Mets if you want, but it won’t be due to this article by Jeffrey Toobin or the over-the-top reactions to it.

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