Saturday, May 27, 2023

Masquerading as Wisdom

Don't believe everything you read from the so-called experts. They can be every bit as uninformed as the guy on the next barstool over.

Just because something is stated unambiguously in a confident manner doesn't mean it is a fact. The rise of social media platforms allows folks to "do their own research" in an environment free from real expertise and rigid fact-checking. If you really want to believe something, there is no doubt that you can find plenty of corroboration to reinforce your beliefs. However, if you care about discovering what is true, you'll have to work much harder. You'll also have to be willing to, at least occasionally, deal with finding out that your preconceived notions were wrong.

Now folks in the mainstream media sources will tell you that their standards of journalism make them less prone to presenting a false statement as truth. In most cases, this is true. The standards to which these organizations hold themselves work against the spread of outright lies. It's far from a perfect system, but it does pretty well, particularly outside of political reporting. I promise we won't get into that here.

I came across something the other day that really threw me. It wasn't a piece about the Mets, although they were used as an example. Rather, it was Ken Rosenthal's piece on the A's prospective move to Las Vegas in The Athletic. Much of Rosenthal's writing was about how historically bad Oakland's team is this season. They're a legit contender to displace the 1962 Mets as the worst baseball team of the modern era. Rosenthal believes that Oakland's historic level of suckitude creates an unfair advantage for the AL West teams that don't win their division to take a Wild Card spot just by virtue of playing 13 games against Oakland.

That is true to a point. Still, as the Mets proved several times in their first 1/4 of a season in 2023, you still have to win those damn games. Speaking of the Mets, Rosenthal made this further point:

Again, the A's are not the first team to create competitive disparities by fielding an awful product. Just last season, under the more unbalanced schedule, the Phillies and Mets secured two of the three NL wild-card spots by going 16-3 and 14-5 against the 107-loss Nationals. The introduction of a third wild-card team, at least, left an opening for the Padres.
 
Mets fans have felt that Rosenthal has a bias against their team for a long time. I'm sure Ken would laugh at that, using the eternal boorish statement of every national writer, "every team's fans think I hate them." That could well be true, but for a seemingly pretty smart guy, Rosenthal does write stupid stuff about the Mets often enough.

I will acknowledge one point here. Beating up on the Nationals undoubtedly was the difference between a 101-win season for the Mets and a high-90s win total. Interestingly, however, Ken didn't mention the Braves, who also went 14-5 against Washington. They wouldn't have amassed over 100 wins, either, if Washington was better. But of course, the Braves weren't fighting for a Wild Card, so Ken got to leave them out. Ken likes the Braves, apparently.

So let's look at the competition for Wild Card spots in the NL last season. If you don't remember, the Braves, Cardinals, and Dodgers were division winners.

Mets        101-61    —
Padres      89-73    12 GB
Phillies     87-75    14 GB
--------------------------------
Brewers    86-76    15 GB
Giants       81-81    20 GB

Every other NL team was below .500. So, which team did Ken Rosenthal believe got the short end in this scenario? The Brewers, who went 4-6 in their last 10 games to blow their chances at a Wild Card? Ken would argue that they weren't competing in a division with Washington, I guess. The Brewers' disadvantage, according to Rosenthal, was having to face powerhouse clubs like the Cubs, Reds, and Pirates. The Cubs finished 74-88, while the other two lost 100 games.

To look at it another way, the bottom 3 teams in the East went a combined 211-275. The bottom 3 in the Central went 198-288. So, even against the Phillies, who finished one game ahead of them, the Brewers actually benefitted from playing in their division. Given that the Brewers finished 15 freaking games behind the Mets, anyone in Milwaukee who wants to argue that the Mets had a Wild Card spot because of being in the same division as the Nats is an idiot.

Moving on to the West, does anyone want to make the case that the Giants deserved a playoff spot over the Mets? As for the Phillies, the argument could be that the bottom 3 in the NL West were a combined 223-263. That's 12 games better than the bottom 3 in the East. This is significant, but I'm not sure it explains away the 6-game advantage the Phillies had in the final standings. Particularly if you scope out to the record of respective division opponents. Counting the Mets and Braves, the Phillies faced division opponents with a combined record of 312-336. Counting the Dodgers and Padres, the combined record of the Giants' division opponents was... exactly the same, 312-336.

Rosenthal's point was always ridiculous about the 101-win Mets. The Mets didn't "secure a wild-card spot" by virtue of facing the Nationals. That was an incredibly untrue statement that is so easy to debunk that a sixth grader could have done it. But it doesn't even hold water pertaining to the 87-win Phillies.

One final thought here. The last sentence of the above Rosenthal quote states, "The introduction of a third wild-card team, at least, left an opening for the Padres." Ken seems to have forgotten that the Padres finished 2 games ahead of the Phillies, who actually were the "third wild-card team." I'm going to guess that Rosenthal isn't very good at Math.
 
No one forced Ken Rosenthal to take a cheap shot at the Mets in this piece. It was just an ignorant statement, devoid of anything resembling a fact. I would expect to see this sort of thing in the Facebook post or Tweet of a not-very-bright fan. Ken Rosenthal, despite this foolishness, is indisputably one of the best baseball writers in the country. Do better, man. This was absolute crap. I only wish I had a bigger platform to call you on it.

Be well and take care. Please enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.


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