Monday, 25 March 2013

Danny Knobler (or how to write a shitty article in 5 easy steps)

One of the reasons I started this blog, was to emulate my favourite site in the history of the internet in Fire Joe Morgan (helmed by the brilliant Mike "Ken Tremendous" Schur, of Parks & Rec fame).  They made their mark by pointing out some of the terrible work being done in the broadcast booth and in journalism.  I hope to do the same, if a much inferior version to what they managed to accomplish.  The first target is CBS "expert" columnist (their words, not mine), Danny Knobler, who was in Astros camp today, so he felt the need to dig back up the age old Blogger vs. Mainstream argument.  Take it away Mr. Knobler. 
Someone's going to be wrong about the Astros. Someone's going to be very wrong.
Maybe it's us. Maybe it's them.
Maybe it's the baseball bloggers who love them. Maybe it's the traditional baseball men who hate them.
A nice start here by Knobler.  Good to see that he's not falling into the old Us vs. Them mantra.  

Also here's a newsflash for Danny Knobler, this article I'm reading of his is a blog, at least in the traditional sense of the word.  This article didnt appear in any print publication, and just like how I disagree with Mr. Knobler, "bloggers" arent this monolithic institution where everyone agrees with each other.  
The scouts who have watched them all spring take turns predicting how bad it will get.
"I have them winning three games the first month of the season," one says.
"The over-under on wins is 40," says another. "And I actually raised that, from 35."

Any Sportsbook I've seen has the Astros over/under line at 59.5 wins.  I'm thinking this line might've been said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, or is maybe exaggerating for effect
The blogger-types take turns predicting how soon it will get to be good.
"It bears repeating," our own Dayn Perry wrote last week. "Three or four years from now, no one's going to be laughing at the Astros any longer."

Here we come to the biggest disconnect in this article.  Mr. Knobler goes from a quote about how bad the Astros will be this season from the "scout", into a quote from the "blogger" where they talk about how the Astros are going to be good in the future.  

These arent the same thing.  

I'm fairly confident if you'd pressed the scout quoted up above, he would be fairly positive on the future of the Astros, and likewise I'm confident that Dayn Perry doesnt have the Astros finishing anywhere near .500 this year.  

Mr. Knobler paints this massive divide, but I'm pretty sure its all him just misunderstanding what the actual thoughts are from both sides.

The anti-Astros crowd so badly wants to see them fail that they're no doubt exaggerating how bad it is (and how little chance it has to get better anytime soon). But the pro-Astros crowd so badly wants them to succeed that they're no doubt being too optimistic about how good it will get (and how soon it will happen).
1 - I dont think either of these Anti- or Pro- camps actually "wants" the Astros to be good/bad.  They are saying what they THINK will happen, not what they WANT to happen.  Big distintion.

2 - The quote he used by the both the blogger and scout mentioned nothing about how quickly they expect the turn around to be.  Dayn Perry talked about them being good in 3 or 4 years, and I dont know anyone who doesnt think any team in baseball will be hopeless for that long a stretch.  The unnamed scout only talked about this year. 

What's happening here is either the start of something really exciting, or a disaster so bad the commissioner should have stepped in to stop it. Either the Astros are embarrassing the game by trying to lose, or they're finally going through a logical process of building a winner.
No one thinks the Astros are "embarrassing the game by trying to lose".  NO ONE.  They might not be actively trying to win THIS SEASON, but there is an ocean of difference between those two statements.  If anyone does think that you'd think he might've been able to find a quote suggesting it.  Knobler is creating a strawman argument on both sides here, and then pitting them against each other.

Luhnow deserves some benefit of the doubt, because his track record is better than his doubters would like to admit. Plenty of people ripped the players Luhnow drafted when he was with the Cardinals, but some of those same players (Allen CraigJon Jay, to name two) have already won a World Series.

Again quotes please?  If people ripped Luhnow's tenure as the Cardinals scouting director, I'd like to see them, because everything I've read about Luhnow has nothing but praise for both building the Cardinals into the perennial contender they were during the aughts, but also how well set up they are for the future with guys like Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez, etc.  

Goldstein came to the Astros from Baseball Prospectus, and there were certainly eyebrows raised when he was named the team's pro scouting coordinator. But in his first seven months on the job, Goldstein has proven to be a lot more scout-friendly than some in baseball (and in the blogger world) would have expected.
Here's where I start to get very frustrated with this article.  Yes, Kevin Goldstein is coming from the bastion of statistical analysis that is Baseball Prospectus, but anyone who's read anything Goldstein has ever written, or listened to the hundreds of hours that was the Up and In podcast, knows that his basis had nothing to do with stats.  In fact when Goldstein was hired by Baseball Prospectus, he was coming from the most respected scouting organization not affiliated with a club, Baseball America (the same place our esteemed Mr. Knobler came from).  Many times during he course of the Up & In podcast (which I was a gigantic fan of, and have probably listened to every episode at least twice), Goldstein would belittle the conventional wisdom being passed around the "blog" community.  

This shows that all Knobler did for this article was see "baseball prospectus" and made assumptions about the Kevin Goldstein's role in that organization.  Just so damn lazy, and misleading.

Not only that, but there is a perfect example in the Houston front office that could've been used to illustrate their shift towards advanced analytics, and he comes from Baseball Prospectus as well.  That would be Pitch f/x expert Mike Fast.  He doesnt have the scouting background, and  most of the work he was doing before he joined the Astros was very ground breaking.  That tid-bit would've informed his readers to some of the actual change that's going on there, but CBS readers aren't getting that type of information.

"I know we're going to break people's hearts by saying this," Goldstein said. "We have a scouting staff. We care about scouts. We have crazy-great scouts. It's important that we have a big scouting staff."
The scouting community isn't impressed. Stories abound about former scouts the Astros let go, and some rival scouts refer to holdover Paul Ricciarini as "a dinosaur -- the last Astros scout."

Wait, so Goldstein says that they do have a scouting staff, that their scouts are "crazy-great", and that they have a "big" scouting staff.  Yet Paul Ricciarini is the "last Astros scout"?  


That makes no sense.
For now, the Astros are happy their offense has looked somewhat powerful this spring (40 home runs in the first 27 games). 
No one gives a shit about spring stats.  No one.

The scouts who watch say they just don't see it. 
"I don't see how," said one scout who has followed the team. "I haven't seen one player with the status of [Eric] Hosmer or [Mike] Moustakas or that type of guy. They've added all these former No. 1 picks, but the reason those guys were traded is they didn't perform for the team that had them.

Just curious, where does Mr. Knobler expect these super stud prospects to come from?  Are they supposed to emerge from thin air?  Jeff Luhnow took over a club that's farm system was totally bereft of talent, so no, those guys arent there.  Again, "bloggers" dont think that their system is teeming with elite top end talent (beyond 1st overall pick Carlos Correa).  However what he's done is improve their depth from top to bottom in the 12 months he's now been running the club.  Another quote that either intentionally, or otherwise totally mis-represents what's going on in Houston.

All in all this article is just atrocious.  It doesnt tell you anything about the talent coming through in Houston, doesn't tell you where the author stands in this "blogger" vs. "mainstream" divide that he's created in his head, and misrepresents much of the process actually going on in the Astros front office.

This is the first time I'm writing about Danny Knobler's writing, but I doubt it will be the last.

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