Friday, 30 August 2013

Hunter vs Kenny

Everyone loves Torii Hunter, and rightly so. He is an engaging, lively and articulate person off the field, and productive player on the field. Yet his recent interaction with Brian Kenny put pay to any hope of a future career in analytics for Torii. In less than 45 seconds, Torii Hunter exposed a lack of understanding that is widespread amongst players and fans.

This provides an interesting example of the rhetoric given by people to defend their misunderstandings. While the exchange was brief, his comments were symptomatic of the problem. Two of these comments were particularly interesting.

   1. "The numbers are good but they lie a lot…” “…the numbers lie sometimes”

This is a common fallacy. Numbers don’t lie. They cannot lie. They are simply pieces of information. They may be misused, handled poorly or interpreted in deceptive ways, but a number does not lie.

Sometimes, you have to read between the lines. Does Torii think that Max Scherzer’s numbers lie? Or that Miguel Cabrera’s numbers lie? What about Miggy’s 173 hits, 25 doubles, 43 home runs, 359/460/683 slash line? Do any of those numbers lie? Of course not, because they support Torii’s team-mate. Apparently, the only ‘lying numbers’ are the ones that negatively portray our friends. All positive number are truthful; all negative numbers are liars.

Several questions are left unanswered: which numbers are lying? How can you tell a lying number? Who judges which numbers are truthful? The short answer is: the truthful numbers are the ones that conveniently support my case. The same players that are quick to jump on Scherzer’s 19-1 record as evidence of his ability, swiftly pooh-pooh Verlander’s 12-10 record as deceptive. 

Double standards are easily exposed.

  2. "You never played the game"

Hint: when an argument is not going your way, make it personal. And one of the best ways to personalise an argument is by criticising your opponent’s credentials rather than engaging with their arguments.

For athletes, this often materialises in the “you never played the game” retort. Firstly, this is simply a logical fallacy. There is no connection between a person’s ability to play a sport and their ability to make judgements about a sport. Take for example Joe Maddon. He is widely regarded as the best manager in baseball, yet his playing career amounts to just four partial seasons at ‘A’ ball. Or consider the modern GM. They are charged with making the judgements and decisions regarding the quality of the players inside and outside of their franchise. Consider Theo Epstein or Ben Cherington for example, who never “played the game”.

Worse still, Hunter’s own GM, Dave Dombrowski never played the game. Does this call into question Dombrowski’s ability to do baseball analysis and make decisions on baseball players [including his decision to sign Torii Hunter]? Of course not. What about the scouts that signed Hunter? Does their opinion sink or swim on the on the validity of their professional baseball experience. Evidently, no.

Next time Torii Hunter makes a remark about a political issue, perhaps someone should respond “hey Torii, since when were you a politician? How’s your political career going? How many years did you spend in office?”

I realise that Torii’s comments were made in good humour, yet they are largely reflective of the way in which many people still reason. Once we strip away the sound-bite style of argumentation, we are left with little more than an amusing and entertaining, yet shallow line of reasoning.