ESPN’s Amy K. Nelson– who, it needs to be remembered, is only the co-author of yesterday’s controversial piece (of shit) about sign stealing (“The Article Which Shall Not Be Linked,” as Parkes has deemed)– is being painted in some corners today as a dogged reporter, generally very well-liked among writers in the game, who has been deluged by people “personally attacking someone for their gender,” as fellow ESPNer Molly Knight says, or by people “confusing ‘bad journalism’ with ‘I don’t like your conclusions,’ ” as Keith Law claims.
[I, on the other hand, would paint her as the clown who wrote the absurdly soft Luke Scott profile that Deadspin brilliantly and rightly savaged earlier this season-- which I totally didn't remember she did until it was pointed out by @HumAndChuck.]
“Check out the sexist shit @AmyKNelson has to hear tonight, and tell me that female sportswriters are treated equally,” says Esquire and Grantland (and Canadian!) writer Chris Jones (aka @MySecondEmpire). “Fucking shameful,” he adds.
And he’s right. And I guess I’ve been guilty of it too– not so much, at least in my mind, because of anything profane or intentionally over-the-top (that’s just what we do around here), but I do concede that yesterday she was more the focus of my ire than co-author Peter Keating (and definitely the focus of commenters and fans who I quoted and retweeted, and maybe shouldn’t have), and if I’m being honest, it’s probably because she’s an easier target.
I’d like to think that also partly it’s because she’s more visible (I mean, like… who the fuck is Peter Keating?), but either way, that’s completely unfair: Keating, too, needs to be called out for the shoddy work on display in the article.
And make no mistake, I think Law is wrong. [Note to Assholes: write that down] There is plenty to pick on here, the absolute least of which is one of the authors’ gender.
The next least of which is the use of anonymous sources. Sure, they may have offered little-to-nothing of value– I mean, we’ve all heard allegations like these around the Jays before, we all couldn’t have been so naïve as to not raise an eyebrow over tales of Cito Gaston’s vaunted ability to pick up pitchers’ “tells,” and we all probably can completely agree with Ozzie Guillen when he bluntly says that “if you have stolen signs, you have a dumb catcher”– but anonymous sources are vitally important to journalism. If ESPN thinks sign stealing from outside the lines is a big enough story to investigate, there’s absolutely nothing wrong or journalistically out-of-bounds with getting information from Chicago White Sox relievers (or ex-White Sox relievers *cough* Bobby Jenks *cough*) who are too chickenshit to come forward.
Where things get problematic, as I thought I’d managed to convey somewhere within yesterday’s pissy shitstain-calling rant, is the way that Nelson and Keating have tried to amateurishly corroborate the stories they’ve been told by giving a misleading and incomplete statistical picture of what’s been going on. They’ve padded the story with anecdotes from this season when the data they used was from 2010; they’ve not used other teams’ stats to provide context; they’ve completely failed to mention that only some players experienced the extreme home-road splits they cite; and they’ve done zero accounting for the potential of statistical outliers beyond their vague covering-our-backs conclusion paragraph, of the kind that would make a high school English teacher blanch. [On that last point, I mean, for fuck sakes, as @awlang points out, in the graph they use right in the goddamn article there's as big a spike in the Jays' mysti-fucking-fying HR rate on contact in 2006 as there was in 2010. So... are those the only years they cheated in, or is the 2010 number maybe just a reasonably normal fucking fluctuation????]
“By themselves, these numbers are circumstantial evidence,” they write. “Unsupported by data, the four players’ accounts might describe a scheme of uncertain impact. And without proper context, the Yankees’ decision to mask their signs could be chalked up to paranoia. But together, the numbers, the stories and the actions indicate one certainty: Every pitch to a Blue Jay in Toronto is worth watching.”
Toronto Blue Jays Baseball: Come Watch Us Suck At Cheating!
No, but seriously, that’s great… except that the statistical element they’ve given us is completely incoherent. Y’know, unless you suspend your massive disbelief about the absurd, papered-over core narrative of the story: that the Jays started a form of cheating (according to the data) in 2010 (even though, as Tom Tango points out, “2005-2008 is where Rogers was the huge advantage for the [Jays'] hitters, averaging 96 points of OPS advantage. … 2009-2011? Nothing in comparison.”), which did nothing to help them in the standings, so then they stopped (according to the data) in 2011. Um… unless they didn’t (as the 2009 and 2011 anecdotes imply).
And since the thumbnail image on the video at the top of the story is of baseball’s out-of-nowhere best hitter, Jose Bautista, since he’s also pictured farther down in the piece (the only image of a Jays player in it), and since a key part of the story involves him being chirped for stealing signs, it doesn’t take an Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating to understand what the implication here is. Unfortunately, that’ll require more suspension of disbelief, too: Bautista has hit more home runs on the road this year than at home, and has a 1.030 OPS outside Rogers Centre. Plus, while he did have some extreme home-road splits in 2010, he was still very good on the road (.879 OPS).
Attempting to make this story about anything bigger than the anonymous accusations from White Sox relievers is misleading, irresponsible and unfair– and judging by the hand-washing that goes on in the final paragraph, the authors know this– as is the selective use of stats to support the relievers’ story, at the exclusion of a bigger picture of data that would have completely muddied things.
Of course, the story would have fallen in on itself, and probably not been worth writing at all, had the authors better acknowledged the fact that the data doesn’t really bear out the conclusion they’re attempting to lead us to. Because of that, I’d say that journalistically, by any definition you want to use, they’ve cut corners here in a manner that’s completely unacceptable. In other words, the article is a turd sandwich of a hackneyed piece of shit snowjob. [Note: How's that for a vague conclusion?]