Great Moments in Selection Bias

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers opined — ridiculously, I noted — that the Cubs should waive Carlos Zambrano. Tribune readers agree:

Your team wants Carlos Zambrano? Go ahead, take him.

That’s what I proposed after Zambrano turned in another knuckleheaded performance on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. I suggested Cubs GM Jim Hendry put him on waivers and essentially give him away if any team would take on his salary.

It struck many as a radical idea, but not most.

To my great surprise, I am in the majority on this one. The Tribune received more than 11,000 responses to a reader poll, and 57.2 percent of you agreed with me.

I wouldn’t crow if I were you, Phil. To vote in that poll, you had to have read to the end of your column first. Such a sample is, by definition, unscientific inasmuch as it ensures that only blithering idiots will respond.

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  1. J.W. said...

    In your coda to the Geoff Baker discussion, you noted that the outrage exhibited by main stream media types towards Jerrod Morris had little to do with the content of Morris’s blog post, or Raul Ibanez’s response to the piece, and that the MSM reaction was really “an effort to breathe life into a tired blog vs. MSM turf war.”  I would suggest that there are two main features of this war, two fronts if you will.

    The first is best described using the phrase you employed: turf war.  At stake is who gets eyeballs, the press-pass possessing posse, or the brainy basement bloggos. This battle, I think it is safe to say, is played out and probably soon will be irrelevant as traditional models are replaced by more dynamic, multi-faceted ones.  The blog/MSM dichotomy will probably be replaced by some combination of the two. 

    But there remains the other front in this battle.  The battle lines in this particular conflict are drawn between those who believe in statistical analysis and advanced metrics, and those who choose to believe what their eyes and guts tell them.  Now, of course, not all blogs are “sabermetric-friendly” and not all MSM types are anti-stats, not even close.  But it cannot be denied that many “old-school” reporters and, especially, former players regard modern statistical tools with equal parts hate, horror and derision.  And many in the pro-stats community look at the other camp with loathing.  This battle is far more interesting in that it extends beyond media outlets to the fans themselves.  As the Tribune poll makes clear, there are many fans out there who absolutely refuse to take advanced statistics into account when evaluating players.  “Zambrano’s a whiner, he’s a punk. He ain’t gettin’ the job done.  Let’s get his butt outa here.”  This is the thinking of many fans out there.  Other fans, though, look at Zambrano’s numbers, they understand his value in terms of how many wins the numbers he produces add up to.  What is remarkable to me is the passion that each side manages to work up when it comes to contemplating the views of the other side.  If you read the comments sections of various blogs you see continuously escalating fights between the anti-stats and pro-stats people, culminating in curses, threats, and obvious desires to club each other over the head.  Part of this has to do, of course, with the medium.  The anonymity of the internet allows, rather causes, people to be more extreme than they ever would in “real life.”  But that’s not the whole story.  What are the underlying mechanisms and psychological realities that cause people to feel such ire for those who view baseball through a different lens than they do?  Is it out of fear that the other side will shout loudly enough that the teams will listen and make moves that are detrimental to the team?  If so, that’s positing an awful lot of power on the part of the fans and an awful lot of fear and stupidity on the part of management.  Is it because the pro-stats side feels that that anti-stats side’s “unscientific” thinking extends into other arenas, like politics?  Is it because the anti-stats side fears the (apparent) cold inhumanity of the pro-stats side? 

    Ultimately, whatever the reason for the sound and the fury, I would say that baseball is a pretty big tent; there’s room for people of different persuasions to get what they want out of the game without necessitating conflict. 

    (Full disclosure: for my part I can’t help but feel frustrated by people like those who want to be rid of Zambrano, but I’m doing my best to not let it affect me.)

  2. Tim Kelly said...

    I hated this article by Phil Rogers but what really ticked me off is how Buster Olney used it (the article) as an “example” of how bad things have gotten on the North side.  I had to listen to Buster say something along these lines on my radio this morning:

    “It’s gotten so bad in Chicago that EVEN Phil Rogers, a very respected baseball journalist in Chicago, has suggested the Cubs might be better off WAIVING Zambrano.”  (Emphasis mine)

    It drives me absolutely nuts that Olney would use this hack-job of an article to bolster any argument he has about the Cubs.  If Rogers loses his mind and suggests that the Cubs should move Marmol into the rotation and return Soriano to second base will Olney back him up on that suggestion as well?  Does Phil Rogers deserve the kind of reputation that intimates that “if he said it, it’s gotta be true”?

    I feel like this is the same as when the Philly beat reporter gave voice to Jerrod Morris’ accusations, or this morning when Marchman gave voice to this “list” of players who supposedly tood PEDs in ‘03.  It’s at least as bad, if not worse, to be the guy providing an elevated platform for speculation, innuendo, and flat-out idiocy as it is to be the guy who wrote the garbage in the first place.

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