Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Shady Non-Story of Keith Law and the Astros

How is it possible when any tiny little bit of baseball news on and off the field is reported by multiple outlets that---during a relatively slow time---no one has any details of the job Keith Law was supposedly offered by the Houston Astros?

What you’re telling me is that Jon Heyman, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick and Jayson Stark (both of whom work for ESPN with Law) don’t have any details on this bit of “news”? On a baseball news day in which MLB Trade Rumors was posting stories entitled “Phillies Release John Bowker”; “Cardinals Shopping for Right-Handed Reliever”; “Phillies Interested in Jeremy Accardo”; and “Mets Re-Sign Miguel Batista”, the Law-Astros story received no attention and no digging apart from what Law himself said on Twitter?

Really?

What would be said if Sergio Mitre came out and said that he’d chosen to leave the Yankees rather than be the number two starter behind CC Sabathia?

Or if Grady Little said he’d chosen not to return to manage the Red Sox to replace Terry Francona?

They’d be ridiculed.

But because of his status as a former assistant in the Blue Jays front office who has carved out a snarky niche for himself as something other than a stat guy and is now a TV analyst and scout, his pronouncements are given credibility.

Do they warrant credibility?

It’s circular.

Highly educated at Harvard and other fine institutions of higher learning>>writer for Baseball Prospectus>>former Blue Jays assistant>>ESPN analyst/scouting and draft guru>>interviewing with the Astros.

But is it real?

Should we believe him?

It’s hard to tell.

Weeks ago, it was reported that Law interviewed for several front office positions with the new Astros braintrust led by Jeff Luhnow.

Luhnow proceeded to hire Sig Mejdal as his “Director of Decision Sciences” (whatever that is); and Stephanie Wilka as his Coordinator of Amateur Scouting.

But no Law.

Yesterday Law said the following at about noon Eastern time on his Twitter feed:

I have chosen to stay with ESPN. It was a difficult decision, and I'm very grateful to the Astros for the opportunity.

The opportunity for what is unclear.

Did they offer him a job or not?

The tweet was so opaque and laden with ambiguous phrasing and plausible deniability that it looks like a political cover story to protect Law’s reputation as the ultimate baseball insider; someone who knows his way around front offices, crunches the numbers and travels around doing “scouting”. He has a breadth of experience and knowledge, thereby according him as an "expert" in the media.

But is he?

Where is this story and why doesn’t anyone with inside informers and leaks have the details of the job that Law implies---doesn’t say, but implies---the Astros offered?

The only reporting I can find online ends up back with Law’s pronouncement. Here on Hardball Talk, Aaron Gleeman reports what Law said on Twitter.

No one knows what job he was offered?

Circular.

And back to Law.

Law has me blocked on Twitter. Why? Probably because I call him an armchair expert who regurgitates scouting terminology. I don't call people names or curse at them; his decision to block me is indicative of a skin far too thin to say the things he does in the tone he says them.

Blocking me on Twitter was, retrospectively, a bad idea. Truth be told, I don’t remember if I ever even followed him (I don’t think I did), so blocking me informs the world at large that he knows who I am. That’s unless he scours Twitter during his off hours and blocks random people. With (at the time of this writing) 364,584 followers, that’s highly unlikely.

Law strikes me as someone who’s very conscious of how he’s perceived and is desperately seeking to maintain and bolster his reputation; but when one is caught in prevarications or twisted facts as he was when he had his somewhat embarrassing slap fight with Michael Lewis over Law’s negative review of the film Moneyball and then backtracks like a trapped waterbug, his agenda reveals itself.

Later, in what was clearly an effort to say, “look, the Astros aren’t done hiring after Mejdal and Wilka”, Law tweeted:

Astros have received permission to interview Cardinals regional cross-checker Mike Elias for a Special Assistant role in scouting

Someone asked if that was the same job Law was offered and he replied:

no, I don't think it's the same job.

Here’s what I suspect: the Astros interviewed Law as a courtesy without any intention of hiring him; the story of said interview was leaked (possibly by Law himself); this was either an attempt on the part of Law to extract a better deal from ESPN or to shoehorn his way into a front office job with a GM in Luhnow who believes what Law believes in building an organization; the Astros may or may not have offered him a position, but that position was such that it was either designed for him to turn down because it was so low on the totem pole or didn’t happen at all and they're letting him kindasorta say they did in a face-saving gesture; and now he’s made a great show of “choosing to stay at ESPN” when he really didn’t have much of an alternative to leave from the beginning.

How is a story that begins and ends with one source---the subject of said story---to be taken at face value?

It can’t.

If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

But through the principles of deduction, what we’ve learned so far and from whom we’ve learned it, I don’t think I am.


12 comments:

Anonymous said...

You nailed it right on the head. pretty impressive.

PAUL LEBOWITZ said...

Thanks. If you've got inside information, my main site is PaulLebowitz.com (it's under maintenance so I'm posting here), you can contact me via email there and tell me what you know; I won't give you up.

Anonymous said...

Yea. I'm gonna have to go ahead and say you're an idiot.

PAUL LEBOWITZ said...

Yeah. I'm gonna go ahead and say that if you're gonna call me names hidden by anonymity, then you're weak and pathetic.

Anonymous said...

I'll stand by my comment for as long as you feel you're being "logical."

" I call him an armchair expert who regurgitates scouting terminology."
- I don't find he regurgitates anything. His posted reports differ form other scouts and he seems to be pretty damn respected by them (see Jason Grey, Kevin Goldstein, Jason Parks etc). So how is he an armchair expert? Are YOU more qualified for his job?

"What you’re telling me is that Jon Heyman, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick and Jayson Stark (both of whom work for ESPN with Law) don’t have any details on this bit of “news”? "
- Are you really so naive to think that we hear everything that happens within every organization. That we hear about every hire, every interview? And really? Heyman? Cmon.

"The opportunity for what is unclear."
- The opportunity to interview for a job. It's common courtesy really.

"But through the principles of deduction, what we’ve learned so far and from whom we’ve learned it, I don’t think I am."
- I feel you have horrible principles of deduction. (For evidence see your response to the first anonymous poster. Remember you need to corroborate and fact check stories or end up like the guy who tried to break the Darvish to Toronto news.) In fact this whole post smells of a) jealousy or b) personal dislike for someone you don't agree with.

PAUL LEBOWITZ said...

Who are you that you have to comment anonymously? You're standing behind nothing hidden by the cloak of anonymity. Beginning any debate by calling someone an idiot is foolish.
The argument of "are YOU qualified" is the same as the athlete saying to a coach or critic that they can't do what said athlete does, therefore their critique is worthless. How could you know how qualified I am or am not?
I actually agree with Law a substantial amount of the time, but that doesn't alter his condescending tone and overwhelming attitude of pomposity. It has nothing to do with liking or disliking him.
But you wouldn't know that because you're reacting (anonymously) with weak, nonsensical arguments that begin with "come on" and making broad assumptions about any industry's procedures of courtesy.
This was a big enough story that it was reported everywhere; during a slow time, reporters search for things to write about, yet no one had anything on this other than what they got from Law.
If you sit back and think about it for a second, maybe you'll see that.
Don't comment here again unless you leave a name.

Anonymous said...

A few things:

1) I didn't begin my arguments in the second post with "cmon" but you did dodge them quite interestingly.

2)I get the fact that he is "snarky" and sarcastic but he's always super interactive with his fans in chats and facebook postings etc. The post smacks of some kind of hidden agenda against him. If you wanted to ask questions about the job search that's totally fine. But it just feels like you're trying to make a lot out of nothing, particularly when you say things like "he blocked me on twitter" and "he has thin skin." Not to mention that in your first post you seem to be actively seeking out information against him. Do you think someone will honestly tell you anything credible? And if you believe that you've received a credible tip, how will you check it, corroborate it, make sure it's true??

You're right in the fact that saying idiot was not cool. So for that I apologize. I appreciate the fact that all baseball fans love to talk about the sport and put their spin on it.

PAUL LEBOWITZ said...

I'm not dodging anything. I said everything I wanted to say in the initial posting in precisely the way I wanted to say them.
This agenda stuff is nonsense. All I want is the truth and we're not getting the truth. If you read the linked pieces regarding the back-and-forth with Michael Lewis and the Drunk Jays piece, Law is lying and I said so in prior postings.
(My main site is PaulLebowitz.com and I'm only posting here because of a Malware warning via google that has yet to be resolved. I discussed the Law-Lewis bit in detail when it happened.)
Actually, I gave him credit for going against his "brethren" in his accurate, ripping review of Moneyball.
Blocking someone because they disagree with you or question you is entirely indicative of a thin skin. I don't see as name calling a reasonable questioning of his credibility because he never played the game and suggesting---from reading---his critiques and analysis as a regurgitation of scouting terminology. So why block me? I never once called him a derogatory name. Ever.
Law doesn't have a firm grasp of baseball history. I've discussed this before as well as he didn't know the difference between Johnny and Jerry Narron and made other gaffes that a supposed baseball expert should not make in terms of knowing the game---easily checkable facts that he failed to make.
What precisely am I jealous of? I'd love to have his job and would do it in a more aboveboard and respectful manner than he does. He's defensive and it shows.
Knowing the game is not only about crunching numbers, it's about intuitive ability that accumulates from being involved. He doesn't have that and his snide obnoxiousness is a blustery cover to protect himself.
We still haven't gotten the truth. In the cosmic scheme is the job he was supposedly offered and declined something that shouldn't be disclosed? Is it information that would be hard for a halfway dialed in reporter like the ones I mentioned to get?
As for the sources, I actually do have people whisper things to me and I know they're telling the truth because they know I won't use it. The word I got from one person in particular was that Law floated the rumor himself. Since you asked, I'm answering and I didn't use it because I don't know that it's true.
It's called honesty.

Anonymous said...

"Knowing the game is not only about crunching numbers, it's about intuitive ability that accumulates from being involved."

Care to elaborate on this? Involved how? In the office, as a player? It kind of smells like an appeal to authority, though I'm not clear to what authority you would be appealing.


And I'm still not clear on this: "“scouting”...."armchair expert"

If, as you say, you agree with him on many things, then why would you imply that a) he is not really a scout or b) isn't very good at scouting? And that's essentially what these words say-that you don't think he's a "real" scout. But you don't explain why. It all leads into the agenda with which you write.

"Blocking someone because they disagree with you or question you is entirely indicative of a thin skin."

I've disagreed with him and I've not been blocked so you must have said something/done something else deserving of the block.

"This agenda stuff is nonsense. All I want is the truth and we're not getting the truth."

If the agenda stuff is nonsense then you wouldn't have written about his thin skin and him blocking you. Or that he's an "armchair scout." These are credibility attacks. It seems as though your mission in this quest is to get information on him and try to "break" some kind of story to make him look bad.

"As for the sources, I actually do have people whisper things to me and I know they're telling the truth because they know I won't use it. "

Yea. Remember what I said before- that dude try to break the Darvish to Toronto news and his sources were wrong. Unless you have multiple sources that are telling you the same thing and you can fact check then it's not much right? Or else you would have made it into a bigger story. Unless you don't think it's truly credible and you're afraid to use this information.

Maybe he actually didn't want to take the Astros' gig. He's spoken at length before on podcasts and chats about how it would have to be perfect situation for him to return to the MLB in that capacity. Or maybe the Astros didn't think he was a good fit. At the end of the day who cares? Does him having a job with the Astros make him any better at being a talent evaluator than having a job at ESPN? He's still well respected in the industry (I'm gathering this from how I see others speak about him) and has a huge following of people who really love his work and his snark.

PAUL LEBOWITZ said...

Why are you not leaving a name? Are you in the CIA?
You're flinging my own words at me as if you're expecting an "EGAD!!! I WAS WRONG!!! I'VE BEEN WRONG ALL THIS TIME!!!" and it's not gonna happen. I have no issue in admitting I'm wrong when I'm wrong, but I'm not in this case because I didn't say anything that has been refuted nor did I make a statement that I knew Law had done anything dishonest, I merely suspect it.
I do not appeal to any authority. Being involved in the game includes doing something other than soaking up the terminology one hears from scouts, but watching the game and coming to an intuitive understanding of what's happening; I'm not saying it's necessary to have played at some point, but it helps. I don't get the impression that Law has ever picked up a baseball.
I've agreed with him in analysis of trades when I've agreed with him. His scouting techniques always involve, as I said before, scouting terminology that he picked up along the way.
I have neither the knowledge nor much interest in the way you've interacted with him, but I suspect your disagreements with him have been servile on your part and not a fiery as I tend to be when debating with someone. If he ever came at me with the condescending tone that he does with others, it would go downhill and fast. You're a fan of his and that's clear; I'm not a fan of his but nor am I an enemy of his as a matter of course; If you go back to my main site and read what I wrote when it was initially reported that Law was interviewed, I wanted him to get the job because I'd like to see him back in the ring with some legitimate accountability rather than sitting in a studio and pompously criticizing anyone and everyone
I disagree with his tone and don't think he's got the innate baseball knowledge from the aforementioned involvements over the long term to be in the position he's in.
You say he's respected, but it's unclear how you would be in a position to know that. Because he has a lot of fans who read his work and hang on every word doesn't automatically equate to him being "respected" in baseball.
If you're of the opinion I'm looking to break a story, you're completely wrong. If someone gave me information that could be considered "breaking news", of course I'd use it if I found it believable, but it's not what I do. In fact, I've gotten tips from people and given them to others who do that sort of thing to check on to see if they're accurate.
You don't know what happened with the Astros; I don't know what happened with the Astros; but if you do the math, it simply does not add up.
I don't find his snark to be a positive trait. I don't talk to people that way and don't accept it when others talk to me that way. It's a form of bullying and it's the sign of a small, insecure person.

Anonymous said...

"Being involved in the game includes doing something other than soaking up the terminology one hears from scouts, but watching the game and coming to an intuitive understanding of what's happening;"

So the years of scouting he's done...he hasn't really done it? And he doesn't watch games? Ever?

"His scouting techniques always involve, as I said before, scouting terminology that he picked up along the way."

Show your work. Also, show how one learns to be a scout and what words can and can't be used in scouting terminology to be considered a 'real, not armchair' scout.


"I'm not saying it's necessary to have played at some point, but it helps. I don't get the impression that Law has ever picked up a baseball. "

...........? How does it help? ESPN constantly employees ex players as analysts and they are just plain awful. As an aside to this (relevant at bottom), you're willing to throw the whole field of sabermetrics out the window because most of the people who devote their lives to advanced stats have "never played?"


"I'd like to see him back in the ring with some legitimate accountability rather than sitting in a studio and pompously criticizing anyone and everyone "

Two things here: 1) He doesn't criticize everyone. That's easy to see. He constantly thanks his followers and chat readers. 2) Of course people are more censored in an MLB organization.

"You say he's respected, but it's unclear how you would be in a position to know that. Because he has a lot of fans who read his work and hang on every word doesn't automatically equate to him being "respected" in baseball. "

- Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks both acknowledge their respect for him on their podcast. Joe Sheehan also has done so.

But you have no agenda.....you haven't ever written something like "Mr. Harvard-Educated Stat Geek."

PAUL LEBOWITZ said...

This is the last time I'm responding until you leave a name. This anonymous stuff---that you're ignoring---is tiresome. Generally when someone comments anonymously, they're hiding something or have an inflated sense of self-importance as if people care who they are.
I don't even know who Goldstein and Parks are and don't come at me with Sheehan, who's far worse than Law could ever be.
I absolutely wrote that bit about the Harvard Educated Stat Geek...FOUR YEARS AGO!!!! And did you read the content? Was I wrong? No. It's inexcusable to: A) be a supposed expert and not know the difference between Johnny and Jerry Narron and B) to be arrogant enough not to fact check something one was unsure about.
Show what work? He says himself that he knew nothing about in-the-trenches scouting before he got to Toronto and admitted that he was smug and obnoxious and abusive regarding scouts (of course after lying about his interview with Michael Lewis) before deciding to expand his horizons.
I'm not talking about other ESPN people---I've savaged them as well when they've deserved it.
You don't know as much as you think you do. ESPN's editors tell their people what they want in a story and the writer has to frame it as such. I've been told this and as a result, backed off on some of them---who actually do know what they're talking about---because of that fact.
Law's criticism or crediting of people in the industry is entirely irrelevant to my original points. Those points have yet to be addressed by anyone because there's been no revelation as to what job---if any---he was offered by the Astros.