Saturday, October 3, 2009

Of Totems and nervousness

So, as you know, I welcome opportunities to root out, vivisect, and finally extinguish prospect homerism whenever I can. Here is my latest case file: Michael Main.

So, when evaluating Michael Main, most people still have him as a top 5 system talent despite the fact that he hasn't pitched a full healthy season since his JR year in HS. Next year will be his fourth year in the system and he has yet to pitch more than 61 innings in a year (28, 58, 61) and has had health issues each year. I like him too, but the warning flags are flying high, and we all know that prospect bust rates are even higher.

When Main became disabled this year around june 7, there was an irritatingly widespread knee-jerk reaction that asserted a false correlation between his very shitty first 7 weeks (with some even suggesting he was sick all the way back in spring training - you know who you are rangershomer) and his illness. No evidence about his condition would be published for another 6 weeks but internet-prospecters would not be deterred - their freestanding Main totem would still remain in their living room, unscathed.

The only published evidence that sought to explain Main's season and illness were two articles that came out about the same time, the third week of July, one by the Bakersfield Californian (nothing but a broken link now)and the other by a writer. Each article appeared to dispel the existence of any correlation between Main's illness and his first 6-7 weeks of bad baseball. However, Mike Hindman at least, and perhaps Jamey Newberg, if not others, engaged in a rather expansive interpretation of he article to support assert that Main's bad season was due to illness. Nonsense - the articles completely undermine the claim but their use do point to the rather uncritical way prospects are heralded and faults ignored.

Recently, Jason Cole has also chimed in about this apparent correlation, making the following claim:

" appears about 99.9% of his struggles were sickness-related. His velocity and results have been just fine ever since he came back. "

I won't bother to unpack this claim, except to note that one sentence (a statement of fact) is being used to overcome the uncertaintly contained in another (an assertion) in order to maintain the /piss-poor-pitching=illness/ complex by other means that many seem to except, need, or wish for. What I will do is simply reprint my query to him and reprint his response should one be made:

It is either true or a confabulation JC and I'm going to have to call you out on this (and MJH and Newberg as well). There have been 2 published interviews with Main about the third week of july, one by the bakersfield califiornian (the link is not now working) and one by an writer. Nowhere in those 2 interviews does Main claim to have been sick the entire season. Have you spoken to him directly about this? Do you have any evidence that Main pitched with rashes all over his body, swollen lymph nodes and with debilitating fatigue for 7 weeks (and maybe even ST?), only mentioning it on june 7th? Come on. I am pretty sure that MJH and Newberg haven't interviewed him since then to clarify matters but what is sure is that they both read those articles expansively, carelessly. IN those interviews, the journalists claim that Main became sick at "mid-season" and that it came on pretty suddenly. In one of those articles, Main claimed to have pitched with the condition for "quite a while". However, given the claims of the journalists about the time of onset, this is more likely 7 days than 7 weeks. If read carefully, these 2 articles do not support this rumored correlation that has taken hold.

Though the idea that Main might have had a shitty first 7 weeks might be unpalatable to some, why would that possibility be unpalatable for you? I can only assume that you have sources that you are not stipulating, though your language ("appearances" "99%") suggests otherwise. i hear tell that you are planning an interview with him. So, maybe a few of the questions you can ask him are: when he got sick and how long he pitched sickly (if at all)? That would clear some things up. The claim asserted by those 2 articles suggests that the Main-homerism is unfounded - he pitched poorly and then got sick (though I find the homerism more troubling than the pitching part). The assertion of a causal relation between the two has, thus far, been nothing more than an unfounded assertion based on "appearances". Care to disabuse me of this notion? If I was to do a psychoanalytic reading of this misreading, I would have to say that the internet-prospecters are a little anxiety-ridden when faced with the possibility that their meticulously constructed prospect deity might have some flaws.

I must admit that, in the end, I could really care one whit whether I am right or wrong, and in one sense, I cannot be wrong, which is always nice to be sure - false correlations were made without any evidence, whether proven true post facto or not. What really interests me the most are these attachments that people have and insist on keeping with their virtual baseball friends/deities. I just have to ask: why so anxious?


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