Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How To Ruin Your Own Column

...in three easy steps.

1) Start with a predetermined conclusion
2) Make the boldest possible statement
3) Disprove it yourself within three paragraphs.

Thomas starts with a discussion that in the abstract is both worthy and interesting.  Is there any historical value in taking a pitcher #1 in the MLB amateur draft?  What's the historic success rate of pitchers #1 vs. hitters #1?  

Well, Thomas has already decided.  The answer is hitter, and he's sure of it.

"History is unequivocal. Strasburg, no matter how much he dominates college hitters, will probably either be a .500 pitcher with a 150-150 record, or he'll be a bust."

And he's going to go a step further: picking a pitcher #1 has never worked EVER.

"Nobody -- n-o-b-o-d-y -- has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it. Thirteen teams have tried it since the draft began in 1965. Nine have gotten egg on their faces. The lucky four got Andy Benes (155-139), Tim Belcher (146-140), Mike Moore (161-176) and Floyd Bannister (134-143). No Hall of Famers. Just a bunch of guys who could throw a ball through a wall when they were young but never became great."

OK, so the very best #1 pitcher ever taken in the draft was Andy Benes.  Got it?  As Boswell continues to hammer the point home, oops!  The back door swings open, and in creeps the guy he doesn't want to talk about.

"The only reliever of note: ex-Oriole Gregg Olson. Josh Beckett (89-62) may end up high on the list eventually."

There he is, after Boswell has already gone through starters and down to relievers.  Josh Beckett.  Who?  Oh yeah, the former #1 pick of the Florida Marlins, who went on to lead the Marlins to the 2003 World Series, and was named MVP, and pitched the clincher at Yankee Stadium.  And then, was moved on to the Red Sox in exchange for Hanley Ramirez, a franchise shortstop who is a Marlins All-Star right now.  And in Boston, Beckett won another World Series.

I guess he's a n-o-b-o-d-y.  Oh, and then there's David Price.  Do the Rays regret that pick too?

What really irritates me about this style of arrogant writing is that he started with a decent idea, and makes a decent point in one section of the column.  But he totally loses me with his dismissive attitude toward facts that don't please his thesis.  I've been to every Strasburg start this year, and EVERY time I've had the chance to see a gun he's been 97-98-99 with a slider that can be 84 or up to 93.  Oh, but the time Boswell saw him HE saw 93-97 so everyone else must be full of it.  

Now, is he right about not paying mid-career prices for the formative years of a pitcher?  Maybe.   But who is the real-life hitter who Boswell thinks the Nats should take instead of Strasburg?

Oops again.  Leaves that part out.  But he does tantalize his Post readers with Chipper-ARod-Strawberry-Griffey-Mauer.  Not that there is anyone like that necessarily in this year's draft, or even an obvious #2 pick behind Strasburg.  Nope, just take a hitter, because I saw Ben McDonald and he was a bust, and this guy's gonna be a bust too. 

Ivory tower writing, rife with the assumption that the reader will just sleepwalk through his list without noticing the gems he's trying to cover up with soil.  
Late add: here is Rob Neyer writing a similar column, but MUCH better.  Note how he just lets the facts tell the story.  His discussion of Ben McDonald's a little different from Boswell's, isn't it?


  1. Also there's something particularly daft about putting up a starter's career wins-losses as proof of mediocrity. A pitcher maybe dominant for a few years, and therefore worth every penny or draft position, and then go on to become useful though statistically less impressive as an inning eater later in their career.

  2. Craig Elsten's list of People Who Must Die!
    Thomas Boswell

    His argument loses steam when he starts mentioning the merits of players like Jeff Burroughs and his MVP award, Harold Baines, Bob Horner or BJ Surhoff. Those were serviceable players much like Kevin Brown, Dwight Gooden.....and eventually Josh Beckett (David Price sure looked good in the playoffs last year!) so why not go with pitching?

    Take a look at that sampling of players again.....who helped their teams win a World Series or two? I hope I didn't kill my argument by mentioning Price.....he's young....let's see what he does this year.

  3. Here is a MUCH better example of how to write a very similar column.

    As I would totally expect, Rob Neyer takes a much more balanced look at a narrower topic, lets the facts tell the story and leaves you thinking that Strasburg could be very effective but maybe not worth a $50 million dollar entry contract.


  4. Upon further examination and reflection on the MLB Amateur Baseball Draft:

    Using a sample size that dates back to 1965 is foolish. The level of scouting was so inferior then that the number of "misses" in the draft was astronomical!

    So in the last 20 years surely the success rate for draftees in the first ten picks each year has improved dramatically? Not even close! The draft is a crap shoot and there's no getting around it. There are no locks whether you go hitting/pitching or H.S./college.

    Just look at the below link to see the 1st rounders since 2000. It's not a list of,"where are they now?, but more succinctly, "...who the F- is that!?".


    Boswell's column would have been more adept if he had written that a $50 million dollar contract was too risky given the propensity of most 1st rounders to fail. Then he could have just quoted Moneyball, made a play for a local DC product the Nats could get on the cheap and edited his nonsense down to two paragraphs.

    Let us know how passing on Strasburg works out for you Nat fans....

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