ESPN Investigates Spydome: Fair or Foul?

ESPN reporter Amy Nelson (above) might have some explaining to do.

ESPN: The Magazine looks as though they have recruited the spy kids to investigate the “suspicious” activity of a mysterious white man in the stands of the Toronto Blue Jays home stadium. At least, I’d hope the investigating was done by kids because the kind of logic portrayed in the ESPN article yesterday could only be considered sensible if it had come from the computer of an elementary school student.

ESPN reporters Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays have been stealing signs from the outfield bleachers of the Rogers Centre. Apparently, a white man perched in the out there has been relaying signals using hand motions to the Toronto hitters.

Nelson and Keating have back up their claim with anecdotes from a few unnamed sources as well as carefully selected stats, mostly from the supposedly unbelievably successful 2010 season. Some guys on the unnamed (now named Chicago White Sox) team had seen a man making the motions in the stands as far back as 2009.

Wow, the evidence is overwhelming.

The argument presented in the ESPN article is flawed in a manner that would be expected out of the average person. You would think that the worldwide leader in sports would be smarter than the average person.

As the saying goes, stats are for losers.

The stats presented as clear-cut evidence in the article are hardly that. The selectively chosen stats are clearly picked out by the writers to fit the ultimate conclusion of the piece.

Luckily, due to the mass media of our modern world the excess of statistics discounted by Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are readily available for us.

Dustin Parkes over at his blog “Getting Blanked” gives a great run down of the many flaws to the ESPN allegations. A must-read for anyone remotely interested in the topic.

At his press conference, Alex Anthopoulos gives some real smart answers to the accusations. The answers make you realize why he’s such a good GM. Why didn’t ESPN go over game footage to find the man in white? Why didn’t they talk to any managers, league officials etc.? The list goes on.

What many people have also failed to bring up is the style of hitting implemented in the 2010 season by Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. The ESPN article points out the very high percentage (48.9) of pitches swung at by Toronto hitters that lead to the league leading 257 home runs hit.

However, there is no mention anywhere of the swing big or go home approach of Cito Gaston and his staff. Not many people outside of the Blue Jay loop are probably aware of that but for claims this outrageous I would have thought that the homework done by ESPN wouldn’t be so strikingly similar to a 12 year olds math homework finished 5 minutes before class started.

ESPN also attempts to use the substantial differences in the home and away OPS’ of Escobar, Bautista, Wells, Lind and Hill to prove a point. However, Nelson and Keating do not cite the far superior road average and OPS’ of John Buck and Edwin Encarnacion, who’s OPS in 2010 was more than .200 points higher on the road.

Moreover, ignoring the Justin Verlander no-hitter at the Rogers Centre is just another one of the many overlooked pieces of evidence from the crew over at ESPN.

A high school psychology student could tell you that these claims are based on the very common human error of confirmation bias – defined as a tendency for people to favour information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.

It’s a pathetic display by ESPN to publish such a poorly constructed article for the purpose of generating buzz and page views.

Using Vernon Wells’.552 OPS with the Los Angeles Angels at home in 2011 is hardly evidence that connects the Blue Jays with sign stealing. Personally, I would connect his brutal home OPS to have something to do with that average that sits at .210. But hey, that’s just me.

Vernon Wells’ OPS at home was a whopping .276 points higher in 2006. I guess they were stealing signs back then too, eh?

The excessive quantity of circumstantial evidence in the article doesn’t include the possibility of a simple anomaly in an oddly successful power numbers season for the Blue Jays, which can be explained to certain a degree by the Cito Gaston effect as mentioned above.

On top of all this, the writers of the article don’t seem to realize that even if their claims are true, the Toronto Blue Jays organization must be really bad at cheating. Maybe they even hired the same people who helped investigate the allegations because their home record is 28-27 while their road record is 30-30.

I mean, it must have taken some kind of genius in the Blue Jay organization to come up with the idea to cheat with a team that is in no position to compete for a post-season spot.

Good thing the brains at ESPN figured out that 4th place mediocrity in the AL East and stealing signs from the outfield bleachers go hand in hand.

It’s comforting to see that Nelson and Keating finish their article with such a decisive conclusion:

“By themselves, these numbers are circumstantial evidence. 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.”

I’m hearing now that the National Enquirer is embarrassed by the lack of integrity exhibited by ESPN.

Now that’s sad.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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