Saturday, Lisa and I were driving to the movie theater after watching the end of the Pac-10 championship game, and I had the radio on the KJR post-game show. They were discussing the Huskies’ win, of course, and seeding in particular. One caller made the case that he wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Huskies wound up in the 5-7 seed range when the brackets were announced. Dick Fain, the host, disagreed politely but strongly, arguing that before the game the Dawgs were looking at a 13 seed and one game wasn’t nearly enough to jump them that high. I got worked up pretty quickly over this argument, probably to Lisa’s suprise, because I don’t get too worked up.
Fain ended up being right, as the Huskies are an 11 seed, and I didn’t really expect them to be a 5 or 6 seed. What bothered me (and bothered is a strong word in this case) is that the argument was based on a presumption taken as fact. No one knew if the Huskies were actually looking at a 12 or 13 seed before the win over Cal. The only people that make that decision are on the selection committee, and with all the surprising results, I doubt they had UW set as anything at that point. It was Joe Lunardi and the other analysts who had the Huskies as a 13 seed, and while they’re usually pretty accurate, and were in this case, it’s extremely possible that the selection committee could have viewed the Pac-10 very differently and had UW at 6 and ASU in the tournament. We just didn’t know.
I had a similar reaction during the media’s battle over who had the proper calculations on the Mariners’ payroll this offseason. After most of the initial moves, Geoff Baker and most of the local Mariner blogs calculated payroll down to the hundred thousands and debated, at times in fairly heated tones, who was right and what was off. And while this was interesting and helpful in a lot of ways, I kept thinking, “You can’t take this strong of a stance when you don’t even know what the Mariners are going to spend on payroll this year!” They could have decided to spend $175 mil. on payroll and we might have never known. They would have just kept adding non-roster relievers and 1B/DH guys until they had the biggest spring training roster in history. (One disclaimer: the actual writers on these posts were good about saying, “Based on recent salary and assuming it stays at that number, here’s what they have left.” It was mostly in the comments where the vitriol started to flow.)
I only bring these two instances up as a plea that we would all remember that we don’t know everything. Often we don’t know much about a specific situation at all. We can make a great argument based on statistical analysis or the two games I watched this weekend, and we might be right. It’s just as possible, and usually more so, that we’re completely wrong. Seattle Sports Insider has a nice post about this as it relates to spring training stats. We can look at stats from the past few years and make guesses where a player should be, but sometimes a player develops in a way that can’t be forecasted. Then it’s up to the coaches and management to decide if that player is ready, rather than writers who have not seen that player play for 5 months, if ever. Coaches and management people are smart. Really smart. Even the less smart ones, of whom we’ve seen plenty in Seattle, know more about their sport than basically any of us ever will.
Most writers and other media sources are pretty good about recognizing this, especially the local ones. The Mariners blogosphere certainly leans toward statistical analysis, some sites more heavily than others, but they all recognize that stats don’t cover everything. I can think of several instances of reading through USS Mariner comments last year, however, and someone will say something like, “We need more hitting.” No one disagreed with that, much less Dave Cameron and his fellow USSM writers. But immediately another commentor would shoot back, “Actually, we don’t need more hitting, we just need better players overall. A run saved on defense is just as good as a run earned on offense.” This became a kind of rallying cry, and in general is totally accurate, but I always wanted to ask that commentor if they’ve ever scored any runs while playing defense.
I’ll end my rant now, with just a request. Keep an open mind, and don’t debate like what you believe is absolute truth. Maybe it is, but there’s a lot to be learned anyway, and it’s only a game. I’d love to see this site become one where sports are discussed intelligently and enjoyably, because just about everyone has something worth saying. Unless you’re saying something bad about Ichiro. Then you can just stop talking, because Ichiro is awesome.