Friday, January 08, 2010

Evaluating Rumors

Since becoming involved with the Twitter scene a few months ago, I've come to find that there are certain things I like about the service and some things I don't. One thing I really like about it is that it allows me to keep a finger on the pulse of Twins fans at large, since I follow and read the tweets of so many fans of varying age, gender and background.

Over the past few days, that pulse has been racing a bit. That's because fans have been distressed by a recent report that the Twins had made an offer to veteran starter Jarrod Washburn. There's a tendency amongst a lot of fans to hear a rumor of any sort, immediately interpret it as 100 percent true, and react accordingly. I would recommend putting any speculation you hear from a media member and blogger and putting it through the sniff test before directing anger at the Twins' front office for something they very possibly might not have done.

The initial report on Washburn, which I referenced in passing during Thursday's post, was filed by a CBS Sports writer named Scott Miller. If you recognize that name, it might be because Miller covered the Twins for the Pioneer Press back in the '90s. That fact, combined with the fact that the Twins reportedly attempted to trade for Washburn during the 2008 season and the speculation that they've been interested in him since he became a free agent this offseason, have lent credibility to this report. But, in cases like this, it's best to remain skeptical until you hear something from a source that you can truly trust.

While Miller might still have some connections with the Twins, he hasn't covered the team in over a decade. Writers on the national scene just don't have the same type of inside access to a team that our local beat writers have, and those national writers also seem to have a greater interest in concocting rumors in order to get their name out there. I'm not saying these writers for major publications are blatantly fabricating stories, but I have found that they are far more likely to write and publish a rumor based on very little actual evidence.

Some fans find it annoying that La Velle E. Neal III and Joe Christensen don't comment on their blogs about every Twins-related rumor that pops up, but I find it extremely refreshing. To me, those two seem far more discerning about which rumors actually have legs, which makes them far more trustworthy to me. I recall that during the Johan Santana frenzy during the 2007-08 offseason, Sports Illustrated scribe Jon Heyman (the genius baseball mind who helped keep Bert Blyleven out of the Hall of Fame once again this year by leaving Bert off his ballot while casting a vote for Jack Morris, employing the impeccable logic that "those who watched jack morris know they were watching a hall of famer") reported something like 600 false trade rumors involving Santana. Yet, the only writer who accurately predicted the exact trade ahead of time, to my recollection, was Christensen, who wrote about a Gomez/Humber/Mulvey/Guerra package several weeks before the actual deal went down. That earns him credibility. What has Scott Miller done to earn such trust from Twins' fans?

Incidentally, Neal did take the liberty of looking into this latest Washburn rumor, and posted on his blog yesterday that he had "spoken with several people in the organization and received NO indications that an offer has been made." I was also somewhat amused by this tidbit in Neal's piece: "And, as one person with the club told me, Brian Duensing might be better than Washburn right now." That's because I had basically said the same thing in Wednesday's post:
I'd rather settle for Brian Duensing in the fifth spot than spend several million dollars on Washburn while ignoring the team's infield needs; in fact, "settle" might not be the most appropriate word because I'm not at all convinced that Duensing will be an inferior pitcher to the 35-year-old Washburn in 2010.
I reference that comment not to gloat, but to make a simple point. When evaluating these rumors, beyond thinking about the credibility of the source, it is important to employ basic logic. In his article Miller suggested that the Twins' one-year offer to Washburn was likely for around $6 million. It has been discussed exhaustively here and in other spaces how tight the Twins are financially at this point; would it really make sense for them to spend that much money on a No. 5 starter, regardless of how much interest they've had in him in the past?

It is very possible that the Twins could end up signing Washburn. But many people are acting like it's already happened, and expending a lot of needless frustration. When you catch wind of these confounding rumors, take into account the source and actual likelihood of it before letting them ruin your day. It will prevent a lot of unnecessary stress.

25 comments:

David said...

Bravo, Nick...bravo! At last, a reasoned, intelligent post on the firestorm of hysteria that the Internet, and Twitter in particular, has created and incessantly feeds. Fanatic Jack, are you paying attention?

Bryz said...

You need to allow me to give this post a +1 or a 5 star rating or whatever. Very good!

You might also have wanted to add that some national writers are more credible than others. I would definitely consider someone like Peter Gammons to be more likely to accurately report rumors than someone like Scott Miller.

Gorski said...

Really nice post, although I think you might be being a little hard on people (like yours truly) who had a fairly strong initial reaction to this rumor. Personally, I've learned a bit about who to trust and who not to trust:

sources not to trust: Yahoo sports, SI, Buster Olney if it involves "reported interest", and now Scott Miller/CBS sports.

sources to trust: LENIII/JoeC, Gammons, Olney if it involves something tangible that has actually happened, MLBTradeRumors (although pay attention to how concrete the rumor is)

That said, usually when a source reports that something HAS happened (like Miller did yesterday), it is more reliable when a source reports that something MIGHT happen. Miller inexplicably reported that the contract had been offered, and having not heard from him before and knowing his connections, it seemed reasonable to me to think this had some legs. Only when LENIII/Joe C hadn't said anything all day did I start to think, "You know, this might be BS."

I don't mean to say I took personal offense to your post at all - I really like it, and it's typical of your even-handed analysis. I just think there was reason to think this rumor had more to it than the usual "The Twins are looking at Jarrod Washburn" crap.

Anonymous said...

sources to trust: LENIII/JoeC, Gammons, Olney if it involves something tangible that has actually happened, MLBTradeRumors (although pay attention to how concrete the rumor is)

If something tangible happened, why would it be a rumor?

MLBTradeRumors just links to other reports, written by people in your "do not trust" list.

TT said...

As far as I can tell, the Twins don't discuss their moves on or off the record. So the Twins beat reporters main source is not going to generate many rumors and the beat reporters have editors who probably want more than an agent's word for it before they print a rumor about contract negotiations.

The STRIB has a guy named Sid Hartman who covers the rumor mill. The Pioneer Press has Charley Walters. CBS Sports has Scott Miller. None of them have an editor looking over their shoulder to make sure they have properly sourced their stories.

TT said...

BTW - you will all notice, Len could just as well have said he didn't find a single source that would deny an offer had been made.

The blogsphere treats almost all rumors as fact. There are still people who talk about what the Twins could have had for Santana based on rumors published at the time.

TT said...

One last comment - here is the report from MLB.com:

'Twins general manager Bill Smith declined comment on the Washburn report, sticking to his policy of not speaking publicly on any of the team's possible negotiations. Smith did say, however, that the team isn't eliminating the possibility of adding another starting pitcher to its roster.

"We're definitely still looking," Smith said. "I think we saw last year you can never have too much pitching. We have to find a way to defend our AL Central division championship, and we also want to find a way to advance farther into the playoffs and get to the World Series. So you can't stop looking for any position. But pitching, you can never have too much of it." '

If they aren't looking at Washburn, who is on the list?

Gorski said...

If something tangible happened, why would it be a rumor?

I guess the only definition of "rumor" I'm using is "something someone has said." When that "rumor" is that something tangible has happened, that means they're reporting, "This team HAS done something," not simply, "this team might do something."

MLBTradeRumors just links to other reports, written by people in your "do not trust" list.

Very true. That's why you have to "pay attention to how concrete the rumor is." Also, the fact that they cite their sources (which a lot of the "do not trust" do not) means you can evaluate how trustworthy the rumor is.

Bryz said...

Also, the fact that they cite their sources (which a lot of the "do not trust" do not) means you can evaluate how trustworthy the rumor is.

Although it can be frustrating when a source reports that their source is "a person with knowledge of the situation" or "an executive/GM for an American League team."

Anonymous said...

Very true. That's why you have to "pay attention to how concrete the rumor is." Also, the fact that they cite their sources (which a lot of the "do not trust" do not) means you can evaluate how trustworthy the rumor is.

I'd be curious as to how you pay attention to how concrete the rumor is. And when MLBTradeRumors cites a source, again, they're citing people who are reporting on a rumor.

I think the way most consumers of the blogosphere react to rumors is to quick see what other people are saying and assimilate some variation of those opinions. Usually, the first people to opine on rumors are people who think the world is coming crashing down if their prefered choice of a 5th outfielder signs elsewhere.

Being a spectator of the hot stove league can be entertaining if you take everything - reports as well as reaction to reports - with a sense of humor and giant grain of salt. Taking either too seriously is an exercise in frustration that can only otherwise be experienced by watching cable news.

Gorski said...

Anon -

I'd be curious as to how you pay attention to how concrete the rumor is.

Sorry if I was ambiguous about what I mean. I simply mean whether or not the rumor is purporting that some tangible thing has happened, or if it's saying that something might happen. So, if Olney says, "The Red Sox are thinking about going after Johan Santana. An offer could involve Jacoby Ellsbury," I think to myself, "there's not much there," because Olney isn't actually saying that anything has happened yet. If Olney says, "Jason Bay has agreed to a deal with the Mets," that's a lot more "concrete" because it's much easier to verify, eventually, if he was right or not. Some sources, I find, are more reliable with the less "concrete" rumors - or at least, their reported stories tend to result in an actual result more often than the rest.

I agree with your take on hot stove rumors. I usually take the "less concrete" (as I call them) rumors with a large grain of salt - "Oh, the Twins sure would love to get Washburn on their team." Haha - right. But when someone actually comes out and says, "Something happened - they actually, tangibly, concretely offered Washburn a contract," I tend to take that more seriously unless other such reports in the past have proven to be faulty.

Anonymous said...

If Olney says, "Jason Bay has agreed to a deal with the Mets,"

That's not what a rumor is. I know what you're trying to say though, so I'll stop picking nits.

Gorski said...

If that wasn't a rumor, then it seems that Miller wasn't reporting a rumor either, in which case the Washburn "rumor" or "story" or whatever you want to call it is irrelevant to the post...but it clearly is relevant to the post, so....

Anonymous said...

Well, back to being nit-picky, Miller did qualify his statement by saying "according to CBS sportsline sources". I'd say there's a difference between that statement and quoting a named authority or making the statement without qualification.

Either way, it appears his sources were wrong or the information isn't all available to us.

Bottom line, I agree with Nick's post.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it looks like Miller's sources were right afterall. La Velle posted the story on his blog.

Nick N. said...

Actually, it looks like Miller's sources were right afterall. La Velle posted the story on his blog.

Indeed. Disappointing to hear; does not reflect well on the Twins front office and their priorities.

The point about viewing rumors with increased skepticism stands, though.

Bryz said...

http://blogs2.startribune.com/blogs/neal/2010/01/08/getting-to-the-bottom-of-the-washburn-story/

Link if anyone doesn't want to search for it. Like Nick said, it's very disappointing. Washburn adds some depth, but the Twins could get the same production from someone like Brian Duensing or maybe Glen Perkins.

Jack Steal would be thrilled.

Steven Ellingson said...

My only hope is that signing Washburn was the precurser to trading for a substantial upgrade in the infield or two. If not, yeah, this doesn't make much sense. In reality, though, 1 yr./5 mil isn't much for a dependable slightly below average pitcher. I have to think he'll get more elsewhere.

Joe said...

So now that the report has been confirmed. Miller > Nick/Joe C/LEN3. I guess the "beat" in beat writer means beat to the story. If I was the Strib and have two people that write for the twins I would start asking questions.

Mike said...

I think you owe Scott Miller an apology after you made an example of him.

Anonymous said...

Agree.

Anonymous said...

The point still stands. You wouldn't see Miller apologizing for the rumors that turn out to be crap.

It is very possible that the Twins could end up signing Washburn. But many people are acting like it's already happened, and expending a lot of needless frustration. When you catch wind of these confounding rumors, take into account the source and actual likelihood of it before letting them ruin your day. It will prevent a lot of unnecessary stress.

Still holds true.

sploorp said...

The best news out of all this isn't that the Washburn deal didn't go though, it's that the Twins still have at least 5 million left they feel they can afford to spend. That 5 million would go a long way toward signing Hudson.

Nick N. said...

For the record, I never said Miller was wrong. The point of the post is that people shouldn't overreact to every rumor they read and should take certain things into account when judging the potential accuracy of these rumors. Now that this particular bit has been substantiated by a local writer, there's plenty of sense in showing disappointment with the Twins over what appears to be a very perplexing decision, but in the end Washburn still isn't on the team.

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