Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hank Strikes Again

Not many people would have the chutzpah to bring up the names Koufax and Drysale when speaking about a crew of untested rookie pitchers, but then again, Hank Stein is quickly separating himself from the distinction of "many people."

I know I tend to do this a lot ("this" meaning ripping people in sports who exaggerate when making comparisons), but it bother the shit out of me when people resort to unnecessary hyperbole in order to bolster a point or get people excited. The media, and people speaking to the media, seem conditioned to give us examples that we can easily digest. A defensive end who is quick off the ball is compared to LT (see Shawn Merriman) or a pitcher who can command his fastball is the "next Maddux." The problem is that the comparison comes after 15 games or 60 innings and is the player invariably will NEVER reach the level of the compared player. I understand the thought process behind the comparisons. Familiarity with the big name brings with it an easy frame of reference from which the reader can draw comparisons. The only problem with that is that rather than use the hyperbolic comparison as it was meant to be used, the idiot reader (the majority of readers) uses the information as gospel. It's exactly the problem I had with the Globe comparing Buchholz and Lester to Peavy and Pettitte a couple days ago. Reading those comparisons don't just get people excited, they actually think they've got a Peavy & Pettitte combo (people are stupid) and it creates a monster of unfair expecations. Well, after these upcoming statements, it seems Hank Steinbrenner loves feeding the monster.

In an article entitled "Decade of Dominance", Steinbrenner, amongst other lofty claims, seems to think that his young pitchers are as good as any other staff in the league. In fact, he is so confident in his kids that he sees fit to compare them to perhaps the greatest duo of pitchers of all-time:
Steinbrenner is expecting another playoff run at the least in the finale of Yankee Stadium. "They do need to make the playoffs or let's face it, I'm going to be ticked off," Steinbrenner said. "And then once we get in the playoffs we'd better do well, but the fact of the matter is, as far as the next 10 years we could be in dynamite shape. We could have the best pitching staff since the Dodgers in the '60s and obviously we'll have some good hitters, too."
Koufax and Drysdale, eh? I feel like Matt Foley staring across the table at David Spade and saying, "Hey, Dad, I can't see too good is that Bill Shakespeare over there?" (video footage found here) except we're inserting Koufax and Drysdale for Shakespeare and I'm looking at three pitchers under age of 25 who have less than 20 starts total under their collective belts. It's absolutely INSANE to invoke the 60's Dodgers teams when speaking about your young pitchers. I don't care how confident you are in your guys, when you set the bar that high the only place for your guys to go is down. They can't possibly reach those expectations, let alone exceed them. And though you may think that people wouldn't possibly take so literally a statement like Stein's, you don't know people.

For many, the Post and the quotes within it are their only frame of reference. They don't differentiate between fact and opinion. They interpret his quote not as the opinion of a narcissist, but that of a skilled assessor of talent (which Steinbrenner clearly is not). Same goes for the Globe and the lofty comparisons that Buchholz, Ellsbury and Lester draw. Sure it gets people excited (I guess it'd be less sexy to compare those guys to Brett Tomko, David DeJesus and Gustavo Chacin, though that may be much more fair) but it is just so inaccurate as to be distracting from the real story that both teams or doing something that historically doesn't work out. They are relying on young pitching to put them into playoff contention. And maybe that was his intention (distraction from reality). In doing so he created an unreachable level of achievement and an unfair atmosphere in which these young kids will be scrutinized. As if it wasn't going to be hard to enough....

So yeah, maybe I'm a little over critical of these types of comparisons given that they've become a matter of course. Just don't say I didn't tell you so when the next Don Drysdale turns out to be the next Edwin Jackson.

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