Sirens and Sagan
In Carl Sagan’s sagacious tome The Demon-Haunted World, he bemoans “the siren song of unreason,” which humans follow to irrational conclusions about such matters as UFOs, fairies and the rally cap. Adherence to unreason, he says, is “not just a cultural wrong but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.”
Mariner fans are as susceptible to unreason as anyone else, and more so in the case of Willie Bloomquist. He is our alien abduction, our siren song. Or at least he is for John Levesque, who once again is killing me.
The reason behind the Mariners’ sweep of the Angels, and the reason they’ve been playing .600 ball over the last 10 games (yes, I know), isn’t the resurgence of the team’s top-tier talent — it’s the scrappy, hustling, hometown boy. Why? No one can really tell, least of all the P-I’s former TV critic.
Apart from sprinkling magic pixie dust around the clubhouse, Bloomquist is said to bring a “spark” to the team. He is also, like David Eckstein, “making things happen.” In baseballese, these terms are equivalent to the French “je ne sais quoi,” which literally means “I don’t know what.”
And that’s what Levesque means: he’s sure Bloomquist is doing something right, but he isn’t sure what it is, and even if he was, he couldn’t prove it. Call it faith-based analysis.
Where Levesque does try to offer statistical support for his position, it gets surreal and frustrating, akin to teaching a desert tortoise about French philosophy.
For instance, Bloomquist has had only 100 at-bats this season, but he has scored 15 times. Only Sexson, the team’s designated slugger, and Ichiro, the designated hit machine, score more often per 100 at-bats (17.8 and 16.5 times, respectively).
Calling this laughable is like saying Carrot Top isn’t: so obvious it’s hardly worth doing. But let’s endeavor.
Pinch-runners aren’t charged with at-bats, but they do score runs. Bloomquist is the team’s pinch-runner, and has scored two of those 15 runs as such. Plus, the statistic is flawed anyway: Sexson drives himself in with home runs, but other players have to rely on teammates to drive them in.
The forehead-slapping portion of the column, though, comes here:
Regardless, if Bloomquist provides those things that help the Mariners score 5.5 runs a game, as they have in their past 10, versus 4.2 runs a game, as they did in their previous 77, the Mariners’ brass should check their obstinacy at the clubhouse door and admit that maybe, just maybe, there’s something to letting him play every day.
Remarkably, there wasn’t anything to letting him play every day during the first nine games of 2004, where the Mariners went 2-7. Even more remarkably, no other potential causes for the offensive boost are explored in the column. Ten games is a blip on the seasonal radar screen, and it’s pure folly to credit any power surge to a player whose lifetime OPS is .670.
Confusing correlation with causality, drawing specious conclusions from a tiny sample size, and ignoring any contrary evidence — it’s as if Levesque hit the Logical Fallacy Pinata, and all the bits of flawed reasoning hit the keyboard at once.
This isn’t the first time Levesque has beaten this drum. It’s a pet issue for him, and that’s fine: we all have them. Even Carl Sagan admitted he’d be thrilled to find alien life out there, though he maintained that no real proof for such life currently existed.
But let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say Bloomquist was geting on base at a .400 clip, but had scored fewer than 15 runs — 5 or so. Do you think Levesque would write a similar column, but use the argument “look, this guy has an incredible on-base percentage!” instead of this made up “run-scoring efficiency” hokum? I think so.
What that tells me is that the conclusions come first, and the rationale comes later. This style of reasoning is many things, but scientific it ain’t. Being reasonable means admitting to yourself when you want something to be true, and being honest with yourself when it simply isn’t.
It’s true, Bloomquist has hit well over the past few games. It’s also somewhat true, as Levesque says, that he “can play every infield and outfield position.” In the same vein, I can speak nine languages, if you don’t mind limiting conversations to “hello,” “where is the bathroom,” and “another beer, please.”
Every club needs a utility guy, a versatile type to fill the final slot on the bench. In that role, Bloomquist does fine.
These are the facts, though: Bloomquist has had more than 500 at bats, including long stretches of playing every day, to prove that he is a subpar major league hitter. He’s had about 1,500 minor league at bats that support the same conclusion. This is not a starter, not even for the Devil Rays.
Like Sagan, I would love to believe in mystical positive energy, mysterious keys to victory and Willie Bloomquist as an everday player. I would love to believe that rally caps matter. But the available evidence on this point wouldn’t satisfy Carl Spackler, let alone Carl Sagan.
This particular siren song thankfully doesn’t threaten our freedoms — but it does threaten the fate of the hometown nine. Plug your ears, and lash yourself to the deck if you have to. But resist.