Open Thread: Unbiased, you say?By
In theory, reporters are supposed to be our objective lens. They’re supposed to cast aside fan biases and tell us what happened. Yet as we enter awards season it becomes clear that reporters cannot hide their biases. No one can, really. We are human, after all, and part of our humanity is that we all see the world differently. Still, for a group that touts objectivity, I’d like to see them at least feign it when voting on awards.
This is not an indictment of all reporters. Some of them have an excellent sense of the game and can put their own teams aside when voting on awards. As has become clear over the past few years, though, some just can’t help but vote for the hometown team — or, in a case last year, against the rival player. It usually doesn’t have a huge effect on the outcome, but it does speak to a biased viewpoint.
In 2007, Alex Rodriguez won the MVP in a near unanimous decision. His 54 home runs and 156 RBI led the league by wide margins, and since those are the numbers writers tend to focus on the most, it’s no surprise that he got all but two first place MVP votes. The problem wasn’t that two writers voted for Magglio Ordonez over Rodriguez — Magglio had a great season, leading the league with a .363 batting average. No, the problem was that both writers were from Detroit, and that their reasons reek of bias.
Said Jim Hawkins of the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Michigan: “I saw Magglio play every day. What I saw was a player having an MVP year. I have no quarrel with anyone who voted for A-Rod. He also had an MVP year. But with the injuries the Tigers had and the effort and performance I saw from Magglio, there’s no question he had an MVP year.”
Said Tom Gage of the Detroit News: “I went with what I saw. So many times, you have to vote off the stat sheet. I fully expected A Rod to win. He had a great year. But I saw an MVP year. There were stats to back up the impression that I came away with from the regular season.”
So they voted for Magglio because that’s who they saw during the season. That’s about as biased as it gets. They could have cited Magglio’s superior batting average, on base percentage, and doubles, but instead focused on their bias — which they are not supposed to have, being “objective” reporters.
Last year, Mike ranted about Tom Haudricourt’s ballot. Haudricourt covers the Brewers, and that bias seemed to have shown on his MVP ballot. He voted Albert Pujols, clearly the NL MVP last year, seventh. Seventh place. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Haudricourt hadn’t placed three Brewers on his ballot, and also three first basemen ahead of Pujols. It looks like Haudricourt voted on his NL Central bias.
This year brings us back to Detoit, where Steve Kornacki used his Cy Young vote on Justin Verlander. Verlander had a good season for sure, but he wasn’t at the level of Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez. Yet Kornacki voted for Verlander anyway, with the following justification:
Verlander received my first-place vote because nobody was tougher on the mound with the season on the line for his team.
Verlander threw at least 120 pitches in six of his last eight outings and won his last three starts, forcing a one-game playoff against the Minnesota Twins with his final victory.
He was an inspirational ‘horse,’ using Tigers manager Jim Leyland’s term for him, on a fading team.
This pretty clearly falls victim to the base rate fallacy. It also looks like a case of confirmation bias. The decision looks even worse because Verlander pitches in the same division as Greinke, so even if Kornacki wanted to discount Greinke’s accomplishments because of a weak division, he couldn’t honestly vote for Verlander instead.
All that said, these are subjective awards, and we should expect the voters’ biases to play a role. My problem is with the facade of objectiveness. Reporters are not some select class who can set aside their biases and deliver down the middle news. They’re just as subject to cognitive biases as you and me. That might not be as clear during the regular season, but as we enter awards season, their biases come out front and center. I just wish they’d admit to them more, rather than continuing to feign objectivity.
If you don’t feel like talking about how reporters vote for awards, you’re in luck. This is your open thread for the evening. Have at it.