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What should one do with ignoramuses like Jason Whitlock?

Sep 22, 2011, 5:30 PM EDT

Jason Whitlock

If you want to read a dumb, reactionary column about how statistics have ruined sports and that people who use statistics should “STFU,” by all means, go read Jason Whitlock’s latest thing over at Fox.  Just know ahead of time that it  is aggressively stupid, profoundly lazy and provides no insight whatsoever.  Even if you hate stats and are looking for ammo in that argument, you’ll find nothing there. It says a lot about Jason Whitlock’s personal aversion to thinking hard about sports, but not much else.

But I mention it anyway because I really find myself wondering what should be done when such drivel is encountered.

The usual response I get when I link this kind of thing is that I shouldn’t have done so because I’m just giving the columnist what he wants. Attention. Page views. Traffic.  And I suppose I am.  But I find the notion that I should just ignore this kind of thing problematic on a number of levels.

For one thing, there’s no evidence that he is writing this as some massive troll or con in an effort to get page views anyway. Whitlock is a contrarian by nature, but there’s no knowing eye-wink here. He’s not poking the “stat geeks” here. He’s whining about them and raging against the dying of some light that only he and a small handful of other gray hairs still see. I think he believes this stuff.

Moreover, I don’t think Jason Whitlock is in desperate need of page views. He gets a lot of them already and makes a boatload of money doing what he’s doing for reasons other than this blog and others like it linking to him.  He’s a big personality. He’s not some guy looking to make a name for himself by baiting me or someone else into a debate.

But it’s exactly for that reason that I have a hard time ignoring him.  He shapes the opinion of a lot of people. More people than you probably realize.  I understand the concept of ignoring this sort of thing — so many people tell me to leave it alone — but ignorance thrives on apathy. For years big time columnists wrote demonstrably incorrect things about baseball. It was only when people started to question them — in print — that opinion on these matters changed.

Maybe it’s different now that Whitlock’s position is by no means held by the majority of sportswriters — indeed, his own Fox-mate Ken Rosenthal wrote a great piece yesterday that serves as a better rebuke of Whitlock than anyone actually setting out to do so could have written — but I still have a hard time nodding and smiling at this kind of nonsense being passed off by someone who is supposed to be an expert about sports.

I’m not sure what the right balance is, but calling stupid things stupid has value to me. And letting stupid stuff slide doesn’t sit right with me, even if I understand the reasons for doing it.

  1. AK47 - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    I realize that leaving a comment here (not to mention reading yet another one of his trash “articles”) only serves to benefit one Jason Whitlock – but I’m with you hear Craig. I think Whitlock aims at that segment of society that has no mental filter…that just ‘consume’ without thinking or analyzing, only to regurgitate onto others at a later time. Whitlock represents the worst of today’s journalists who, out of a necessity to remain “relevant”, assert an opinion that is not only out of step, but is flat-out ridiculous…to the point where all of us with working brains cannot help but talk about it.

  2. Lukehart80 - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    While I think most of what Whitlock wrote is nonsense, I did think he made a good point in the 3rd paragraph when– oh, wait… that was just mustard on my computer screen. Never mind.

  3. joshfrancis50 - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    You nailed it. Horses ass, flat earther who appears too dumb or lazy to learn and accept that quantifying what happens between the lines gives added insight to what we’re watching unfold in front of us.

  4. 18thstreet - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    Joe Posnanski wrote something great yesterday (wow, that was unnecessary to type) that applies here:

    “Well, if people could get something that simple wrong, they could get just about anything wrong. It wasn’t in Bill [James]‘s nature to trust conventional wisdom anyway, but the more he looked at the box scores — the more he hours he spent with the evidence — the more he came to believe that so much of what people said automatically about baseball was silly, misleading, incomplete.”

    http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2011/09/ballad-of-bill-james.html

    What’s interesting, here, is that now the contrarian position — Whitlock’s — is to ignore the evidence and go with your gut. Don’t bring me any evidence that John Elway wasn’t the best QB ever — he just was. I’m not much of a football fan, but I’d imagine there are some great numbers out there that show Elway was the best QB ever. Hell, if they don’t show him as ONE of the best, then football is counting the wrong things.

    • paperlions - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:54 PM

      No, there really aren’t numbers out there showing Elway was one of the best QBs every….”he just was” is about the best you can really do when arguing that he was an all-time great at the position.

      • besnoah - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:05 PM

        That kind of depends on your definition of best.

        Football Outsiders’s Mike Tanier called him “a quarterback who could succeed in any era, under any conditions.”

        Fifth paragraph under the first bold header:

        http://www.footballoutsiders.com/walkthrough/2011/walkthrough-rocket-rutherford

      • narrabeen23 - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:41 PM

        4th most passing yards of all-time, consecutive superbowl championships, and led 34 4th quarter comebacks (I believe only 2nd to Marino’s 36)

        That’s good enough for me…

  5. schlom - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    The shocking thing is not only is Whitlock proclaiming his ignorance, he’s glorifying in it. Can you think of any other profession where you pride yourself on your aversion to learning new things?

    • paperlions - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:56 PM

      Politics

      Theology

      • bcopus - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:01 PM

        Spot on. I can’t thumbs up that enough.

      • schlom - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:12 PM

        I figured everyone would say politician but that’s not quite the same thing – as political beliefs are obviously a lot more subjective than what Whitlock is talking about.

      • JBerardi - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:04 AM

        “as political beliefs are obviously a lot more subjective than what Whitlock is talking about.”

        Ah, politics, where objective reality goes to die. Is the earth round? Experts disagree!

    • uberfatty - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:03 PM

      Message board commenting.

    • atworkident - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:04 PM

      International Scout for the Baltimore Orioles

    • woodenulykteneau - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:06 PM

      AM radio broadcasting

      Republican civil rights theorist

      • JBerardi - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:05 AM

        Just “republican” would be fine there.

    • b7p19 - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:24 PM

      MLB manager

    • po8crg - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:04 PM

      Science journalist

      • JBerardi - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:06 AM

        Speaking of republicans…

  6. paperlions - Sep 22, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    Okay….I tried reading it….I couldn’t do it. His ignorance is so complete that nearly everything he asserts as fact, even basic things about people, are wrong…and arguments built on a faulty premise aren’t worth reading.

  7. atworkident - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    How can you expect facts from someone who hates stats?

    • bcopus - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:07 PM

      Worse. How can you expect facts from someone who hates facts?

  8. bcopus - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:06 PM

    There’s a serious issue with anybody who says “I know what I know and nobody can convince me otherwise, no matter what.” This mindset is the worst lingering problem we have in humankind, in my opinion. And NOBODY can tell me IT’S NOT!

    ….I hope the sarcasm got through there at the end….

    • JBerardi - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:10 AM

      It’s absolutely true. There’s a reason why humans have a thing called “science”– because using evidence to question our assumptions about how the world works is not our default mode of thinking. More typically, we use our assumptions to question evidence. Stats show Alex Rodriguez is the MVP? Bah, that jerk must just a lot of homeruns in meaningless games…

  9. sportsdrenched.com - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:08 PM

    I got tired of Whitlock’s act long before he left the Kansas City Star. I’m surprised Whitlock even knows there is this thing call Major League Baseball.

    I’m not reading his article. Because I don’t want to spend the time doing it. And I want to be ignorant of what ya’ll are talking about, and I like irony.

  10. cur68 - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    Yeah, that isn’t a rationale or anything. It’s little more than theology verging on the cult level only leveled against statistical analysis in favor of what ever Whitlock says (can’t say he thinks, right? He’s just pronounced his anathema of thinking). Meh. I could give a crap about what he thinks.

    • jackkoho - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:51 PM

      I agree with this. I don’t see why this article is worth getting your panties in a bunch over it, I read it and basically had no reaction because I knew the kind of person it was coming from.

  11. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:17 PM

    “It’s difficult to interpret baseball these days. The stat geeks won’t let you argue. They quote sabermetrics and end all discussion. Is so-and-so a Hall of Famer? The sabermeticians will punch in the numbers and give you, in their mind, a definitive answer.”

    This is the one part I agree with, as I mentioned yesterday. I have no problem with sabermetrics or sabermetricians but I have a problem with them believing their method of analyzing a player is the best and only way to do it

    • ralphdibny - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:58 PM

      Stat geeks won’t let you argue? Are you kidding me? Stats encourage argument!

      Going solely by your gut gets you nowhere–my gut says Tim Raines should be in the HoF, yours says he shouldn’t. Well, the story ends there.

      But say Keith Law writes an article using stats to argue that Raines is a HoFer. Well, he writes with an air of certainty, so I guess I understand why people like Whitlock might feel intimidated. But if you disagree, then you write your own article using your best statistical argument. Then other people add to the discussion with their arguments. And eventually the baseball community comes to general consensus as to Raines. (Note I said general, not universal. Like the scientific community, the baseball community will always have a few contrarians arguing that global warming isn’t real.)

      In short, you are confusing an individual’s argument, which will always sound definitive, with the larger method of statistical analysis, which is always growing, always refining, always improving.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:16 PM

        Too many times I have seen, or been victimized by, so-called stats geeks belittling the arguments of others who cite traditional stats and what they see on the field as evidence of a player’s ability. I didn’t suggest there is no need to discuss sabermetrics as you seem to be suggesting. My point is that sabermetrics are not the only way one can look at baseball, which is contrary to the belief of many stats geeks I have encountered on this board and elsewhere.

        The article by Ken Rosenthal illustrated that point perfectly and is worth reading in its entirety

      • Kevin S. - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:56 PM

        “Too many times I have seen, or been victimized by,”

        My heart bleeds for you. I hear creationists feel the same way when evolutionists de-pants them in debates. It must feel like you’re being picked on when you insist on evaluating players in ways that have no basis in fact. Indeed, I’m sure you probably feel I’m picking on you right now. Guess what? When you argue from a basis that is factually wrong, that’s going to happen. Just saying “Nuh-uh, my argument is valid too!” doesn’t make it any more correct. Maybe that was a little mean-spirited, but “what they see on the field” is incredibly subject to all sorts of biases, both conscious and unconscious, and “traditional stats” (by which I take to mean RBI, Batting Average, Pitcher wins, saves, and the like) have been demonstrably proven to not be indicative of player value. That you insist on ignoring this is not the fault of the saberist (or “so-called stat geek,” hmm, I wonder why they don’t treat you with respect when you yourself refer to them in such a demeaning fashion) but of your own.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:57 PM

        Also, watch the games. Enjoy them. Bask in the glory of them. But if you’re going to argue about what makes players good, don’t whine because other people come better prepared than you do.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 22, 2011 at 8:09 PM

        You seem to be missing the point. I understand sabermetrics and their value well enough. But that doesn’t mean I or anyone else should be belittled for citing a guy’s AVG or his arm strength in an argument. They’re all valid in an assessment of a player. Yes sabermetrics are generally more accurate but they are not the be-all end-all and that is the point I’m trying to make here. Contrary to your belief you can have a well-informed discussion about a baseball player without relying only on his sabermetric stats

      • Kevin S. - Sep 22, 2011 at 10:50 PM

        No, sir, you are missing the point. Because batting average is a very limited way of evaluating a player. It ignores walks, and it treats all hits equally. If you’re using it to judge hitters, you are making a flawed argument. Joe Posnanski says it so much better than I can here: http://joeposnanski.si.com/2011/03/10/my-guide-to-stats-offense/ , but there really is no reason to accept batting average when it comes to discussing how good players are. It’s both logically and empirically wrong. If you insist on using it despite being shown why you shouldn’t, you aren’t going to be taken seriously.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:17 AM

        So why not throw out all traditional stats in favour of sabermetric jargon? Do I have to scream this til I’m blue in the face? Sabermetrics are more accurate measurements of a player’s talent but that doesn’t mean at the same time we can’t examine a guy’s traditional stats. I think very few people will argue a guy with a career .300 AVG is/was a pretty good player. Sure you can find better stats to indicate how good that player is but that doesn’t make his traditional stats irrelevant

    • paperlions - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:15 PM

      It isn’t that “stat geeks” won’t let you argue…it is that they won’t let you argue without supporting your argument with facts. Opinions need to be based on something tangible, and if they are not, they are more flimsy than those based on facts (i.e. data, stats)….and if you are going to base your opinion about individuals on team- or context-dependent stats, you can expect some fire….because it is obvious you are using stats to mean something different from what they measure.

  12. uuddlrlrbastart - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    So, if I read that right, Whitlock hates sabermetrics because he used to make sweeping proclamations (Elway is the greatest!) and now he can’t because people can easily and demonstrably call him on his bullshit?

    • b7p19 - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:30 PM

      Wow, well said.

  13. cubsrice - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    I think this says it all:

  14. ditto65 - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:53 PM

    ” The answers and the questions that make sports special, unique, our collective national pastime, can’t be found on a stat sheet. They’re in our imaginations and our individual interpretation of what we witness.”

    I guess we can just imagine who is better, rather than look at the facts.

  15. Jonny 5 - Sep 22, 2011 at 6:57 PM

    Myself, I enjoyed reading all about how much of a knucklehead Whitlock is. I hope he always lets everyone know it by writing what he thinks too. Otherwise we may get the wrong impression.

  16. jaysfan19 - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    Man, I gotta say, you guys are all taking his article wayyyy to seriously! I am an avoid stathead – I hate people who quote OPS over wOBA for example as if they’re ahead of the curve, however, I think Whitlock, more then anything else, is lamenting the fact that he can’t sit down and just watch a baseball game anymore. I think a good example of this is WPA on fangraphs. love the stat and the chart in-game, but it does kinda ruin the moment when you discover that your team has less than a 5% chance of winning. I think Whitlock – though he could have done so more eloquently – is wishing for a time when WAS closer to art then science, when you could simply sit and watch a game and appreciate it for what it was. Personally, I know far more about baseball because of sabermetrics, but I dont think i enjoy it as much as before advance stats. Ignorance can be bliss

    • jeffrp - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:25 PM

      Yeah, I hate it when I go to the ballpark and the usher issues me a laptop and forces me to read Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus between pitches.

      • cerveceros82 - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:58 PM

        That’s an awesome visual.

    • Kevin S. - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:47 PM

      That sounds like a personal problem, because I have absolutely no problem sitting down and watching a baseball game these days.

    • The Baseball Idiot - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:51 PM

      I agree. It’s a so-called nostalgia piece (written in Whitlock’s usual way that people don’t get if they don’t read him) about what used to be. Its way more tongue-in-cheek than you guys realize.

      When Neyer wrote his book debunking old baseball myths, a lot of people asked why? They thought it was better to just let the myth live than to prove it wrong. Others disagreed and wanted to know every intimate detail.

      Sabermetrics is doing the same thing. It’s not possible to have any discussion about baseball without some throwing in advanced statistics to try and prove their point. For example, if I were to write the following in the comments of a post: James Shields is a pretty good pitcher because he has lots of complete games and a low ERA, there would immediately be 15 responses using detailed statistics to either prove I’m right or wrong, and arguments with the proponents of either side, when no statistic actually proves anything.

      Baseball discussions, and analysis, should be subjective. It’s a lot more fun that way. Whitlock didn’t say it as well as he could have, but he’s pandering to a particular audience, and that’s who he wrote to.

      It’s always great imagining a woman has big breasts. Its great to see them. It’s not so much fun when you find out she’s wearing a padded bra. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, the mystery is more fun than the reality.

      Go ahead, guys. Get your shots in. But please, try to be a little bit more creative. You’re getting a little boring. Surely you guys can find some better insults than you’re using. I mean, no one’s mentioned my mother or the size of my penis even once.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 22, 2011 at 8:00 PM

        Baseball discussions absolutely can be subjective. But why on earth should analysis be? It is, by definition, and objective endeavor.

      • The Baseball Idiot - Sep 22, 2011 at 8:09 PM

        First, I’m pro-sabermetics. I like them, I read them, I study them and I use them.

        That being said, statistics of any kind don’t prove anything. They are used for evaluation, and used well, but they don’t prove.

        If the Yankees win 95 games, it doesn’t prove they are a great team. It just means they won 95 games.

        If some has a WAR of 9.4, it doesn’t prove he’s a great player. He probably is, but the number doesn’t prove anything. It used to evaluate that player against others, but it still doesn’t prove anything.

        That’s why the discussion is more fun sometimes without everyone trying to prove their particular side is right. People who like sabermetrics can have that discussion by using advanced statistics. But people should also be able to have that discussion without having sabremetrics rammed down their throat if they choose not to use them.

        And everyone knows Otto Graham is the greatest quarterback of all time.

      • jimbo1949 - Sep 22, 2011 at 8:38 PM

        And everyone knows Otto Graham is the greatest quarterback of all time.
        .
        and how many superbowls did he win?

  17. killabri - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    The answer to your opening statement, Craig? Ignore him and hope he and Gregg Doyel (even worse than Whitlock on the intentional “I’m going to write as dumb a column as humanly possible so I can somehow remain employed” scale) go away for good. I have long since tired of them both.

    Though I must congratulate Whitlock here, at least he didn’t A) play the race card (Jemele Hill has proudly taken up that bandwagon) or B) Crank out the same “Jeff George can play in the NFL, even though he’s carbon dated” that he does every single freaking year.

    As for the current pile of dreck, statistics really do not serve Jason Whitlock because it provides a basis with which to disagree with, or even disprove, his own opinions, which clearly are fact because he presents them as so. Disagreeing with sabremetric stats and “stat geeks” is one thing, but doing so in a clearly inflammatory manner designed solely to get clicks is irresponsible journalism, at best.

    Let me put it this way: Between Jemele Hill and Jason Whitlock, I’ve had more than enough material for our weekly “What Not To Do In Journalism” segment of my Journalism class. Those two idiots can make anyone look good by comparison.

  18. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 22, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    The games are about more than stats.

    That’s what bothers me about this whole era of sports.

    Of course they are. And those of us in the advanced stats community realize this more than anyone else. However, here’s what bothers us about sportswriters.

    [Paraphrasing Tom Tango since I can't find the link]
    I think we all love reading phenomenal game stories, hearing about the crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, how beautiful the sky looks and how everyone feels, on opening day, that his/her team has a chance at the post season. Tell us how players of yore once felt playing the games, how difficult it was riding the trains between games, day/night doubleheaders, getting crap for pay. All of that, I think to most of us, is intriguing and we’d love to read more of it. Give us more Roger Angell, more David Halberstam, more more more. That’s your world and we love you for it.

    However, once you start talking about how great a player is based on stats, or how great a player is vs another, or how difficult/easier it is to do X in today’s game, now you are in my world. And I have ways to show whether you are right or wrong.

    So please, more of the former and less of the latter. I already know who the experts in the latter are, and for the most part, they also write better than many of the former and far more often. And that’s a crying shame…

  19. itsmekirill - Sep 22, 2011 at 8:04 PM

    Here’s what I got out of this article:

    “I love arguing about sports, but it’s totally unfair to cite evidence supporting your position.”

  20. Charles Gates - Sep 22, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    What I don’t understand is how my understanding of statistics inhibits Jason Whitlock’s enjoyment of baseball.

  21. CJ - Sep 23, 2011 at 8:29 AM

    I used to just read Whitlock’s stuff just to mock his sheer stupidity but I haven’t been able to even stomach doing that for years knowing that it’s just another page view for him. I can’t think of any other sports writer whose drivel I’d consider reading less than that of Whitlock.

  22. bobwsc - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    looks like he’s between puffs of a fatty while sitting on the crapper in that picture.

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