Home Entertainment The Value of Punditry (Or: Dunn & Dumber)

The Value of Punditry (Or: Dunn & Dumber)

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Last night on ESPN’s SportsCenter, I was listening to Buster Olney declare that, given that the Nationals haven’t signed him to a long-term deal yet, the Nationals had made a horrible mistake by not trading Adam Dunn. At 2006’s trading deadline, I heard the knights of the keyboard say the same thing about the Nationals holding onto Alfonso Soriano. So I thought I’d look back at MLBTradeRumors.com & list all the prospects who’d been linked to a potential Soriano deal at one time or another:

Yusmeiro Petit, Renyel Pinto, Jason Vargas, Erick Aybar, Brent Clevlen, Jair Jurrjens, Humberto Sanchez, Lance Broadway, Brandon McCarthy, Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Jason Kubel

It’s still too early to pass final judgment on most of these players. But four full seasons after the 2006 trading deadline, not one of them has been an All-Star. Some, like Jurrjens, Garza, Baker & Kubel, have had one or more good years, but all four have regressed to average (or worse) this year. Others have already flopped.

My point is not that the Nationals made the right or wrong decision in either case (the compensation pick they received for Soriano turned into Josh Smoker, who currently sports a horrific 3-10 record with a 7.44 ERA in single A). My point is that people anointed as experts often say stuff that isn’t just questionable in hindsight — it’s not supported by fact at the time. Because in 2006, it wasn’t just in baseball that pundits were making bold predictions that turned out to be dazzlingly wrong.

In June 2006, Mark Halperin, then ABC’s political unit director, warned, “If I were [Democrats], I’d be scared to death about November’s elections.” Five months later, Democrats picked up 32 seats in the House & 7 seats in the Senate.

But punditry’s talking head format encourages overconfidence & discourages uncertainty. As Baseball Prosepctus’ Steve Goldman pointed out this week in a post titled The Futility of Selling (sub. req.):

When you give away something of value, you might get nothing, or something of so little value that you’re worse off than when you started. We like to pretend it’s otherwise, if, for example, the Nationals hold on to Adam Dunn this weekend some will say that they were foolish not to get what they could. Yet, the truth is that unless they were very lucky or very canny in their trading, the end result would have been no different – Dunn gone, and perhaps not even a [serviceable player] to mark his passing.

Four years from now, we may know if Madison Bumgarner, Daniel Hudson & Dayan Viciedo (names linked to Dunn this year) were really worth getting so excited about. And we’ll definitely know if the November 2010 elections go as badly for Democrats as people like Mark Halperin are once again boldly predicting without the slightest hint of hedging.

But you can’t worry about winning one news cycle. You have to make the best decisions you can for the long run & not worry about pleasing the pundits. Because prospects flop. And Republicans nominate candidates like Sharron Angle & Rand Paul. It ain’t over till it’s over.

Photo via Flickr’s SeeMidTN.com. You have to love Flickr. Where else can you find a picture of a guy who’s 6’6″, 280 pounds trying (and failing) to delicately lay down a bunt?

  • NotJohnSMosby

    The Nats received two comp picks for Soriano.  Josh Smoker was one.  Jordan Zimmermann was the other.  Smoker is a bust.  Zimmermann should be the number 2 starter for years to come.  So, in the case of 06, the Nats came out way ahead, particularly since Soriano has played horribly since the Cubs signed him to the big contract.