Recently ESPN's Keith Law kindly answered a few questions for MLB Trade Rumors. Law formerly served as Blue Jays Special Assistant to the GM, and has spent the last few years as the lead analyst for ESPN's Scouts, Inc. branch. Essential Law links: his MLB draft blog, Stephen Strasburg analysis, his general ESPN blog, and his personal blog The Dish.
MLB Trade Rumors: On occasion, you've revealed information in chats about a player's off-the-field troubles that was not publicly known or hadn't gotten much press. How has this been received by your readers, bosses, and front office contacts?
Keith Law: Some readers get annoyed because they don't want to believe it. My bosses know that I'm meticulous about information like that – I only write about these matters if I believe they are substantially or wholly accurate. For example, the Alcides Escobar story – I have a copy of his daughter's birth certificate with his name as the father, I spoke to the attache at the U.S. Consulate in Panama who has helped Escobar's wife, and so on. I think the Brewers would just like the story to go away, frankly, but it's not going to unless it's addressed.
MLBTR: A related question: when you rank prospects, how big of a factor is makeup? What's the highest number of positions you've moved a prospect on your top 100 (either up or down) due to makeup?
Law: It's only a big factor for me if I think it's really affecting or going to affect the player's production. And even then I would be careful – Robinson Cano had major knocks on his makeup when he was in the minors, and even with his ups and downs he's been a pretty productive big leaguer. If I'd been writing at the time and had given the makeup issues major consideration (he was considered a "dog" by many scouts because he showed little effort, especially in the field), I would have grossly underrated him.
MLBTR: One scout told Buster Olney that Stephen Strasburg is better than A.J. Burnett right now. Do you agree? If not, how close is he?
Law: I think that's a bit hyperbolic, but I do think Strasburg could pitch in the majors right now and would be Washington's #1 starter if they could sign him quickly and stick him in their rotation in June. I'm not saying they have to take another starter at #10, but they could have Strasburg, Zimmerman, and another polished college arm like Kyle Gibson in their 2010 rotation. Shore up the defense a little and they could be in line for a pretty significant improvement in W/L record in 2010-11 with that jump in run prevention.
(Click here for Law's ESPN report on Strasburg, plus video of the young pitcher).
MLBTR: A few years ago you were asked which player you thought would become a star but never did, for reasons unknown. You answered Carlos Pena. Since then he's put up excellent numbers, so who takes the mantle now?
Law: I'm asked this sort of question in chats all the time, but since I didn't start scouting amateur players at all until 2003 – and it might be more accurate to say that I started seeing amateur players in 2003, but didn't learn to evaluate them for some time after that – most of my answers would come from the perspective of my old role as a stat analyst. Andy Marte's probably the best answer I can give, especially since I did see him in his first spring with Cleveland and loved his swing, so he's a case where I could offer both perspectives and still missed on him. And do we have a good idea why Jerome Williams never developed?
MLBTR: I have a feeling that your style of writing may generate more angry correspondence from readers than the average columnist. Have you been able to develop a thick skin? Is there an occasional email or comment that makes your blood boil?
Law: I'm not thick-skinned or thin-skinned, but I do believe strongly in calling out people who take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to slander people or generally act in ways in which they wouldn't act if they had to write under their own names. Many people, perhaps most, will back off when they realize that their comments are truly public and that the target might see them and choose to defend himself. And I think most readers are unaccustomed to getting responses like that. If people wrote like they believed their targets were reading, they'd be more civil. And civility is a good thing.
That said, I'm amused by how personally some readers take my comments. Why do you care that I said that Joey Bagodonuts is only going to be a fourth outfielder or a fifth starter in the majors? What I say has zero impact on a player's career path, and if you are worried about my analyses affecting a player's trade value, well, thanks for the compliment, but I'm not sure I believe that either.
MLBTR: What's your favorite major fast food chain?
Law: Five Guys, assuming that's "major." I like In-n-Out, but their burgers are not close to Five Guys', and I like Rubio's as well (I used to like Baja Fresh, and then I tried Rubio's). Peter Reinhart, one of my favorite cookbook authors, has written about the biscuits at Bojangle's, so I need to check that out the next time I'm in the south.
All else being equal, though, I prefer to avoid fast food. I like patronizing local places; I like the challenge of finding those restaurants and I believe in supporting establishments that are serving honest, authentic food, food made from fresh ingredients that either preserves cooking traditions or tries to push cuisine in new directions. And I don't like the way major fast-food chains have sacrificed quality, both in the end product but also in the treatment of animals during the process, in the name of driving down costs. Reducing the cost of a high-definition television is one thing, but reducing the cost of a hamburger? I'd rather eat fewer burgers, pay more when I do, and get a much better end product.