Heyman by the Numbers

I have a lot of respect for Jon Heyman. He’s clearly one of the hardest working baseball writers in the national media. To have your research and opinions read and criticized for over thirty years takes an extreme dedication to your job. When dealing with the Trade Deadline or Winter Meetings, Heyman doesn’t appear to miss a wink, and he deserves a lot of credit for the devotion he puts into providing us fans with updates. As someone who aspires for a career in baseball analysis, I admire such a work ethic and find it intensely motivating. Yes, if there was a trait to steal from Jon Heyman, it would be his assiduous commitment to work.

Courtesy of Mr. Jay Destro

However, the CBS Sports writer has been accused of tainted quality in his work. His most recent puff piece on Johnny Damon appears to be the final straw for many bloggers and Twitter users. The accusation? Heyman is a mouthpiece for Scott Boras. While I’m more accustomed to analyzing baseball statistics, I decided to bring in some numbers to test these claims. I found two similar national writers, who produce articles at similar rates and work for well-established organizations, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and Buster Olney of ESPN.

The goal was to test the amount of articles that focused on Scott Boras clients and then those that linked his clients to the Yankees. In order to do so, I selected the same date range of December 15th, 2011 to February 16th, 2012, that being the length of Heyman’s current activity at CBS Sports. Though the range of dates certainly maintained a control in the frequency of Boras clients that were hot topics, it did limit the number of writers to research. Olney and Rosenthal were the only two similar national writers to publish with such frequency, anyone less may have fallen into the category of small sample size. The numbers showed startling evidence.

From Articles Written December, 15th 2011 to February 16th, 2012
Writer Total Articles Written Number of Articles Focused on Boras Clients Percent of Articles Focusing on Boras Clients Number of Articles Linking Boras Clients to Yankees Percent of Articles Linking Boras Clients to Yankees
 Jon Heyman 71 28 39% 9 13%
 Buster Olney 49 10 20% 3 6%
 Ken Rosenthal  71 11 15% 1 1%

The chart above shows that Jon Heyman wrote about Scott Boras clients at a rate well above double Buster Olney’s or Ken Rosenthal’s. When doing my research, it was the consistency of Boras pieces that most astounded me. While Rosenthal and Olney’s articles would often come with Fielder and Madson updates or signings, Heyman wrote regularly about other agents like Carlos Pena, Edwin Jackson, and Carlos Beltran. Even more amazing was the rate at which he linked Boras clients to the Yankees. Even though Rosenthal and Heyman both wrote the same number of articles, Rosenthal only linked them once, with Heyman linking them nine times. That means that 32% of the time that Heyman wrote about Boras clients, the Yankees were involved. As many clients as Boras has, when two of every five articles are about Boras clients, and more than one of every eight are linking Boras clients to the Yankees, something suspicious is happening.

I recognize how incredibly competitive the national baseball media can be, but if it’s true that Heyman has sacrificed his incredible reputation for what appears to be a partnership with the infamous Scott Boras, he has disrespected his readers. While you expect quality out of such a writer every day, I find it hard to trust one that would willingly release rumors based on someone’s agenda. Not only does this influence baseball fans, but it influences the whole baseball market, and is something I could foresee being banned by the next CBA. I wholeheartedly hope that these numbers are a big coincidence, but it sheds a lot of doubt on such an excuse.

Mike is the co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money. Outside of blogging baseball, Mike is also a musician, a runner, and a beer lover.

25 thoughts on “Heyman by the Numbers

  1. Plank

    What’s the word for when you get the exact outcome you expected? Whatever that word is, this article is that.

    • harmony

      confirmation bias

  2. Cris Pengiucci

    Interesting take on this. However, could this simply be due to the small sample size? Is this something that has just happened this year or does the trend go back a few?

    As pointed out by Plank, this was the expected outcome. As I don’t regularly follow any of the writers you mentioned, I don’t really care if the stats support the accusation or not, but I think this is very difficult assumption to prove.

    • Plank

      It seems like it’s been going on for years.

  3. This may not be a stupid question, but could Heyman’s “base” being in New York add to the total of Boras-Yankee connections?

  4. chris

    Great job. I’ve always known Heyman was a mouthpiece for Boras… now there are stats to back up that suspicion.

  5. Alex Geshwind

    Really interesting. Glad to finally see these rumors at least partially substantiated.

    On some level, I get it. That’s the game they play. Heyman just seems to play it far more often than the other guys and sometimes it does get to the point of blatant disrespect for his reader base.

  6. Jeremy

    I don’t think there’s any question that his most recent article accusing the Red Sox of being cheap was completely based on their unwillingness to bid highly on Scott Boras’s clients. You could almost see the fumes coming out of his head…

  7. Tim HJ

    Michael,

    Living over here in the UK, I am certainly not familiar enough with the work of these three gentlemen to pass comment on any possibility of bias. However, it does seem to me that there is a major flaw in your analysis.

    Your piece essentially sets out to test two hypotheses:

    1) Heyman writes too often about Boras clients; and
    2) When he writes about Boras clients, he is too keen to link them with the Yankees.

    On the face of things, these may seem to be connected, and indeed, if they are true, they may have the same root cause. However, in logical terms the two propositions are entirely independent – and your right hand column is therefore highly misleading.

    We are working with three numbers here:

    X = Total articles
    Y = ‘Boras Client’ articles
    Z = ‘Yankee Link’ articles

    Expressing Y as a percentage of X is exactly the right way to test for the first proposition (an undue propensity to write about Boras clients) and this is what your third column shows. So far, so good. However, the only way to test hypothesis two (undue tendency to link Boras clients to Yankees) is to express Z as a percentage of Y. Expressing it instead as a percentage of X (as shown in the fifth column of your table) means that the result can be thrown way out of whack by variations in X.

    Let’s say, for example, you and I both write ten articles about Boras clients. All ten of mine (100%) link them to the Yankees, while only five of yours do (50%). Pretty clearly, mine show evidence of a far greater tendency to create Yankee links. But if MY total canon was 200 stories, while YOUR body of work was only 100…..well your table above would give us BOTH a figure of 5% in the far right hand column (10 articles out of 200 for me, 5 out of 100 for you).

    Th upshot of this is that regardless of whether Heyman writes an unusually high number of stories about Boras clients, his tendency to link those players to the Yankees (9 articles out of 28, or 32%) is only a tick ahead of the comparable figure for Buster Olney (3 articles out of 10, or 30%).

    Furthermore, the analysis suffers from extremely small sample sizes. If Buster Olney had mentioned Yankee links in just ONE MORE ARTICLE his figure of 40% would have been way ahead of Heyman.

    As mentioned above, I am not disputing that bias exists – simply saying that more robust analysis is required in order to demonstrate it.

    • I have to agree with your point actually. The results of linking Boras clients to the Yankees is probably inconclusive due to small sample size. On top of that, I have a feeling that the Yankees are probably linked to Boras clients by every reporter at a similar rate simply due to the money they demand. I would love to take a bigger look into the numbers, but I haven’t found the time.

      That said, I think there is significance to a nearly 40% rate of writing on Boras clients, which is really what my conclusion examined. I’m not making any accusations, but its incredibly suspicious.

    • Lee

      Very good analysis. Like you said, the sample size of articles mentioning Boras clients was fairly small (28, 10 and 11, respectively) and minor fluctuations would produce large swings in results.

      However, Eder does mention the importance of “the rate at which he linked Boras clients to the Yankees” – so he’s clearly on the same path you are. Sadly, it’s just that these columnists aren’t cranking out the hundreds of articles needed for us to get a truly representative sample size. Maybe one day!

      • Tim HJ

        The sample size thing is true, but it wasn’t my main point – which was that in order to prove an excessive tendency to find links to the Yankees in stories about Boras clients, one needs to use stories about Boras clients as the universe, rather than ALL stories that journalist has written.

        If a journalist has a huge output but only occasionally writes about Boras clients, the percentage in Michael’s right hand column would be tiny – even if that writer cited a link to the the Yankees in EVERY SINGLE Boras client article. The second hypothesis can only be tested by dividing the Yankee links (Z) into the Boras Client articles (Y).

        Anyway, Michael’s reply touches on what might be the real issue here: the tendency of ALL journalists to link the Yankeees to pretty much ANY big name free agent or trade target. It’s just lazy journalism. Just like over here in the English Premier League. The moment any team manager gets fired, the media are full of reports that the same two or three usual suspects are “among the favourites” to take on the vacant position. Those stories aren’t based on facts, nor even tip-offs.

        I can’t imagine that anyone would bother to run the numbers, more’s the pity – but it would be interesting to see whether Boras clients are more likely than other players to be “linked” to the Yankees.

  8. SK

    Check out this recent article by Murray Chass –

    http://www.murraychass.com/?p=4249

  9. Randy Hill

    Reporters succeed by cultivating eources, like Heyman has done with Boras. So whst is he supposed to do, refuse to report what his sources tell him?

    “I can’t report theYankees are interested in your clients any more Scott, you usually tell me that.”

    “The Yankees usually are.”

    “well that’s true….”

    Are sports fans really so dumb that they don’t understand it’s a reporters job to report what highly placed sources tell them about interesting or important topics? is he supposed to actively squelch stories if the Yankees refuse to confirm/deny?

    Heyman has a job that he is clearly doing well and correctly. You seem to think he should edit/censor stories for some pretty bizarre reasons. it’s not his job to protect fans and GMs from possible false rumors agents soften spread, it’s his job to contact both sides and report their perspective

    If you want to shout bias you have to show he’s actively squelched other sides to stories for Boras or was too lazy to contact other parties in a story. No one has been able to do that. so we get ludicrously meaningless “statistical analysis” that can’t prove anything regardless of sample size, because you set out to prove only whether a NY based writer uses his best sources very often. Which is his job.

    • DannyBrownTheHybrid

      You aren’t getting the point. Read the Johnny Damon piece that was linked in this article. That has nothing to do with riding your sources…it has everything to do with helping the agenda of your source. If you sacrifice creative control for breaking news scoops, that’s fine, but don’t expect to be treated like a credible journalist. I refuse to believe Heyman would write such an article for a non Boras client.

      • There’s a difference between a good reporter and being a water boy. A good reporter reaches out to both sides and tries to be even handed, presenting all relevant facts without drawing conclusions. The water boy presents the agenda of one side as if it was his own. Heyman blurs the line between being a reporter and a columnists (editorials) on a regular basis.

  10. Alex

    This just seems like confirmation bias to me. 39% and 13% are not nearly high enough to question a man’s integrity.

  11. Toby

    A nice effort to be sure, but this is not news. Heyman doesn’t try to hide his Boras client shilling. It’s Gammons-as-Sox-ownership-mouthpiece blatant.

  12. todd

    Very interesting accusation and I don’t have Excel up to check the math, but I’d bet the difference is statistically significant. However, the time period is pivotal. If Heyman just likes to write about FA’s then its natural that he’d be writing about Jackson, Damon, Pena, Fielder etc when they were most of the popular unsigned FA’s in that period.

    A potential control group to check would be how often he mentioned Oswalt and any other notable non-Boras FA’s during the samw window.

  13. Val

    I’ve been noticing this for years. Heyman hasn’t been on the up and up for a long time now. Something just always seem to stink about some of his articles. He’s certainly agenda-ridden and ignores facts that don’t serve any particular agenda. Kind of an anti-journalist in this way. He’s a big one for quoting “anonymous baseball insiders,” which could well include “player agent Scott Boras.”

    Another test is to see if these stories relating to Boras clients either a) help Boras, b)hurt Boras, or are c) neutral. I’m guessing that this will also be in line with the other tests.

    So glad to see that people are picking up on this.

  14. Tom

    These observations are not new. There were many similar instances cited three years ago in this article and the subsequent comments:
    http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/02/heyman_breaks_a.php

  15. Jeremy

    Beltran is no longer represented by Boras. He switched at the end of the year to Lozano. Not sure how that might affect the overall number.

  16. Don

    This is a great article. ITs unfortunate because I actually like heyman. He is the first to site who broke the story first unlike espn who says “our sources”. Could it be tho that heyman was a reporter for news day in new york so over time he has developed a good connection with the two new york teams? also is it a coincidence that the team with the highest payroll would have to deal with the agent with the biggest clients? why should he break news about lower level players most people don’t care about

  17. I’ve always thought that Heyman wrote a little too much about Scott Boras’ clients being linked to the Yankees… the only legitimate explanation I can think of is that Heyman has a better relationship with Boras than Ken Rosenthal or Buster Olney. But most likely, given the high frequency and the tone of Heyman’s writing, I would speculate that something is happening

  18. Tashmo

    Interesting. Is it possible that he has a good relationship with Boras or a Boras staffer that passes him reliable information, thus just being a good source? Is it also possible that his NY connection gives him good sources with the Yankees as well?

    Boras’ clients happen to be pretty high profile guys usually, and this could just be a reporter who is using the sources at his disposal. Maybe I’m just being naive.

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