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Bias or Insight?

You’ve probably heard by now that Dejan Kovacevic, a beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, filed a National League Rookie of the Year ballot that included two players from the Pirates, but did not include Jason Heyward. Kovacevic put both Neil Walker and Jose Tabata ahead of Heyward, but behind the guy who won the award, Buster Posey.

As is usual whenever there’s an odd ballot, it didn’t take long for there to be something of a brouhaha over Kovacevic’s choices. Initially, the question was how someone could leave Heyward off the ballot entirely. Once it was discovered that he left him off in favor of two guys from the team he covers on a daily basis, the presumption switched from idiocy to bias. A Pittsburgh writer votes for two Pittsburgh players? His job obviously cost him his objectivity.

Except, there’s a problem.

Kovacevic is a pretty well-respected beat writer, has penned a number of thoughtful articles (including sabermetric-friendly pieces that show he’s got a decent grasp of the value of statistics), and has spent the last hour explaining his rationale for the selections on Twitter. Across the board, he comes off as far more sensible than those accusing him of some kind of bias.

He makes some points that I wouldn’t agree with, and his perspective is certainly colored by that of someone who was around Walker and Tabata for the entire season, watching them on a near-daily basis. But Kovacevic argues a point that I completely agree with – there is a difference between insight and bias. Being close to a story comes with positives and negatives, and yet, too often only the downside of being close to a source is highlighted.

Beat writers do see and hear things that those outside of the daily grind of an organization do not see. Fans of a certain team often have a better understanding of a situation relating their specific organization than someone who follows all teams from a broad perspective. These things that can only be gleaned from close proximity to a single organization can often be valuable, and provide necessary insight to a discussion. However, too often perspectives held by those groups or individuals are marginalized because of the assumption that bias is coloring the view rather than that information is being passed along.

I don’t agree with Kovacevic’s opinions, but I’m also not going to ignore them simply because he’s from Pittsburgh and he voted for two guys from Pittsburgh. Too often, the assumption of bias is used as a tool to disregard potentially valid opinions that go against the consensus. The broad perspective is not always right, and it often takes someone close to the scene to shed light on a misconception of the outside.

Do I think Neil Walker or Jose Tabata was better than Jason Heyward this year? No, I don’t. However, I do think Dejan Kovacevic is a good beat writer and a valuable source of information. To disregard his opinions simply because of the appearance of bias is foolish. We would all do better to argue the facts more often and focus less on the perceived credibility of the person making the point.