On August 6th, Russell Carleton wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus detailing how a manager's job is much more than a mere mathematical undertaking. Rather, managers are required to constantly deal with the ever-beloved human element of baseball. One point Carleton makes regards how difficult late-inning relief decisions can be, especially when dealing with the psyches of various players Here is his passage in full:
"It's the ninth inning, and you're up by one. Your top two relievers are Smith and Jones, and both are fresh and available, which is great, because you're in the thick of a tight pennant race and need this game. Smith is generally better than Jones and usually gets the call here. But there's a complication today. Smith has a daughter who has a chronic medical issue. He's a private man and doesn't discuss this with the press, because he wants to keep his family out of the limelight. (Can you blame him?) He got some bad news about his daughter earlier and has been walking around with his head down all day. You've seen him like this before. He'll say he's okay, but he can't concentrate, and his performance suffers to the point where Jones would actually be the better pitcher tonight to nail down that lead."
On August 21st, Josh Worn wrote a piece for the Detroit Free Press (8/22 update: apparently the Free Press has deleted the column) detailing how Jim Leyland's job is much more difficult than the standard fan assumes it to be. In that piece, Worn gives an example of how difficult a late-inning relief decision (this one between Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde) can be. Here is his passage in full:
"It's the ninth inning, and you're up by one run. Your top two right-handed relievers are Benoit and Valverde, and both are fresh and available. Benoit is the eighth inning guy, and Valverde is the ninth inning guy. They’ve been in their roles all year. Benoit has been plagued by a case of “homeritis” since the All-Star break. You really don’t want to use him, you really don’t, but Valverde has a brother who has a chronic medical issue. (Please note that I have no idea if Valverde has a brother with a chronic medical condition. So, it wouldn’t be a good idea to spread a rumor like that.) He's very private and doesn't bring this up with the press because he wants to keep his family out of the news. He got some bad news about his brother the night before and has been walking around with his head down all day. You've seen him like this before. He'll say he's OK, but he can't concentrate, and he’ll go out and walk four batters and give up a couple doubles in the gap. Basically Benoit would actually be more likely to nail down that lead."
Let's look first at the exact word-for-word similarities. Both articles featuring the following exact phrases:
- "fresh and available"
- daughter/brother "who has a chronic medical" issue/condition
- "He got some bad news about his" daughter/brother
- "and has been walking around with his head down all day"
- "You've seen him like this before. He'll say he's [okay/OK], but he can't concentrate"
- "to nail down that lead"
- a mention of it being the 9th inning with one team down one
- a reference to the team's two top relievers, and the manager having to choose between them
- a claim that the pitcher with the sick relative is a private person who would prefer to keep the issue out of the media, specifically for the sake of his family
I brought this up to Worn, who made assurances that he had not read the article from Carleton. He acknowledged that the two articles were certainly similar, but claimed that he did not plagiarize it in any way.
In philosophy, we use what is known as Inference to the Best Explanation in order to form beliefs in situations such as this one. Basically, we look at the evidence in front of us and ask, "What's the best explanation of this evidence?" In this way, we treat the belief formation process like a detective treats a crime scene investigation.
So, here's the evidence we have in front of us: two extremely similar passages, containing extremely similar words and phrases, used in the exact same order.
Given this evidence, I believe that the reasonable conclusion to draw is that plagiarism has occurred. The "coincidence explanation," which posits that the similarities between the two posts are merely a series of coincidences, does not appear to be the best explanation. To determine this, merely ask yourself, "Which is more likely? (1) That these two pieces were written independently and coincidentally contained nine phrases/sentences, placed in the same order, attempting to make the same point? Or (2) that plagiarism occurred?"
Now, perhaps some people know Worn personally and have extra evidence to add to their reasoning. For example, if someone has known Worn for a long-time, has great evidence in support of his integrity, and has a justified belief that he would never plagiarize, then these pieces of evidence would factor into their reasoning process. Perhaps they would be strong enough to allow the "coincidence explanation" to overtake the "plagiarism explanation" in terms of the likeliness of each being true.
As it stands now, lacking that evidence, I believe that the best explanation is plagiarism.
Though I certainly hope I am wrong.
(8/23 update: Though the Detroit Free Press story has been deleted, a Google search of the URL shows that it certainly once existed: http://tinyurl.com/9cypshd)