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This question arose in my head from this question, but would explicitly not apply to it as the asker specifically OK'ed dly's answer in comments. No action is suggested on that question/answer regardless of the outcome of this question.

I'd like guidance for what the community would like the moderators to do regarding answers to questions with insufficient factual basis. Someone asks a question that asks for a factual answer - meaning, something like "Has X happened", or "Does X happen more than Y", or any number of similar types of questions; one specific example could be the question I answered a few weeks ago, asking what lineup had the most career home runs. There also are questions that don't necessarily have purely factual answers, but can have an analytical answer that is supported by details or mathematical/statistical analysis. One example could be, "Is there any real skill behind pitch framing, or is it random?" - a question that doesn't have a provable factual answer, but certainly has an analytics based answer that is likely to be correct.

Here is one direct example of how that might occur.

Q. Is there any skill behind pitch framing, or is it random? [tag: baseball]

A. No, there's no skill behind pitch framing. I've been a catcher for ten years in the minor leagues (A-AA ball), and sometimes the umpire calls it a strike and sometimes he calls it a ball - but it doesn't matter what I do.

A. Yes, there's clearly skill. Just look at Tyler Flowers - he's a great pitch framer.

A. I think that there probably is some skill in pitch framing. Pitch framing is when a catcher moves his glove in a deceptive way to convince the umpire that a ball was a strike when it's actually a ball. This is something you can practice, and get better at. Just like a magic trick, if you practice enough you can get very good at it.

A. Pitch framing is unethical, so I don't think we should reward catchers who cheat! If the pitch is a ball, it should be called a ball, and the catcher should just catch it. Why do we give these cheaters a bunch of money?

These are all bad answers to different degrees. The question is, how do we handle them? Different stacks handle these things differently, so I wanted to bring that to the community's attention. In some stacks, downvoting would be appropriate but no further action; in some, moderators will delete answers that do not meet a reasonable standard (meaning, answers that only address a question with the answerer's own opinion and do not include statistics, sources, or other similar details).

The complicating factor here is that Sports.SE has very few active members, and so if moderators do not delete these answers, they very likely will hang around, and on questions that get drive-by views, will likely get upvotes - as they tend to be very "friendly". You then end up with a broken windows effect (where people see this bad behavior and then feel it's okay to do the bad behavior themselves), which can be harmful for the community as a whole. But if the preference is for moderators to have a lighter touch, that's also fine - just let us know as a community what the preference is. Thanks!

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It depends...

  1. If the answers explains why there is no mathematical or factual solution I'd allow it. It's a good answer, even if the asker doesn't like it. Saying No is a proper answer.
  2. Delete it, if it's just a random statement addressing, but not answering the question.
  3. If the answer is good, but still doesn't answer the question, I'd probably delete it anyway.

In our football case there is no way to prove anything using math or stats, because there are too many factors falsifying the results (such as saves or inaccurate shots, etc). In such a case I'd allow answers with non-mathematical solutions. Or when in doubt, ask the OP (like I did).

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    For sure, your answer was fine - you did the right thing and asked - it just led me to think of this :) You have a good point about an answer showing there is no factual solution, though I'd be extremely cautious with answers like that; for that matter, I think it's not impossible for there to be stats on the question you answered (it's just a matter of whether the league/team chose to collect those stats. But in that case, the answer can be subject to voting I suppose. – Joe Jun 22 at 18:28
  • @Joe sure, there are probably stats everywhere. They just don't always show good or accurate results. For our football question I could easily collect results from my own team or all Bundesliga games I'm watching, but they still wouldn't prove anything. I agree to be cautious with answers like that, but when you know it's that way I see no problem in posting it as answer. – dly Jun 22 at 18:40
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The term "bad answer" has a lot of different meanings, and different types of bad answers should be handled by reviewers and moderators in different ways.

But one principle that we should keep in mind is that we do not expect moderators to be the judge of whether an answer is right or wrong. Moderators are given only one up or down vote, just like any other user, and it is not the moderator's job to delete answers that they believe are wrong.

One type of "bad answer" is the wrong answer. Sometimes you'll be reviewing answers and see that one of them is completely incorrect, in your opinion. However, it is not the moderators job to use their moderator tools to judge the correctness of answers. These answers should not be deleted by a moderator solely because it is incorrect. For anyone reviewing the answer, they can use the downvote button and leave a comment explaining why the answer is incorrect. Leaving incorrect answers in place (properly downvoted and commented) is valuable for the future reader. If one person (the answerer) has the view that that is the correct answer, there are others who will come along in the future and think it might also be the correct answer, and it is valuable for people to see the negative score as well as the rebuttal in the comments.

Editing the answer to say something different than the poster intended is not appropriate, either. It is better to downvote, explain in the comments, and then write your own correct answer (or upvote someone else's correct answer).

Another type of "bad answer" is the incomplete answer. This is an answer that only answers part of the question. We try to limit questions to not be overly broad, but sometime questions will have multiple parts, and sometimes answers will only cover some of those parts. In my opinion, it is not appropriate to delete these, either. We certainly do not want to encourage placing answers in the comments, and by deleting answers because they are not as complete as we would like, we are unintentionally encouraging answer-comments. When it comes to reviewing these, it is really personal preference whether you would like to upvote, downvote, or withhold a vote on these. In general, I personally like to upvote answers that are helpful to the question asker, whether or not they provide a complete answer. But I understand those that like to be more stingy with their upvotes.

A third type of "bad answer" is one that is not an answer. The answerer's post may provide tangential information or opinion, but it does not attempt to answer the question that was asked. These are the answers that generally need moderator action. Deleting the post and/or converting it into a comment are appropriate. If you are not a mod, downvoting, commenting, or flagging are good choices for these.

A fourth type of "bad answer" is the frame challenge answer. A frame challenge is when an answerer is challenging the premise of the question and providing an answer that is different from what the asker might be expecting. In general, this is and should be allowed. It is indeed answering the question, although it might be doing it in a way that is unexpected. As a reviewer, watch for these. If you think it is ultimately providing a wrong answer, then indeed indicate so with your downvote and comment. But don't dismiss it completely as "not an answer" just because it doesn't match what you were expecting.

In conclusion, we need to differentiate between answer posts that are not answering the question, and posts that are answering the question, but just in a way that we don't like. Moderators can and should be removing answer posts that are not intending to answer the question, but if a post is answering the question, it should not be deleted, even if the answer is unexpected, incomplete, or wrong.


Stack Exchange sites like Skeptics and Software Recommendations are unique in that they don't allow general questions on a subject. They have specific purposes and only allow question and answer posts that follow strict guidelines. Those types of restrictions don't apply to most Stack Exchange sites, including Sports.

Let's look at the hypothetical example that you have posed:

Q. Is there any skill behind pitch framing, or is it random? [tag: baseball]

You are imagining that someone could write a detailed answer discussing the technique and maybe even some practice tips, but this may or may not be possible. (I don't know enough about the topic to have an opinion about that.) Let's look at the potential "bad answers" you have imagined:

A. No, there's no skill behind pitch framing. I've been a catcher for ten years in the minor leagues (A-AA ball), and sometimes the umpire calls it a strike and sometimes he calls it a ball - but it doesn't matter what I do.

This is a valid answer to the question, in my opinion. The hypothetical question even offers this as a possibility ("or is it random?"). It is nice when answers have links to outside sources, but we are not Skeptics or Wikipedia; we are supposed to be a site for Sports experts, and we should allow answers that allow the experts to use their real-world expertise.

A. Yes, there's clearly skill. Just look at Tyler Flowers - he's a great pitch framer.

I'm unclear if you were intending for this text to be the entire answer post or simply a summary of what would be said in the hypothetical answer, but the question is ultimately framed as a yes-or-no question, and this is an answer of "yes" with an example. This would not be bad enough to be deleted by a moderator, either.

A. I think that there probably is some skill in pitch framing. Pitch framing is when a catcher moves his glove in a deceptive way to convince the umpire that a ball was a strike when it's actually a ball. This is something you can practice, and get better at. Just like a magic trick, if you practice enough you can get very good at it.

This is a valid answer to the question as well. Again, we want sports experts to use their expertise to answer questions here. A better answer would perhaps offer some real world example of someone who was good at it (like the previous answer), but it does answer the posed question.

A. Pitch framing is unethical, so I don't think we should reward catchers who cheat! If the pitch is a ball, it should be called a ball, and the catcher should just catch it. Why do we give these cheaters a bunch of money?

At first glance, this answer is not attempting to answer the question, but instead offering a tangential opinion about the subject of the question. However, implied in this comment would be the opinion that yes, people can develop this skill. If the answer were edited to explicitly make that the first sentence, and then have the opinion about ethics as the rest of the answer, I would say that this is also a valid answer to the question as asked.

Most Stack Exchange sites do not have minimum outside source citation standards that apply to all questions, and I see no reason that we need them here. Certainly, a well-supported answer is better than one that is not, but we should not be deleting answers that are less than what we see as perfect. The thing that this site needs more than anything else is participation, and deleting posts and closing questions discourages participation very effectively.

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  • I think you provide useful information here, but honestly you're not really answering what I'm asking here. I'm trying to ask specifically about answers that are to questions specifically asking for a factual answer, but receiving answers that are not factual - are opinions, or dispute the question (but not in a way sufficient to be a true frame challenge - I think those are fine here so long as they're well thought out and not just one liners). I think these are a bit more nuanced than the more general adivce you're giving here. – Joe Aug 7 at 18:48
  • Really they're basically all bits of the above - but mostly the question is whether they are "not an answer" or "incomplete answers". Different stacks handle these differently - look at Skeptics for example, as opposed to, say, Seasoned Advice. This is important on Sports, in particular as we had one community member (who's not around, I don't think) who tended to give very strongly worded opinion based answers to factual questions. – Joe Aug 7 at 18:49
  • @Joe Thank you for your comments. I have expanded my answer to more specifically address these concerns. – Ben Miller - Remember Monica Aug 7 at 19:31
  • Thanks for updating it to directly answer the question! – Joe Aug 7 at 20:16

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