The Objective Truth About Luhnow

Simultaneously searching for a greater understanding through objective analysis, the stat people have taken to using subjectivity to bolster the resumes of the like-minded whether it’s accurate or not.

In this NY Times article by Tyler Kepner, the new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has his work glossed over in such a way to bypass how he got into the game; the issues that surrounded him with the Cardinals; and that he’s doled credit without full details nor the assignation of blame.

Luhnow was hired by the Cardinals in the heady days following the publication of Moneyball—before the story was proven to be a skillfully written fabrication. The specific purpose of the book was to prop up the supposed “genius” of Billy Beane and designed to document the antiquated nature of those who hadn’t been educated at an Ivy League school, didn’t use numbers as the end-all of existence and trusted their in-the-trenches experience and their eyes to assess players.

Immediately Luhnow became seen as a threat to veteran GM Walt Jocketty and manager Tony LaRussa. He had the ear of owner Bill DeWitt and the organization set about altering the draft strategy. In addition to that, the organizational pitching philosophy, which had been designed by pitching coach Dave Duncan, was scrapped much to the chagrin of Duncan, LaRussa and Jocketty.

The front office had broken into factions with the old-schoolers battling the new age thinkers who, like Luhnow, were imported from other industries and whose presence was viewed as interloping on what they’d always done; what had been successful.

Kepner is sort of accurate (albeit with the count slightly off) when, in describing Luhnow’s first three drafts, he writes:

In those same years, St. Louis drafted 24 future major leaguers, the most of any team.

But is it spiritually accurate?

The list of big league players that Luhnow drafted from 2005-2007 are as follows:

2005: Colby Rasmus; Tyler Greene; Bryan Anderson; Mitchell Boggs; Nick Stavinoha; Daniel McCutchen; Ryan Rohlinger (did not sign); and Jaime Garcia.

2006: Adam Ottavino; Chris Perez; Jon Jay; Mark Hamilton; Shane Robinson; Allen Craig; P.J. Walters; David Carpenter; and Luke Gregerson.

2007: Pete Kozma; Clayton Mortensen; Jess Todd; Daniel Descalso; Michael Stutes (didn’t sign); Steven Hill; Andrew Brown; Brian Broderick; Tony Cruz; and Adron Chambers.

Apart from Garcia, is there one player that jumps out so you can say, “Wow, what a great pick that was!”?

The drafts were pedestrian. Because 24 of the players drafted in those three years made it to the majors, it doesn’t imply “success”.

A player simply making it to the big leagues is contingent on a myriad of factors—some of those for Luhnow are that the players were traded away for veteran help; such veteran help generally only comes from a team that is in need of young talent because they don’t have the money to keep the veteran players they’re dealing away, so they’ll be more open to giving prospects a chance in the big leagues.

Just as wins and losses have become a borderline irrelevant barometer in determining how well or poorly a pitcher has pitched in a given season, the number of big leaguers produced in a draft is rendered meaningless as well.

There’s little-to-no correlation between a draft being judged as “good” and the players making it to the majors for a token appearance.

Succeeding Jocketty, Mozeliak was placed in a position where he had to assuage his cantankerous veteran manager LaRussa (sometimes “yes-ing” him to death to keep him quiet) while fulfilling the mandate of ownership that became clear when they hired Luhnow in the first place.

This was a subtle and underappreciated accomplishment by Mozeliak.

Were the late round players who made it to the big leagues—some of which became star-caliber like Garcia—the result of change in philosophy spurred by Luhnow’s presence? Or was it typical luck that has to be present as it was when Jocketty’s operation picked Albert Pujols in the 13th round of the 1999 draft?

The trades that Kepner brings up came as a result of LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting to get what he wanted due to his stature and accumulated credibility from years of winning his way. They had nothing to do with Luhnow in a concrete sense.

The perception of a star player like Matt Holliday being available via trade is connected to his contract status; he was not re-signing with the Athletics and the 2009 A’s were playing poorly, so they traded him for some players that had been drafted under Luhnow.

One thing doesn’t justify the other.

Luhnow is in a less contentious position with the Astros than he was when he entered baseball as an outsider in 2003. With a new owner; a barren farm system; and essentially an expansion roster, he’s free to do whatever he wants from top-to-bottom and hire people who are of similar mind and will implement what he believes.

But it’s got nothing to do with what he did as a Cardinals executive because his contribution was secondary to having a Hall of Fame manager and a GM who was adept at placating those with differing philosophies that were trying to push him in one direction or another.

If anyone deserves the credit for the Cardinals ability to navigate these issues and still win, it’s Mozeliak.

Will Luhnow be a Paul DePodesta? Someone with the knowledge of numbers and solid resume but was unable to deal with the ancillary aspects of the big job? Or will he be a Jon Daniels? One who overcame a rocky start and muddled ownership/managerial situation, but has become one of the best, if not the best GM in baseball?

We won’t know until we know.

Luhnow’s getting his chance now. He’s the boss of the Astros. For better. Or worse.

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  1. #1 by Rusty on December 18, 2011 - 9:03 pm

    John Jay stood out for me as well. I think he’ll end up being a respectable pick as the years go by. Not a Pujols of course. The rest though I don’t see going anywhere.

    • #2 by admin on December 19, 2011 - 11:11 am

      Jay’s got talent. There are some players in those drafts, but Luhnow’s drafts weren’t any better than anyone else’s during that time and can’t be pointed to as a resume-booster without pointing out the facts.
      Jocketty’s drafts weren’t great on the whole, but he did select Pujols, Yadier Molina and Dan Haren. I’d say that’s better that anything Luhnow did.

  2. #3 by matt on December 21, 2011 - 7:32 pm

    I see Allen Craig along with Jon Jay as MLB talent. Allen Craig could be huge if he keeps up the numbers he showed in the playoffs.

    • #4 by admin on December 21, 2011 - 7:46 pm

      Nowhere did I say they weren’t talented. That was never the point of my piece on Luhnow.

  3. #5 by Insert Funny Name Here on December 21, 2011 - 8:02 pm

    Poor article.

    No one gives Luhnow as much credit for the 2011 WS title as you do. 100% of Cardinals fans either believe it was Mozeliak’s wheeling and dealing or just luck.

    And yes, Luhnow had a lot to do with acquiring Matt Holliday. Had he drafted a complete bust who hit .210 from the start of his minor league career instead of Brett Wallace, the Cardinals wouldn’t have been able to swing the trade. It was Luhnow’s ability to draft players that at least maintained a strong prospect rating throughout their minor league careers that gave Mozeliak the chance to acquire Holliday.

    • #6 by admin on December 21, 2011 - 8:41 pm

      Did you read the basis of my piece—the NY Times link? You’re missing the point of what I said entirely. And leave a name if you’re gonna comment on my site.

      • #7 by Pat Listache on December 22, 2011 - 12:09 am

        Do I really need to read the NY Times article to understand your opinion on Luhnow? Especially since it is an article that you criticize for being too broad.

        With that said, I read the article and everything I said still holds plenty of water.

        Luhnow had a lot to do with trading for Matt Holliday. He took Brett Wallace in the 2008 draft and Wallace was highly coveted by Billy Beane. Had Luhnow taken Aaron Hicks or Ethan Martin instead, we wouldn’t have been able to trade for Holliday because we wouldn’t have had the pieces.

        Its the job of a Scouting Director to give the General Manager highly sought after prospects in a trade. Luhnow has done that.

        And like I said, Mozeliak gets about 99% of the credit for the Cardinals success.

        Please respond to my other comment about Luhnow’s farm system over the past 2-3 years. It is relevant to the topic.

      • #8 by admin on December 22, 2011 - 12:35 am

        Yeah, actually you do need to read the NY Times piece because it was what spurred my piece to begin with.
        Kepner was writing a glowing portrayal of the new Astros GM and I was putting Kepner’s assertions into greater context with facts based on Kepner’s assertions.
        Luhnow’s drafts from 2008 onward had nothing to do with anything in the context of what I was saying—that was abundantly clear in what I wrote.
        He was an outsider who was seen as an unwanted interloper taking influence away from the successful GM, Jocketty, and his Hall of Fame manager and pitching coach LaRussa and Duncan; there were factions because he was seen as a threat; and he was a threat because the fissures in the front office were unable to be repaired to the satisfaction of everyone involved and Jocketty was fired.
        Nowhere did I say he had no part in the trade for Holliday; in fact, I said he drafted the players who went in the trade; what I said was that Holliday’s availability was contingent on the Athletics being non-contenders and Holliday’s status as a pending free agent whom the A’s has zero chance of retaining, so he was on the market and available because of factors that had nothing to do with anyone the Cardinals had or anything Luhnow did; if the Cardinals didn’t trade for Holliday, someone else would have.
        “Highly sought after prospects” are a matter of perception and, sometimes, draft status muddles their actual abilities. It’s easier to sell a fan base on a bunch of number one draft picks who are coming back for the traded away star. I said that as well.
        Look to Billy Beane and see some of the trades he’s made in dumping his veterans of increasing salary. He got great value for Mark Mulder; and absolutely nothing of use for Tim Hudson—it’s a matter of hindsight to see what worked and what didn’t. Does Jocketty and staff get credit for having drafted Dan Haren and Daric Barton? Of course. Does John Schuerholz and staff get credit for drafting Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas? Absolutely. And Luhnow gets credit for Wallace. That Wallace has done nothing so far is secondary and that’s not part of the equation and not a reflection on Luhnow. These are prospects. Sometimes they work out; sometimes they don’t. The draft is the ultimate crapshoot with, as I said, a myriad of factors affecting their success or failure.
        The whole point of what I wrote was to shed light on Luhnow’s entrance into the game, how he clashed with the old-schoolers (through no legitimate fault of his own—he was hired to do a job by the owner and did it the way he knew how) and the underlying implication that he’s going to walk into Houston and fix that mess as a matter of course.
        We’ve seen GMs with similar pedigrees like Paul DePodesta fail miserably; and we’ve seen others like Jon Daniels succeed.
        I mention that as well.
        I’m not sure what’s so hard to understand.

      • #9 by admin on December 22, 2011 - 12:38 am

        And what’s this nonsense of “Insert Funny Name” here and “Pat Listache”? You wanna have a serious debate, leave an actual name. The fake name garbage is buffoonish.

      • #10 by Pat Listache on December 22, 2011 - 6:25 am

        First off, Pat Listache is my real name. I realize there was a baseball player named Pat Listach back in the early 90s. Whatever.

        Second, your article title is “The ‘Objective Truth’ About Luhnow”. Haha, not when you don’t include his last three years on the job. You can’t write an objective truth about Luhnow based off of some article. You do it based off the man’s entire body of work.
        The purpose of an article titled “The Objective Truth About Luhnow” shouldn’t be to respond to a NY Times article. It should be to shed light on Luhnow’s career as a baseball executive.
        Especially when you end the article talking about what kind of General Manager he will be. If you are going to do that at all then you need to display everything.

        Like I said, why would you gauge a man who is brand new to baseball by only what he did in his first few years when he was learning on the job and not at all by his last three years when he had experience under his belt?

        There is a reason why Luhnow was a strong GM candidate in 2011 and nowhere near the conversation in 2006 or 2007.

        I think if you just changed your title to “An Objective Look at Tyler Kepner’s Article About Jeff Luhnow” then I’d like your article a little more.

        As for what you wrote about the Holliday trade: “The trades that Kepner brings up came as a result of LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting to get what he wanted due to his stature and accumulated credibility from years of winning his way. They had nothing to do with Luhnow in a concrete sense.”

        The trades Kepner brought up included the Holliday trade and all he talked about was Luhnow giving Mozeliak the pieces to acquire him. So yes, it had something to do with Luhnow in the sense that Kepner is talking about.

        And the whole point of bringing up Holliday’s situation in Oakland adds nothing to making an objective truth about Luhnow IMO. That situation happens once or twice a year. Roy Halladay in Toronto; Bartolo Colon/Cliff Lee/CC Sabathia in Cleveland; Randy Johnson in Seattle; Mike Piazza in LA; Carlos Beltran in Kansas City. Every year a star player is traded because their team can’t re-sign him.
        It was Luhnow’s job to make sure the farm system was stocked so that we had a chance to land a Matt Holliday type player. LaRussa could do all the infighting he wanted to get Holliday but it meant nothing without the right cupboard of prospects.

      • #11 by admin on December 22, 2011 - 9:15 am

        Your contentious attitude and horribly misplaced belief that you can make demands on how I should state a case that I made perfectly clear aren’t gonna fly with me. You’re projecting the argument elsewhere because you don’t like what I have to say and you’re doing it obnoxiously; nor do you have a case to refute the genesis of anything I said because you’re not interested in the points-of-view of anyone who disagrees with you.

  4. #12 by Insert Funny Name Here on December 21, 2011 - 8:08 pm

    I’m also surprised you failed to mention Luhnow has rebuilt the Cardinals sytem into a top 7-8 system since 2009 when most of his first wave of prospects were traded or graduated.

    You would think it would be important to mention that a man who was completely new to baseball in 2004-2005 when he took over as the Cardinals Scouting Director has seemingly learned a lot over the years.

    His current system features MLB top 100 prospects like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Oscar Taveras, Zack Cox, Kolten Wong, and Tyrell Jenkins.
    As a Cards fan, I’m extremely happy with the farm system he left us with.

  5. #13 by Pat Listache on December 22, 2011 - 9:23 pm

    Haha you’ve got pride, I’ll give you that. You don’t let facts get in the way of your subjective opinion about Luhnow.

    I can tell you are probably a young guy just going into journalism school. Good luck but youve got to be more open to hearing ideas that don’t agree with yours. You aren’t always going to be right. You’ve got to realize that.

    • #14 by admin on December 22, 2011 - 11:02 pm

      You’re remarkably arrogant. My age and education are not a concern of yours nor do I care about your judgment of me or anything I write, but if you check my Amazon page, you’ll see I’ve published six books that people actually, y’know, purchased.
      Speaking of not always being right, you seem to be one of those who alters the argument to suit yourself and won’t ever admit you’re wrong about anything while condescendingly trying to get others to acquiesce to seeing facts the way you desire. If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest you go elsewhere; and take the obnoxious self-importance with you.

      • #15 by Pat Listache on December 22, 2011 - 11:27 pm

        Who is altering the argument? You wanted to make an objective truth about Luhnow and so did I.

        And youve wrote a book, wonderful. I guess that makes you right doesn’t it? Haha maybe not.

        Let me just ask you this, what was the point of your article? To respond to Tyler Kehper’s article or to show baseball fans who Luhnow really is?

      • #16 by admin on December 22, 2011 - 11:55 pm

        “Youve wrote a book”?
        I made my points in the piece and you can’t comprehend them. Let me explain it as simply as possible: Kepner wrote a love letter to Luhnow and I pointed out his rocky entrance into the game, the issues he had assimilating and put into context the drafts that Kepner referenced; and I did so objectively. That you’re clinging to your own biases as to what you think I said and are being smug and dismissive about it is a reflection on you.

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