“Because They Did It” Is Not A Viable Argument

Baseball analysis has become a newest latest endeavor. Whatever is “working” is seen as the new strategy and this should be copied, in a circular fashion, because it “worked”.

Joel Sherman, whose obsession with the Mets is bordering on restraining order status, says in today’s NY Post column that the Mets should trade David Wright, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese. Sherman, in typical outsider “what I’d do” tone, says he’d make all three moves for prospects or lateral pieces.

What I’d do. It’s an oft-used phrase that denotes a nonexistent fearlessness that, in the trenches, would be real in a small percentage of those who say it.

You know what he and Keith Law and any of these other so-called media experts would do if they were in a position of authority to run a franchise? They’d get swallowed up and be ridiculed and dismissed from the position within a year, if that. It’s so simple and easy to run a franchise and take potshots when there’s no responsibility for the results. Running a club isn’t about being a wheeler-dealer and making trades, holding press conferences, and being interviewed on TV and radio. It’s a lot of drudgery. It’s answering to bosses like owners and team presidents.

The Red Sox are a case study for a display of how that goes for a baseball guy who climbed his way up through the bowels of a franchise as Ben Cherington did and found himself cleaning up a mess with an inveterate meddler in Larry Lucchino hovering over his shoulder at every turn. The Red Sox are a classic example of how quickly images can turn. If, in the winter of 2011, you went to any player, coach, manager, prospective manager, or front office candidate and asked them if they’d love to be a member of the Red Sox, to a person they’d say absolutely. Now with that the atmosphere so toxic and in rampant disarray, who wants to go there and deal with it? That happens to every franchise and it’s based on success, failure and the perceptions of everything in between.

The GM job is not about making earth-shattering trades and getting the players he wants on his path to world domination, lucrative speaking gigs, and best-selling books as to his managing style. The GM has to deal with season ticket holders. He has to sell. He has to provide a plan that lives in the parameters of what’s set by the people he answers to. Not one has full autonomy to do whatever he wants. He doesn’t own it, therefore he doesn’t have that option to do whatever he feels like doing.

In Sherman’s piece, there’s no actual alternative provided if the Mets trade Wright, Dickey and Niese. What are they getting back? How can they sell this to the fans who are still willing to shell out money to go to games? Will anyone go to games if Wright, Dickey, and Niese are gone for prospects that will someday be ready?

It’s a random suggestion that teams do what other teams have done like it’s a mathematical problem that would be solved by copying the formula. Years ago, it was the Moneyball theory; then it became old-school stats; then it became spending money; then it became the Rays’ way; then it became the “luck” argument.

Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson can’t trade Wright or Dickey and he knows it. Presumably, so does Sherman. But that doesn’t prevent this trash from still popping up as if it has credence.

Anyone can find any historical context to provide foundation for a plan that they’re not in power to enact. Because the Athletics traded away their veteran players for youngsters and it worked, that’s become the new basis to call Billy Beane a genius while ignoring that his supposed brilliance was a story of creative non-fiction that spun out of control. Where was the “genius” when the A’s were awful for half a decade in spite of several reboots and attempts to try different strategies, none of which worked? It just happens to be working this year. That doesn’t mean that if the Mets trade any of the above players, they’re going to yield similar results.

The Orioles are called lucky. Were the Rays lucky when they got 13 homers after acquiring journeyman Gabe Gross in 2008? Were they stupid when they gave—and wasted—$16 million on Pat Burrell? When they spent $8 million on Troy Percival?

The new managerial template has clubs hiring men who’ve never managed anywhere. Robin Ventura with the White Sox and Mike Matheny with the Cardinals have their teams contending and that has given validity to this idea. But it’s ignored that Ventura was a calm, cool presence who has clubhouse bona fides as a former All Star player and is the polar opposite of the tiresome act of the man he replaced, Ozzie Guillen. Matheny walked into a ready-made situation with a team that won the World Series the year before and had stars at key positions, with a good starting rotation, and powerful lineup. The “no experience necessary” sign when hiring a manager will last as long as it seems to be working. Once a team hires someone without experience and he presides over a disaster, it too will change.

Law contradicted himself in the middle of a self-indulgent rant against Ron Washington using Michael Young to play shortstop last night. First it was such a horrific mistake that the Rangers were playing Young at shortstop that he went on and on about it, then he tweeted that the Cardinals “big win” over the Nationals meant one game in the standings implying that it had no bearing on the past or future. Which is it?

I have no idea why Washington played Young at shortstop, but it wasn’t the reason the Rangers lost the game. It was used to go on a tangent that I’m willing to bet Law had planned and was waiting for an opportunity to use. Law indulges in these snark-filled, condescending tantrums on Twitter that appear designed to compensate for some inadequacy. It’s like he’s trying to prove something. Washington couldn’t go to the high-end schools that Law did and make it through; on the same token, Law couldn’t play in the big leagues, nor could he run a club on the field.

If you put Law in a position where he was running a club on the field, the players would ignore and mock him. The Rangers’ players play hard for Washington and, judging from the smuggled audiotape from before game 7 of the World Series last season, Washington’s ability to do “player speak” is far more important to that franchise than hiring someone who’s going to adhere to every statistical quirk and possibly lose the clubhouse—and games—in the process.

If Law tried to talk to players in this fashion, it would be similar to the suburban white kid writing gangsta rap framing them as his experiences that spurred the lyrics rather than mimicking what he’s heard from the outside. It’s not real.

Sherman and his ilk can go on and on about phantom stuff they’ve “heard” from “executives”; they can state with unequivocal certainty of what they’d do if they were in a position of power, but it’s as if Sherman put out a cover album of Public Enemy with the undertone that he’d lived that life.

It’s a farce. It’s a joke. And it’s self-evidently transparent if you’re willing to put your own biases to the side and look at it objectively, something Sherman, Law and the majority of the mainstream media are unable or unwilling to do.

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  1. #1 by Mike Luna on September 2, 2012 - 10:43 pm

    Something that I’ve noticed in just the last few days is the way that Moneyball has almost rewired peoples’ brains and how they watch baseball.

    All of the sudden there’s a not-insignificant percentage of Rangers fans that are not only frustrated about the Ron Washington/Michael Young controversy, but are starting to make wild assumptions about things that they simply can’t know.

    “Jon Daniels has put in a lot of work to give Wash these great players and he won’t play them! He insists on playing Michael Young everyday instead of Olt or Profar or somebody good! The front office has got to be sick of this! I bet they fire Wash and trade Young in the offseason, ’cause it’s pretty clearly that both of them are only hurting the team at this point!”

    All of this conjecture is without a single shred of evidence to support it. There are no anonymous sources, there’s no suggestive double speak from Daniels or Nolan Ryan.

    Nothing!

    It’s all wishful thinking from people who hate Ron Washington because they know they’re smarter than he is. So now they’ve plagiarized the (allegedly based on true) events of Moneyball and just changed all the names.

    Jon Daniels is Billy Beane. Wash is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. MY is Pena. On and on.

    Never mind that this manager has gone to back-to-back World Series, took his team to within a strike of a title, and currently holds the best record in the AL.

    He’s on the hot seat because a bunch of internet nerds want to play fantasy baseball with actual players!

    • #2 by admin on September 3, 2012 - 1:30 am

      That whole Art Howe bit in Moneyball the movie was an absolute lie and people are taking it literally and thinking that Washington is doing the same things that the film version of “Howe” did. In most cases, the decisions are pretty much made in conjunction with the front office. Of course there are situations like Jim Leyland who doesn’t want to hear anything from anyone, but he can get away with it. Washington can’t be insubordinate and keep his job. And he’s not that type of guy anyway.
      This whole bunch of garbage of being smarter strategically is idiotic as well. Washington’s in the dugout. He knows which pitchers are tender and can’t go unless absolutely necessary; which everyday players are dealing with nagging injuries and should rest. The manager’s job, in part, is to take the heat for that stuff by keeping it quiet. As for those who think they’d manage the team better than Washington, his main attribute is the players’ loyalty to him. Can some guy on ESPN or some schmo with a blog replicate that based on his percentages and adherence to numbers? No.
      The team wins with Washington. That’s really all that counts.

  2. #3 by scottfrompeekskill on September 3, 2012 - 1:36 am

    Your analytic break down of Sherman is as brilliant as it is devastating. I only read Sherman to see why you are dissecting him like an insect.

    Keep up the superb work!

    • #4 by admin on September 3, 2012 - 3:44 pm

      Thanks. I appreciate it.

  3. #5 by theamato on September 3, 2012 - 5:26 pm

    great article and i agree with your thoughts exactly. however, it is worth noting that Keith Law did actually work in a front office executive position and was interviewed again for one with Astros recently…so he probably has an idea of the politics and what have you about running a team.

    doesn’t mean he would be good (he was with the Blue Jays…they weren’t very good) but to lump him in the same group as Sherman and his ilk seems disingenuous.

    • #6 by admin on September 3, 2012 - 7:56 pm

      I’m aware of Law’s history. Law is probably worse than Sherman because no one thinks Sherman is a credible voice about baseball, but that’s an opinion that is all too prevalent regarding Law. He’s a snarky and obnoxious presence on social media comes off as condescending and pompous as a direct result of the resume of having worked in a front office as if that’s the basis for his attitude. As for his Astros interview, I’m not convinced that it was all on the up-and-up. The entire story came from Law himself and it seemed that it was designed for him to reject it and add to his credentials as the ultimate baseball insider.

      • #7 by theamato on September 4, 2012 - 3:15 am

        sounds like you have more of a problem with Keith Law the person than Keith Law the baseball analyst.

        that is to say, you don’t (or shouldn’t) have a problem with some things he says…you have a problem with how it is said. and i agree — the man is insufferably rude and snarky when something doesn’t jive with his assessment (although i’d also think that’s because on twitter, where it really shows, you have to assume you’re dealing with the lowest common denominator).

        anyways, don’t mistake this as a defense on the MSM. i love what you wrote here simply because it is true. i can armchair GM with the best of them (and i’ve had moments this season questioning moves Sandy made; see Miguel Batista and the Harvey call up)…but i know it is just that: fantasy and pure simplification.

      • #8 by admin on September 4, 2012 - 12:20 pm

        Truth be told, there are many times I agree with him. I don’t like his attitude and to me, he’s a poser. He’s accumulated a lot of terminology and regurgitates it in terms of scouting and has parlayed his work with Baseball Prospectus into a job with the Blue Jays and then used that faux credibility from having worked in a front office to become the ultimate insider in baseball as an ESPN blogger. He’s insecure and lacks full-blown confidence in what he says and it shows. When he’s called out on the history of the game or having in-the-trenches experience from having played at some level—even little league—he doesn’t have it.
        I appreciate the compliments. Keep reading!

  4. #9 by norm depalma on September 3, 2012 - 11:06 pm

    Paul:
    spectacular takedown, as always. Re. the A’s this year and their (temporary) success: 1) let us see where they end up after the upcoming tough schedule
    2) i wonder if the moneyball ethos/strategy encompasses signing Cuban defector ballplayers for large amounts of money.

    • #10 by admin on September 3, 2012 - 11:16 pm

      They’re playing great. I can’t give them a hard time.

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