Viewer Mail 3.27.2011

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Oliver Perez:

Much — if not all — of the vitriol towards Ollie is rooted not just in his mediocre to sub-mediocre performances, but also in his piss-poor attitude. At least, that’s what it feels like to someone like me, a Mets outsider.

***

Jon writes RE Perez:

Fans are surely guilty of pretending they knew better all along, but it wasn’t the contract or his acquisition itself that was their issue, it was his showing up to camp out of shape in ’09 and his refusal in ’10 to accept a minor league assignment, even if that was within his rights.

I think the Mets in general did Ollie a disservice last season by letting him rot on the roster all year rather than give him enough rope to hang himself. At worst, it would have given the fans a better reason to have turned on him.

The fans were never enamored of Perez to begin with; there was always a sideways glance at him as if the front office, manager, coaches, players, fans and media were waiting to see which Ollie would show up. It was a risk to pay him a guaranteed salary over the long-term.

He had every right to refuse the assignment to the minor leagues to try and get himself straightened out last season; he ended up going with a phantom knee injury and it didn’t do any good.

The Mets could’ve continued using him, but the concept of him “hanging himself” doesn’t make much sense. What, other than what they’ve done, could they have done? Nothing.

When Perez was spiraling further and further away, the Mets were still jockeying for playoff position; they couldn’t keep costing themselves games and placing their bullpen in that position of pitching the entire game every fifth day especially with a manager in Jerry Manuel who battered his relievers independent of the situation.

Nothing whatsoever was expected from Perez when the Mets traded for him in 2006—-he was a throw-in/Rick Peterson reclamation project who ended up being needed in the playoffs after Orlando Hernandez got hurt and he pitched admirably well.

He was very good in 2007, good in 2008; once he got paid, all the wheels came off.

The nature of the game today is such that the fans and media know everything—his contract details are public; it once took some actual effort to get a look at the ins-and-outs of a player’s salary, now it’s available on numerous outlets at the click of a button. Fans didn’t want an inconsistent pitcher who was capable of striking out 15 or walking 15; they wanted a pitcher who was worth $12 million a year.

It clearly got into Perez’s head. Combining that with his quirky, herky-jerky mechanics and frequent mental lapses, and you get the disaster he became.

Joe writes RE me:

Are you a trekky?

No. I’m the captain of the starship….Enterprise; on an ongoing mission. And I just returned from planet Dingus. You come from a fascinating race, Joe.

Gabriel writes RE Buck Showalter:

I like Buck Showalter. I’d have liked to see him manage the Blue Jays after Cito.

Showalter’s cagey and calculating. While the interview wasn’t as much of a nuclear bomb as the reports suggest, it’s a positive sign that the Orioles aren’t bowing to the Yankees and Red Sox anymore.

It’s a similar situation as when the Rays broke through in 2008; a major part of that success was the conscious decision to not be bullied by those two powerhouses anymore. Speaking truth to power is the first step to leveling the playoff field and Showalter is letting his team know that he’s going to take the lead in standing up to the clubs who’ve abused them for so long.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Phil Hughes and the Yankees:

Is Hughes still on a pitch/inning count? If so, why exactly?

After a full season and two playoff series, shouldn’t he be ready for 200+ innings?

Supposedly there’s no “set” limit to Hughes’s innings this year, but if you think he’s going to be pushed and allowed to jump from the 191 innings he threw in the regular and post-season of 2010 to 215-220 in the 2011 regular season and possibly the playoffs adding another 25-35, you can forget it.

If he starts 33 games and averages 7 innings a start, you’re talking 230 innings; then say there’s 30 for the post-season and you’ve got 260 innings.

No way that happens. They were continually “monitoring” him last season; so much so that they appeared to be bullying him by skipping him from a scheduled start against the Dodgers in what would’ve been a homecoming for the Southern California native.

They seem to be adhering to the idiotic “Verducci Effect” named for the noted pitching expert, Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci.

Already we’re seeing evidence of the continuing paranoia as Hughes is the third starter in the starting rotation behind A.J. Burnett when all logic and common sense would have him as number 2.

The slots in the rotation are mostly symbolic and this is no different; but it’s a signal that Hughes, having pitched far better than Burnett last season, is still being handled with care.

The problem the Yankees have this season is that they’re more than likely going to need to push Hughes harder if they have any intention of making the playoffs. Are they willing to sacrifice a playoff spot for a series of floating rules that exist in the wind? Rules designed to “protect”, but are unproven to fulfill that intention?

I think they’ll stick to babying him and it will be to the team’s and Hughes’s detriment.

Bobby writes RE Barry Bonds:

the farce called the Barry Bonds trail (soon to be Roger Clemens as well) has far more to do with Lefty politics than any need or desire to protrect the public.

Clemens for one pissed of the big Dem hancho…notice how the committee votes broke right down party lines?

These people want to interject themselves into everyrthing. They have to be the deciders.

Thats what this is really about….plain & simple.

What is that (jerk’s) name that headed up that committee? Looks like an angry teddy bear…from CA.

These people make me sick!! They have no business being envolved in crap like this to start with..but they are spending millions and for what? To show the rest of us not to dare cross them?

Screw’em.

I think you mean Henry Waxman as the (jerk) to be named later.

Republicans control the house now, so they’d head up any committees for the next couple of years.

This comment is awesome!

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Fast And Loose

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Ken Rosenthal writes about the Oakland Athletics and their manager Bob Geren in this column on Foxsports.com.

Within the piece it’s implied that Geren—for the first time in his tenure—could be replaced if the team doesn’t perform up to expectations; that because the Athletics have some talent to work with, Geren is responsible for the results.

This is another example of the “Billy Beane” character moving to the forefront and taking precedence over reality. Beane the GM has played fast and loose with his supposed belief systems when it’s been advantageous for him to do so.

Rosenthal casually mentions the 2009 season when the Athletics made a series of bold maneuvers to try and vault into contention. They traded for Matt Holliday; signed Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to contracts to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday got off to a slow start and seemed unhappy in the American League amid the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum; Giambi looked finished and was released; and Cabrera got off to an atrocious start before being traded to the Twins.

The team finished at 75-87.

Beane didn’t fire Geren.

I’m not suggesting he should’ve fired Geren on his own merits; I don’t hold the manager responsible for the Athletics poor showings in the won/lost column with Geren as the manager; but if Beane is so desperately determined to stick to his public portrayal of a ruthless corporate assassin, then Geren had to go.

Rosenthal points out the Moneyball model in which Beane runs the club from the front office; told Art Howe where and how to stand in the dugout; dismissed Ken Macha for daring to lose in the ALCS; and that the final tally of A’s success or failure lands at the desk of the GM.

But if Beane were consistent in his dealings—or at least honest—he’d have said that Geren is still the manager, in part, because the two are close friends. Beane fired Macha for literally no reason other than the oft-proffered and unquantifiable old standby, “lack of communication”.

I’d like to have a manager with a lack of communication achieve a record of 368-280 in his tenure.

I wondered at the time if Beane would’ve used his “objectivity” to fire Macha had the manager won four more games in 2006 and gotten to the World Series; or eight more and won a championship. The absence of communication was such a problem that it shouldn’t have mattered and he should’ve been canned regardless, right?

I’m no fan of Macha as a manager, but the firing and self-serving justifications were ridiculous.

I’m not begrudging Beane’s right to fire his managers—I’m fully on-board with making a managerial change sooner rather than later and don’t believe a GM or owner has to give a reason other than, “I felt like it.”

But that doesn’t fit the Beane caricature. Everything Beane does is supposed to be steeped in reasoning, objective analysis, logic and the bottom line.

Of course it’s nonsense.

If that were the case, would Geren—who I happen to think is a competent manager—still be in the A’s dugout?

No.

Geren could very well be in trouble if the A’s underachieve again and it won’t be because of anything he does wrong, but because Beane himself will be under fire from a disgusted fan base, impatient owner and skeptical public tired of the moniker of “genius” that has yet to bear fruit anywhere aside from print and, soon, a movie theater near you.

When he’s cornered, Beane won’t take the blame.

He’ll use his “best friend” as a human shield and fling him to the flocking and angry crowd by means of sacrifice, thereby saving himself and his unjustified reputation—with a segment of the believers anyway.

He can fire whomever he wants, whyever he wants; but to make it anything more than an act of self-preservation for a desperate executive trying to cling to the last vestiges of an increasingly tarnished and questionable reputation and storyline of success is the height of hypocrisy and fits right into the fable of Billy Beane.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Werth Batting Second?

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

The Washington Nationals have announced their intended lineup to start the season. Their big free agent signing ($126 million to be exact), Jayson Werth is going to bat second—Washington Post column.

There will be undisguised outrage at this decision.

I’m not as ironclad in lineup beliefs as others—I prefer the old-school style of having a speed/on-base guy leading off; followed by someone with a little pop, on-base skills of his own and reasonable speed to prevent the double play; the best hitter in the lineup batting third; the most feared hitter fourth; and RBI men fifth and sixth.

But it all depends on the personnel.

If the Nationals are going to think outside the box with Werth and bat him at the top of the lineup for the reasons presented (he walks and has power), why not bat him leadoff?

It’s not as if they have a prototypical leadoff batter; if they plan to use Ian Desmond in the role, it defeats the purpose of batting Werth second. I like Desmond, but he doesn’t get on base and strikes out a lot.

Werth strikes out a lot as well.

This concept of having a runner or runners on base for the middle of the lineup to drive in is, more often than not, going to be sabotaged.

Batting Werth leadoff might not be a conventional approach, but he would be a potential rally-starter. He gets on base, has power, hits plenty of doubles and can run. There have been players of this kind—who also struck out a lot—that have been very good leadoff hitters. Bobby Bonds was one such player.

In his early years with the Giants, Bonds would bat leadoff with Willie Mays and Willie McCovey behind him and he’d score well over 100 runs a year. He’d either strike out, homer or start something with his speed.

The Nationals don’t have that kind of power behind Werth, but there are hitters who will drive in runs—Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Morse.

If they so desperately want to bat Werth at the top of the lineup, I’d bat Werth first; rookie Danny Espinosa second (he can hit—watch); Zimmerman third; LaRoche fourth; and Morse fifth.

Batting Werth second is an attempt to be too clever. Rather than that I’d prefer to go for the bomb early, especially considering how outmanned the Nationals are in terms of talent when comparing them to the rest of the National League East and NL proper.

Either bat him leadoff or bat him fourth.

Not second.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Yankees Were Better Off With Mitre

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

You read that right.

As much of a butt of jokes as Sergio Mitre was, there are pitchers for roles and roles for pitchers; the Yankees didn’t need Mitre to be a starting pitcher despite the pretense they put up with him “competing” for a role in the starting rotation this year; they needed him to be a long reliever.

That’s what he was and he was okay at it; he never complained; pitched when asked; and for the most part was serviceable.

Today the Yankees traded Mitre to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Chris Dickerson. This comes a day after they signed Kevin Millwood to a minor league contract; the same Kevin Millwood who was said to be out of shape and threw an unimpressive session for scouts in a Scott Boras-arranged exhibition last week. The Yankees were the only team to send anyone to look at Millwood.

They have Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon vying for the final spot in the starting rotation. Ivan Nova will presumably be the fourth starter, although none of this has been officially announced as of yet.

What’s the plan now?

Is there one?

Since there hasn’t been a coherent strategy all winter, why should anyone expect something different as they continue the same pattern?

The Yankees had their entire 2011 blueprint contingent on signing Cliff Lee; when Lee took his talents to Philadelphia, the Yankees started scrambling in ill-disguised desperation. First it was a bizarre, Twilight Zone-ish attempt to bring back Carl Pavano; then they repeatedly called the Mariners about Felix Hernandez and have been told—over-and-over—that King Felix is not available.*

*After the attempted trade for Lee last summer that degenerated into an accusatory fiasco between the two clubs as to who said what and whether a trade had been agreed to, the Yankees supposedly decreed they weren’t going to deal with the Mariners again; what happened?

They’ve been pursuing Francisco Liriano and Brett Myers with the media treating these wish lists as if they’re the divine right of the Yankees to get the players they want simply because they want them.

Liriano and Myers aren’t available either.

So they brought in Garcia and Colon on minor league contracts; they were worth a shot and have pitched respectably this spring. And now they’ve signed Millwood.

Are they going to stick either Garcia or Colon in the starting rotation and the other in the Mitre role of long relief? How long’s that going to last?

Colon has relieved three times in his big league career and two of those times were in his rookie year of 1997.

Garcia has relieved once in his career.

That’s a combined total of four relief appearances for two pitchers who’ve been in 631 big league games.

Will they know how to warm up properly? Can they get into game face quickly? Will they pitch effectively in an unfamiliar role?

I highly doubt it.

At the very least, with Mitre, you knew what you were getting. It may not have been great, but you knew what it was. Games in which he’d enter as a long reliever generally meant the starting pitcher had put his team in a hole and they needed some length to get through the middle innings. The long reliever’s job is that and more.

If you watched Hisanori Takahashi with the Mets last season, you saw the true value of a competent middle reliever who could give 3-5 innings at a time. Takahashi entered games in which the Mets were in danger of getting blown out, calmed things down and gave the club a chance to crawl back into the game. With the Yankees lineup, that’s not a small thing as they’re never really out of any game.

Mitre wasn’t good, but he knew his place and was a usable piece.

With a rookie, Nova, as the fourth starter; either Colon or Garcia as the fifth starter; and Phil Hughes still on an innings/pitch count, wouldn’t they have been better off keeping Mitre than to trade for Chris Dickerson? Do they need another outfielder? Are they that worried about Curtis Granderson‘s strained oblique and were so undecided as to what they were going to do with either Garcia or Colon that they had to do this now?

This made no sense. In fact, it looked like the Yankees were confronted with the dilemma of what to do with all these over-the-hill and mediocre pitchers and jumped at the opportunity to get something for Mitre before the offer was pulled.

It was a mistake.

I published a full excerpt of my book 9 days ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Semantical Gymnastics, Logical Idiocy

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

This is from MLB Trade Rumors regarding the Angels:

The Angels fired scouting director Eddie Bane last fall, a decision that ESPN’s Keith Law criticized in an e-mail to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com.  Law thought Bane’s firing “smacked of internal politics, and furthered Tony Reagins’ reputation in the game as a difficult person to work for and someone who only values opinions that match his own.”

I have no clue about Reagins’s reputation in the industry, nor do I understand how a club can go from being ranked 22nd (as the linked ESPNLosAngeles piece says) and jump to 6th in one year. Did the rest of baseball decline? Did the Angels have that strong a draft? And the Angels surrendered some serious young talent to get Dan Haren.

I find it laughable how opinions change based on a smidgen of elapsed time and after one decision that may have been made for a multitude of reasons other than Law’s proclamation that Reagins wants yes-men.

Reagins didn’t abide Bane disagreeing with him? That’s it?

Bane was with the Angels from 2004-2010; Reagins has been the GM of the club since October of 2007—he decided after three years that he didn’t want Bane around anymore? They didn’t butt heads prior to the unsubstantiated Law assertion that it was all due to Reagins’s intransigence?

All you need to do is look in the manager’s office—in the vein of Law’s leaps of illogic and innuendo—to disprove the “yes-man” theory.

Is Mike Scioscia going to allow the GM to push him around? Will he stand by and let the GM exert his will and hesitate to disagree for fear of suffering the fate of Bane? Armed with a track record of annual success and—most importantly—a contract through 2018, Scioscia’s going nowhere.

Much of what made Scioscia a standout defensive catcher was his willingness to get dirty and block the plate—it was his forte and he had the massive collisions to prove it. (The most memorable was the 1985  crash with Cardinals slugger Jack Clark that left both men senseless. Scioscia held onto the ball despite being knocked cold.)

If Scioscia were ever on the market to manage elsewhere, he’d be jobless for about the length of time it takes for a successful bull-riding event in a rodeo—8 seconds; and it’s not because he’s the best strategic manager in baseball—he’s not—but because he has control of the clubhouse and is a respected, stable, calm, strong voice.

And what if Reagins did disagree with Bane and the other scouts who were dismissed. So what? Why was it okay for then-Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta to fire Jim Tracy, one of the game’s best managers, because he wanted “someone on the same page” and it wouldn’t be a similar scenario for Reagins?

If Law has evidence that Reagins’s decision to fire Bane was a personality clash and nothing else, he should present it rather than making these groundless assertions to bolster his own shaky credentials as a scout/expert/insider.

I published a full excerpt of my book 9 days ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Testimony And Bluster

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Why is the government wasting everyone’s time and, more importantly, money with this farce?

It’s as if they feel as though they’ve gone this far and they have to see it through. Thus far from what we’ve heard, a conviction is unlikely; and if there is a conviction, the time Bonds has to serve will be nearly non-existent, he’ll be in a medium-to-low security prison (if he gets any time at all), and the streets are not going to be one iota safer with Bonds locked away.

It’s a farce.

And that’s before getting to the testimony.

Taped conversations that no one can understand with only the name “Barry” mentioned?

A former Bonds employee testifying because he was worried about Barry’s health and stating that trainer Greg Anderson emerged from Bonds’s bedroom holding a syringe?

This is the evidence?

I’m not of the mind to disbelieve someone because they may have an axe to grind—it doesn’t mean they’re a liar—but the former employee, Steve Hoskins, doesn’t sound particularly credible. Then there’s the following bit snipped from this NY Times Story:

In 2000, he (Hoskins) saw Anderson — who is in prison after refusing to testify — leaving Bonds’s bedroom at spring training with a syringe in his hand. Every spring training from 2000 to 2003, Hoskins said, he saw Bonds and Anderson disappear into that room together for several minutes.

So?

That proves what?

For all Hoskins knows, Anderson—a serious bodybuilder—was shooting the drugs into himself. And that’s assuming they were drugs. He doesn’t know what was in this supposed syringe, what Anderson did with it or where he shot it. He could’ve shot it into the toilet. Who knows what was going on in that bedroom?

They could’ve been dancing a tango and using the syringe to hide their penchant for male-on-male mincing and prancing.

I’m being snarky, but it’s true.

You can begin with random assumptions concerning Bonds’s bodily growth, increased power on the field and the circumstantial evidence that he was using steroids—of course he was—but this is the government’s case?

Soon we’re going to hear from Bonds’s former mistress testifying about Bonds’s physical transformation and shrunken testicles; the implication is that these factors are indicative of steroid use.

They are, but this too is shaky at best.

As I said in a posting weeks ago, Barry Bonds didn’t need drugs to behave like a jerk to wives, girlfriends, minions, teammates, “friends” and family members.

This case is going nowhere; it doesn’t sound like they have a case. It sounds like they’re trying to use Bonds’s less than likable persona as a hammer to toss a load of garbage into a pile and, in some potluck mishmash, make it palatable.

But it’s not.

Don’t they have other things to do?

Really?

And he’s going to get acquitted.

Watch.

  • Buck’s blasts of Force Lightning:

I’ve long suspected Buck Showalter of being a Dark Lord of the Sith (like me) and his recently revealed comments about Derek Jeter and Theo Epstein have done little to dissuade me from this belief.

In an interview in Men’s Journal (yet to be published and discussed here on NorthJersey.com by Bob Klapisch), Showalter said of Jeter: “Well, he’s always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets – and yes, he [ticks] me off.”

Of Epstein: “I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll,” he said. “You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter? That’s why I like whipping their butt. It’s great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’ ”

Derek Jeter has long angered opponents by maintaining that aboveboard veneer while simultaneously doing anything and everything to beat them on the field; underneath that mask of class lies a vicious cobra who’ll do whatever he can to win a game—there’s nothing wrong with that, but Showalter’s not wrong in his statement either; inside baseball people know this, but few people are willing to fight the losing battle of taking on Jeter.

The 800-pound gorilla with Theo Epstein has always been what he’d do if he didn’t have access to a lot of money to spend his way out of mistakes.

The Red Sox have conveniently tossed money around when necessary; this practice is evidenced by their activities in 2007 and this past winter; conveniently, both spending sprees occurred after missed playoff seasons and placated an agitated and somewhat spoiled fan base.

Epstein and Brian Cashman are smart enough to cobble a moderately successful franchise within payroll constraints, but it certainly has helped them to have the cash to fling at holes rather than scrimp, scramble and hit the jackpot as the Marlins and Rays have done year-after-year.

On another note from the column, Klapisch “projects” the Orioles to win 80 games.

Where he gets that number is anyone’s guess.

In the AL East with the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays, how are they getting to 80 wins? And their inter-league games include series with the Reds, Cardinals and Braves.

80 wins?

They’re not getting to 70; forget 80.

But regardless of Showalter’s bluster, this season isn’t about wins and losses for the Orioles; it’s about the continuation of the cultural shift he began during the final two months of last season; the attitude adjustment will be exacerbated by the presence of Vladimir Guerrero. It won’t translate into many more wins this season, but it’s a building block.

Showalter’s Orioles are trapped in a nightmarish division with a young and still-transitioning roster—what’s he got to lose by going for the deep strike and antagonizing the divisional powerhouses?

Nothing.

It’s an attention-getter, but not much more than that because he’s smart enough to know—and keep to himself—the fate of his club this season.

Not all blasts of Force Lightning are designed to destroy their opponents in the first strike; occasionally they’re a means to an end with the long term goal coming in the distant future.

With the Orioles, the contending future is off in the distance; but at least it’s realistic with Showalter as the manager. That’s a giant step from where they were.

****

I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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A Blue Chip Panel

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training, Uncategorized

Unlike the European model of socialism where everyone has a voice and there’s no definitive leader or coherent plan, the bullpen-by-committee concept is often misunderstood, misused and denigrated as if the idea would not work.

Based on failures of clubs that have “tried” it, it’s an easy and mistimed leap from it “failing” to it being scrapped entirely as a logistical and practical nightmare.

Much has been made of Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez‘s announcement that he intends to use both Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters to close games.

The far-flung and brainless response of “it won’t work” is emitted to discredit those pushing back against the conventional and misunderstood baseball orthodoxy. According to them, there “must” be a designated closer and he “must” be only one pitcher who gets the ball in the ninth inning regardless of opposing batters; situation; circumstances and reality.

It doesn’t even qualify as outside-the-box, forward or backward thinking. It just is.

Statistics such as “high leverage” and using the best pitcher for the given situation can be referenced, but how about common sense?

The simple fact is that the Braves don’t know how either pitcher is going to react to being the designated closer; neither is in a position to make and demands on the club for a defined role; and they have the opportunity and ability to do the job and let the manager run his team as he should rather than safely for the sake of having an excuse for not thinking.

That, in essence, is what the designated and unimpeachable “closer” does for the manager. It makes his life easier by removing a strategic maneuver from his hands.

The implied glory of the “save” stat and the misapplied blame heaped on Tony La Russa for altering the way relievers are used has sired the one reliever set-up. Clubs like the 2003 Red Sox have rebelled against it, but they haven’t done it properly.

A forthcoming post will discuss the past “bullpen-by-committee” failures and successes and what has to be done to implement it.

This decision by Gonzalez is the smart one. Kimbrel has control issues and Venters was a starter in the minors up until he got to the big leagues last year; both are perfectly capable of getting righty and lefty hitters out; it doesn’t need to be a strict platoon of one faces righties, the other faces lefties. Depending on the opponent, the score and many other factors, it would behoove them to refrain from naming one or the other as the “save” guy.

This is a no-brainer and the antithesis of a “bullpen-by-committee” in which every member of the bullpen can be used anytime.

There’s no blue ribbon panel; there’s a pair of blue chip prospects with lights out stuff.

What will be most interesting is if both pitchers are performing well in the role and Billy Wagner decides to make a mid-season return (as I expect him to do). Will the Braves shun the combination of Kimbrel and Venters and hand the designated closer job back to Wagner? And would Wagner acquiesce to not being the automatic ninth inning man if he truly wants to pitch and have a chance at a championship?

Egos are currently not involved here (at least to the point where you have to consider them) because you still have two young pitchers who could very easily be demoted from the late-inning role or out of the big leagues entirely; such is not the case with Wagner.

A Wagner comeback would be a true test of the resolve to run a game intelligently on the part of manager Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren.

With the current roster and the personnel, this is the correct call on every level.

Let’s see if they stick to it if either Venters or Kimbrel struggle or if Wagner comes back.

I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Minnesota Has Bigger Problems Than Just Michele Bachmann

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

All due respect to the overt danger of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann contemplating a presidential run and that there are unsupervised adults who are supporting this endeavor, there are bigger issues currently confronting the people of Minnesota.

Representative Bachmann has zero chance of being elected president, thereby rendering her run meaningless. The Twins on the other hand have had a viable claim to being World Series contenders for much of the past decade. It’s not simply due to talent; the “Twins Way” has been as responsible for their consistency as any trades, free agent signings, smart draft choices or stability.

There’s a chain-of-command with the Twins; a code of conduct and behavior off the field; and an adherence to fundamentals on it that has served them well despite injuries, defections and financial constraints.

But now there are holes that they’ll have a tough time overcoming.

Let’s take a look.

Systematic departures:

The Twins are not a club of dominating starting pitching. Their rotation—apart from the potential star Francisco Liriano—is a strike-throwing, innings-gobbling group of cogs in the machine.

They’re not asked to do too much. They need to pound the strike zone, not surrender crooked numbers and get the game to the bullpen with a lead.

That’s the problem.

Departed relievers Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jesse Crain were keys to manager Ron Gardenhire’s strategy.

Guerrier was durable with 70+ appearances every single year and consistent numbers. Crain didn’t allow many homers, threw hard and could strike people out. Rauch was versatile, able to set up and close.

All three are gone and so too is sidearming Pat Neshek who was placed on waivers and claimed by the San Diego Padres.

The return of Joe Nathan and a full season from Matt Capps (one will close, the other will set-up) will help in their efforts to move forward without the above-mentioned pitchers, they still have several gaps to fill in the middle innings. And they haven’t done it.

If you think Carl Pavano‘s 2010 season and his brilliant spring training are a portent of a continuation of that work into the regular season, you’re banking a lot on a pitcher who was a running joke not long ago and has a history of relaxing (to say the least) once he has contractual security.

Apart from Liriano, the rest of the Twins staff is extremely hittable and will be hurt badly by the departures of the defensively-oriented J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson.

With a bullpen-based team and mediocre starting rotation that needs its defense, do you see the problem here as the bullpen has been drastically altered and gutted of the unsung arms that were imperative to team success?

Teams don’t realize what they had until it’s gone; replacing Guerrier, Rauch and Crain won’t be a matter of plugging someone else in andc continuing with the same template.

Questionable defense, declining offense:

Alexi Casilla has moved to shortstop to replace J.J. Hardy. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka—a shortstop in Japan—will play second base.

Do you know what to expect from either one of these players?

It was a year-and-a-half ago when Casilla—the erstwhile second baseman—was sent to the minor leagues for poor, lackadaisical play. Will he hit? And can he play shortstop on an everyday basis?

Nishioka has killed the ball this spring, but that means nothing. You won’t know how a Japanese import is going to perform until the season starts and he does it. Nishioka batted .346 last season; stole 22 bases; and walked 79 times—stats.

But so what?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you don’t know what you’re getting from a Japanese import. You could be getting a Hideo Nomo-like phenomenon; you could be getting a Hideki Irabu disaster. Offensively, you might get Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui or you could get Kaz Matsui.

You don’t know.

There are some who believe that a team is only as good as their up-the-middle personnel. The Twins have Joe Mauer behind the plate—state of the art and one of the top three all-around hitters in baseball; in center field, they have the talented Denard Span who should rebound from a sub-par 2010; at second and short, they have two question marks both offensively and defensively.

A weaker offense:

The Twins seem to still be holding their collective breaths with Justin Morneau as he recovers from the concussion he sustained last year. They have the depth to mix-and-match and survive with Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome in some permutation.

But with the departures of the bullpen pieces; the new middle of the diamond; the likelihood of a fallback year from Delmon Young; and the questions surrounding Morneau’s health, they won’t score as many runs as the did last season and will allow more due to a diminished pitching staff.

The Twins are banking a great deal of their 2011 season on Casilla and Nishioka—an eventuality I would not be comfortable with.

Hangover and fallout:

The Twins put everything they had into last season. They spent money to acquire veteran talent Orlando Hudson, Hardy and Thome; they made bold in-season acquisitions with Capps and Brian Fuentes; they felt they had the goods to finally take out the Yankees.

For five innings in game 1 of the ALDS, they were killing the ghosts from their playoff nemesis…then the wheels came off.

After the Yankees exploded for 4 runs in the top of the 6th inning of game 1, the Twins put forth their final stand in the series by tying the game in the bottom of the inning; but Mark Teixeira‘s 2-run homer gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead—which they held.

The Twins whole aura changed. All the confidence and self-belief they carried into the series, telling themselves that this time would be different, floated off into the distance and disappeared like a lost helium balloon.

As much as it’s said that such an instance can be overcome when the next season starts, this is not the same team. It’s weaker and the White Sox and Tigers are stronger.

It all adds up to a down year for a model franchise.

The 2011 Twins are going to go about as far as former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s own (more realistic than Rep. Bachmann’s) presidential aspirations: the Twins players and Pawlenty are good guys; solid backgrounds; experience; systematic beliefs and a limited chance to win based on reality.

They’re in for an awakening and it’s not going to be gentle.

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I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s out on Amazon Kindle too! Dig it!!!



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Viewer Mail 3.23.2011

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE The Extra 2%:

The book sounds interesting – certainly a must-read for Rays fans.

If Jonah Keri has to rely on Rays fans and Rays fans alone to buy and read the book, he’ll have a problem with sales.

All kidding aside, this book deserves far more attention than Moneyball because it doesn’t deify the Rays front office or cast them in a light that bears no resemblance to reality. It’s not an “everything they do works because they’re smart and forward thinking while you’re stunted and stupid”; it’s “this is what they did; this is why they did it; here’s what worked and what didn’t”.

Hopefully it’ll tear another stack of bricks from under the Moneyball myth.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Nationals, Jayson Werth and Ivan Rodriguez:

I keep forgetting about Jayson Werth’s completely laughable contract, then I read about it somewhere and my eyes pop out of my head like a cartoon character’s.

As far as Pudge goes, I think the guy’s got something left in the tank. Or maybe I just hope he does. If nothing else, I’m pulling for him to get his 3000th hit. I always loved the guy, for obvious reasons.

Speaking of cartoon characters, Pudge looks like someone inserted a pin into his entire body from when he was with the Rangers to now.

Hmmm…

Pudge can still catch and call a game; he’s a hole in the lineup, but certain teams can carry and use him.

There was an interesting piece about the Nats and their willingness to spend on MLB Trade Rumors. Zack Greinke said he was offered an $100 million extension to accept a trade to the Nationals and he turned it down because he felt the Brewers were closer to winning than the Nats.

I’m growing dubious at that belief considering everything that’s gone wrong for the Brewers so far this spring, but we’ll see.

As far as the Nats go, I have to practice what I preach. The Werth contract is insane, but my criteria for a stupid contract is when a club does something they want to do in lieu of that which they need to do. If Werth’s massive contract was going to preclude them from making other necessary improvements to the pitching staff for example, then it’s a terrible deal; but clearly owner Ted Lerner has money to spend and is going to spend it.

Who cares about the money if it’s not stopping them from going after a Greinke or after any of the free agents set to come available after this season?

If this is their strategy, the Nationals may be ready to make some legitimate noise by 2012.

Gabriel writes RE stereotypes:

I agree. Stereotypes are acceptable if that’s what the club needs, not just because it’s the default way of building a team. However, I think stereotypical players has diminished as part of the evolution of the baseball athlete. Players are better athletes than 30 years ago, which allows for players like Adrian González, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols, who are hitting AND fielding machines.

Attention paid to the number of runs a player is going to produce at the plate and cost in the field is a large part of it as well. There weren’t the advanced statistics attempting to count the number of runs a stone-gloved and immobile first baseman would cause 30 years ago.

Of course they’re taken out of context, accepted as unassailable and inarguable in some quarters, but there’s a tool to understanding; a team can debate whether it would’ve been worth it to sign a player like Adam Dunn—especially a National League team—considering his defensive shortcomings.

The days of “stick ‘im at first base and hide ‘im” are over no matter what Mike Francesa says.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE stereotypes and Earl Weaver:

You make a good point. I get stuck in those stereotypical roles myself… thinking that’s the way it’s gotta be. But it’s baseball! It can be anything it wants! Earl was a genius… just wish he could have racked up the rings with Baltimore. People have forgotten about the Oriole Way.

Weaver’s brilliance wasn’t limited to his reliance on his strategies, but that he didn’t allow personalities to infect his decisions. He didn’t care about individual achievement or perception—if a pitcher was working on a complete game and the Orioles had a better chance to win by Weaver removing him with 2 outs in the ninth inning, he removed him with 2 outs in the ninth inning; it wasn’t personal, it was business.

He was flexible with his roster, but strict in his discipline. If he had a team with little power, he’d resort to stealing bases even though he preferred 3-run homers; when Reggie Jackson was traded to the Orioles in 1976 and arrived for the team plane looking like something out of Shaft with a turtleneck and leather jacket, he had Brooks Robinson give him a tie, then Weaver pulled Reggie—Reggie!!—aside when they got to the team hotel, screamed at him, told him who was boss and that he’d behave and dress appropriately.

The man knew how to run a team and handle baseball players.

Peter at Capitol Avenue Club writes RE players and injuries:

I think it’s the player’s job to insist he can play through pain and it’s the job of the team’s management and medical staff to determine whether or not the pain he’s playing through is manageable or if it’s going to affect his performance and/or long-term health.

It’s a fine line between insinuating a player is milking an injury or is really too hurt to play. There are the players for whom it’s clear there are ancillary issues (Carl Pavano) along with a practical disinterest in doing everything he can to get back on the field; and others who have something wrong that hasn’t been properly diagnosed.

One such case is J.R. Richard who complained of having a “dead arm” and not feeling right for much of 1980; due to his standoffish personality and team circumstances with the Astros, he was perceived to be malingering and throwing a tantrum—basically pitching when he felt like it.

All questions were answered when on July 30th of that year, Richard had a stroke—NY Times Story–PDF File.

I can’t in good conscience judge when a player is too hurt to play even if the medical staff is insisting there’s nothing wrong. In the end, you can’t force them; in certain cases, there’s an underlying and potentially life-threatening risks at play. All that can be done is to look at a player’s history and decide whether or not he’s reliable.

To implicate someone in the fabrication of a self-serving story when they may truly be hurt or have a medical problem can result in disaster.

I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.




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Disaster Averted

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

On March 7th, Mike Francesa announced on his WFAN radio show that Yankees manager Joe Girardi would be a guest every day that there was a Yankee game and Francesa was working.

It was supposed to be a 5 or so minute segment designed to…do something.

I’m not sure what.

I wrote a posting on March 8th saying that it was a foundation for disaster; that former Mets manager Jeff Torborg had a similar daily appearance with Francesa and Chris Russo on Mike and the Mad Dog in 1992.

It didn’t go well.

Oversaturation and saying something stupid is too great a possibility for a daily interview—no matter how brief—for it to be worthwhile regardless of how much money Girardi was being paid.

The disaster has been averted as Girardi backed out on what Francesa said (and was told) had been agreed upon.

I believe Francesa when he says he wouldn’t have announced it had he not been under the impression that everything was set.

I also believe that Girardi was smart to back out.

Nothing good was going to come of it. In fact, it might have created controversy where none was necessary. Girardi has enough on his plate with the star-studded Yankees and their ever-present egos, the media, fans and the front office to have to chat daily with Francesa.

By May (at the earliest), it would’ve become a chore rather than an opportunity for Girardi to let the audience know what he was thinking.

Radio shows and planned appearances are contingent on many factors and Girardi has few of the attributes to make it tenable. He isn’t the most interesting interview to begin with and wasn’t going to say anything we didn’t already know from the day’s stories; instead of being an insider’s account or analysis of Yankees universe, it was a landscape riddled with traps. Because Francesa is a Yankee lover doesn’t mean he wouldn’t use the forum to try and corner the manager if it meant a boost in listeners.

The less a manager/general manager has to say to his constituency and critics, the better. J.P. Ricciardi—a far more interesting listen than Girardi because he has a volcanic temper and said stuff—had a call-in radio show while he was the Blue Jays GM.

A….call….in….radio….show

Ricciardi actually argued with the callers. It was one such call that led to the Blue Jays GM openly criticizing then-Reds outfielder Adam Dunn.

In proceeding weeks, the impropriety of a GM criticizing another team’s player blew into a full-fledged story as Dunn and Ricciardi had a acidic back-and-forth in the media; Ricciardi was prank called into believing he was speaking to and apologizing to Dunn when he wasn’t; it became a mess of the GM’s own making due to the first cause: he decided to have a call-in radio show.

Girardi wasn’t taking calls from the audience, but going back and forth with Francesa would’ve been bad enough.

Girardi isn’t as forthcoming as Ricciardi—truthfully, he’s not a particularly engaging interview—so such a thing was unlikely to happen; but there was the potential, even likelihood, of the Yankees manager inadvertently revealing something that was meant to be kept in-house or would’ve been better left unsaid.

The risk-reward for Girardi and the Yankees was non-existent; the worst case scenario was a nightmare.

A nightmare neither the Yankees nor Girardi needed.

The Yankees and Girardi are better-served to have squashed the concept.

It probably would’ve been dull anyway.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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