The Red Sox Out-of-Book Experience with Bobby Valentine

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The Red Sox made the smart and gutsy decision to shun the “middle-manager” nonsense that came en vogue after Moneyball and hired Bobby Valentine to take over as their new manager.

Here’s what to expect.

The beer and chicken parties are over.

The somewhat overblown Red Sox beer and chicken parties of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and their crew are referenced as the fatal symptoms of apathy under Terry Francona.

When Valentine’s name was mentioned as a candidate amid the “new sheriff in town” mentality, the 1999 NLCS card-playing incident is presented as an example of what went on with the Mets under Valentine.

What’s missed by those who constantly mention the Bobby BonillaRickey Henderson card game as the Mets dejectedly entered the Turner Field clubhouse after their game 6 and series loss is that Bonilla was gone after the season (at a significant cost to the Mets that they’re still paying); and Henderson was released the next May.

Those who expect Valentine to storm in and start getting in the faces of the players immediately are wrong.

He won’t tolerate any garbage, but it’s not going to be a both-guns-blazing, walking through the door of the saloon like Clint Eastwood bit.

He’ll try a more smooth approach at first, telling them what the rules are, what’s expected and demanded and what won’t be tolerated. If he’s pushed, he’ll make an example of someone and it’s going to happen fast.

This is not to say that he’s an old-school social conservative who’s going to interfere with his players’ personal business. Bobby V liked chewing his dip when he was managing the Mets; he treats his players like men; but if their off-field activities are affecting on-field production—as was the case with Todd Hundley and Pete Harnisch—they’re going to hear about it. It will be done privately at first, then publicly if it continues.

His big theme concerning the way the players behave will be “don’t make me look like an idiot”.

The stuff that went on under the watch of Francona was more embarrassing than damaging. If the players had been performing their due diligence in workouts and not been so brazen about their clubhouse time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they so cavalierly loafed and lazed, seemingly not caring what was happening on the field, it snowballed and became a flashpoint to the lax discipline of Francona and festered into unnecessary problems.

Relationships with opponents, umpires and the media.

Valentine has endured public spats with many other managers and hasn’t shied from any of them, even suggesting they possibly turn physical if need be.

During his playing days, no one wanted to mess with Don Baylor. Baylor, who crowded the plate and steadfastly refused to move when a ball was heading in his direction, led the league in getting hit-by-pitches eight times. Valentine had protested a mistake the then-Cubs manager Baylor had made on his lineup card when the Mets and Cubs played the season-opening series of 2000 in Japan; Baylor made some comments about it; Valentine, who never brought the lineup card to the plate as Mets manager, did so in the first game of the Mets-Cubs series in May; Valentine asked Baylor if the two had a problem, Baylor said no and that was it.

This was indicative of the personality and gamesmanship of Valentine. Managers and players from other teams don’t like him, but he doesn’t care.

As Red Sox manager, he’s going to bait Joe Girardi; he’ll annoy Joe Maddon; he and Buck Showalter will glare at each other from across the field at who can be more nitpicky in a chess match of “I’m smarter than you”; he knows the rules better than the umpires and finds the smallest and most obscure ones to get an advantage for his team; he manipulates the media and his temper gets the better of him—he’ll say he’s not going to talk about something, then talk about if for 20 minutes; and his foghorn voice will echo across all of baseball to let everyone know the Red Sox are in town.

Francona was well-liked by everyone.

Valentine won’t be. And he doesn’t care.

Valentine can be annoying. He was a three-sport star in high school and a ballroom dancing champion, is married to his high school sweetheart and is still remarkably handsome even at age 61; he was Tommy Lasorda‘s pet in the minor leagues and his teammates loathed him—he grates on people because of his seeming superiority and perfection.

He’s not irritating people intentionally unless he thinks it will help him win a game—it’s just Bobby V being Bobby V.

The GM/manager dynamic.

Did new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington want Valentine?

There will be an across-the-board series of analysis why he did and didn’t—most will detail why he didn’t.

But does it matter?

The whole concept of Valentine being impossible to handle, undermining, subversive and Machiavellian stem from his inter-organizational battles with Steve Phillips when the duo were the GM/manager combination for the Mets.

Valentine hated Phillips and vice versa; it wasn’t simply that Valentine hated Phillips as a GM, he hated him as a human being more.

But Phillips’s personal behaviors weren’t publicly known to the degree that they are now; it’s doubtful that Cherington will be stupid enough to get caught up in the number of foibles that have befallen Phillips and sabotaged someone who was a better GM than he’s given credit for and an excellent and insightful broadcaster.

Despite the disputes and cold war, something about the Valentine-Phillips relationship worked.

As long as there’s a mutual respect between Valentine and Cherington, what’s wrong with a little passionate debate even if it’s of the screaming, yelling and throwing things variety?

It’s better than the alternative of King Lear—the lonely man seeking to salvage what’s left of his crumbling monarchy—as there is in Oakland with Billy Beane; or what we saw eventually disintegrate with Theo Epstein’s and Larry Lucchino’s Macbeth and Duncan reprise with the Red Sox.

The only difference between the managers who are installed as a matter of following the script and out of convenience—as Francona was—and Valentine is that Valentine’s not disposable as the prototypical Moneyball middle-managers are and the Red Sox have to pay him a salary far greater than they would’ve had to pay Gene Lamont or Torey Lovullo.

In the final analysis financially, it’s cheaper to hire and pay Valentine than it would be to hire a retread or an unknown and run the risk of a total explosion of the team early in 2012 and having to clean house while enduring a lost season and revenues.

Valentine can tape together what’s currently there better than the other candidates could.

There will be disagreements and if Valentine has to, he’ll go over Cherington’s head to Lucchino or use the media to get what he wants. It’s Cherington’s first GM job; he won’t want to screw it up; plus, it’s a no-lose situation for him because if things go wrong, there’s always the head shake and gesture towards Bobby V and Lucchino to explain away what went wrong and why it’s not Cherington’s fault.

Even if it is.

Strategies.

Valentine isn’t Grady Little and won’t ignore the numbers; he was one of the first stat-savvy managers  who accessed the work of Bill James when he took over the Rangers in 1985.

That’s not to say he won’t make moves against the so-called new age stats that make sense on paper, but are idiotic or unrealistic in practice. He’s not going to demand his switch-hitters bat lefty against lefty pitchers because of an obscure and out-of-context number; he’ll let his relievers know what’s expected of them in a “defined role” sense (to keep the peace); and he’s going to tweak his lineups based on the opponent.

He doles out his pitchers innings evenly and finds players who may have underappreicated talents and places them in a situation to succeed—sounds like a stat guy concept.

Players.

With the Mets, there was a notion that Valentine preferred to have a roster of interchangeable parts with non-stars; functional players he could bench without hearing the entreaties that he has to play <BLANK> because of his salary.

Valentine might prefer to have a clear path to do what’s right for a particular game without having to worry about how it’s framed or answering stupid questions after the fact, but he dealt with his star players—Mike Piazza; Mike Hampton; Al Leiter; Robin Ventura—well enough.

What Valentine is truly good at is finding the players who have been ignored or weren’t given a chance and giving them their opportunity.

Todd Pratt, Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani, Desi Relaford, Timo Perez, Melvin Mora, Masato Yoshii were all Valentine “guys” who he trusted and fought for. All contributed to the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.

If anyone can get something out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s Valentine; if anyone can put Carl Crawford in the lineup spot where he’ll be most productive—irrespective of Crawford’s personal preferences—it’s Valentine; and if anyone can work Jose Iglesias into the lineup without undue pressure, it’s Valentine.

Concerns.

While he managed in Japan for several years in the interim, Valentine hasn’t managed in the big leagues since 2002. Veteran managers sometimes hit the ground running after a long break as Jim Leyland did with the Tigers; or they embody the perception that they’ve lost something off their managerial fastball—I got that impression with Davey Johnson managing the Nationals in 2011.

Valentine’s 61 and in good shape, but ten years is a long time to be away from the trenches.

There will be a honeymoon period with the media and fans, but like the Red Sox attempt to hire Beane to be the GM after 2002, how long is this honeymoon going to last if the Red Sox are 19-21 after 40 games with the expectations and payroll what they are.

It’s hard to stick to the script as the Yankees fans are laughing at them; mired in a division with three other strong teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays possibly ahead of them; and the fans and media are bellowing for something—anything—to be done.

Valentine’s Mets teams tended to fade, tighten and panic at the ends of seasons. It happened in 1998 and 1999; in 1999 they squeaked into the playoffs after a frenetic late-season run and, once they were in, relaxed to put up a good, borderline heroic showing before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.

There will be players who ridicule, mock and question him. John Franco took the opportunity to get his revenge against Valentine by helping Phillips’s case to fire him in 2002 because Valentine had taken Franco’s closer role away and given it to Armando Benitez while Franco was injured.

Will Beckett push Valentine so one of them has to go? I doubt it, but Beckett’s a bully and won’t like being told what to do.

Will Bobby Jenks‘s attitude or Kevin Youkilis‘s whining cause Valentine to call them out publicly?

Will it damage the team if there’s an early insurrection or will it embolden the front office that a stricter force was necessary?

The real issues.

It’s nice that the Red Sox have hired a proven, veteran manager; a known quantity; someone they can sell to the media and fans, but it doesn’t address the player issues that sabotaged the team as they collapsed in September.

John Lackey is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and they need starting pitching.

David Ortiz is a free agent.

They need a bat.

They have to hope that Crawford straightens out and becomes the player they paid for.

Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been enduring multiple injuries.

Clay Buchholz is returning from a back problem.

They don’t know who their closer is going to be.

More than anything else, the Red Sox 2012 season is going to be determined by how these holes are patched and filled.

But the manager’s office is taken care of and they’re indulging in an out-of-book experience in hiring Bobby Valentine.

And it’s a great move.

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The Sarah Palin Effect and Baseball Nuance

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The Brewers have hired Johnny Narron as their new hitting coach to replace new Cubs manager Dale Sveum.

This gives them two Narrons on the coaching staff—bench coach Jerry Narron along with Johnny.

I’m not being snarky when I ask whether Keith Law has finally realized that Johnny Narron and Jerry Narron are not the same person.

In 2007, when the Rangers acquired Josh Hamilton, Law wrote a piece for ESPN about the move suggesting that they hire the “former Rangers manager” Johnny Narron as a “support system” for Hamilton given Johnny’s relationship with Hamilton in prior years as he recovered from substance abuse issues.

It made perfect sense.

The problem was that it was Johnny’s brother Jerry who was the former Rangers (and Reds) manager. It wouldn’t have been as glaring an error but for Law’s status as a “baseball insider”.

I wrote a blog posting in my loooong-ago blogging home MLBlogs that was indeed snarky—link.

But I’ve evolved since then. Slightly.

Law’s posting was later edited to correct the mistake. But that’s not the point.

There are factual errors and there’s are screwups.

This was a screwup stemming from an empty vault.

Jerry Narron shouldn’t be an unknown quantity for someone who fancies himself as enough of a baseball expert to comment on everything from scouting to stats to player moves to how stupid GMs of today are. In fact, it was Jerry Narron who, along with Brad Gulden, replaced Thurman Munson as one of the Yankees regular catchers for the remainder of the 1979 season after the Yankee captain’s tragic death in a plane crash.

This reminded me of a brief and not unfriendly back-and-forth I had with a fellow Twitter user about Joe Buck. I’d said something to the tune of, “we all know how Joe Buck wound up in the position he’s in” alluding to his father, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck. The other user, a relatively known blogger attached to ESPN and angling for a position in a baseball front office, said Joe Buck was in his current position because his dad was a former ballplayer.

How, if you want to be a baseball executive, do you not know enough basic baseball history to understand who Jack Buck was and what he was famous for?

It’s the Sarah Palin effect and the nuance of knowledge.

You can cram all the bits of information into anyone’s brain to try and make them sound like they have a baseline comprehension of whatever’s going on, but that doesn’t imply actual knowing—knowing by observation and retaining information as a matter of course through in the trenches work.

It’s why the armchair analysts who have the audacity to sit in front of their computer screens and criticize Tony LaRussa by implying what they would do were they in his position sound so ludicrous.

It’s not about making the statistically viable decision in every circumstance—it’s about handling people and accessing an accumulated experience to do what might seem unconventional or difficult to explain, but works.

This can’t be accrued by regurgitating scouting terminology and being an “expert” in name only; it comes from years-and-years of involvement. If the former governor of Alaska did something as elementary as reading the newspaper on a daily basis, she wouldn’t have had to go through mock debates with her benefactors on suicide watch and praying for the best possible scenario (or a fire) that she not humiliate them with a ridiculous gaffe that a 2nd grader would know was inaccurate.

It’s the same thing in baseball.

Studying statistics and being able to sound like you know what you’re talking about doesn’t make it so.

It’s why a numbers cruncher has no business walking into then-Padres manager Bruce Bochy‘s office and suggesting he bat pitcher Woody Williams second.

It’s why you have to know who Jack Buck, Red Barber, Russ Hodges and Mel Allen were.

And it’s why you should know who a fringe player who replaced a fallen hero and became a big league manager is and that he and his brother are two separate people.

Either you know it or you don’t; and most of those who are accorded credibility in today’s era of internet journalism and repetitive, circular factoids plainly and simply don’t.

It’s easy to tell the difference if you’re actually listening and know what you’re talking about yourself.

//

Two Old Men Fighting

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Former CFL football players Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca met to, supposedly, bury the hatchet on a long-standing feud that started some 48 years ago.

They wanted to bury the hatchet alright—in each other’s heads.

You can read about the genesis of the disagreement here on NYTimes.com.

The clip is below.

It’s funny how these things continue to fester; it’s also indicative of the human condition.

For some strange reason, I can picture a similar circumstance occurring—30 years from now—between Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz.

This stuff never ends.

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Hey, Reality!!!

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Jon Heyman said the following on Twitter:

@SI_JonHeyman

Jon Heyman

Perception is, redsox ownership wants valentine. Lamont was on gm’s list. Would take quite a set for cherington to buck owners

“Buck owners”?

What part of “ownership” is so difficult to understand?

The owner makes the final decision, not the GM.

No GM has full autonomy.

Not the exalted Billy Beane; not Andrew Friedman; not Brian Sabean; not Ruben Amaro Jr.; not Brian Cashman; not Theo Epstein; and certainly not the newly-hired Ben Cherington of the Red Sox.

Yet we still see the so-called “credible” reporters interjecting opinion into the situation without a shred of understanding as to this simple fact of life.

Epstein himself wanted Terry Francona back with the Red Sox and has said he would’ve stayed for the final year of his contract had Francona’s options been exercised. Francona was tired both emotionally and physically; the ownership and upper hierarchy (see Larry Lucchino) were unhappy with multiple aspects of what transpired with the Red Sox all year long and culminated in the humiliating collapse; and they wanted to make a change.

That’s their right as the owners and top-tier management.

To think that if John Henry, Tom Werner and Lucchino want Bobby Valentine and it’s “going to take a set” for Cherington to bypass ownership’s desires is pure idiocy. Cherington’s not hiring anyone that he’s not allowed to hire and if it’s Lamont instead of Valentine, then everyone is onboard with the decision.

Could it be that Lucchino is seeing an opportunity to regain the control he lost as a result of Epstein’s success as GM?

Yes.

Could it be that they don’t want to follow that same path of middle-manager to whom the players might not listen with a Lamont instead of Valentine?

Yes.

Could they want someone with a personality who’s going to energize a livid fan base and have the cachet to stand up to the bullying of Josh Beckett?

Yes.

Are they wrong to make their collective presence felt in an important hire?

Absolutely not.

The Red Sox could be ruminating on the decision or they might want to have a fallback plan so they can keep Valentine’s contract as reasonable as possible. If they eliminate all other candidates, then Valentine might feel emboldened in the negotiations to ask for more money.

I remember Gene Lamont‘s understated personality as a manager with the White Sox and Pirates to be eerily similar to that of Francona. Doesn’t hiring the same type of individual defeat the purpose of making the change?

If the Red Sox try to scrimp and save a few bucks or avoid the Bobby V package and those are the only reasons they choose Lamont over him, then they’re making a terrible mistake. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Lamont won’t work—he’s a qualified baseball man and experienced manager—but the why is important.

They might hire Lamont; they might hire Valentine; I’m thinking that Cherington’s preference would’ve been Torey Lovullo.

But don’t think that Cherington will “buck” ownership in the managerial decision.

Because he won’t.

//

Josh Lueke and the No-Tolerance Policy

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The Mariners traded right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lueke and a minor leaguer or cash to the Rays for catcher John Jaso.

Jaso isn’t very good defensively, but he gets on base and has shown some minor league pop. Today the Rays signed Jose Molina; they have Jose Lobaton, Robinson Chirinos and have expressed interesting in bringing back Kelly Shoppach.

They’ll be okay behind the plate without Jaso.

But will they be okay with Lueke?

Lueke became known not for of his blazing fastball, but because he was part of the deal that sent Cliff Lee from the Mariners to the Rangers and a dispute ensued as to whom knew what about Lueke’s arrest record in which he was charged with sexual assault and lying to the police, then pleaded no contest.

The whole episode could have cost Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik his job.

The Mariners dumping of Lueke for what amounts to a backup catcher isn’t simply a trade; it appears as if they want to put the whole Lueke experience behind them as an organization, were presented with this deal and took it.

I don’t blame them.

I wouldn’t touch Jose Lueke.

You can make the case that in every organization there are a fair number of people who’ve been a bit too aggressive or behaved inappropriately with the opposite sex.

I’m not only talking about players; I’m talking about employees in every facet and it’s not always just men.

But the Lueke case is on the record. You can also make the contention that since it was his word against the accuser’s and that the episode sort of went away that he deserves another chance as long as he doesn’t get caught up in anything else.

It’s not unreasonable.

With the Rays however, their rise to prominence since 2008 came, of course, as a result of the high draft picks accrued from being so awful for so long; by making intelligent trades and savvy free agent signings; and a fair amount of luck.

An underreported aspect of their leap into contention was that they also ceased taking crap from their employees.

There’s a power in the act of not taking crap.

In relatively rapid succession over the course of a year-and-a-half from 2006-2007, the Rays had dealt with the DUI arrest of pitching coach Jim Hickey; the repeated and increasingly violent transgressions of Elijah Dukes; the bat-throwing suspension of Delmon Young; and the continued sobriety struggles of Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton was left unprotected in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and selected by the Cubs who immediately sold him to the Reds. Hamilton restarted his career in Cincinnati in 2007, was traded to the Rangers and became a star.

Apart from a few minor disputes with manager Joe Maddon, Young played and behaved well enough in 2007 that the Twins—historically a team that doesn’t take any garbage either—traded for him in what wound up being a coup for the Rays in acquiring Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. Young’s been a mostly solid citizen since then.

Dukes was incorrigible and traded to the Nationals for a nondescript minor league lefty, Glenn Gibson. He continually got into off-and-on-field trouble and the Nationals released him after the 2010 season.

At that time, since the Rays were such a running joke and a team that few paid attention to unless they were in the front of the newspaper as opposed to the back (where they belonged), they were in a position to draw a line with their employees and eject those that crossed it.

That may no longer be the case as they’ve succeeded and increased in stature and positive attention.

You can also say that the Rays have taken a load of stuff from B.J. Upton that a “not taking crap” template would’ve required they get rid of him; but Upton’s problems don’t stem from him being an off-field violent offender—he’s just lazy on the field and doesn’t listen.

There’s a difference between that and being arrested/suspended for violent acts. Those other cases were individuals who were already with the Rays; they’re trading for Lueke.

The Rays could issue the no-tolerance policy to Lueke. Or they could be trying a pump-and-dump of rebuilding his value, then include him in a trade. It’s not as if they gave up all that much to get him and releasing him will cost them nothing if he does give them cause. Lueke has a great arm. In normal circumstances, I’d say “why not?” and see how he behaves and pitches; but with the Rays, having learned the lesson of enough’s enough combined with “if you don’t want to be here and act appropriately, we’ll get rid of you” and seeing it work, I have to wonder why they would bring this person into the organization, due diligence and no-tolerance policy or not.

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Damage Control and Billy Beane

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Athletics manager Bob Melvin convinced his friend Chili Davis to take the job as hitting coach—ESPN Story.

Melvin’s a good manager.

Davis is a respected hitting coach and man.

But, but…doesn’t this render obsolete a sacrosanct tenet of the Moneyball story?

In what world does the manager have any say whatsoever about anything?

Perhaps this is Billy Beane‘s attempt—in a geniusy sort of way—to prop his manager’s credibility and put forth the concept that he’s letting Melvin influence a hire to make it appear as if he’s not a middle-managing functionary and faceless automaton whose mandate is to carry out orders from the front office.

It could be a brilliantly devised diversionary tactic.

Or Moneyball could be a fantasy filled with exaggerations and outright lies designed to come to the conclusion that Beane is something other than what he is.

And what that is is an overhyped and slightly above-average GM who took great advantage of the onrush of fame that came his way for allowing Michael Lewis to document his strategies when they were working and for Lewis having the motivation and writing skill to frame them in such a way that they were salable to the masses.

It’s laughable how the media uses Beane’s supposed cleverness as a shield for everything; as the basis for a story that will accrue them webhits for the simple reason that Beane’s name is mentioned.

Just this past week it was said that Beane accompanied Athletics owner Lew Wolff to the meeting with Bud Selig regarding a potential A’s move to San Jose.

Yeah?

So?

What does Beane’s presence imply? Was the power of his big brain going to hypnotize Selig to ignore the viability of the Giants territorial rights just because Beane was there?

Peter Gammons later suggested that Beane might end up as the GM of the Dodgers once the sale of the team is completed.

Never mind that the Dodgers already have a competent GM in Ned Colletti and that MLB needs an industrial machete to hack through the jungle vines of legalities in selling the franchise and divvying up the bounty between everyone who has a claim on Frank McCourt’s litigious massacre—no one knows who’s going to own the team!! So how is it possible to speculate on whom the GM is going to be? If the great and powerful “Hollywood” buys the Dodgers, I guess Brad Pitt playing Beane is a possibility as GM, but not Beane himself.

There’s always an excuse with this guy and the media is more than willing to lap it up as if it’s gospel.

He fired Bob Geren because the attention being paid to his situation was a distraction to the team.

He accompanied Wolff because the stadium issue is influencing the team’s off-season planning.

He has options like the Dodgers.

Blah, blah, blah.

It’s the stuff of a damage control-centric public relations firm hired specifically to put their clients in the best possible light regardless of reality and circumstances.

Geren did a bad job as manager; had he been treated as Beane callously and subjectively did his prior managers, he would’ve been fired after his second year on the job.

Beane’s name falsely lends credence to any kind of endeavor for those who still believe the Moneyball myth, but his attendance at the meeting with Selig was window dressing to garner attention to the story. The Giants are fools if they relinquish their territorial rights.

Beane has no options. He wanted the Cubs job and his mininons were tossing his name into the ring with such paraphrased, between-the-lines inanities as, “Billy would listen and Lew wouldn’t stand in his way.”

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

He’s trapped with the Athletics. Because of the stadium problems, the foundation is laid for another housecleaning and rebuilding phase due to finances, thereby absolving Beane of all responsibility again. Before, when he dealt away his stars, it was because of some grand scheme he’d concocted along with the Ivy League-educated acolytes of his revolution; now he doesn’t have any money so he has to listen to offers on his stars.

It’s garbage.

The team is terrible; his genius was never genius at all; and the informercial-style opacity of his tale is coming clearer and clearer as an increasing number of observers open up the box and see that the gadgets don’t work.

Return the gadgets.

Ask for a refund.

Or stop purchasing them to begin with.

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Social Media, Red Sox Nation and Bobby V

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Here’s an on-the-record suggestion for Red Sox Nation to make sure I get credit if it’s implemented.

If Bobby Valentine is indeed the next manager of the Red Sox, all avatars from all Red Sox fans on social media should be changed to the picture below in a show of solidarity and what kind of stuff they might be in for at one time or another under a Bobby V regime.

He’s wacky, a great manager, doesn’t put up with crap and will handle the media and fans brilliantly.

But you’d still better get ready.

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Don’t Scoff at Bruce Chen

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With certain pitchers the strike zone plots you see on BrooksBaseball.net indicate a profound lack of control because the points are all over the place.

With others, it’s done by design.

For a pitcher who has only a limited idea of where the ball is going at any particular time (see Bruce Chen‘s new teammate Jonathan Sanchezhere), the map of strikes and balls doesn’t say much of anything in terms of strategy because his strategic implementation is highly dependent on his control that day; but when looking at the map for pitchers who don’t have great stuff and are having a perceived inexplicable success like Chen and Jamie Moyer, there’s a method to the randomness.

Chen’s example of a strike zone map isn’t much different from Sanchez’s.

But they are different because one has an idea of where the ball is going and the other doesn’t.

For years it was asked how Moyer—he of the 82 mph fastball and chugging along until age 47 (and wanting to try to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 at age 49)—was able to get anyone out especially pitching in the homer-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

But Moyer knew how to pitch.

That phrase doesn’t imply that he has an innate knowledge that other pitchers don’t have by itself; it means that he was able to formulate a game plan and execute it; it means that he used every available weapon from psychology to pushing the strike zone in and out to get the hitters to retire themselves.

Here’s an example that a pitcher might use: If Moyer or Chen are pitching to a powerful righty bat like Mark Teixeira, they could start with a fastball inside. If Teixeira swings at the pitch and pulls it foul—a likely scenario given the absence of velocity—the pitcher could do several things to set Teixeira up. He can throw a harder fastball inside to let Teixeira think the pitcher can reach back a bit and increase their fastball’s velocity and make him say to himself, “I can’t wait as long as I thought I could.” Then when they have him believing he might have to be a tiny bit quicker, they can throw a changeup or breaking ball to use the quicker bat to their advantage. Or they could throw a changeup in an unhittable location—either way inside or way outside—to speed up his bat, make him think he has to wait, and then go harder inside.

It’s called pushing the strike zone forward and back, in and out and adhering to a plan; pitchers who know where the ball is going have a better opportunity to execute said plan than one who’s got terrific stuff but no clue as to its location.

Moyer was skillful at using a brushback pitch which, by all logical metrics, shouldn’t work with someone whose fastball was so slow a butterfly could land on it mid-flight.

But he did it with timing, skill and intelligence.

Chen has learned to pitch in a similar way with identical-type stuff as Moyer did.

Like a knuckleballer who lasts and lasts and lasts because of his quirky, gentle pitch of timing and technique, there’s always been a place for a junkballing lefty like Tommy John (who could actually pitch in addition to revolutionizing the game by coming back from an injury that was once a career-ender), Tom Glavine, Moyer and Chen.

Looking at Chen’s journeyman career, that he’s forever been an “is he still around?” guy and that the Royals just signed him to a 2-year, $9 million contract, the initial reaction is to say it’s a reach to bank on him continuing to trick hitters; but it’s not a reach to think he’s going to maintain his effectiveness as he’s installed in a starting rotation and left alone when dissecting how he’s succeeded.

They’ve made pitching into a craft that doesn’t require the stuff of legends to succeed at it.

As long as Chen is healthy and able to pitch, he’ll have a job—and now he knows it will be in one place for the next two years, which is a rarity in his 10 team/13 year sojourn.

But Moyer hopped all over the place too; in fact, he was told to retire by the Cubs and offered a minor league pitching coach job before they dumped him at age 29.

Moyer wanted to keep trying and eventually carved a niche for himself; by age 33 he’d become a durable and consistent workhorse who lasted (so far) into his late-40s.

Chen turned 34 in June.

Sometimes all it takes it hanging around, ignoring doubters and continuing to try.

It pays off for some.

If they’re smart.

And determined.

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Terry Ryan’s Back

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If there had been any doubt as to the new direction of the Minnesota Twins under new/old GM Terry Ryan, that was dispatched with his signings of under-the-radar, inexpensive and useful free agents Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit.

Under fired GM Bill Smith, the Twins signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a 3-year, $9.25 million deal to play shortstop not knowing how the Japanese import would react and transition to the North American game. He didn’t transition very well. In fact, he was awful in every single aspect of the game. He couldn’t field or hit. It was a terrible signing in theory and, predictably, in practice.

With Ryan in command, they’re paying less money to the long-underrated Carroll to a 2-year, $6.5 million contract and will know they’re getting an experienced and versatile veteran who can hit, field, get on base and steal a few bases.

Doumit was signed to a 1-year, $3 million deal. With Doumit, the only question about him is whether he can stay healthy. Has he overcome his concussion problems? Is his shoulder is in good enough shape to throw acceptably from behind the plate so teams won’t go crazy when he’s catching? Doumit’s a switch-hitter with some pop; he can play first base and the outfield in addition to catching and that’s precisely what the Twins—with the frequent injuries to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau—need. They couldn’t go into the 2012 season with Drew Butera or some similar no-hit journeyman functioning as Mauer’s backup. If Doumit can catch, that frees Mauer from having to catch 20-30 games while still keeping the star’s bat in the lineup. Doumit could be another player who blossoms when he’s released from the Pirates’ purgatory and is in a venue with more structure and positivity.

Now the Twins are on the lookout for a closer and you can bet Ryan’s not going to revisit the insipid Smith idea of trading Denard Span to the Nationals for Drew Storen.

Ryan doesn’t function that way.

He’s either going to bring back Matt Capps; look for a cheaper arm on the market that’s been a closer previously; or he’ll find a pitcher that another team might be willing to trade—Luke Gregerson, Bobby Parnell, Michael Stutes, Santiago Casilla—who could conceivably close if given the opportunity.

This is Ryan’s way and it’s better than the desperate staggering around in the dark the Twins have been doing since he retired.

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