Francesa’s Angel Is The Centerfold

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MattHarveypics

The ESPN Body Issue is a clever and creative response to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Rather than try and create a copy as other magazines have done, ESPN went one step further using athletes naked as an “ode to exceptional athletic form.” That it’s done to spur sales and create buzz goes without mention.

Mike Francesa sounded like he was about to burst into a teary rendition of Centerfold by the J. Geils Band when discussing Matt Harvey’s participation. It’s no secret that Francesa has developed a borderline disturbing man-crush on Harvey. One can only wonder whether Andy Pettitte feels like a member of the first wives’ club as Francesa is throwing him over for the younger, stronger Harvey.

Francesa couldn’t hide his disappointment in Harvey taking part in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue going so far as to say that Harvey’s demeanor had been Derek Jeter-like in not making any stupid and embarrassing mistakes in his young career. Harvey’s rise has been meteoric, but is this as much of a misstep as Francesa implies?

Much like it’s preferable for a young pitcher like Zack Wheeler to come to the big leagues and scuffle rather than dominate making the game look easy only to be jolted later on, it’s also preferable for Harvey to be the person he is rather than transform himself into the mythic idol that Jeter has become. For Jeter, his position as the ideal for so many has resulted in a level of expectation that no one could match. He’s almost been deified to the degree that when something, anything happens that could possibly tarnish that image, it evolves into a giant story where, if it were another player, it would either be shrugged off or ignored.

In short, the Jeter image has shunned any pretense of reality. When he first started in the majors, Jeter had the guidance from his parents as well as baseball people Don Zimmer, Joe Torre and Buck Showalter. It also helped Jeter that, as a rookie, he was surrounded by players like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from whom he could learn and ask questions of what precisely not to do. His supposed playboy lifestyle with one starlet after another is winked and nodded at because he’s Derek Jeter. That it’s more of a show than anything else is beside the point.

With Jeter there has never been a public paternity question; never been a DUI; never been a bar fight or incident captured on cellphone camera of Jeter acting the fool. He’s guarded and careful with that image. In some instances it has turned into ridiculous expectations such as when he feigned being hit by a pitch against the Rays and took first base even though he hadn’t been hit. Parents were wondering how they could explain to their children how Derek Jeter could be so cavalier about fair play. This isn’t a carefully camouflaged, Christianity-tinged commercial from The Foundation for a Better Life in which the high school basketball player admits he touched the ball before it went out of bounds as a show of sportsmanship and Jeter was under no obligation to say he wasn’t hit when the ump told him to go to first base. The idea that he was “supposed” to do that because it was the “right” thing is ludicrous.

The one play that helped launch Jeter occurred in the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles when his deep fly ball was ably assisted out of the park by young fan Jeffrey Maier. It would not have gone out of the park if not for Maier and the Yankees might not have won that ALCS. Who knows how history would have been altered had they not won that first championship in 1996? Would Jeter turn the homer down in the interest of “fair play”? Of course not.

Jeter’s legend has grown to the level where it’s gone from he won’t take a misstep to he can’t take a misstep. That’s not an easy way to live. Harvey has the supermodel girlfriend and appears to be enjoying his success. He did the ESPN shoot and doesn’t need to explain nor apologize for it. Perhaps it would’ve helped Jeter if he’d pulled a Charles Barkley at some point and gone into an “I am not a role model” rant. Harvey probably wasn’t thinking that the appearance in the ESPN photo shoot would take a hammer to this image that the likes of Francesa were thrusting upon him, but it will have that affect. In the long run it’s a good thing.

There’s no question that Jeter is a player to emulate. For young stars including Harvey, he’s someone whose lead to follow, but that doesn’t mean the self should be superseded toward that end especially to live up to the dreamy expectations of someone like Mike Francesa.

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What To Do With Ike Davis

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Mets first baseman Ike Davis is a guy who can hit 30 home runs; is a good defensive first baseman; is streaky; doesn’t hit lefties; tweaks his stance way too much; is a bit lackadaisical and comfortable in his position in the big leagues and takes his now annual slow starts with an attitude of “Oh, well. That’s just the way it is.”; is shielded by popularity in the clubhouse and media; and whines endlessly with the umpires to the point where he’s gotten a reputation as a relentless complainer.

Davis is getting more time in the Mets lineup because the other players and manager Terry Collins have lobbied to keep him there. If it were up to the front office last season, he would’ve been sent down a year ago almost to the day to get himself straightened out. Davis got more time, started hitting and hit 27 homers from June onward. The Mets seem to be losing patience with him again and again the talk centers around whether a trip to Triple A would do him some good.

There are benefits and negatives to all options the Mets have with Davis, and here they are:

Demote him

The Mets could easily shift Lucas Duda to first base—which is his natural position—and see if playing a more comfortable position for him defensively boosts his flagging batting average and give Davis a wakeup call by saying his position as a regular player since 2010 doesn’t give him the right to slump as David Wright would get. The last thing Davis needs is another voice in his head giving him hitting advice, but maybe the anger and embarrassment of a demotion will light a fire under him. The one thing the Mets can’t do is send him down for a week. If they do it, it has to be for at least 15-20 games and only bring him back based on merit and not clubhouse/fan/media demands.

Trade him

The Mets were rumored to be willing to listen on Davis after the 2011 season. Perhaps Sandy Alderson and his staff saw the holes in Davis’s game, realized what he was and wanted to get something substantial for him while his reputation as a top power prospect was still intact. For whatever reason—ownership involvement; factions in the front office debating whether they should pull the trigger; player support to keep him; fear; lack of a suitable offer for him—they kept him. Davis is only 26 and has time to fulfill his potential, but his ceiling as a Gold Glove winning future home run champion may not be as expectable as it once was. Once the ceiling is lowered and the performance is as odious as it’s been, his value is down as well.

What could the Mets get for him? I’m sure there are teams that think a friendlier home park and getting away from the word “Mets” not as a noun but as an adjective would greatly assist Davis, but they’re not surrendering a bounty of prospects to get him and simultaneously rehabilitate him. If the Mets do choose to trade Davis, they’ll either have to wait until he starts hitting and restart the circle that began in 2011 when they shied away from the instinct to move him or they’ll have to take another player who’s struggling. Would the Blue Jays consider Colby RasmusBrett Lawrie or Brandon Morrow in exchange for Davis? All are slumping just as badly as Davis is and are supremely talented. For teams like the Blue Jays and Mets, making a bold move becomes more palatable as the season enters its midpoint.

As of now, they’re not getting a sure thing for Davis, but they could get a change-of-scenery player that would help them.

Let him play and wait

Davis started hitting last June so there’s a precedent to say that he’ll start hitting again this June. A significant part of his struggles are in his head so perhaps the boost of confidence from what happened last year will wake him up. Davis may be tired of hearing that he might get demoted simply because he’s off to a slow start and has minor league options; he might think that he won’t figure anything out under Wally Backman in Las Vegas that he wouldn’t figure out under Collins in New York—and maybe he’s right—but that doesn’t mean the Mets have to just let him be a hole in the lineup and a distraction as to what they’re going to do with him on an annual basis. No matter what they do, they have to make it clear to Davis that this isn’t going to be accepted as if he’s an established star for whom the numbers will be there at the end of the season. There’s no guarantee that Davis will repeat last year’s hot second half any more than there’s a guarantee that he’s going to be a Met for the rest of his career, or the rest of the week for that matter.

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The Astros Blueprint Begins To Fade

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For the Astros, all of a sudden the blueprint isn’t as simple as plugging a bunch of numbers into the machine and achieving the desired result. With the resignation of CEO George Postolos there’s speculation that the Astros “united front” of rebuilding by detonating the entire organization isn’t as united as it was portrayed to be. There’s also talk that Nolan Ryan now has an opening with the Astros to be the team president since the Rangers have mitigated his CEO role and he was unhappy about it.

To put an end to the speculation on both ends, Postolos is not a baseball guy. He’s a business guy who assisted Astros owner Jim Crane in getting the franchise. Losing him is irrelevant.

Ryan has ties to the Astros fans from his days pitching for them, but think about it logically: He would be leaving the Rangers because his say-so was supposedly undermined by the promotion of GM Jon Daniels to head of baseball operations and Ryan is now seen as a figurehead, but going to the Astros and working for GM Jeff Luhnow and placating the fans who are angry at the team being so supernaturally terrible would be the epitome of a figurehead move. Luhnow certainly wouldn’t listen to Ryan’s old-school baseball theories and the stat people in the front office would roll their eyes at him when he was out of the room. It wouldn’t be a lateral move, but a step down into the “old man” status he so clearly loathes. In actuality, the one place aside from public relations in which Ryan could help the Astros is on the mound. Since he could throw 90-mph years after his retirement, there’s a pretty good chance that he could still throw in the 80s even at age 66 and would have the pitching savvy to do better than what the Astros are currently tossing out there.

Dismissing the departure of Postolos and the talk of hiring Ryan, the Astros are coming to the inevitable conclusion that the fans being onboard with this expansion-style rebuild was fleeting. They’re not going to pay to see a product that is so blatantly and intentionally not of Major League quality, nor are they going to sit happily while the owner scoffs at the fans wanting him to spend more money to at least make the team cosmetically better. It’s easy to draw up the plan for a teardown and reconstruction without accounting for the blowback from such a decision. There’s support for what Luhnow and Crane are doing and that support will not waver in places like the halls of Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law’s house, but that doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to do whatever they want with the fans merrily going along with it sans complaints. Ryan might quiet them briefly if he was hired, but how long would that last while his suggestions were being ignored and Crane was trotting him out as a human shield to protect him from fan and media vitriol? Fans don’t go to the park to see the team president do his presidenting. Most probably didn’t know who Postolos was and while they’d know Ryan, that wouldn’t perfume the stink that these Astros are generating.

The key for Crane is twofold: 1) can he stand the constant attacks he’ll be under as the team gets worse before it gets better? And 2) Can Luhnow find the talent to make the club viable again?

On the first front, Crane is probably not accustomed to people talking to or about him the way they currently are. Rich, successful businessmen aren’t pleased about criticism and when it’s an alpha-male Texan where any small concession is seen as a sign of weakness and can cost money and clients, it’s magnified.

Regarding Luhnow, because the Astros are going to have so many high draft picks and are pouring most of their resources into development, it will be hard not to get better and show signs of significant improvement eventually. Whether that will yield the results that are expected in a replication of the Rays or the new “genius” in the Moneyball sense remains to be seen and it’s not guaranteed to happen. Already there should be concerns that their hand-picked manager Bo Porter is starting to look overmatched and was rightfully mocked because he didn’t know a fundamental rule of the game last week against the Angels. To make matters worse, his coaches didn’t point out to him that what he was doing was illegal either. That he got away with it only made it look worse.

There are similarities between another Texas team that was purchased by a brash rich man who didn’t want to hear what didn’t work in the past as Jerry Jones bought the floundering Cowboys from Bum Bright in 1989. Jones said some stupid things as Crane has, but he also had the foresight and guts to fire Tom Landry and hire Jimmy Johnson to put him in charge of the entire on-field operation. Of course it helped that Troy Aikman was sitting there as the first pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and that Johnson was a ruthless wizard with moving up and down the NFL draftboard and dispatching those who couldn’t or wouldn’t help him achieve his goals as rapidly as possible. But the key for those Cowboys was the Herschel Walker trade in which Johnson fleeced the Vikings for a bounty of draft picks that he used to put a Super Bowl team together in four years.

Jeff Luhnow is not Jimmy Johnson in terms of personality nor intensity, can’t trade up and down the MLB draftboard, and he doesn’t have a Herschel Walker equivalent on his roster to trade. Porter is not Johnson in terms of on-field strategic skill and in threatening and pushing his coaches and players to get it done or else.

Unless there’s some past business animosity between the two, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones has called Crane as Al Davis used to call Jones during the Cowboys’ 1-15 season in Jones/Johnson’s first season running the team and told him to keep his chin up. By “chin up” I don’t mean Jones is suggesting to Crane to have the ill-advised, multiple plastic surgeries Jones has had as he’s aged, but to keep his chin up in response to the raking he’s getting for the atrociousness of his team. Not only does Crane need to keep his chin up, but it had better be able to take a punch as well because they’re starting in earnest now and won’t stop until there’s a marked improvement in the on-field product. And that’s a long way away.

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Billy Beane As Doctor Doom

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billybeanegeniusdoompic

It’s amazing how Billy Beane’s “genius” fluctuates based the Athletics’ record. While the A’s were consistently losing despite his best efforts at being a “genius” from 2007 through half of 2012, there weren’t many lusty articles, stories, poems or manuals written as to his management style. His followers were lying in wait for the opportunity to restart their version of the Crusades and they got it with the unlikely, almost inexplicable comeback from 13 games out of first place on June 30 to win the AL West.

With the combination of the early 2012 release of the movie version of Moneyball and the A’s comeback, he’d reacquired the title of “smarter than the average bear” or whatever other adjectives his supporters and those who benefit from the perception of “genius” want to use. Of course there was no connection between Moneyball and how the 2012 A’s were built, but that doesn’t matter when appealing to the casual baseball fan—some of whom decided, “Hey, I went to Harvard. Even though I never watched or played baseball, it’ll be a fun thing to do!!”—and actually managed to get jobs in the game as the new era of “experts” who came late to the revolution.

The 2013 A’s are under .500 after losing to the Mariners yesterday and without their 6-0 record against the historically dreadful Astros (Bo Porter does know the rules regarding wins and losses, right?) and 5-1 record against the staggering Angels, they’re 8-19 against the rest of baseball. Will the “genius” mysteriously return if and when the A’s start winning again?

Beane, a fan of English Premier League soccer/football, said in an NBC Sports piece with fellow stat-savvy writer Joe Posnanski that he’d like baseball to adopt a system similar to the one used in the Premier League in which the team with the best record gets the title. It’s a idiotic idea for baseball based on the fantasy of accruing that ever-elusive championship that he’s yet to achieve in spite of the best efforts of his biographers, mythmakers, and “check your brain at the door” worshippers, but why not? Truth was twisted at Billy’s and Michael Lewis’s combined mighty hands, maybe they can alter the fabric of what’s made baseball what it is today and eliminate the post-season entirely to suit the flesh and blood Billy and the fictional “Billy.”

When he uses the term “gauntlet of randomness” he sounds like Doctor Doom who, in Marvel Comics, is a power-hungry megalomaniac who speaks as if he’s narrating his own life because he is narrating his own life and referring to himself in the third person said, “Every utterance of Doom must be preserved for posterity.”

Maybe it’s because the public version of Beane is a fictional character whose exploits are neither realistic nor real. Those who took Moneyball and transformed it into the stat geek’s New Testament treat is as a basis upon which to live their baseball lives and consider any who protest to be infidels to the new order. Except it’s just a story.

The comic book character analogy is appropriate because Beane uses whatever the situation currently is to determine how he’ll present himself. The A’s were losing, so he became the everyman who was just trying to make his way in the world. They started winning again with a supernatural timing to coincide with the movie being released on DVD and he’s able to turn water into wine, stone into bread, and Brandon Moss into Jason Giambi. There seems to be the impression that Beane was sitting in his darkened office late at night in May of 2012 with his fingers tented and an evil laugh slowly building from his diaphragm on up and in a Dracula voice saying, “Mwaahahhaaa!!! De vorld iz ah-sleep. Ven dey leest expect it, I vill unleash de terrrifyink weh-pohn ov….Brrrrandon Mossss!!! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

Except the longtime journeyman Moss was in the minor leagues for the first two months of the season while the A’s messed around with Kila Ka’aihue and Daric Barton at first base. If Moss was such a known contributor, why was Beane hiding him while the team was floundering? No answer is given because the answer doesn’t suit the narrative, so the question is ignored but for the results: Moss has played great as an Athletic, therefore Beane is a genius for “discovering” him.

The 2013 A’s are struggling because as a team they’re not hitting home runs with the frequency they did in 2012 in large part because Josh Reddick—32 last season, has one this season and is now hurt. The 2013 A’s are struggling because the starting pitching was very good last season and hasn’t been good this season. You want math? Here’s the math: 12th in home runs and 12th in ERA=one game under .500 in 2013; 6th in home runs and 2nd in ERA=a division title and the GM being called a “genius” in 2012.

The A’s may have a similar second half hot streak as they did in 2012 (and 2002 and 2003 for that matter), but there’s no connection between that and any mystical foresight on the part of the GM. They had a lot of high draft picks, traded for other clubs’ high draft picks, found players who fit certain roles, and they got lucky. If they make a movie about that however, expect it to be more of the same Lewis Moneyball nonsense with the only thing salvaging it is to put Beane in a Doctor Doom costume and having the Fantastic Four put an end to its production before the world is engulfed by the terrifying wrath of the dramatization that people who know nothing about baseball or reality think is all too real.

Thingclobberintime

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Umpiring Won’t Change For A Generation

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The two-game suspension of umpire Fielden Culbreth for his inexplicable mistake in the Angels-Astros game is fine. While it’s not much of a deterrent for an umpire to make a gaffe since Culbreth didn’t do it intentionally, it’s a symbol to the fans and the media that MLB is “doing something.”

That umpiring error along with Angel Hernandez’s failure to overrule a missed home run call off the bat of Adam Rosales of the A’s after he saw the replay has again dragged umpiring into the spotlight. Amid the demands for a command central to handle home runs as they do with goals in the NHL and more strict overseeing of the jobs the umps are doing, the fact is that the umpiring culture will not change to a by-the-book methodology for another generation.

Umpiring is ingrained and comes from the ground up. They’re taught by former umps; there’s a brotherhood, a clique, and a learned strategy for “handling” players; and they aren’t entreated to follow the rulebook to the letter, therefore they don’t. Until that changes and an MLB-crafted guideline is created to train and recruit the umpires, there won’t be a monolithic difference in the way the games are called.

We’ve come a long way from Doug Harvey being the only umpire to enforce niggling rules like only one batter being allowed to hover in the on-deck circle at a time; from Harry Wendelstedt enforcing a rarely-if-ever referenced rule that Dick Dietz being hit by a Don Drysdale pitch that would’ve ended Drysdale’s scoreless inning streak was nullified because Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way; from Ed Runge testing young batters with a gigantic strike zone, staring at them to see how they reacted, and telling stars like Mickey Mantle that he’d better straighten out mouthy rookies who dared question him. Now all the games are on television, the umpires are known by face and name, commentary abounds on what “must” be done and how to “fix” the umpiring without some blogger realizing: A) how fast the game is; and B) that the umpires, for the most part, do a very good job, treat the players and the game with respect and are respected in turn.

The problem is that the blown calls are prominently featured as news stories and the demand that umpiring be improved trumps the fact that the majority of games move along without a hitch. When the Hernandez and Culbreth mistakes—as separate and different as they were—happen as rat-a-tat as they did, it exponentially raises the scrutiny on the umps and, by proxy, on MLB’s VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and MLB itself.

Because players are so much more lucratively paid than the umpires it almost takes the tone of a cop stopping a guy in a Porsche for running a stop sign and being subjected to a browbeating as to how much higher the driver’s net worth is than the police officer’s. There’s no justification for the increasing incidences of umpire abuse or for the likes of Curt Schilling to have smashed the QuestTec device because it was altering “his” strike zone. But this is the culture that was built and it’s going to take a long time for it to change.

It starts from the training schools and minor leagues with the conscious decision to shun the oft-heard umpire lament of “my” strike zone; and “my” way of calling a game; and “my” style. You don’t see officials in the NFL making up their own version of the rules as the game goes along because the NFL is harder on their officials and the rules are the rules—there’s no self-aggrandizing interpretation. As the veteran umpires retire and are replaced by younger ones, the structure will change if the younger umps are trained correctly and taught that they have to enforce the rulebook as is and not put their own artistic flair into something that is supposed to be sacrosanct. It won’t be until 20 or 30 years from now that the seeds planted now will have sprouted. Until then this will continue and not much, if anything, can be done about it.

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Bo Porter’s Secret History

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Bo Porter makes up a new rule, a precedent for that rule and gets away with it.

You have to admire it.

Last night, in the top of the seventh inning with the Astros leading the reeling Angels 5-3 and going for a series sweep, Astros manager Porter called lefty specialist Wesley Wright in to replace righty Paul Clemens. When Angels manager Mike Scioscia countered with righty bat Luis Jimenez hitting for J.B Shuck, Porter decided to yank Wright before Wright threw a pitch. That’s not allowed but for some reason, the umpires allowed it. Scioscia went bonkers and when the umps still let Porter to make the move, Scioscia sent Scott Cousins up to hit. Nothing came of the inning on the field as the Angels didn’t score. The Angels came back to win the game and the win might’ve come as a direct result of the spark they got from this series of maneuvers and mistakes.

There are multiple levels of “what?!?” “where?!?” and “why?!?” in this story.

What?!? Porter didn’t know the rule that a pitcher had to pitch to at least one hitter when called into the game?

What?!? He saw Davey Johnson do the same thing last season?

Where?!? In a dream he had?

And most importantly, why?!? Why, why, why would you look at a team and a dugout that was as dreary, sleepy and resigned to their 2013 fate as the Angels and do anything that could possibly wake them up? Scioscia’s fiery reaction to the umpiring decision looked like it gave his team a boost. Of course the Astros are so terrible that without the call and the protest, there’s a chance that the Angels would’ve come back to win anyway, but if that one moment galvanizes the Angels to save their season, the rest of baseball can blame Porter and his ignorance of the rules and clinging to the numbers that he had to play lefty-righty-lefty and poke the sleeping bear.

What the Astros have Porter doing is managing scared because he has orders coming from the stat heavy front office that he has to adhere to or else. This creates a manager who’s paranoid and sticks to the script of lefty/righty, matchups and percentages to the detriment of any feel for the game itself. Porter, who was a longtime player and coach, has very little managerial experience (107 games in the minors) and when he took the job was not in a position to exert his theories or his will on anyone. With the Astros, as is their right, they wanted a manager who would be willing to follow orders and accept that that particular job is a joint entity in conjunction with the front office and he’s there to implement what the front office wants. It’s the MoneyballArt Howe story except in this case, it’s real. In Moneyball it was Michael Lewis searching for an old-school “villain” to exemplify how the “genius” Billy Beane was altering every part of the game from top to bottom and found one by attacking the liked and respected baseball man Howe with a sadistic and absurd caricature.

An experienced manager would have known the rules and would have looked across the field at an Angels squad that was staring at 11-23 with an expensive and star-studded roster, ready to pack their bags and go to Chicago for what might’ve been the last road trip for Scioscia as Angels manager, and just let it be hoping that the Angels bad luck would’ve extended to Wright retiring Jimenez. Oh, and Jimenez is 1 for 9 against lefties this season so the numbers didn’t even fit to yank Wright.

The umpires letting him do it doesn’t absolve Porter for trying to do it in the first place. Who knows? Wright might’ve gotten Jimenez to pop up or struck him out. It was overmanaging and “look how smart I am guys” gazing toward the front office by acquiescing to edicts as if he’s a prisoner to his new job and wants to make sure and please his bosses by doing what he’s told.

The umpiring decision was bad and it was a mistake, but what Porter did was worse because it indicated an institutionalized tone that he’s no longer a baseball man on the field. He’s a functionary and doing what the stat people want him to do. Running a team that way is not all that hard. In fact, it’s not managing at all.

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Los Angeles Angels: 2013 Book Excerpt

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The Los Angels Angels have gotten off to a horrific start. Their season, so far, has only been salvaged from an ever worse status by winning two of three against the woeful Astros. They were lucky to win those. What follows is an excerpt of my recently published book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide regarding one of the biggest problems the Angels have: a lack of continuity between manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto.

I’m not going to say that everything in the book is as eerily accurate as this, but at the very least, it’s not a computer generated spitting out of numbers masking its creator with a façade of false expertise; nor is it randomness based on regurgitated stuff I heard elsewhere and pushed on the reader with an underlying and poorly hidden agenda. To be brutally honest, most of the stuff you see from bloggers, self-proclaimed “experts,” and the mainstream media is trash because they don’t know anything and are desperately trying to hide that fact through degrees, supposed credentials, obnoxious pomposity, and formulas that perhaps five people in the world truly understand.

My book has predictions, projections, fantasy picks and breakout candidates based on logic, reason and assessment. There are also players vital statistics and contract status for every key member of the organization. The full season predicted standings can be found here.

What follows is the assessments section on the Angels GM and manager and the pre-season prediction that was written well before the start of the season.

Jerry Dipoto—General Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2014 with club options for 2015 and 2016

When Dipoto took the job, it’s doubtful that he had it in mind that he would: A) be a checkbook GM; and B) would be usurping the longtime manager and most powerful voice in the organization as to the construction of the roster, Mike Scioscia.

Dipoto paid his dues as a baseball executive working in the front offices for the Red Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks before serving as the interim GM in 2010 when Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes was fired and then moved back into an assistant role when Kevin Towers was hired as the permanent replacement. It was Dipoto’s trades of Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson at mid-season that played a large role in the Diamondbacks’ 2011 division title. Towers got the credit for the meal, but Dipoto brought in some of the ingredients and set the table.

The Angels were a disappointment in 2012 and it’s hard to know how much blame has to go to the GM. Did he want to sign Albert Pujols to that contract? Did he want to put a team that was so diametrically opposed to what the Angels have been and was ill-suited to the strategies and desires of the manager? Did he want the manager to begin with?

With everything the Angels have done since firing Tony Reagins as GM, there’s been a sense of collecting names that can’t be criticized from the outside, but don’t work as a cohesive unit when put into practice. The Angels never pursued the Pujols-type of player. In years past, they targeted what they wanted and made a quick strike to get them. There was a positive atmosphere and it was widely known that Scioscia was in command, the players were treated well, everything was kept in-house, and they won.

That’s gone. Pujols’s acquisition changed the template and it fits neither Dipoto or Scioscia. They’re still working together not as two men on the same page but as if Moreno told them that they’re two smart baseball men and they need to work it out.

Those things rarely get worked out.

This past winter it continued. Did Dipoto want to sign Josh Hamilton to a 5-year, $125 million contract, take him out of his comfort zone in Texas and put him in California with the requisite pressure and underlying dysfunction that hasn’t been repaired?

There’s a legitimate question as to who’s in charge with the Angels. In the days of Bill Stoneman as GM and Scioscia as manager, they worked hand-in-hand and all were on the same page. Now it appears as if the stat savvy Dipoto, who was brought up as an executive in situations where money was either secondary or tight, has become the type of GM who is a figurehead and spending money because the owner is telling him to spend money. His other acquisitions—Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson—are not slam dunks; nor are they the types of pitchers the Angels have historically pursued.

Is Dipoto in charge? Is this the kind of team he envisioned putting together when he got his opportunity to be a GM? It doesn’t look like it.

Mike Scioscia—Manager

Contract status: Signed through 2018

Scioscia, in the waning days of the 2012 season, had a look on his face like he wanted to be fired. It’s not easy for a man who was in such unwavering command to have his authority stripped from him and parceled to a GM he doesn’t know and thinks differently as to the most effective way to manage a game. That power also shifted to the owner who once treated Scioscia with pure trust and is now having a significant say in the construction of the club not based on what the manager wants and thinks he can win with, but what has sparked a showbiz atmosphere and a TV contract trumping winning.

These are not things that interested the pitching/bullpen/speed/defense/inside game-preferring manager.

Scioscia was unhappy when his longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired. The blame for that fell to Pujols. As respected a teammate Pujols is said to be and as much as former Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa worships him, I have to wonder how much of LaRussa’s crediting Pujols for his leadership abilities was a placating of the player and the golden rule (whoever has the gold makes the rules). It behooves  the manager of a megastar player to get that player on his side, but that was never a part of Scioscia’s job description. His old-school sensibilities went back to the days before guaranteed long-term contracts and players having the ability to dictate who the coaches are. In Scioscia’s world it’s, “I’m the manager. That’s why.” And Pujols is a player who can resist that style of dictatorship.

The 2012 team was not a Scioscia-style team. They still played good defense, stole bases and bunted, but the tenor was different. The all-for-one dynamic was gone and this is the risk taken when buying mercenaries who don’t fit in to what the manager wants to do.

Scioscia is signed through 2018, but his time with the Angels is coming to a close. It would be better for all parties to split and move on. Dipoto would be free to bring in a manager he prefers (if he’s allowed to), and Scioscia can get another job elsewhere in a situation that more fits his style.

PREDICTION

This season has disaster written all over it. The Angels have abandoned the dignified template they adhered to for so long and chose to take the tack of purchasing mercenaries thinking that the ends—a huge TV contract; the extra Wild Card; buzz—would justify the means. They’ve lost the plot and shunned the reason why the Angels were a consideration for every free agent not because they paid the most or because they won. That was, in part, important, but the Angels organization was respected because the problems were kept in-house and there was uncommon stability in the front office and field staff.

That’s gone.

The second they signed Pujols, that ended. Pujols is not a prototypical troublemaking diva, but if he’s unhappy, he has a way of letting everyone know it. The first salvo against Scioscia to indicate who was really running things now was the hiring of Dipoto. Pujols’s displeasure with Hatcher and the hitting coach’s firing was the second. As the 2012 season moved along, there was speculation that Scioscia would be out as manager because he wanted out and Dipoto wanted him out. It didn’t happen and it was another mistake in a litany of them. The two don’t believe the same things when it comes to strategy and the manager who liked to push the envelope offensively with speed and inside baseball now has no choice but to sit back and wait for the home run. The manager who wanted pitchers who gutted their way through games and gave innings and high pitch counts regardless of what a few bad innings did to their ERAs has been compromised with the injury-prone and pending free agents. The bullpen is not good.

This is not a Scioscia team, but he’s still managing it because they wouldn’t fire him and he didn’t resign.

That problem will be rectified—for him anyway—when he’s fired by May. He’ll take some time off, relax and wait for another job opening. Perhaps he’ll write a book about what went wrong. Pujols will lobby for Tony LaRussa and perhaps his former manager, bored in retirement, will be willing to come back on a short-term deal to save the day. But this team is not good enough for LaRussa to save the day even if he does choose to jump in, take Moreno’s money over the objections of the GM and try to steer the ship in the right direction. LaRussa is the same kind of manager as Sciosica only he’ll have the benefit of the tag, “Pujols Approved” on the inside of his jersey.

Hamilton was a mistake. The pitching is shaky from top-to-bottom. They’re overpaid and don’t appear to like each other very much.

These are not the Angels of a decade ago and this will go down as the latest example of collecting stars and expecting them to join together in harmony just because they’re stars.

It won’t work.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

2013 Book Cover 3

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Enough About The Red Sox Chemistry

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, European Football, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Soccer, Stats, Umpires

There is a place for chemistry in baseball and I’m not talking about PEDs. The Red Sox have been lauded for their improved clubhouse atmosphere coinciding with more likable people in the room such as Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, and manager John Farrell. It’s undoubtedly a more pleasant place without the rampant dysfunction and selfishness that culminated in a 69-93 last place disaster in 2012.

To put the team in context, however, they scarcely could’ve been worse in terms of cohesiveness and being on the same page than they were in 2012. The preponderance of the blame is placed on the desk of former manager Bobby Valentine because he’s a convenient scapegoat and is gone. But there’s more than enough responsibility to go around from owner John Henry with his increasing detachment from the Red Sox day-to-day affairs to focus on building the Fenway sports brand, much to the chagrin of the Liverpool football club’s faithful; CEO Larry Lucchino who spearheaded the Valentine hiring over the objections of the baseball people; and GM Ben Cherington who made the ill-fated decision to trade Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey among other questionable moves and whose head is now in the noose with the expensive signings of Victorino, Ryan Dempster and the trade for Joel Hanrahan along with the highly dubious decision to trade for Farrell to manage the team, ostensibly because they knew him and he was there when the team was at the height of its powers.

Amid all the chemistry talk and references—specifically from former manager Terry Francona in his book—that the 2011 club didn’t care about one another, all they needed to do was win one more game over the month of September that year and they still would’ve made the playoffs. You can’t blame a bad mix of players for the horrific final month of the season when they were widely regarded as the best team in baseball from May through August. They had two terrible months and they both happened to be in the first and last months of the season. If the players disliking one another wasn’t a problem in the summer, how did it turn into the biggest issue that led to their downfall?

Chemistry is not to be disregarded, but the media constantly harping on the dynamic of the personalities strikes as hunting for a narrative. If they play well, the new players and better communication will be seen as the “why” whether it’s accurate or not. Because the media no longer has to deal with Josh Beckett and his Neanderthal-like grunting and glaring; Adrian Gonzalez with his deer-in-the-headlights reaction to all things Boston; Carl Crawford and his “get me outta here” body language; and Valentine with his Valentineisms, their life is much easier and they don’t have to dread going to work. But so what? This isn’t about the media and the fans having players with a high wattage smile and charm; it’s not about having a manager who looks like he should be a manager, therefore is a manager even though his in-game strategies are widely regarded as terrible. It’s about performing and last night was an ominous sign for the third closer they’ve tried, Hanrahan, since Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave without so much as a whimper of protest and an unmistakable air of good riddance.

Closers blow games. It happens. Truth be told, the pitch that was called ball four on Nate McLouth could very easily (and probably should’ve) been called a strike, but big game closers have to overcome that and last night Hanrahan responded to not getting the call by throwing a wild pitch to let the Orioles tie the game, and then served up a meatball to Manny Machado to torch the thing completely.

Hanrahan is better than Bailey and Alfredo Aceves, but he’s never been in a situation like that of Boston where he’s expected to be a linchpin to the club’s success. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season. This isn’t a rebuilding Nationals team or the Pirates. There’s a lot of pressure on him. The starting rotation is woefully short and the aforementioned personnel and management issues haven’t gone away simply because of their attempts to weed out the problem people who are perceived to have led to the crumbling of the infrastructure. They may have been patched the personality gap to the satisfaction of the media at large, but the players also have to be able to play and play in Boston. Whether they can or not has yet to be determined in spite of the feeling of sunshine permeating the reconfigured room.

Chemistry only goes as far. If they don’t find some starting pitching and have a closer that can finish a game, this discussion on how much more positive the Red Sox are will be all they have to talk about in July because they certainly won’t be discussing preparations for a playoff run.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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2013 MLB Post-Season Predictions

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

You can see my 2013 MLB predicted standings in full here. Below are the division winners and wild card entrants.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL EAST: Rays

AL CENTRAL: Tigers

AL WEST: Rangers

AL WILD CARD: Blue Jays

AL WILD CARD: Mariners

AL WILD CARD GAME: Mariners over Blue Jays

ALDS 1: Tigers over Mariners

ALDS 2: Rays over Rangers

ALCS: Rays over Tigers

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL EAST: Nationals

NL CENTRAL: Reds

NL WEST: Diamondbacks

NL WILD CARD: Braves

NL WILD CARD: Giants

NL WILD CARD GAME: Giants over Braves

NLDS 1: Giants over Nationals

NLDS 2: Reds over Diamondbacks

NLCS: Reds over Giants

WORLD SERIES: REDS OVER RAYS

In depth information packed in over 400 pages on all 30 teams with players’ height, weight, where they were drafted, age, contract status and how they were acquired is immediately available in my new book. In addition there is analysis of front offices, managers, starting rotations, bullpens, lineups, benches, fantasy picks, breakout candidates, trade candidates, predictions and essays on such diverse subjects as the Astros’ teardown and why it’s bad for baseball; Jeffrey Loria; the Yankees’ $189 million payroll; the pending free agency of Robinson Cano; Torii Hunter’s comments about the possibility of a gay teammate; Tim Lincecum, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and anything else you can think of is available in my new book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon, BN, Lulu, Smashwords and more outlets coming soon.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide Now Available

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hockey, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

My book is available on Smashwords with other outlets coming soon.

Check it out.

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