Billy Beane And The Ka’aihue Caper

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Which do you want?

Do you want the Moneyball (the farcical book and ridiculous movie) version of Billy Beane where he’s a ruthless Gordon Gekko-like corporate titan who treats the players as chess pieces and moves them regardless of feelings or personalities according to what’s best for the team and winning?

Do you want a hard-edged and intelligent architect who also has the empathy and understanding that is similar (again in the farcical book and ridiculous movie) to Beane’s relationship with his young daughter? A man who triumphed in the face of adversity and and achieved a success in the baseball front office he couldn’t achieve on the field while simultaneously slaying his own demons from that failed playing career?

Make a choice.

The stories about Beane are nonsense. He’s not a genius. He’s not an idiot. He’s not overrated or underrated. He is what he is and what that is is a mediocre GM who found a way to win for a brief time by using statistics and techniques that had yet to become widespread in use or understanding.

As other clubs have taken the successful aspects of stat-based techniques, paid for on base percentage and found other ways to win without spending the money of the Yankees and Red Sox, Beane’s clubs have fallen back to what they were in the mid-late-1990s before Beane stumbled onto his “secret” by luck, necessity or both.

Now the A’s are a haphazard mix of young and old; of players from the past and players for the future; of has beens and never weres; of players who he found and players who he overpaid for. It shows on the fields as, after a surprisingly quick start, they’ve staggered to where most observers thought they’d be at 26-32 and promising to get much worse as the season moves along.

But there won’t be a Major League-style, Barbra Streisand “There’s A Place For Us”, island of misfit toys victory for this group. They’re going to lose 90+ games by the time the season is over and again Beane and his bosses will be pleading MLB for a new ballpark; the freedom to move to San Jose; or some lifeline to save baseball in Oakland.

There is no happy ending here.

But that doesn’t mean that Beane is the epitome of evil or a beacon for the unsung upstarts in the administration of his club.

There’s a large controversy as to the treatment of first baseman Kila Ka’aihue because the A’s designated him for assignment yesterday while he and his wife are awaiting the birth of twins. You can read the story here on Fox and read about the reaction of his teammates at the “injustice” in this slanted, twisted and intentionally inflammatory piece on Yahoo.

Is it injustice? Did the A’s do anything wrong?

Ostensibly Ka’aihue was dumped because Brandon Moss is in Triple A, had an out in his contract if he wasn’t in the big leagues by next week and they were going to need his bat for the upcoming games.

Let’s look at the perceptions of this decision in comparison to reality.

The A’s dumped a player with no concern about him personally or his family.

The implication is that because they designated Ka’aihue for assignment that they left him hanging with twins on the way, no job and no means to pay for their care.

Of course it’s nonsense. Ka’aihue is still technically a member of the Athletics organization. The designating for assignment is to create space for Moss by removing Ka’aihue from the 40-man roster. A team might claim him, he might clear waivers or the A’s can release him. I doubt any team is claiming him, so that leaves a release or going to Triple A. If he’s released someone will pick him up.

But Ka’aihue continuing his playing career is irrelevant in the context of what would happen if the CBA allowed his medical coverage to be gone once the decision was made to remove him from the 40-man roster.

Here’s news: he’s still covered and will still be paid based on his big league contract. He won’t have to leave Oakland for 10 days and if his babies are on the way any day now, I’m sure the A’s—if they’re going to send him to Triple A—will let him stay in Oakland until everything is settled.

The A’s gave Ka’aihue a chance to play that the Royals never did.

On an annual basis in the minors, Ka’aihue put up absurd on base numbers with power. But the Royals never gave him a legit shot to play. The closest they came was in 2011 when he started the season as the regular first baseman, received a month and was sent to the minors when he didn’t hit.

The A’s let him play in 39 of their 58 games and the left-handed batting Ka’aihue was consistently in the lineup when there was a righty pitching against the A’s. He got a chance and hit just as poorly as he did in his brief opportunities for the Royals. He, his teammates and the stat-loving people who worshipped his minor league numbers cannot say he didn’t get a chance. A 28-year-old minor league veteran who posted a .234/.295/.398 slash line with 4 homers and below average defense at first base can’t complain about being dumped after 139 plate appearances.

What else could the A’s have done?

They’re not going anywhere this season so I suppose they could’ve kept him on the roster until the Moss deadline of June 15th and/or waited until Ka’aihue’s kids were born. They could’ve given him more time to see if he started hitting. Or they could’ve done what they did. It’s not as if Moss is a youngster who’s killing Triple A and waiting for a chance to play and Ka’aihue was blocking his path. Moss is a 28-year-old journeyman as well and, as mentioned before, the Athletics’ season is going nowhere.

But this isn’t the monstrous treatment of a player with no leverage it’s being portrayed to be. The A’s needed a roster spot and Ka’aihue was the prime candidate at the position from which they needed to cut some dead weight. His A’s teammates can complain about it but if they look at it objectively, there’s no arguing with the decision because the player wasn’t playing well and this isn’t a charity. The A’s don’t owe him any more than what he’s gotten and will continue to get based on the basic agreement.

He’s still getting his benefits. His family is covered.

So what’s the problem other than the stoking a visceral reaction by twisting facts and tugging on people’s emotions and suggesting that Beane is kicking a pregnant woman out on the street to fend for herself as she’s about to deliver twins or that Beane is hiding behind his assistant David Forst?

There is none.

If you’d like to pick on Beane, there are plenty of other reasons—milking the Moneyball farce; using his “genius” as a shield to do what he wants while wrecking his team; contradicting exactly what he was supposed to be but never was—but the Ka’aihue caper isn’t a reason to attack him. Ka’aihue didn’t hit and he’s getting dumped. It’s as simple as that.

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What Jeremy Lin Can Teach Us

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Everyone’s jumping on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon.

Hey, even I’m doing it and I don’t know anything about basketball and can’t watch the games because of the ongoing dispute between Time Warner and MSG.

If I could, I wouldn’t know what I was watching and wouldn’t claim to.

But there are two pieces in today’s NY Times that are discussing Lin’s rise from obscurity, journeyman status, the Ivy League, bad scouting and possibly a bit of stereotyping because he’s of Asian-American descent (by way of Northern California). He’s not a prototypical basketball player who’s easy to explain with buzzwords. Those buzzwords are phrased in such a way that few are willing to dispute them because they’re so encompassing and easy to use as adjectives whether they’re meaningful or not.

In one piece, Lin’s failure to attract attention as a high school and college player is discussed—link.

In the other, Nate Silver dissects Lin statistically—link.

The mistakes that were made with Lin are common and happen not just in sports but in all endeavors.

The words “can’t” and “never been done before” are limiting and hinder those with the ability to accomplish their goals. They’re exacerbated if the individual is saddled with an absence of self-confidence or determination to keep moving forward in the face of such negativity. Because Lin continued to try and wasn’t looking for the validation of others to let him think he had a chance to succeed, he hung around and when he received his opportunity, ran with it while holding and passing and shooting a basketball—very well by the looks of things.

In baseball this happens all the time as well.

How many times have we seen a player who wasn’t considered a prospect because of ingrained beliefs that were more of a safety net than legitimate analysis?

People want to keep their jobs and a major part of that for a conventional organization is playing it safe and having an explanation for why they do what they do.

“He had a 100-mph fastball.”

“He’s a 6’3”, 190 pound righty with a clean motion and great upside.”

“He’s a tools guy.”

They’re excuses.

One of the reasons Moneyball struck such a nerve wasn’t that it seemed to work for awhile, but because the players who would’ve been shunned in the past were given an opportunity out of the A’s desperation to find players who could help them at an affordable price. What went wrong was when the concept spun out of control to mean, as a baseline, that rather than looking for players who could play, everyone was supposed to find fat players who took a lot of pitches and drew walks at the expense of other attributes.

The infamous, “not trying to sell jeans” catchphrase became part of the lexicon to explain why a player was taken and it took on the same context of the opposite “reasons” (excuses) listed above.

Old school and new school became interchangeable in stupidity, self-aggrandizement and tribalism.

Suddenly, everyone who could calculate a player’s on base percentage or strikeout rate in the minors was qualified to advise Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre on how to run their teams.

And they did.

And it didn’t go well.

It’s happened repeatedly in baseball that a player like Tim Lincecum was passed over because of his uniqueness of motion, training and diminutive stature, but became a star because there was one team—the Giants—willing to adhere to the rules laid out by Lincecum’s father and judged him by his results rather than that he’s a “freak”.

Lesser known players have benefited from this phenomenon.

Mike Jacobs isn’t a great player, but he was a non-prospect for the Mets and wound up with a decent career because he was called up as an emergency catcher in 1995, batted as a pinch hitter on a Sunday game in which the Mets were losing, hit a home run and had to have Pedro Martinez stand up for him for the Mets to keep him around rather than send him back to the minors. The Mets put him in the lineup at first base and he kept hitting home runs.

Jacobs went from a 38th round pick and “organizational filler” to a big leaguer that was the centerpiece in the Mets acquisition of Carlos Delgado from the Marlins after the 2005 season.

Jacobs hit 100 homers in his big league career and is still hanging around as an extra player who’s been in the big leagues, can hit the ball out of the park once in a while and be a competent bench player who can catch in an emergency. (He’s going to camp with the Diamondbacks on a minor league contract.)

Martinez himself had been misjudged by then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and the team doctors as too small and fragile to be a durable and consistent long-term starting pitcher. He was a reliever as a rookie and was traded for Delino DeShields following the 1993 season.

DeShields happened to be a good player, but he was traded for one of the best pitchers in history and that’s not his fault.

The lack of comprehension surrounding Moneyball and its subsequent offshoots isn’t that people didn’t “get” what Michael Lewis was trying to highlight, but that they took it as the new way of running a club at the expense of old-school scouting techniques and gut instincts that have to be part of the game.

Because they had a bunch of players who would be keys to a “Rocky”-style story with “There’s a Place for Us” by Barbra Streisand playing in the background as the group of misfits—one with a clubfoot (Jim Mecir); one throwing slow underarm junk (Chad Bradford); a former star on his way out (David Justice); and a former catcher who couldn’t throw and never had a chance to play (Scott Hatteberg); along with the fat players they drafted—celebrated a championship and shoved it into the faces of the big kids who never let them play.

They never won a championship, but that’s secondary to the perception and salesmanship.

Lin is getting attention now; there are going to be Lin jerseys popping up all over the place and he’s the toast of New York as an inspiration to those who are waiting for their chance and won’t quit.

He’s also going to have a lot of people who bypassed him contacting him to apologize, admit they were wrong, asking for things or hoping for Lin to say, “it’s okay, you’re not an idiot”.

But what if they are idiots? What if they are so dogmatic and invested in safety-first drafting/signing that they ignored what was right in front of their faces and are under siege because of that?

Is there a stat for scouts and executives screwing up and missing on players that could actually play, but weren’t allowed to for one reason or another?

If not, there should be one because there are Jeremy Lins everywhere waiting for someone in power to take a chance on them. There are opportunities to come up big if a team is smart or lucky or both. It all depends on who’s smart enough, gutsy enough or desperate enough to give those players that chance.

It’s random, but it counts all the same.

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