Once the Mike Matheny veneer was gone, so was Matheny

MLB, Uncategorized

Matheny

As much as the St. Louis Cardinals will deny it and say there was not any one single incident that sparked their sudden urgency to make a change at manager, the tipping point to finally pull the trigger and fire manager Mike Matheny was the revelation that relief pitcher Bud Norris was using various tactics to “teach” rookie reliever Jordan Hicks how to behave like a major leaguer and did so with the tacit and chuckling approval of the manager. The issue was discussed here.

That, combined with the club hovering around .500 and rapidly hurtling toward irrelevance, made it the obvious decision.

Inevitably, the question regarding Matheny’s dismissal will be, “Why?” This answer is more nuanced than saying the team was not living up to expectations or that he lost control of the clubhouse. The reality of Matheny’s dismissal is not the “why” in the conventional sense. If on-field struggles and strategic gaffes were the barometer of Matheny keeping or losing his job, then he would have been fired after 2016 or 2017. Instead, he was given a three-year contract extension after the 2016 season on top of the contract he was already working under, so he’s signed through 2020 making it even more surprising that an owner such as Bill DeWitt agreed to the change. DeWitt is not “cheap” in the literal sense, but he is frugal. If they make the obvious move and hire Joe Girardi as the replacement, Girardi will want a contract commensurate with his resume and that means he’s not taking an entry-level deal. Presumably, DeWitt is aware of this and accepts it for the greater good.

Regarding Matheny, much like players are increasingly assessed by their combination of skills, so too does that apply to managers and front office personnel. It’s no surprise that given the star-like nature of today’s front offices with the entire organizational solar system revolving around it, few managers are blamed for what happens on the field and fired, especially during the season. Matheny is the second manager who has been dismissed during the 2018 season. The Cardinals will be lucky to get the same results the Cincinnati Reds have gotten by replacing Bryan Price with Jim Riggleman.

The root cause of team’s inconsistency and mediocrity is difficult to pinpoint and discern. Looking at their roster and they should not be playing .500 ball. But that was also the case in 2017. On the other side of the coin, should Matheny not be credited for the positive work he did in the first four seasons of his managerial career when he made the playoffs in each and won a pennant in 2013?

The implication that Matheny was completely inept is misplaced. He was hired to fill a role and he did it. He had substantial success during his tenure. Replacing a legend in Tony La Russa and stewarding a team that was transitioning from one rife with veterans and big money players to one that is built more on younger players, sabermetric principles and opportunism along with the ever-present “Cardinals way” was not as seamless as it appeared. History is littered with managers and coaches who took over for a legend, ran a team that was expected to win and failed. So, he was not a failure, nor was he a mistaken hire. Based on results, it’s difficult to envision anyone having done better than Matheny did.

However, as the on-field results declined and the smoldering controversy with how he oversaw and even encouraged Norris’s behavior grew into a blaze, the team continued to play poorly. If the team was not playing well and his status as having superior skills at corralling the diverse personalities in a clubhouse and navigating the difficult terrain of the media were decaying, what was the benefit of retaining him?

Once that veneer was gone, so was Matheny.

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Rethinking the GM, Part III—American League West

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Click on these links to read part I and part II.

Texas Rangers

Jon Daniels is a popular and well-respected GM today but that wasn’t the case when he took over for John Hart in October of 2005 and one of the first big trades he made sent Adrian Gonzalez and pitcher Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. That will go down as one of the worst trades in the history of the sport.

If he was able to rebound from that and craft the Rangers into an annual contender with a reasonable payroll and deep farm system while dealing with the alpha-male presence of Nolan Ryan and navigating his way through the financial woes of former owner Tom Hicks, then he’s got something on the ball.

Daniels got the GM job very young at 28 and clearly wasn’t ready for it, but grew into the job and is not a stat guy or scouting guy, but uses every outlet at his disposal and is also able to do the dirty work mentioned earlier to consolidate his power.

Oakland Athletics

Just ignore Moneyball for a moment when thinking about Billy Beane. Look at his body of work without the accolades, best-selling book and ridiculous move to accompany the star status Beane’s cultivated and persona Beane has created and look at his work objectively. Is he a good GM who worked his way up through the ranks from scouting to assistant GM to GM to part owner? Yes. Would he be as lusted after without that ridiculous bit of creative non-fiction known as Moneyball? No.

It can be argued that Moneyball has done an exponential amount of damage in comparison to the good it did in introducing the world at large to statistics that they would not otherwise have realized existed. Due to Moneyball, everyone thinks they can study a spreadsheet, calculate some numbers and suddenly run a big league baseball team. One of the under-reported aspects of Moneyball is that Beane played in the Major Leagues with a nondescript career as a journeyman when he was talented enough to be a superstar. It’s part of the narrative that made the Beane story so fascinating, but now that he’s become this totem many of his worshippers probably aren’t even aware that he played at all.

Beane had a perfect storm when he took over as GM. There had been a brief Sports Illustrated profile of him and his transition for player to scout and he was known in MLB circles as an up-and-comer, but the Athletics were so bad and so consistently bad for several years due to financial constraints that Beane was able to implement the strategies of statistics into his player procurement. It worked because no one else was doing it or paying big money for players who didn’t just get on base, but had undervalued attributes.

Beane’s “genius” has been a media creation. He’s been smart, he’s been lucky and he’s also been unlucky. He’s crafted the image of the brilliantly cold corporate titan when it’s not true. He’s a former player who entered the front office, took advantage of the opportunities presented to him and has been successful. A large part of that is due to the circular nature of Moneyball giving him the freedom and leeway to make bad trades and have half-a-decade of futility in which he blamed everyone but the man in the mirror and still kept his job.

Los Angeles Angels

Jerry Dipoto has two issues that are tarnishing his reputation as a GM. One, people don’t remember that it was Dipoto, functioning as the interim GM of the Diamondbacks after Josh Byrnes was fired in 2010, who made two trades that have paid significant dividends to the current Diamondbacks by acquiring Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs for Dan Haren and getting Daniel Hudson for Edwin Jackson. Two, he’s overseeing an Angels team that has played better recently but is still in rampant disarray with overpaid, underperforming players; a manager who has had his own power within the organization mitigated by the hiring of Dipoto; and is trying to rebuild the farm system in his own way with scouts he knows and a new school sensibility while the owner wants a championship now and the manager has a contract to 2018. It’s highly doubtful that Dipoto wanted to commit so much money and so many years to the likes of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Dipoto was a journeyman relief pitcher who scouted and worked in many front offices with varying philosophies before getting the Angels job and is a qualified baseball man. It’s difficult to know what he’s wanted to do with the Angels and what’s been forced upon him. If the situation really comes apart, he might be cleared out with the rest of the Angels hierarchy and have to wait to get another opportunity due to the damage done to his reputation with what’s happening with the Angels.

Seattle Mariners

The ice is cracking under the feet of Jack Zduriencik and if he is eventually dismissed he will be a cautionary tale that no one will listen to when anointing the next “genius” by giving credit for that which he had nothing to do with. After the fact, if you ask Zduriencik what his biggest regret is, it’s likely to be that the Mariners had such a luck-filled rise from 101 losses the year before he arrived to 85 wins in his first year on the job. It accelerated the process spurring the trade for Cliff Lee and drastically raised the expectations.

Unsurprisingly the expectations were not met; much of Zduriencik’s subsequent moves have gone wrong and if he is indeed fired, the next GM will likely benefit from the farm system seeds Zduriencik planted. That brings me to the next point: there are GMs who are better-served as assistants, farm directors, scouts, and other lower-level positions in an organization. It may not be as flashy, but is no less important and for all the talk of “GM prospects,” it must be examined whether or not the person will be able to do all aspects of the job as an overseer rather than as an underling.

Houston Astros

Jeff Luhnow is not only getting a pass for the horrific Astros club he’s put together—that is on a level with an expansion team—but for the Cardinals fertile farm system that is continually producing players. The draft is a communal effort and not one person deserves or should receive all of the credit in the same manner that a GM shouldn’t get the blame if drafts go poorly. Luhnow didn’t work his way up in baseball and was a private businessman when Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt hired him. This infuriated the old-school people in the Cardinals organization namely Walt Jocketty, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan and created factions between the stat people and the scouting people that eventually resulted in Jocketty’s firing. Luhnow also lost the power struggle to LaRussa in the months prior to leaving the Cardinals to take over the Astros. If nothing else, it was the experience in trying to transition into a baseball front office that has shaped Luhnow’s building of his Astros staff and construction of the roster from the top down as he’s got people who are going to do things in the stat-based way and are told before they’re hired how it’s going to be or they’re not going to get the job.

Of course the portrayal of Luhnow as the newest/latest “genius” and musings as to when (not if) he’ll be the subject of the new Moneyball are absurd. In four years he could be in the same position as Zduriencik or he could be Andrew Friedman. Know this: Astros owner Jim Crane is not going to accept failure and if the Luhnow project doesn’t work all the trust and belief that Crane has put into the Luhnow experiment will be quickly forgotten if the team doesn’t show concrete results on the field.

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Bo Porter: Future Managerial Pope?

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Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said that not only might his rookie manager Bo Porter be running the club on the field for an extended period, but he might be the manager for “decades.”

Considering the shelf-life of most managers, it’s a silly and strange thing to say and as Luhnow moves along in the public eye as a GM, he’ll realize that these hyperbolic pronouncements designed to show support can: A) wind up biting him in the future; and B) create headlines when none are necessary.

Porter’s managerial survival is contingent on his mandate and the managerial mandate for every manager shifts depending on the circumstances. Given their roster, the Astros can’t possibly put forth the pretense of trying to win in 2013 or even 2014 and probably 2015. With that in mind, Porter is there to develop; to teach fundamentals on and off the field (i.e. how to behave like a Major League player); and to learn on the job himself.

While Porter sounds impressive in this interview from Fangraphs, it also takes the tone of someone knowing what will be required to get a managerial job and tailoring his outlook to sound palatable to the people—like Luhnow—who are doing the hiring. He has very little managerial experience (72 games seven years ago in the low minor leagues for the Marlins) and while the details of his contract with the Astros have not been disclosed other than the negligible phrase “multi-year contract,” judging by what other managers who were in their first jobs have received and that the Astros are operating on a cheap-as-humanly-possible dynamic, it would be a shock if his salary is much higher than $500,000.

It’s a positive that as a minor league player Porter practiced what he’s preaching with a high on-base percentage, power and speed. Unfortunately for him, he was born about 5-7 years too early to take advantage of the new reliance placed on what it was he did well and only had brief trials in the big leagues from 1999-2001 with 142 nondescript plate appearances. He was at the tail end of his career and 30-years-old, playing out the string when the wave of teams looking for players exactly like Porter—cheap, available and who got on base—when those stats came to prominence.

Luhnow suggesting Porter as a possible Astros manager until 2030 (2040? 2050? Perhaps he can visit Biogenesis and last in to the next century!) is going to arouse eyebrow raises and eyerolls, questions and ridicule. Much of the criticism will come opportunistically from those who don’t like or don’t understand what Luhnow is trying to do. It’s the nature of the job. In fairness to Luhnow, his own experience as a private businessman and in his nascent years as a baseball executive clearly contributed to his desire to have a manager he knew would work cheaply for the opportunity; would be agreeable to the stat-based theories and middle-manager implementation; and would know his place without rattling his cage too much.

When Luhnow joined the Cardinals, he was hired by the owner of the team Bill DeWitt on the heels of the Moneyball frenzy and walked into a situation where there were old-school baseball men Walt Jocketty as the Cardinals GM and Tony LaRussa as the manager who felt simultaneously threatened and offended by the entrance of “some guy the owner knew” who had reams of stats, theories and numbers with zero baseball experience as a player, scout or anything else. Compounding the dysfunction was the stripping of some of Jocketty’s powers to accommodate this new separate department that was ostensibly working for the owner and operating independently from what the baseball people who’d been running the place for nearly a decade were doing. Jocketty’s eventual departure only made matters worse. LaRussa, contentious, powerful and unafraid to use his status as an unfireable institution did everything he could to take charge of the direction of the organization and won the battle of attrition.

Given that experience, when he was hired as a GM, Luhnow was not going to put himself into a subordinate position to his manager and other underlings who might interfere with his blueprint. That’s why it was a farce when the Astros interviewed Larry Bowa. Bowa, with his resume and old-school crustiness was going to be as impossible to deal with as LaRussa without the Hall of Fame bona fides.

None of the individuals in these various circumstances are wrong. I’m not interested in factions, I’m interested in facts. LaRussa and Jocketty were right; Luhnow was right; Bowa is right; and Porter is right. These determinations are not mutually exclusive.

It’s highly unlikely that Porter will be difficult if one of the stat guys in the front office tells him to bench Brett Wallace in favor of Matt Dominguez or vice versa. That’s what Luhnow and his ilk want: someone who can manage the team on the field with player street cred while also doing what he’s told by the front office. Whether Porter’s tenure is counted in decades or days depends on how he performs in the job and his job description in this new era exemplified by Luhnow requires him doing what he’s told. He’s the right man in the moment. That’s the key: finding someone who is the proper fit for what the organization as a whole is trying to build. By that criteria, Porter is what the Astros wanted and needed. For now. That may not be so in 2020. Then whoever is in charge will find someone else. That’s baseball as a game and as a business. Luhnow, Porter and the Astros will learn that soon enough.

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The Astros Experiment In Baseball Engineering

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When the Astros offered Tim Bogar a job to be their new bench coach, Bogar turned it down because the deal included a clause that he couldn’t interview for managerial jobs elsewhere. When discussing this somewhat odd demand, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said he didn’t comment on “human resource issues”.

Never before have I heard the words “human resources” referenced in a baseball context, especially by the GM.

This exemplifies the different tack the Astros are taking in rebuilding their club from what amounts to a moribund and barren expansion team. It’s an experiment in baseball engineering that continues from the hiring of Luhnow to the naming of a Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein as their pro scouting coordinator, to the unique title they anointed on Sig Mejdal as “Director of Decision Sciences”. Yesterday, they continued the trend of loading their front office with the highly educated when they hired Harvard graduate David Stearns as assistant GM. Whether or not it works will be known only in retrospect, but it strikes me as a reinvention of the wheel. Because Luhnow is so immersed in data crunching, is beloved by stat people for his supposed success in building the Cardinals minor league system into the pipeline for talent, and is running such a horrific and mostly talentless organization, he’s receive carte blanche from owner Jim Crane to do what he wants.

The credit for the Cardinals is a shaky premise at best. Luhnow’s entry into baseball was rocky and stemmed from Bill DeWitt’s desire to recreate the club in the Moneyball image. The insertion of a total outsider who’d come from the corporate world was not taken well by the old-school baseball men in the Cardinals organization and eventually sowed the seeds for Walt Jocketty’s firing and Tony LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting in which the future Hall of Fame manager won the power struggle. It’s easily glossed over that Luhnow was stripped of his power after the 2010 season. I wrote of Luhnow’s drafts in this posting immediately after he got the Astros job. The truth about anyone’s drafts is that there are so many factors that go into a player’s development that blaming Luhnow for Colby Rasmus or crediting him for Allen Craig is a partisan attempt on the part of the analyst depending on his beliefs. Supporters will say that Rasmus is a talent who was mishandled by LaRussa, critics will say that Rasmus is badly overrated. The credit/blame game can go on forever. But now Luhnow’s in charge of the Astros and he’s implementing what he believes. It’s admirable, but admiration doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed.

Does Goldstein have the qualifications to do the job for which he was hired? Is there a joint appraisal process in effect and if the scouts disagree with what the numbers say, who breaks the tie and how does he do it? Goldstein comes from Baseball Prospectus which, like the Ivy League, has become a mill for baseball front offices and in the media. BP has a tendency (if you read the back of their annuals) to relentlessly promote what they got right. “Look, we nailed this, that and the other thing” is a selling point without mentioning what they got wrong as if it was a matter of circumstance and if the players, managers, or front office people had done what they were expected to do, the numbers would’ve played out as correct. It’s a wonderful world to live in in which there’s no possibility of being defined wrong due to a constant shifting of the goalposts after the fact to make oneself right.

I’ve had people credit me for being right about the Red Sox pending disaster (I had them at 81-81; no one could’ve predicted 69-93) with Bobby Valentine and am quick to point out that I also picked the 98-loss Colorado Rockies to the win the NL West. To me, it gives more credibility to embrace the negative and understand why it happened and learn from it to be more accurate the next time.

There is no “way” to build a team nor to make accurate projections in a sport. Nate Silver has had his reputation launched into the stratosphere because of his brilliant and right-on-the-money work with predicting the Presidential election on Fivethirtyeight.com. Inexplicably, that has morphed into a validation of his PECOTA baseball system of predictions, but it’s comparing the Earth to Neptune. There’s no connection. Baseball is not politics and in spite of the different algorithms used to come to the results, it’s easier to calculate a voting bloc than it is to determine how Bryce Harper or Mike Trout are going to function as big leaguers; how the Red Sox players would react to Valentine.

Keeping on the political theme, what we’ve seen recently is baseball’s extreme left wing and extreme right wing grapple for a proximate cause as to why the Giants have won two of the past three World Series. Questions and assertions are popping up as to whether Giants GM Brian Sabean’s old-school sensibility and management style signaled the “end” of Moneyball or if Moneyball is still the “way”. Both premises are ridiculous. Assuming that the Giants’ championships discredit Moneyball is presuming that Moneyball was a solidly researched and accurate foundation to begin with instead of a fictionalized and twisted story that was crafted by a skillful and self-indulgent mythmaker, Michael Lewis.

Moneyball was never an actual “thing,” therefore it’s not something that had to be proven wrong because it wasn’t right in the first place.

On the other side, this piece on HardballTalk discusses a stat guy in the Giants’ front office named Yeshayah Goldfarb. The posting lavishes praise on Goldfarb and doubles as an apparent repudiation of anyone who dare question the value of Moneyball and numbers. It’s written that Goldfarb influenced the Giants acquiring and keeping the likes of Javier Lopez and Juan Uribe for the 2010 club.

Lopez? They needed a stat guy to suggest they trade for a sidearming lefty? They got Lopez from the Pirates who was only a Pirate because, in 2009, he was horrendous for another stat based club with the Red Sox and allowed to leave as a free agent where no team other than the Pirates made him a decent offer.

But the stat guy knew!!

Um…no.

The truth is it had nothing to do with numbers. It had to do with Lopez being a breathing left-handed pitcher. Nothing more. If Tony Fossas at 55(?) years old chose to make a comeback, there would be a team to have a look at him because he’s lefty. Period. And Uribe? Really? So the Giants had a brilliant group of numbers people who advised them to keep Uribe in 2010 and he became a post-season hero, but the non-stat based Dodgers signed Uribe after that season, he’s been a disaster, and Ned Colletti’s an idiot? Goldfarb also gets credit for Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey, yet no one other than a Jewish weekly knew who he was. Amazing. Is that how it works?

No. It’s not how it works in any manner other than looking back at what occurred and finding “reasons” to bolster one’s position. The “Yeah, we’re in!!!” aspect of Moneyball still lives as the front offices are infested with people who didn’t play baseball, but have calculations and college degrees to get them in and become the new age hires. But much like Moneyball and the Giants, there’s a clutching at credit for floating principles that can’t be quantified. If the Astros are in the playoffs in 2-3 years, there will be an explanation for it, but the bickering factions will use their own methodology to determine what it is—both might be right, both might be wrong and neither side will admit it.

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Managers Traded For Players

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To the best of my research, managers have been traded six times in baseball history. It wasn’t always player for manager and the criticism the Red Sox are receiving for trading infielder Mike Aviles for righty pitcher David Carpenter and the rights to speak to John Farrell is stereotypical and silly. With it only having happened six times, it’s not a large enough sample size to say it’s not going to work. Also, history has proven that if a manager doesn’t work out in other spots, he might in another. Casey Stengel had one winning season (and that was only 2 games over .500) in nine years as a manager with the Braves and Dodgers before going down to the minor leagues between 1944 and 1948 where he had success he’d never had in the big leagues. The Yankees hired him in 1949 and he won 7 championships and 10 pennants in 12 years.

Here are the manager trades.

Jimmy Dykes for Joe Gordon—August 3, 1960

The genesis of this trade was originally a joke between Tigers’ GM Bill DeWitt and Indians’ GM Frank Lane, but as their teams faded they basically said, “Why not?”

Gordon was managing the Indians and Dykes the Tigers when they were traded for one another. Dykes was 63 when the trade was made and had never finished higher than third place while managing the White Sox, Athletics, Orioles, Reds, and Tigers. At the time of the trade, the Tigers record was 44-52 and they were in sixth place in the American League. Gordon’s Indians were 49-46 and in fourth place.

Interestingly, Dykes was the second Philadelphia Athletics manager in their history after Connie Mack was running things from 1901-1950.

Gordon has been popping up as a background performer in other dramas recently. As the debate regarding the American League MVP between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout reached a critical mass in the waning days of the regular season, Cabrera’s Triple Crown was a point of contention as it was stacked up against Trout’s higher WAR, superior defense, and perceived overall larger contribution. The Hall of Famer Gordon won the MVP in 1942 while playing for the Yankees over Ted Williams even though Williams won the Triple Crown. You can read about that and other MVP/Triple Crown controversies here.

Gordon had a contract to manage the Tigers for 1961, but asked for his release and it was granted so he could take over the Kansas City A’s where his former GM with the Indians, Lane, was the new GM under the A’s new owner Charlie Finley.

Do you need a family tree yet?

Gordon had a contract with the A’s through 1962, but was fired with the team at 26-33. He was replaced by Hank Bauer. This was long before anyone knew who or what Finley was. Gordon was only 46 at the time of his firing by the A’s, but only managed again in 1969 with the expansion Kansas City Royals. (Finley had moved the A’s to Oakland in 1968.) Gordon’s 1969 Royals went 69-93 and he stepped down after the season. On that 1969 Royals team was a hotheaded 25-year-old who won Rookie of the Year and was, as a manager, traded for a player—Lou Piniella.

Now you do need a family tree.

Dykes managed the Indians in 1961. They finished in fifth place with a 78-83 record and that was his last season, at age 64, as a big league manager.

Gil Hodges for Bill Denehy and $100,000

The Mets traded the right handed pitcher Denehy to the Senators for the rights to their manager Hodges. Hodges was a New York legend from his days with the Dodgers and, despite his poor record with the Senators (321-444), they had improved incrementally under his watch. The most important quality Hodges had was that the players were afraid of him and he didn’t take a load of crap. That they had a bushel of young pitching including Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan helped as well. That not taking crap facet might help Farrell with the Red Sox if they have the talent to contend—and right now, they don’t.

Chuck Tanner for Manny Sanguillen, November 5, 1976

Here was Charlie Finley again, still owner of the A’s, but with three World Series wins in his pocket and free agency and housecleaning trades decimating his team of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and in the future Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, and others. Finley wasn’t kind to his managers, but he won anyway. When the Yankees tried to hire Dick Williams while Williams was under contract after having resigned from the A’s after the 1973 World Series win, Finley demanded the Yankees top prospects Otto Velez and Scott McGregor. The Yankees hired Bill Virdon instead and then Billy Martin. George Steinbrenner always used his friendly relationship with Williams as a weapon to torment Martin.

I find fascinating the way perceptions cloud reality. Finley was thought to be ruthless and borderline cruel with the way he treated his managers, but he was also a brilliant and innovative marketer who’s rarely gotten the credit for being the shrewd judge of baseball talent he was. On the other hand, an executive like Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils hockey club has made (by my count) 19 coaching changes in his 25 years with the team. Several of the changes have been recycle jobs of bringing back men he’d fired or who’d stepped down; twice he changed coaches right before the playoffs started and replaced them with…Lou Lamoriello. Because he’s won three Stanley Cups and lost in the Finals two other times, he’s gotten away with it.

The Tanner trade came about because the Pirates needed someone to take over for longtime Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh and Tanner had a reputation for being relentlessly positive, well-liked, and solid strategically. He was also said to be strong as an ox so if a player did mess with him, it was a mistake.

Tanner was an inspired hire because that Pirates’ team had strong clubhouse personalities Willie Stargell and Dave Parker and the last thing they needed was for a new manager to come storming in and throwing things. Tanner and the Pirates won the World Series in 1979. The team came apart under Tanner’s watch, but they got old and had little talent to speak of until the end of his tenure in 1985. He was replaced by Jim Leyland.

Sanguillen still threw well from behind the plate at age 33 and spent one season with the A’s, playing serviceably, before being dealt back to the Pirates prior to the 1978 season.

Lou Piniella and Antonio Perez for Randy Winn—October 28, 2002

Like the David Carpenter for Aviles trade by the Red Sox (or the Chris Carpenter for the rights for Theo Epstein—what is it with players named Carpenter and the Red Sox?), the players were secondary to the rights to speak to and hire the still-under-contract managers. Piniella had resigned as the Mariners’ manager after ten successful years and want to go to the Mets who had just fired Bobby Valentine. This is more family tree fodder since Valentine was the consolation hire the Red Sox made a year ago after failing to acquiesce to the Blue Jays’ demands to speak to Farrell. It didn’t work out.

The Mets were in disarray, GM Steve Phillips absolutely did not want Piniella for the same reasons Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman didn’t want Piniella when it was rumored he was going to replace Joe Torre after 2006—he would be uncontrollable.

It was said by the likes of Peter Gammons that the Piniella to the Mets deal would eventually get done. Of course it was nonsense. The Mariners were annoyed at Piniella and weren’t going to reward him with going to his location of choice unless they were heavily compensated. They asked the Mets for Jose Reyes knowing the Mets would say no. The Mets hired Art Howe instead.

Piniella had nowhere to go aside from the Devil Rays and, while in retrospect, he should’ve sat out a year and waited for his contract to expire, he wanted to manage and the opportunity to be close to his home appealed to him regardless of the state of the Devil Rays. Promises were made that the team would spend money and Piniella—unlike Farrell—had the cachet to squawk publicly about it when the promise was reneged upon. Owner Vince Naimoli hoped the fans would come out to see a manager manage in spite of the players and, of course, they didn’t. For Piniella’s rights and journeyman infielder Antonio Perez, they traded their best player at the time, Winn. Winn had a solid big league career and the Devil Rays would’ve been better off trading him for players rather than a manager, but judging by how the team was run at the time, they wouldn’t have accrued much more value from the players they would’ve gotten than they did from Piniella. Maybe they sold a few extra seats because Piniella was there, so what’s the difference?

Piniella spent three years there losing over 90 games in each before leaving. He took over the Cubs in 2007.

Ozzie Guillen and Ricardo Andres for Jhan Marinez and Osvaldo Martinez

The Marlins had their eye on Guillen going back years. He was a coach on their 2003 World Series winning team and had won a title of his own with the White Sox in 2005. Looking to bring a Spanish-speaking, “name” manager to buttress their winter 2011-2012 spending spree and fill their beautiful new ballpark, Guillen was still under contract with the White Sox. But the White Sox had had enough of Guillen’s antics and wanted him gone. The Marlins traded Martinez and Marinez to the White Sox to get Guillen and signed him to a 4-year contract.

The Marlins were a top-to-bottom disaster due in no small part to Guillen immediately drawing the ire of a large portion of the Marlins’ hoped-for fanbase by proclaiming his love for Fidel Castro. Guillen was suspended as manager by the club. That can’t be blamed for the Marlins’ atrocious season. They played brilliantly in May after the incident, but incrementally came apart amid infighting and poor performance.

It’s been rumored that Guillen might be fired, but if the Marlins were going to do it, they would’ve done it already. Trading Heath Bell—one of Guillen’s main agitators in the clubhouse—is a signal that Guillen will at least get a chance to start the 2013 season with a different cast of players. Since it’s Guillen, he’s absolutely going to say something stupid sooner rather than later and force owner Jeffrey Loria to fire him.

Free from Guillen’s lunacy and with a new, laid-back manager Robin Ventura, the White Sox overachieved and were in contention for the AL Central title before a late-season swoon did them in.

I discussed the Farrell deal yesterday here. He’s who the Red Sox wanted, he’s who the Red Sox got. Surrendering Aviles isn’t insignificant, but everyone in Boston appears to be on the same page when it comes to the manager.

Whether it works or not will have no connection to the past deals of this kind and if a team wants a particular person to manage their team, it’s their right to make a trade to get it done. Criticizing the Red Sox on anyone else for the hire itself is fine, but for the steps they took to do it? No. Because Farrell is the man they wanted and now he’s the man they got. For better or worse.

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Triple Crown Winners and the MVP

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The reason the Triple Crown is getting such attention is that it’s so unknown to most everyone because it hasn’t happened since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski won it leading the Red Sox to their “Impossible Dream” pennant. But now, with Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera on the verge of winning the Triple Crown in the American League, there’s an increasingly contentious debate as to whether leading the home runs, RBI, and batting average will justify Cabrera taking the Most Valuable Player over Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout.

Trout has the accumulation of numbers including great defense and stolen bases to go along with power for a 10.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Cabrera’s WAR has been reduced significantly because he’s a poor defensive third baseman. Discounting defense, Trout is still ahead by .9 wins per game over Cabrera when calculating offensive WAR.

So how is it going to be decided? Will it be based on the player with the big power numbers? The one with the higher WAR and better all-around game? Will the word “value” be taken literally and used out of convenience by the voter to achieve his ends of picking Cabrera or Trout and use a floating, elusive, and adaptive principle to counter disagreement? Will there be the “clutch” stats factored into the equation? Difficulty of opponent? Will it go macro by dissecting when they did their damage and against whom and a myriad of other reasons to do what one would prefer to do? A motivated supporter of either Trout or Cabrera can find a reason to do it. It’s not hard.

I wrote about Trout vs Cabrera recently here, but what’s interesting is examining how players who had previously won the Triple Crown were treated by the MVP voters. Let’s take a look at the Triple Crown winners, some of whom didn’t win the MVP.

(The MVP was called the “league award” before it became the MVP in 1931.)

1925: Triple Crown Winner—Rogers Hornsby, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Hornsby won the Triple Crown with 39 homers, 143 RBI, and a .403 BA. He had a 10.1 WAR and won the National League MVP. He also led the league in every major offensive category. His Cardinals team finished at 77-76.

Pirates’ right fielder Kiki Cuyler came in second in the voting and it was far closer than it should’ve been with Hornsby getting 91% of the votes and Cuyler 76%. Cuyler stole 41 bases, had 26 triples, and led the majors with 144 runs scored. Obviously the Pirates winning the pennant with a 95-58 record and pennant helped Cuyler’s case with many of the voters.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Jimmie Foxx, 1B, Philadelphia Athletics; won the MVP

Foxx had 48 homers, 163 RBI, and batted .356. He also led the league in slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. He had a WAR of 9.0. Foxx won the award relatively easily with 91%. Next was Lou Gehrig at 69%. The only player who warranted consideration based on the way his team finished was third place finisher, left fielder Heinie Manush of the pennant winning Washington Senators, and his numbers weren’t MVP-quality. He led the league in hits and triples.

The Senators didn’t have one significant star who “made” their 99-53 record. They finished 19 ½ games ahead of the A’s, but Foxx won the MVP anyway.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Chuck Klein, RF, Philadelphia Phillies; did not win the MVP

Klein played for the Phillies who finished in last place in the National League with a record of 60-92. Klein led the league in every significant offensive category and had a 7.3 WAR. Klein had won the MVP in the National League in 1932, but finished in second place to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell (there was no Cy Young Award then). The Giants won the National League pennant that season, Hubbell went 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA and an 8.5 WAR. Hubbell deserved the award.

1934: Triple Crown Winner—Lou Gehrig, 1B, New York Yankees; did not win the MVP

The Yankees finished second to the Tigers by seven games in the American League. Gehrig led the AL in everything from homers, to RBI, to batting average, to on-base, slugging, and total bases. He had a 10.1 WAR. But Tigers’ catcher Mickey Cochrane won the MVP based on the Tigers winning the pennant. There could be no other reason. The voting was close…but it was close between Cochrane and his teammate Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer should’ve won it over Cochrane. Gehrig came in a ludicrous fifth. You could try to make the argument of Gehringer over Gehrig. You’d be wrong, but given Gehringer playing second base well and Gehrig playing first base poorly, along with the Tigers winning the pennant, you could make the argument.

1937: Triple Crown Winner—Joe Medwick, LF, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Looking at Medwick’s numbers, he reminds me of Don Mattingly. He was a hacker who never walked, but never struck out either. In addition to the Triple Crown numbers, he led the National League in hits, runs, doubles, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. His WAR was 8.1.

The Cardinals finished in fourth place in the National League far behind the pennant-winning Giants. Gabby Hartnett came in second in the MVP voting, but Medwick deserved it and won it.

1942: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

Williams led the AL in every offensive category by a lot. The Red Sox finished in second place in the AL behind the Yankees. Yankees’ second baseman Joe Gordon won the MVP. Williams’s WAR was 10.2 and Gordon’s was 7.8. The voting was close with Gordon accumulating 270 points to Williams’s 249. Of course Williams should’ve won. It’s doubtful anyone was paying attention to his shaky, uninterested defense back then, but the voters certainly knew that Williams had no use for the writers and perhaps that affected the voting more than Gordon’s Yankees winning the pennant with a far better team.

1947: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

The Red Sox finished in third place, 14 games behind the pennant winning Yankees, but the absurdity of this MVP voting was stark. Joe DiMaggio won it with mediocre (for him) numbers of 20 homers and a .315/.391/.522 split. His WAR was 4.5.

Williams led the American League in every major offensive category and was again playing for a far inferior team. DiMaggio won the award by 1 point when he should have come in third behind Williams and Lou Boudreau.

1956: Triple Crown Winner—Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees; won the MVP

The Yankees won the pennant by 9 games, Mantle led the American League in every major offensive category; he won the award unanimously and deserved it.

1966: Triple Crown Winner—Frank Robinson, RF, Baltimore Orioles; won the MVP

The Orioles won the pennant that year and Robinson won the AL MVP unanimously and deserved it. The interesting part of the Robinson’s 1966 season was how he’d been traded by the Reds the year before because Reds’ owner Bill DeWitt called the 30-year-old Robinson “an old 30.”

Challenging someone as cantankerous as Robinson—even now at age 77—is not a good idea. In truth, this trade in which Robinson was dealt for pitchers Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson might’ve been something the self-proclaimed experts who think they can study a stat sheet and know the ins-and-outs of baseball would pull and, in theory, it wasn’t a horrible idea.

Pappas has had his name sullied because he was traded for Robinson, but he was a very good pitcher who won 209 big league games. Simpson was 21 and had a big year in Triple A for the Angels in 1965 with 24 homers and 29 stolen bases, a .301 BA and .380 OBP (he was traded to the Orioles a week before they traded him to the Reds). Baldschun had been a useful reliever for the Phillies in the preceding years.

The pride of a man like Robinson was ignored and the trade and comments about why they made it set Robinson off on a mission to prove DeWitt wrong. And he did.

1967: Triple Crown Winner—Carl Yastrzemski, LF, Boston Red Sox; won the MVP

The only thing preventing Yastrzemski from winning the AL MVP unanimously was someone, somewhere who decided to vote for Cesar Tovar. Tovar had led the league in games, plate appearances, and at-bats. He batted .267 with a .325 OBP, 6 homers and 19 stolen bases. He was average defensively. Tovar was apparently voted for the MVP because of his attendance record.

Yastrzemski led the Red Sox to the World Series. The race went down to the wire with the White Sox, Twins, Tigers, and Red Sox all fighting until the end. Yastrzemski hit 9 homers in Sept./Oct. and had a .417/.504/.760 split in that last month-plus when it counted most.

For the most part, the rightful MVP has tended to win. There are mitigating circumstances when humans who rely on various biases and criteria are making the decisions. Some will be starstruck from the Triple Crown because it’s something many probably haven’t seen before. Others will lodge a “protest” vote against the stat people who are rolling their eyes and trying to bully the objectors of Trout’s candidacy using WAR as an end-of-story hammer without taking other aspects into account. Still others will try to use either the Tigers or Angels making the playoffs (or not) as the context of voting for or against either Trout or Cabrera.

When baseball awards are selected, there’s no list of reasons to vote or not vote for a candidate. All that can be done is to make a case and hope others agree. But I don’t see people making a case either way. I just see fighting, and all fighting is going to do is cause the factions to dig in and ignore any list of reasons, regardless of how logical and sensible they are. Being a hardline old-schooler or a condescending and arrogant stat person isn’t going to sway people to either side. That much I can guarantee.

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The Objective Truth About Luhnow

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Simultaneously searching for a greater understanding through objective analysis, the stat people have taken to using subjectivity to bolster the resumes of the like-minded whether it’s accurate or not.

In this NY Times article by Tyler Kepner, the new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has his work glossed over in such a way to bypass how he got into the game; the issues that surrounded him with the Cardinals; and that he’s doled credit without full details nor the assignation of blame.

Luhnow was hired by the Cardinals in the heady days following the publication of Moneyball—before the story was proven to be a skillfully written fabrication. The specific purpose of the book was to prop up the supposed “genius” of Billy Beane and designed to document the antiquated nature of those who hadn’t been educated at an Ivy League school, didn’t use numbers as the end-all of existence and trusted their in-the-trenches experience and their eyes to assess players.

Immediately Luhnow became seen as a threat to veteran GM Walt Jocketty and manager Tony LaRussa. He had the ear of owner Bill DeWitt and the organization set about altering the draft strategy. In addition to that, the organizational pitching philosophy, which had been designed by pitching coach Dave Duncan, was scrapped much to the chagrin of Duncan, LaRussa and Jocketty.

The front office had broken into factions with the old-schoolers battling the new age thinkers who, like Luhnow, were imported from other industries and whose presence was viewed as interloping on what they’d always done; what had been successful.

Kepner is sort of accurate (albeit with the count slightly off) when, in describing Luhnow’s first three drafts, he writes:

In those same years, St. Louis drafted 24 future major leaguers, the most of any team.

But is it spiritually accurate?

The list of big league players that Luhnow drafted from 2005-2007 are as follows:

2005: Colby Rasmus; Tyler Greene; Bryan Anderson; Mitchell Boggs; Nick Stavinoha; Daniel McCutchen; Ryan Rohlinger (did not sign); and Jaime Garcia.

2006: Adam Ottavino; Chris Perez; Jon Jay; Mark Hamilton; Shane Robinson; Allen Craig; P.J. Walters; David Carpenter; and Luke Gregerson.

2007: Pete Kozma; Clayton Mortensen; Jess Todd; Daniel Descalso; Michael Stutes (didn’t sign); Steven Hill; Andrew Brown; Brian Broderick; Tony Cruz; and Adron Chambers.

Apart from Garcia, is there one player that jumps out so you can say, “Wow, what a great pick that was!”?

The drafts were pedestrian. Because 24 of the players drafted in those three years made it to the majors, it doesn’t imply “success”.

A player simply making it to the big leagues is contingent on a myriad of factors—some of those for Luhnow are that the players were traded away for veteran help; such veteran help generally only comes from a team that is in need of young talent because they don’t have the money to keep the veteran players they’re dealing away, so they’ll be more open to giving prospects a chance in the big leagues.

Just as wins and losses have become a borderline irrelevant barometer in determining how well or poorly a pitcher has pitched in a given season, the number of big leaguers produced in a draft is rendered meaningless as well.

There’s little-to-no correlation between a draft being judged as “good” and the players making it to the majors for a token appearance.

Succeeding Jocketty, Mozeliak was placed in a position where he had to assuage his cantankerous veteran manager LaRussa (sometimes “yes-ing” him to death to keep him quiet) while fulfilling the mandate of ownership that became clear when they hired Luhnow in the first place.

This was a subtle and underappreciated accomplishment by Mozeliak.

Were the late round players who made it to the big leagues—some of which became star-caliber like Garcia—the result of change in philosophy spurred by Luhnow’s presence? Or was it typical luck that has to be present as it was when Jocketty’s operation picked Albert Pujols in the 13th round of the 1999 draft?

The trades that Kepner brings up came as a result of LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting to get what he wanted due to his stature and accumulated credibility from years of winning his way. They had nothing to do with Luhnow in a concrete sense.

The perception of a star player like Matt Holliday being available via trade is connected to his contract status; he was not re-signing with the Athletics and the 2009 A’s were playing poorly, so they traded him for some players that had been drafted under Luhnow.

One thing doesn’t justify the other.

Luhnow is in a less contentious position with the Astros than he was when he entered baseball as an outsider in 2003. With a new owner; a barren farm system; and essentially an expansion roster, he’s free to do whatever he wants from top-to-bottom and hire people who are of similar mind and will implement what he believes.

But it’s got nothing to do with what he did as a Cardinals executive because his contribution was secondary to having a Hall of Fame manager and a GM who was adept at placating those with differing philosophies that were trying to push him in one direction or another.

If anyone deserves the credit for the Cardinals ability to navigate these issues and still win, it’s Mozeliak.

Will Luhnow be a Paul DePodesta? Someone with the knowledge of numbers and solid resume but was unable to deal with the ancillary aspects of the big job? Or will he be a Jon Daniels? One who overcame a rocky start and muddled ownership/managerial situation, but has become one of the best, if not the best GM in baseball?

We won’t know until we know.

Luhnow’s getting his chance now. He’s the boss of the Astros. For better. Or worse.

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