Billy Beane—2012 Baseball Guide Excerpt

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I’m sure some of those who are familiar with me, what I do and how strongly I feel about the farcical nature of Moneyball the book and how much worse Moneyball the movie was in terms of factual inaccuracy are expecting me to go into a rant about Billy Beane. Again.

But I’m not.

I’m saving that.

This is straight recapping and assessment.

The A’s began another rebuild phase under Beane as he allowed Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to leave as free agents and traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for packages of youngsters. He was intent—so he implied—on waiting out the resolution of the possible new ballpark in San Jose.

But then he did something strange.

He started making maneuvers that were diametrically opposed to a full-scale rebuild. He re-signed Coco Crisp; he signed veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes; and then committed the cardinal sin in the context of verifiable stats and knowing what one is purchasing by investing heavily ($36 million over 4-years) in a Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes.

Beane says and does whatever he wants.

There’s always an excuse.

The media was focusing on the job status of Bob Geren (Beane’s “best friend”) so he replaced him not because of Geren doing a bad job, but because of media scrutiny being a distraction.

They don’t have any money, so they clear out the house of any and all veterans.

The ballpark is terrible, has no luxury boxes and the fans don’t come so he has to wait and hope the San Jose deal comes through.

No one wants to play in Oakland, so they have to take chances on the likes of Cespedes.

The Angels and Rangers are powerhouses, so why should the A’s bother to try and compete?

If it’s not one thing it’s another.

It’s not hard to be considered a genius when nothing is ever you’re fault; when the sycophants will find an excuse regardless of what you do and whether or not it makes sense.

No one blames him for anything because they’re either invested in Moneyball, don’t know enough to realize that Beane isn’t a genius whose every decision turns to gold or are afraid to protest for fear of being shouted down and ostracized.

He’s flinging things at the wall and hoping they work. That’s not analytical; it’s not based on numbers. It’s pure desperation on the part of the supposed “genius” and willfully blind silence on the part of those who know what he’s doing and refuse to protest are even more guilty.

His team is still terrible and the new template is 2015.

By then they’ll be good and hopefully have a new ballpark.

People in the media and starstruck fans might not want to admit the truth, but people inside baseball are aware. Beane let it be known through intermediaries leaking it to the media that he was willing to listen if the Cubs came calling to run their club.

He wanted the job.

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

People in baseball know he’s a fraud. And he’s trapped in Oakland.

Beane signed a contract extension to keep him with the Athletics through 2019.

That’s where he is and that’s where he’ll stay.

The above is a snippet from my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on KindleSmashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Damage Control and Billy Beane

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

Melvin’s a good manager.

Davis is a respected hitting coach and man.

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

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

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

It could be a brilliantly devised diversionary tactic.

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

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

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

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

Yeah?

So?

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has options like the Dodgers.

Blah, blah, blah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s garbage.

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

Return the gadgets.

Ask for a refund.

Or stop purchasing them to begin with.

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Shifting The Moneyball Goalposts Yet Again

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As much as Moneyball tried to paint the picture that “this is the way to build your team and if you ignore it you’re an idiot”—and succeeded to some degree—it was never the “way” to build a team. It was a strategy borne out of necessity and opportunity.

In fact, Billy Beane is not, nor was he ever, a “genius”. What he did took nerve, but that nerve stemmed from being locked in the vacancy of having limited funds and competing against teams that were raiding his cupboard on a year-to-year basis.

The truth is becoming more mainstream with articles such as this one in today’s New York Times discussing how smaller markets have grown smarter and therefore more competitive.

Are they getting smarter?

Possibly.

Are they more competitive?

Definitely.

Is there a connection to Moneyball?

Um. No. Not really.

Considering the teams remaining in the playoffs, you have one that connected on a deep strike to try and win this year while they still had a mid-lineup combination among the best in baseball with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The Brewers brought in a Cy Young Award winner in Zack Greinke; a solid mid-rotation starter in Shaun Marcum; and traded for an All-Star closer to function as their set-up man in Francisco Rodriguez. As a result of this, they’re in the NLCS under a moderate budget. But their farm system is gutted and once Fielder and K-Rod leave, they’re going to be hard-pressed to repeat this success. As long as Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are healthy, they’ll still be competitive, but this good and able to cover up flaws like an atrocious defense that cost them dearly last night? To protect a vanilla manager who does bizarre things? It’s hard to see.

The Cardinals have the best manager of his generation in Tony LaRussa and made a series of “win now” maneuvers signing Lance Berkman and trading Colby Rasmus for ancillary, depth pieces to augment LaRussa’s frequent bullpen usage. They also benefited from a superior Braves team collapsing and allowing them the opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Tigers are a big money team that spent lavishly on a set-up man in Joaquin Benoit and made smart deals in getting Doug Fister and Delmon Young at mid-season for basically nothing. But without one of the three best pitchers and hitters in baseball—Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera—they’d be golfing now.

The Rangers were built by a young GM in the Moneyball mold of someone who’d never played but was well-versed in statistics. It took awhile for Jon Daniels to gain footing and he survived making one of the worst trades in baseball history in sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton; but since then he made some trades that were absolutely brilliant by raiding the Braves farm system for Neftali FelizElvis Andrus and Matt Harrison when they traded Mark Teixeira a year-and-a-half before he was up for free agency. That took nerve, but it was only possible because the Rangers weren’t contending and in desperate financial straits to the point where they could ignore fan entreaties to keep their star. Now that they’re in better condition financially, they’ve been able to use a loaded farm system to acquire a Cliff Lee in 2010 and the numerous bullpen components that have brought them to the verge of a second straight pennant.

It all goes in cycles.

Moneyball was trendy because it was a neat story of a triumph over adversity for a “can’t miss” superstar who transferred his inability to fulfill that promise on the field, but became a star off the field.

The problem was that what Beane did was more gutsy than smart. He’s an actor. And his new role is that of the boxed-in everyman; the excuses are that everyone else is using his template and doing so with more money than he has and his antiquated ballpark has made it impossible to draw fans and attract marquee free agents. But if he’s a genius, shouldn’t he figure something else out?

It’s laughable that Beane was politicking for and openly wanted the Cubs GM job and they didn’t even ask to interview him, instead focusing on and apparently getting Theo Epstein.

Like the X-Files, the truth is out there and those who aren’t invested in the concept of “Beane as genius” are seeing it and shunning him or at least questioning the portrayal.

The dismissive way in which Moneyball writer Michael Lewis discusses the Rays (“they have investment bankers running it and have been lucky in the draft”) is exactly the same argument that people used to contradict his salable and practically ridiculous narrative of Moneyball. I’m wondering whether he sees that or is blocking out this reality in a psychiatrist’s dream case of egomania.

Beane’s persona-switch from hard-charging, ruthless, corporate monster to happy-go-lucky, shrugging man of the people who’s trapped where he is in a system that’s swallowed him up doesn’t explain away a series of horrible trades and drafts. But that doesn’t fit into the story.

There is no one way to build a successful team—a team that’s going to win the World Series. The 2011 storyline is that the big money clubs, rife with superstars and recognizable names, all got bounced in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely due to humiliating collapses. Next year it might be the opposite; or it could be something different entirely; or the same thing.

But the mythmakers will look for an angle, even if they have to conjure one from nothing just like Moneyball. And just like the moving the goalposts of Moneyball, it’s a desperate act that’s still occurring as we speak.

The public and media are beginning to see it.

Finally.

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Ricketts Should Not Fall For “The Verducci Effect”

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I’m not referring to a writer’s research and guidelines on how to use pitchers.

I’m talking about the hiring of a GM.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is receiving endless streams of suggestions, cajoling and none-too-clever infomercial style second and third hand job applications for GM candidates. The most prominent of which being Billy Beane.

Hopefully—for Cubs fans—Ricketts performs his due diligence, conducts interviews and hires the person he wants to hire and not because a Beane acolyte keeps suggesting it or thinks “Beane to the Cubs” would be a juicy story.

In his latest piece, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote the following regarding Beane and the Cubs:

Beane, once excited about a chance to work with money on the prospect of team moving to San Jose, must understand that Oakland is a dead end job. The club will have posted five straight losing seasons, plays in a football stadium and is no closer to getting an okay to relocate. Beane turns 50 next year, and like great GMs of his era — Pat Gillick, John Schuerholtz, Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, etc. — he needs the challenge of heading another organization for personal growth, if not legacy. Beane is signed through 2014, but owner Lew Wolff will not stand in the way if Beane decides to leave.

“I think it’s something Billy might consider,” said one friend. “I’ll tell you this: if they ever get Billy to come in for an interview, it’s his job. That’s how good he is.”

Personal growth?

Is Verducci referring to Beane’s ridiculous reputation as a genius or his ginormous ego?

These nuggets coming from “friends” and “those close to Beane” are plants because Beane wants out of Oakland; he wants in to the Cubs; and the media and those close to him who may have something invested in Beane being seen as this all-knowing seer of all things baseball are trying to grease the skids and influence Ricketts to make it happen.

Verducci is the same man who wrote a piece in Sports Illustrated weeks ago defending Beane as the Athletics are—again—crumbling around him; he’s also one of the multitudes who picked the A’s to win the AL West this season.

How is it possible to receive credit without the allocation of blame?

So the A’s were good enough to pick to win the division independent of a bad ballpark and indifferent fan base before the season, yet those are two of the reasons the A’s have collapsed to 14 games under .500 and the situation is now a “dead end job”?

The A’s imported 5 “name” players this past winter—Grant Balfour; Hideki Matsui; David DeJesus; Josh Willingham; Brian Fuentes—to join a solid starting starting rotation; they were picked to win…and the team is a disaster.

He fired his manager.

And the team is a disaster.

Beane was supposedly a “genius” because he had no money to work with and somehow found a way to win; now he’s still a “genius” and “that’s how good he is” in spite of annual failures and betrayal of the tenets that crafted his “genius” to begin with?

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t matter how many laudatory and patently ridiculous books are written; it’s irrelevant how much dramatic license is taken in a movie and who’s playing the protagonist; and it’s meaningless how many writers pop up to defend the indefensible with increasingly ludicrous alibis that you’d have to be bottom-line stupid to believe.

Ricketts may choose to hire Beane and Beane might do a good job, but like last season when the likes of Joel Sherman were pushing-pushing-pushing Sandy Alderson on the Mets, it has to be the decision of the man or men in charge that this is who I want running my club.

Writers have an agenda with Beane; understand that before doing what the media and fans want because they’re not the ones who are ultimately responsible for the aftermath.

And Verducci spelled “Schuerholz” wrong too.

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MLB GM/Manager Merry Go ‘Round

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Let’s have a look at the GMs and managers who might be looking for work after the season ends and who might replace them.

First things first, Brian Cashman is not leaving the Yankees; Theo Epstein is not leaving the Red Sox. So forget it.

Baltimore Orioles

Andy MacPhail won’t be back as GM and Buck Showalter has pretty much taken control of the whole operation. Clearly things aren’t going to go as swimmingly as they were when Showalter took over a year ago and the Orioles went 34-23 and then got off to a 6-1 start this season.

Everyone started going crazy based on Buck and Buck alone; apparently they didn’t look at the Orioles’ roster and the division beforehand.

The Orioles are a long-term rebuilding project, especially in the pitching department.

They have to find a GM who’s agreeable to Showalter without said GM appearing to be a puppet for the manager.

John Hart has been mentioned. He hired Showalter with the Rangers and is a veteran baseball man who’ll stand his ground in a disagreement. He’d be a good choice.

Chicago White Sox

There’s speculation that both GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen could both be gone.

Williams isn’t going anywhere.

Guillen’s going to the Marlins.

I discussed this earlier and don’t think it’s a guarantee that Guillen bench coach Joey Cora takes over as the new manager. Cito Gaston and Tony Pena are two possibilities.

Los Angeles Angels

Tony Reagins was said to be in trouble after the disastrous Vernon Wells trade, but how can you fire a man whose team might win the division and, at the very least, will win around 90 games?

You can’t.

Oakland Athletics

I’m saying it now: Billy Beane is going to the Cubs (if they want him); David Forst will take over as A’s GM.

Here’s what’s going to happen: the A’s are going to have a good year in 2012; the Cubs are going to have a good year in 2012; all of a sudden, Billy will be a “genius” again after the fallout of the ridiculousness of Moneyball the film and Moneyball the book.

I’ll be a major facilitator of said fallout.

I can hear it now and almost go on a tangent before it even happens: “It turns out that Billy was a genius!!”

Um…no. He wasn’t. And isn’t.

Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik signed what was referred to as a “multi-year extension”. I suppose a 2-year extension counts as “multi-year”, but it’s not brimming with confidence.

The extension is through 2013 and if the Mariners have a bad year in 2012, he’s going to get fired.

Just out of curiosity, for what purpose are the Mariners writing Willy Mo Pena‘s name in the lineup? They don’t have anyone else to look at instead of the journeyman Pena?

Florida Marlins

Ozzie Guillen is going to be the next manager of the Marlins…unless he gets into an immediate argument with team president David Samson at the introductory press conference. A legitimate possibility.

Buster Olney tweeted that owner Jeffrey Loria and Samson are going to take a more active role in player procurement this winter. Sounds like Jerry Jones with the Cowboys. Which is to say it doesn’t sound good.

St. Louis Cardinals

Tony LaRussa has a 2012 mutual option with the Cardinals. The White Sox would be a place for LaRussa to finish his career in a full circle move to go back where he started; if Albert Pujols leaves the Cardinals, it’s hard to imagine LaRussa wanting to deal with the Cardinals without Pujols, but I think Pujols stays and so does LaRussa.

Chicago Cubs

Beane’s going to the Cubs; given how little he thinks of his managers, it wouldn’t do any harm (in his eyes) for him to hire Ryne Sandberg to manage the team and it would automatically get him in the good graces of Cubs fans.

Houston Astros

The ownership change from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane is going slowly; either way, I believe both GM Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills are going to get fired as soon as it’s done.

Who knows who Crane’s going to bring in as GM? But re-hiring former Astros GM and now Rays executive Gerry Hunsicker is a good plan if Rays GM Andrew Friedman turns them down. If they hire Friedman or Hunsicker, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez is a managerial prospect.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The McCourt ownership situation is what it is. There was talk that Ned Colletti might be a choice for the Cubs, but I doubt he’s leaving the Dodgers; if he does, Kim Ng would be perfect.

Don Mattingly not only deserves to keep his job, he deserves some Manager of the Year votes for keeping the team playing hard and respectably.

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McKeon And The Marlins; Beane And The Cubs

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Jack McKeon‘s future.

It feels strange to talk about the future of someone who’s 81, but Marlins manager Jack McKeon has dismissed a report that a decision has been made as to whether he’s going to manage the next year.

I can say right now that he’s not going to manage next year.

The Marlins need to move on with someone else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a manager who’s 35. There are veteran coaches like Pete Mackanin who deserve a chance and have acquitted themselves well in brief, interim shots at the main job. John Gibbons would be a good choice for a young team that needs discipline and someone who doesn’t take crap.

That’s similar to McKeon except McKeon can’t (I don’t think) beat them up if they step totally out of line; Gibbons can.

There have been the oft-mentioned names affiliated with the Marlins like Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Valentine as well.

Suffice it to say it won’t be McKeon.

I was against the McKeon hiring because I didn’t think it would work. The team’s played about as poorly under McKeon as they did under Edwin Rodriguez; the discipline issues—on and off the field—haven’t really been eliminated either. It remains to be seen whether the tough love shown to Logan Morrison among others will yield the results they want.

McKeon sounds agreeable to managing for a full year in 2012, but he’s not going to get the chance.

Please call…please call…

Like the once popular teenage boy whose reputation was crafted and has been undone by reality, Billy Beane has done everything but send a video of himself in a Cubs hat celebrating the future championship he’s going to win for Tom Ricketts and the long-suffering fans on the North Side of Chicago.

Speculation is rampant and clearly planted with an agenda as in pieces like this by Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Multiple high-ranking A’s officials” have said the Cubs have yet to contact Beane. These are strategic leaks and they’re clearly done with between-the-lines statements from people involved with Beane that he wants out of Oakland and is after the Cubs job.

Beane wants the Cubs, but do the Cubs want Beane?

I say yes. And that’s where he’s going.

Results of the marriage pending.

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