There are no Dave Duncans to fix a Matt Harvey anymore

MLB, Uncategorized

Duncan

Dave Duncan is still around as a pitching consultant for the Chicago White Sox. At 72, it’s unreasonable to expect him to put forth the time and energy necessary to repeat the wizardry that took unfulfilled talent, the injured, and reclamation projects and make them into Cy Young Award winners, All-Stars and Hall of Famers as he did with Bob Welch, Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, LaMarr Hoyt, Dennis Eckersley, Chris Carpenter, Woody Williams, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse and countless others.

However, that’s exactly what Matt Harvey needs. Yet there’s no one to do it for him.

Harvey, designated for assignment by the New York Mets on Saturday, is having his career trajectory dissected to determine exactly where it all went wrong. You can find these stories everywhere with all its authors thinking they and they alone have found the secret or basking in the glory of their innate lack of knowledge as to why he came undone.

There’s no definitive answer.

Fixing him is a different matter and that endeavor will be tasked to someone who will have theories as to how to move forward. In consultation with Harvey and his agent Scott Boras, a plan will unfurl. Either it will work or it won’t. Judging by the reality that every organization is essentially working from a similar playbook with pitching coaches no longer left to their devices and their individual instruction as was the case in Duncan’s heyday as Tony La Russa’s aide-de-camp, the odds are that it will make little difference in Harvey’s future.

The days of the Mr. Fix-It of Duncan are over as organizations make their plans in conjunction with medical recommendations, technological advances and the ever-growing group of individual handlers that seemingly all players have.

In the days of Duncan polishing his reputation as baseball’s preeminent pitching guru, he was largely left to his own devices and entrusted with overseeing the pitchers without interference from a phalanx of others. Pitchers often ended up with La Russa and Duncan because they had nowhere else to go and had reached the point in their careers where it was either listen to what Duncan had to say and implement it or no longer have a career. Desperation breeds sudden flexibility. Duncan’s reputation and the number of pitchers he could count as notches on his belt certainly gave him credibility with the egomaniacal and selfish entity known as the professional athlete.

Whether it was a mechanical adjustment, changes to the pitcher’s repertoire or a mental reprogramming, Duncan carried a reputation of fixing the heretofore unfixable. That he had the opportunity to do so stemmed from a confluence of events that are no longer in place. Teams will not entrust any investment to a single individual and that investment will likely have an army of advisors who are also seeking and demand input.

There are pitching coaches who are well-regarded in today’s game. Ray Searage is viewed as the modern Mr. Fix-It, but that has stemmed from a crafted narrative. His own results have fluctuated and if there were fallbacks or failures as was the case with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, the shifting of blame has been rapid and largely eliminated any positives his relationship with those pitchers created. There’s no credit for the good without blame for the bad.

John Farrell, Tom House, Dave Righetti, Mickey Callaway – all are well-regarded and have had success, but none will ever have the cachet that Duncan had of taking pitchers who were broken remnants of what they were and pasting them back together.

Duncan is still around and in baseball, but the landscape has changed. What worked before won’t work now, mostly because the outside influences for the likes of Matt Harvey won’t let it.

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Matt Harvey’s Elbow Injury Fallout

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No matter what happens with his elbow, Matt Harvey of the Mets is still going home to this:

Anne_V

I’m not using that image of Anne V. in an attempt to accumulate gratuitous web hits, but as an example of Harvey being perfectly fine whether he has to have Tommy John surgery or not. The reactions ranged from the ludicrous to the suicidal and I’m not quite sure why. There’s being a fan and treating an athlete as if he or she is part of your family and cares about you as much as you care about them.

Let’s have a look at the truth.

For Matt Harvey

The severity of the tear of his ulnar collateral ligament is still unknown because the area was swollen and the doctors couldn’t get the clearest possible image. Whether or not he can return without surgery will be determined in the coming months. It’s possible. If you run a check on every single pitcher in professional baseball, you can probably find a legitimate reason to tell him to shut it down. Some are more severe than others. Harvey’s probably been pitching with an increasing level of damage for years. The pain was  manageable and didn’t influence his stuff, so he and his teams didn’t worry about it. This surgery is relatively common now and the vast number of pitchers return from it better than ever. The timetable given is generally a full year, but pitchers are now coming back far sooner.

“That’s so Mets”

This injury is being treated as if it’s something that could only happen to the Mets. The implication is that their “bad luck” is infesting everything they touch. But look around baseball. How about “that’s so Nats?” Both Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg required Tommy John surgery in spite of the Nationals’ protective measures and overt paranoia.

How about “that’s so Red Sox?” Clay Buchholz has spent much of two of the past three seasons on and off the disabled list with several injuries—many of which were completely misdiagnosed.

How about “that’s so Yankees?” Joba Chamberlain and Manny Banuelos had Tommy John surgery; Michael Pineda has had numerous arm injuries since his acquisition.

How about “that’s so Braves?” Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters (twice), Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood have all had Tommy John surgery. The Braves are considered one of the best organizational developers of talent in baseball.

Dave Duncan warrants Hall of Fame induction for his work as a pitching coach and had Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter undergo Tommy John surgery. You can go to every single organization in baseball and find examples like this.

The Mets kept an eye on Harvey, protected him and he still got hurt. That’s what throwing a baseball at 100 mph and sliders and other breaking pitches at 90+ mph will do. It’s not a natural motion and it damages one’s body.

The Twitter experts

Some said the Mets should not only have shut Harvey down earlier, but they also should have shut down Jonathon Niese, Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler and Jeremy Hefner. Who was going to pitch? PR man Jay Horowitz? Others stated that they were planning to undertake research into the pitching mechanics technique of “inverted W” (which Harvey didn’t use). I’m sure the Mets are waiting for a layman’s evaluations and will study them thoroughly.

Of course, many blamed the Mets’ manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. That was based on an agenda, pure and simple. Some have been pushing for the Mets to bring back former pitching coach Rick Peterson. They’re ignoring the fact that Peterson is now the pitching coordinator for the Orioles and their top pitching prospect, Dylan Bundy, had Tommy John surgery himself. Is that Dan Warthen’s fault too?

To have the arrogance to believe that some guy on Twitter with a theory is going to have greater, more in-depth knowledge than professional trainers, baseball people and medical doctors goes beyond the scope of lunacy into delusion of self-proclaimed deity-like proportions.

Bob Ojeda

With their station SNY, the Mets have gone too far in the opposite direction from their New York Yankees counterpart the YES Network in trying to be evenhanded and aboveboard. Former Mets pitcher Bob Ojeda should not have free rein to rip the organization up and down  as to what they’re doing wrong. This is especially true since Ojeda has harbored a grudge after former GM Omar Minaya passed Ojeda over for the pitching coach job and openly said he didn’t feel that Ojeda was qualified for the position.

Now Ojeda is using the Harvey injury as a forum to bash the Mets’ manager and pitching coach and claim that he had prescient visions of Harvey getting hurt because he was throwing too many sliders. I don’t watch the pre and post-game shows, so it’s quite possible that Ojeda said that he felt Harvey was throwing too many sliders, but if he didn’t and kept this information to himself, he’s showing an insane amount of audacity to claim that he “predicted” it.

He needs to tone it down or be removed from the broadcast.

Player injuries can happen anywhere

The winter after his dramatic, pennant-clinching home run for the Yankees, Aaron Boone tore his knee playing basketball. This led to the Yankees trading for Alex Rodriguez and Boone not getting paid via the terms of his contract because he got hurt partaking in an activity he was technically not supposed to be partaking in. Boone could’ve lied about it and said he hit a pothole while jogging. The Yankees wouldn’t have known about it and he would’ve gotten paid. He didn’t. He’s a rarity.

On their off-hours, players do things they’re technically not supposed to be doing.

Jeff Kent broke his hand riding his motorcycle, then lied about it saying he slipped washing his truck. Ron Gant crashed his dirtbike into a tree. Other players have claimed that they injured themselves in “freak accidents” that were more likely results of doing things in which they wouldn’t get paid if they got hurt. Bryce Harper, shortly after his recall to the big leagues, was videotaped playing softball in a Washington D.C. park. Anything could have happened to injure him and he wouldn’t have been able to lie about it. Boone told the truth, but no one knows exactly when these injuries occur and what the players were doing to cause them.

With Harvey, we don’t know how many pitches he threw in college; how many softball games he played in; how many times as a youth he showed off his arm to the point of potential damage. This could have been coming from the time he was twelve years old. In fact, it probably was and there’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent it.

The vagaries of the future

The Mets were counting on Harvey for 2014. They have enough pitching in their system that it was likely they were going to trade some of it for a bat. If they wanted Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez or any other young, power bat they were going to have to give up Wheeler and/or Noah Syndergaard to start with. Without Harvey, they’re probably going to have to keep their young pitchers. That could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Or it could be a curse if either of those pitchers suffer the same fate as Harvey or don’t pan out as expected.

If Harvey can’t pitch, it’s a big loss. That’s 33 starts, 210 innings and, if he’s anywhere close to what he was this season, a Cy Young Award candidate and potential $200 million pitcher. But they can take steps to replace him. They can counteract his innings with other pitchers and try to make up for a lack of pitching by boosting the offense. In short, they can follow the Marine training that GM Sandy Alderson received by adapting and overcoming.

Harvey is a big part of the Mets future, but to treat this as anything more than an athlete getting injured is silly. It happened. There’s no one to blame and when he’s ready to pitch, he’s ready to pitch. Life will go on.




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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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No Managerial Replacements Means No Managerial Changes

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If there was an obvious choice replacement manager or two (or three) sitting on the sidelines it’s very possible that both the Angels and Dodgers would have made changes by now. Instead Angels manager Mike Scioscia has received multiple votes of confidence and the speculation surrounding his job status has been qualified with the “it’s not his fault” lament. For the Dodgers, the club has been ravaged by injuries, none of which are the fault of manager Don Mattingly. For both teams, if they turn their seasons around, it will be the steady veteran experience and failure to panic on the part of Scioscia that will be referenced as a reason; with Mattingly, it will be his experience of seeing so many managers on the hotseat in his time as a Yankees player and coach as well as his unending positive enthusiasm (almost bordering on delusion) that the Dodgers will steer out of the spiral. The Angels’ situation is far worse than that of the Dodgers. They’re 11 games out of first place and have shown no signs of life apart from the brief boost they got from Astros manager Bo Porter’s strategic gaffe a week ago that lit a short-term fire under them. Since the three game win streak, they’ve settled back into the dysfunctional mess they’ve been all season. The Dodgers are only 5 1/2 games out of first place so there’s a logic to say that once they get their players back and GM Ned Colletti follows through on his usual burst of mid-season trade activity, they’ll be right in the thick of the race.

We’ve seen from history how worthless votes of confidence, logical explanations as to why it’s not the manager that’s the problem, and positive vibes in the face of adversity are—if teams are under enough pressure and their seasons are on the brink, they’ll withstand the fire for “lying” and make a change. But who would be the replacements for managers like Scioscia and Mattingly?

Because the “deans” of managers—Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella—are all 69 and older and have shown no interest in managing again, who is there to replace a manager on the hotseat to ignite the fanbase and tell the players that something different is going to be done? Torre and Cox are through with managing. LaRussa might be able to be convinced to come back but it won’t be this year for the Angels where, if he succeeded, he might hinder his close friend Jim Leyland’s last chance at a title with the Tigers; he likes to be compensated lucratively and the one thing the Dodgers have to offer along with spending on players is a lot of money—they’d pay him and Dave Duncan handsomely to come and Mark McGwire is already there. Piniella has also said he’s not interested in managing anymore, but he also likes to be paid, was in line for the Dodgers job once before and might be dragged out of retirement.

These are maybes contingent on the whims of the men who no longer need the job or the aggravation. Who is there that could replace any manager who’s on the outs with his current club and who would definitely jump at the job offer? If the Angels wanted to go with the polar opposite of Scioscia (as is the strategy teams like to use when firing their manager) they could hire Ozzie Guillen and wouldn’t have to pay him all that much because the Marlins are still paying him for two-and-a-half more seasons, but that would not be reacted to well by the players. Perhaps that’s what the underachieving bunch needs, but Guillen, LaRussa, Piniella or anyone else isn’t going to fix the Angels biggest problem: pitching. Scioscia’s been there too long, it’s no longer his type of team, a change needs to be made whether they admit it or not, but a change really won’t help in the short term.

If Terry Francona had chosen to sit out another year, he would be mentioned with every job that could potentially be opening, but he took the Indians job. Bobby Valentine can pretty much forget it after the 2012 disaster with the Red Sox. Combining the competent and functional retreads like Jim Tracy, Phil Garner, Larry Bowa and Don Baylor who would love to have a job and probably wouldn’t make much of a difference and the lack of a guy next to the managers on the bench who are viable replacements, it’s easier for the Angels, Dodgers and other teams who might consider a managerial change to just leave it as is and hope it gets better until something has to be done. And by the time something has to be done for cosmetic purposes more than anything else, the season will be too far gone for the new manager to turn around club fortunes. At that point, they can stick whomever they want in the manager’s office and see what happens with zero chance of it helping the team for the rest of this season one way or the other, then decide what to do for 2014.

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You Were Expecting More From The 2013 Mets?

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For what the Mets lack in on-field success in recent years, they make up for in agendas and alibis. The alibis are coming from the team itself; the agendas from the fans and media. The media loves to roast the Mets for their play and personnel moves (perfectly fair) and for their business dealings such as entering into an innocuous agreement with Amway (unfair and self-serving). The fans either wallow in self-pity, hope the team loses so Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins will be fired, or have secondary benefit from the self-flagellation of being a Mets fan as if punishment in this life of baseball fandom will lead to paradise in the next. Opposing fans who need to worry about their own issues point to the Mets as everything they perceive as “wrong.”

If there’s some paradise a pious Mets fan is looking for, the only virgin they’re likely to run into in a sports-related heaven is Tim Tebow and he’s probably no fun to hang out with; the only Kingdom they have to look forward to is in a storybook.

The key question is this: What were you expecting?

They’re in year three of an acknowledged rebuild.

They have a starting rotation of Matt Harvey, Jon Niese and a mix-and-match array of journeymen.

They have one outfielder (who’s actually a first baseman) in Lucas Duda who can hit and has a 25-30 foot radius of balls he’ll catch, block, kick or swallow.

They have one high potential reliever in Bobby Parnell, two decent veterans Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins and more bad journeymen.

One of their main power hitters, Ike Davis, takes the first two months of every season apparently contemplating the mysteries of life in a “what does it all mean?” hypnotic state as he counts the seams of the next low, outside curveball he’ll swing and miss at while batting .150.

They have the foundation for a decent middle infield with Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, a star at third base in David Wright, and a catcher in John Buck who’s hitting like Johnny Bench when he’s closer to Barry Foote.

Their top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade, is out with a broken foot and has had his Flushing debut stalled probably until September; their top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, acquired for Carlos Beltran, is embarrassing himself with a little league-level whine about not liking it in Las Vegas and is throwing a tantrum hoping to be sent to a more preferable location.

These are the facts.

What gives you the impression that Wally Backman, John McGraw or Connie Mack as manager; Dave Duncan, Rick Peterson, Leo Mazzone or Mel Harder as pitching coach; and Branch Rickey as GM would make any difference whatsoever with this group?

Judging by the lack of moves they made last winter and the removal of the last pieces of the Omar Minaya regime (Jason Bay was dumped and Johan Santana’s Mets career is over with his injury), did you truly in your heart of hearts expect a shocking Athletics/Orioles 2012-style rise for the Mets in 2013?

This team is playing up to its potential and that potential is currently not good. No amount of screaming, yelling and pronouncements of what would “fix” them or what “I’d do” is going to change it especially if your prescriptions are buried in the simplicity of faux expertise and blatant idiocy that’s ten times worse than anything Alderson’s done or will do. The organization has all but said they’re playing for 2014 and beyond when they’re supposedly going to have some money to spend and the prospects they’ve been acquiring and cultivating since Alderson took over will begin to bear fruit.

These are your 2013 Mets. This is it. Deal with it. Or get into therapy. Or just shut up.

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Lusting For Luhnow, Part II

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The narrative of Jeff Luhnow having been the scouting director who drafted the most players who opened the 2013 season on a Major League roster is taken far out of context in the effort to create a pithy and simple-minded conclusion that he was the mastermind behind the Cardinals and is a guarantee to rebuild the Astros in a similar manner.

Is it technically true that Luhnow has the most draftees on big league rosters in 2013?

Yes.

Is it accurate in its basest sense?

No.

The drafting of players is such a random thing and their making it or not making it is based on so many factors that have nothing to do with talent that it’s a meaningless assertion to make to credit any one person for it. How many high draft picks have flamed out and not made it to the degree they were supposed to? How many late-rounders became stars? Albert Pujols was with the Cardinals club that Luhnow supposedly built and was a 13th round draft pick. Chris Carpenter was a first round draft pick of the Blue Jays who was a combination of bad and injury-prone before he came under the tutelage of Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa and was completely rebuilt into one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade.

No one in their right mind is going to try and take credit for Pujols as a 13th round pick and say they “knew” what he was. His selection was a combination of a late-bloomer, luck and who knows what else? The scouting director is the one who receives the credit, but in reality it’s the cross-checkers and in-the-trenches scouts who find the players to begin with and recommend them to the front office who decide which player they want. Much of it is innate talent, happenstance, teaching, and opportunity. To think that any club believes a player drafted from the 8th round and beyond will do anything significant in the majors is absurd. The ones who do are an anomaly, the product of a trick pitch, late growth spurts or PEDs.

Yet here we are. No matter what Luhnow does, it’s treated as if he’s reinventing the game and receiving undue credit for his new thinking. But we can’t avoid the reality that his current club is going to lose somewhere between 105 and 115 games in 2013. Does that not matter?

The fervent and evangelical support he’s receiving is akin to George W. Bush abandoning the pretense of Constitutional separation between church and state and holding up a Bible saying he answers to a higher authority while mega-churches prayed for his election and turned out en masse to make it happen. Instead of the New Testament, Luhnow is metaphorically holding up a copy of Baseball Prospectus and answering to that “higher authority” and plucking people from its staff to function as his assistants.

It’s sort of like Mitt Romney’s binder of women only it’s Luhnow’s paperback of stat geeks.

They have their impressive degrees, theories and worship from the masses who see them as examples of what they believe as if that’s the final word on what’s right. This is a conceit that is growing prevalent as its supporters are emboldened by increased validation, accurate or not. The congregation—the like-minded media, bloggers, and social media “experts”—spread the gospel and make ham-handed and pompous fumblings with “conversion.” It maintains the undertone of an insecure, “we don’t really believe it” desperation and whininess asking why others don’t see the “truth.”

Because Luhnow is adhering to his beliefs and has the support of the likes of Keith Law, he’s receiving a pass for this monstrosity into which he’s crafted the Astros as they play, not to compete, but to accumulate draft picks. The teams that have had success in recent years but have done it in a decidedly old-school manner and told the outside “experts” to take a hike, namely the Giants and their GM Brian Sabean, are not credited for what they’ve created with the GM failing to get the accolades he deserves. Instead, before the champagne in the carpet of the Giants’ clubhouse had even dried, the media made it a point to search for someone, anyone in the Giants organization who would bolster them and render meaningless the argument that Sabean’s old-school methods worked. What they found was Yeshayah Goldfarb who is the Giants “Moneyball” guy in a Moneyballless organization. Goldfarb, who few even knew existed before he was dragged into the spotlight, was the behind the scenes wizard who pulled Sabean’s strings and “really” crafted the Giants into a World Series winner in two of the past three years.

At least that’s how the story was framed.

So how’s it work? If the GM fits the aesthetic as Luhnow does, he’s a hero and if he doesn’t (like Sabean), he got help from a guy in a darkened room recommending the team sign Juan Uribe? If the storyline doesn’t translate neatly into some singular person being a “genius,” by believing what the baseball revolutionaries believe, a Goldfarb has to be found somewhere?

The Luhnow rhetoric stems from what “we’d” do with the “we” being the aforementioned bloggers, media and people on Twitter. But because the “we” agrees with what someone is doing doesn’t make it right; it doesn’t make it unassailable; and it doesn’t make someone a “genius” before they’ve accomplished anything at all other than accumulate a load of worshipful hype, driven payroll down as low as it can possibly go and put together one of the worst clubs in history.

Let’s wait on the smiling bust of Luhnow to be placed in the room of every would-be GM who’s memorized the latest edition of Baseball Prospectus and thinks that somehow qualifies him or her to be a GM and tell experienced baseball players, coaches, managers, and executives how to do their jobs. He’s done nothing up to now other than demolish what was admittedly a crumbled infrastructure. But anyone with a wrecking ball and sufficient motivation could’ve done that. So far he’s a media creation and nothing more.

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

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Analysis of the Kyle Lohse Signing

Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Brewers have signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract making Scott Boras look like a genius again. In this market, at this late date and with the draft pick compensation attached to Lohse, to somehow convince the Brewers (and probably the Brewers owner Mark Attanasio) that they needed Lohse when they didn’t need Lohse is worthy of a bow.

Let’s look at the signing.

For Lohse

We’ll know soon enough whether Lohse was a creation of the Dr. Frankenstein-like corpse rejuvenation of former Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan or if he has become a different pitcher whose new mentality, mechanics, approach and stuff that can translate the knowledge everywhere. But here are the facts:

  • Lohse gives up more fly balls than ground balls and is going from a home ballpark that allowed 140 homers to a ballpark that allowed 230 homers
  • The Cardinals’ infield defense was average; the Brewers’ was bad
  • He’ll be working with a catcher that’s not Yadier Molina

Because Lohse learned to pound the strike zone, trust his catcher and defense, and not worry about the outcome as long as he made his pitches—Duncan trademarks—he reached a level of success with the Cardinals that he never did in any of his prior stops. That he’s leaving the Cardinals isn’t as much of a factor as where he’s going and going to Milwaukee to join a pockmarked team with multiple holes and is floating halfway between a rebuild and clinging to the tendrils of contention, his margin for error is gone and what worked with the Cardinals is unlikely to work with the Brewers.

In short, he can do the exact same things with the Brewers he did with the Cardinals and have drastically different—and worse—results.

For the Brewers

Anything they did was bound to make a gutted starting rotation better. They were beginning the season with Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation and a series of question marks behind him. There’s some ability with Wily Peralta and perhaps useful mid-rotation arms with Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers. Their bullpen isn’t particularly good and manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t distinguished himself as a field boss who can inspire overachievement in his players. It’s a bad sign when a pitcher signs with a club a week before the season starts and he’s automatically their number 2. Of course it has to be footnoted why Lohse was sitting out for so long as teams didn’t want to surrender the draft pick compensation, but they were also concerned about what I alluded to earlier: that he’s not going to be as good away from the Cardinals and not worth the money he wanted and, by all rights considering his performance, deserved.

For the National League

Are teams looking at the Brewers and seeing how they can hit thinking, “Whoa!! They got Lohse!!! Watch them!!”?

No.

Lohse is a pitcher who’s a “Yeah, we can use him I guess” arm, but he’s not a difference-maker for a mediocre team. The Brewers have him for three years when they’re locked in the vacancy of a simultaneous rebuild/contend. History has proven that’s not only very hard to do, but can be destructive when a team surrenders a draft pick (the 17th overall) to get the player who: A) won’t help that much; and B) will cost them the draft slot where there can be a very good player available (Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels were taken at 17).

I wouldn’t have done this and I doubt the Brewers’ baseball people would’ve done it either if they weren’t forced to do so by the owner who’s the latest in a long line of smart men who were sold on a player they didn’t need by the mastermind named Scott Boras.

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Are The Cardinals Waiting For Lohse’s Price To Drop?

CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Cardinals are said to be looking at starting pitchers that may be available including Astros’ starters Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris. Both would help. Norris is better than Harrell. Harrell would probably come cheaper in a trade. Before 2013 is over, the Astros are going to trade both.

The Cardinals have the prospects to move and the moderate need in their starting rotation, but the easiest solution for them remains former Cardinal Kyle Lohse.

Lohse, coming off his career-best season for the Cardinals, has been sitting and waiting for a contract that meets his and agent Scott Boras’s desires in terms of length and money. If any player in recent memory has been cornered by the draft pick compensation attached to free agents who were offered arbitration by their previous clubs, it’s Lohse. If the circumstances were different—if the cost was only money—Lohse would’ve gotten at least a three-year contract from someone and maybe a four-year deal. Whether or not he’s worth it or if he’s a creation of the Cardinals former pitching coach Dave Duncan’s Dr. Frankenstein-like skills of taking a pitching corpse and reengineering it into a top-tier pitcher is irrelevant. To moderately assuage that fear, Lohse had his career-best season in 2012 without Duncan, so he’s not attached to him like the hypnotized patient who wouldn’t be able to function without the “doctor” in view.

Conversely, considering the pitchers who blossomed under Duncan—Mike Moore, Kent Bottenfield, Joel Pineiro, Jeff Suppan—and were mediocre to disastrous after leaving his tutelage, it’s understandable that clubs would be reluctant to sign Lohse for a ton of money. Even a one-year contract is a disagreeable pill to swallow for Lohse (he feels he deserves more than a desperation contract to “prove” himself again) and for the club signing him (he’s still not worth a number one draft pick). But the Cardinals fill the bill with knowing what he can do and they don’t have to give up a draft pick to re-sign him. If they trade for Norris, Harrell or anyone else, they’ll have to surrender some players. With Lohse, it’s just money.

And that’s what it comes down to. They might be waiting for his price to drop, letting it be known publicly that they’re looking for pitchers and hoping Lohse gets itchy and tells Boras to make a deal with them. Amid all of that, what is being conveniently forgotten about Lohse is that he has been very good in the past two seasons for the Cardinals. This is not a situation where Boras has had to dig for numbers to validate the blue book of accomplishments he creates for his free agents. Lohse has legitimate credentials to get a multi-year contract for better-than-average starting pitcher money, but the draft pick compensation has him caged.

If Lohse is thinking he’ll sit out to start the season and wait until someone gets hurt, until a club needs a starter, or until after the draft, he’s still not going to get a three-year contract then either. If the Cardinals step up and offer two years with a vesting option based on innings pitched and performance, he should take it. I believe he would.

He and the Cardinals know each other. He can pitch and pitch effectively for the Cardinals because he’s done it in three of the five years he spent with the club. The two in which he was bad, he was hurt. If the sides stop and think about it for a moment and decide to be reasonable, it makes the most sense for them to accept reality and reunite. It’s the best choice for all.

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Kyle Lohse’s Recruiting Violation

CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, PEDs, Players, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

I wrote about the mistake the Major League Baseball Players Association made in allowing draft pick compensation to infiltrate big league free agency here, but in a more human sense, it’s unfair to the players like Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse that the situation has reached the point it has.

Neither Bourn nor Lohse are prototypical “star” players. This is part of the problem with the draft pick compensation being so steep in that it costs a club drafting between numbers 11 and 30 the pick to sign one of these players. Teams are willing to surrender draft picks to sign Josh Hamilton, but rarely with Bourn or Lohse. The middle class is getting squeezed and that’s not the idea of free agency.

The Indians signed Bourn two days ago and have been on a spending spree of sorts (for them) in getting a big name manager (Terry Francona), and a bat (Nick Swisher), after making a bold trade of Shin-Soo Choo to get Trevor Bauer. But the Indians were so bad last season that they’re picking 5th overall and the top 10 picks are protected. They have to give up later round picks, but that’s not as costly as a top 5 pick.

There’s also been talk that the money the clubs surrender in the draft when they sign a free agent is a deterrent. I don’t see it as prohibitive as others do. The slot money has limited the bonuses drafted players can receive, so if the team doesn’t have the draft pick, then what do they need the extra bonus money for other than to pay extra (and have agents of draftees knowing they can pay extra) for later round picks? It’s like having $50 in your pocket and no credit card. You can’t spend any more than that, so it is what it is and you can buy goods for up to $50 and no more.

What’s truly wrong with this situation is what it’s doing to a pitcher like Lohse, who had his career year in 2012. In years past without the deterrent of compensation and punitive damages to an interested team, Lohse would have gotten a 3-year deal from someone. While that’s short of what Scott Boras would prefer, it would be lucrative along the lines of what an inferior pitcher like Jeremy Guthrie and a similar performer Ryan Dempster received. And he’d have a place to go in spring training rather than sitting around, waiting and lamenting his fate.

The current circumstances are worthy of scrutiny. Perhaps it would be fairer to the players if the qualifying offer remained on the table until they signed elsewhere so if this situation arises again, they can just accept it and go back to their former team, perhaps to be traded but at least paid for one year. This would discourage teams from making the offer to the middling players.

Lohse, having just had the best year of his career, shouldn’t have to be scrounging for work especially in the same off-season in which Melky Cabrera—suspended for PED use and having taken part in an elaborate scheme to get away with it—received $16 million from the Blue Jays. This is not what Marvin Miller had in mind when he fought for the players’ collective freedoms to go where they want to go based on their performance and the market, not to preserve the right to draft some kid coming out of high school 15th overall who might never make it past A ball.

No solution helps Lohse now. He’s on the sidelines not because his demands are too steep, but because teams wouldn’t want to trade the pick and the contract money for Lohse even if he was coming at a discount for one year. Lohse isn’t a great pitcher and there’s every chance that he was a creation of Dave Duncan and will revert to the mediocre and worse pitcher he was in every prior stop before getting to the Cardinals, but he doesn’t deserve to receive the prototypical “death penalty” as if he was a football coach and committed an NCAA recruiting violation.

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Passionless Managing, Numbers Crunching and Outsiders

Ballparks, Books, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, NFL, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

The new managerial template of eschewing experienced minor league managers or veteran big league managers and bringing in the likes of Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura has developed into a two-way street. Teams are making the hires and the managers aren’t fully invested in doing the job, putting forth an almost blasé sense of, “Oh, I’ll manage the team if that’s what your really want me to do until something better comes along.”

According to Matheny’s own account during the revelation of his financial issues, he had no intention of returning to the dugout if he didn’t have to find work. Intentional or not, Matheny saying that he wouldn’t be managing had he not lost all his money in real estate came across as arrogant and condescending. Considering that everything the Cardinals accomplished last season had more to do with the foundation left by Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan than with Matheny, it’s not the right attitude to have.

In a similar vein, Ventura turned down a contract extension because he wasn’t sure how long he wanted to manage. For a lifer such as Jim Leyland and Terry Francona, this would be totally foreign tack for a relatively young man such as the 45-year-old Ventura. Lifers manage, of course, for the money. They also love the competition and, in spite of the success they’ve had, there’s a certain amount of insecurity that comes from the journeyman way they were reared in baseball. Leyland rode minor league buses forever as a player and manager, got his chance as a coach with LaRussa, then began his long ride between Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado. He spent several years as a semi-retired adviser/observer insisting he was done managing, then returned to take over the Tigers in 2006 and has been there ever since. With all he’s accomplished and his resume, there’s still regular talk that his job is on the line.

Francona is fending off the perception that his two championships managing the Red Sox were a byproduct of the organization and he was an on-field functionary. As was detailed in his new book (my review is here), the reputation-bashing he endured when he left Boston was such that it could have festered into him becoming toxic to other clubs. I believe he took the Indians job in large part to put that talk to rest.

Both Matheny and Ventura were old-school as players, but this new school of managing is something that front office people have to decide is worth it.

The tree of coaches and managers has branches that sometimes grow in strange ways. In football, Bill Parcells was known as much for his brilliance as his constant vacillation, threats of retirement and resignations only to rise again in a different location. Two of his most successful assistants—Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin—have been on the sidelines constantly without needing a break due to burnout, failing health or exhaustion. Some clubs prefer short-term contracts with their managers and coaches and can live with not knowing one day to the next whether they’re going to stay or go. Others want a full commitment. I believe it helps the organization to have a coach/manager who wants to be there and has a passion for doing the job.

Passion. It must be there for long-term success. The job isn’t a hobby or a pleasant and brief diversion like going to the park and having a picnic. As Bill James said in his guest appearance on The Simpsons, “I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes.” It’s the truth. With the new age people like Jeff Luhnow running the Astros like an ambitious startup, is there a love for the game or is it something they enjoy and see as a challenge, but don’t have a deep wellspring of passion for?

I don’t get the sense of passion from Matheny or Ventura. With Ventura, he’s so laid back that there are times that he looks like he needs to have a mirror placed under his nose to see if he’s still breathing. The White Sox functioned for so long under the volcanic Ozzie Guillen, that they sought someone who wasn’t going to create a crisis every time he opened his mouth. That’s exactly what they—from GM Ken Williams on through the coaches and players—needed. By 2014, Ventura might not have a choice in staying or going if the team looks disinterested and needs a spark.

Some veteran managers use their growing reputations and success to exact some revenge for years of subservience. Joe Torre and Francona took short money contracts to get their opportunities with the Yankees and Red Sox and when the time came to get paid and accumulate say-so as to the construction of their clubs—no rebuilding projects for them anymore—they took them.

We can debate the baseball qualifications and merits of hiring outsiders to work in front offices or run a baseball team. Many of these individuals are people with degrees from impressive universities who never picked up a ball themselves and haven’t the faintest idea about the social hierarchy and nuance necessary to handle a big league clubhouse or put a cohesive club together not just on the field, but off it as well.

Crunching numbers isn’t analysis and is decidedly not all there is to running a baseball team, nor the final word in determining the future. This is how we end up with the Pirates’ assistant Kyle Stark living out his tough guy fantasies by entreating his minor league players to follow Navy SEALs training techniques and telling them to think like a Hell’s Angel without understanding what that truly entails. It’s how insecure “analysts” such as Keith Law continually try to find excuses for the Orioles’ success in 2012 and why he and other “experts” were “right” in spirit about them having a prototypically terrible Orioles year, but the Orioles made up for their lack of talent with luck. Rather than simply enjoying an unexpected rise for a historic franchise as a baseball fan would, it turns into an egocentric treatise to bolster one’s own credentials and dissect why it’s not “real.” Is it necessary to find a “why” to justify the Orioles being lucky complete with turning one’s nose up in a pompous, snobby, sighing and eye-rolling dismissiveness?

Matheny and Ventura are running toward the mistaken path that other coaches and managers have taken in assuming that because they did what can be perceived as a good job, that they’ll always have another opportunity to manage if they need it. It’s not the case. The attitude of “I’m doing you a favor by being here” only lasts for so long. Perhaps Ventura doesn’t need to manage or to have the job, but with Matheny’s financial plight now known, he does need the job, making that attitude worse.

As Parcells repeatedly showed, it’s a tradeoff to take his ambiguity from one year to the next to have his coaching expertise. With Ventura and Matheny, it can be seen as an advantage to have a replaceable overseer rather than a difficult and well-compensated manager with a track record like LaRussa. Whether they realize that it won’t cost much to fire them is the question. Maybe Matheny will think about that if the transition from the veterans that performed under LaRussa and maintained that performance under Matheny evolves into youngsters who must to be nurtured and guided with strategies a legitimate manager must impart. His strategic work was wanting in 2012 even though the Cardinals made it to game 7 of the NLCS. If it becomes clear that the Cardinals don’t need him, that flippancy will dissolve, but it might be too late. Front offices will tolerate it while it’s working. When it’s not, they won’t. It could come back to haunt them. When they realize the job wasn’t such a bad deal after all, it will no longer be theirs to keep at their discretion.

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