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 Strip The Spaceship For Parts

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Stat-centric people are looking at the Astros and nodding their heads approvingly at the series of maneuvers that may have improved their farm system and future. GM Jeff Luhnow is implementing the sabermetric template in what’s developing into a case study of how a purely stat-based organization would be run. They’re creating new job titles in baseball circles (Director of Decision Sciences), hiring people from Baseball Prospectus, and gutting the big league club of any and all competent major league players while signing the refuse that’s available cheaply and who have nowhere else to go. If you wanted to see a team that was run by the people at Fangraphs, here are your 2013 Houston Astros sans Jed Lowrie who was traded to the Athletics yesterday along with reliever Fernando Martinez for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi. The players they received may be assets for the future, but financially they cost a fraction of what Lowrie was going to make in 2013 ($2.4 million).

Whether the Astros’ strategy works or not will take at least three and probably five years to determine. As of now, though, MLB has to take a hard look at what the Astros are doing, and decide if it’s fair to the spirit of competition to have a team with what projects to be a $25 million payroll and won’t just be the worst team in baseball for 2013 (that’s a given), but will possibly be one of the worst teams in the history of the sport. To think that the Astros, who lost 106 games in 2011 and 107 games in 2012 could somehow find a way to sink lower than that ineptitude is mind-boggling, but they’ve done it.

When Jim Crane bought the team and hired Luhnow, the organization was a barren, expansion-like wasteland. That’s not an excuse for what they’re doing. The days of teams having to endure half a decade of 100-plus losses ended when the Diamondbacks showed that an expansion team can win if they’re truly committed and intelligent about it. With free agency and teams’ willingness to trade, there is no longer 1960s Mets-style acceptance of being a league punching bag until the young players develop. There’s no reason that a team has to turn itself into an embarrassment while they’re rebuilding.

The Cubs are embarking on a similar restructuring and overhaul with people who come from the same mindset (though not as extreme) as Luhnow. Theo Epstein was one of the first to turn his club into a sabermetrically-inclined organization with the Red Sox in 2003, but he also used scouting techniques and a lot of money to create a juggernaut that won on the field and “won” off the field in terms of popularity and profit. The Cubs lost six fewer games than the Astros did in 2012, but while Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and the rest of the staff alter the way the club is run from top-to-bottom, build through the draft and search for international players to sign, they’re also bringing in veterans like Edwin Jackson and Scott Hairston to join Starlin Castro (whom they signed to a long-term deal), Matt Garza and a few other recognizable players.

In fairness, the Cubs were in a slightly better situation than the Astros when the new front office took charge and the Astros weren’t going to win many more games with Lowrie than they will without him, but the Cubs tried to bring in big league caliber players all winter and the Astros didn’t. The Cubs have more money to spend and a fanbase that’s going to show up no matter what, but the Astros are essentially spitting in their fans’ faces with a team that no one is going to want to go see as a “root, root, root for the home team” group. Houston fans will go to the games to see opponents Mike Trout, Derek Jeter, Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez, but they’re not going to see their own Lucas Harrell. By July, the Astros won’t be able to give tickets away.

MLB saw fit to intervene when the Marlins used financial sleight of hand to pocket revenue sharing money. They mandated that the money be used to improve the on-field product. Does realistic competence dictate that the commissioner’s office step in and tell the Astros that this simply isn’t acceptable?

The Astros are trying to run their club like a business, but in MLB or any other sporting conglomerate, there’s a responsibility to ensure a baseline of competitiveness not just for the people of Houston, but for the rest of baseball.

Is it right that the four other teams in the American League West will have 19 games each against the Astros while the AL East is so parity-laden? Clubs like the White Sox and Royals in the AL Central—who have an argument to make a playoff run—can deem it wrong that a playoff spot in the West will have an easier path because the Astros are openly presenting a product that has no intention nor chance to win a vast majority of the games they play through sheer lack of talent.

I’ve long been against a minimum payroll in baseball. If a team is smart enough to succeed by spending less, they should be allowed to do so without interference. That, however, is contingent on the teams trying to compete, something the Astros are currently not doing.

It’s fine to adapt outside world business principles to sports, but unlike the outside business world, a sports franchise is not operating in a vacuum as an individual company. Like the battle between pitcher and catcher, it’s one-on-one in a group dynamic. They’re individuals, but are functioning within a group.

Since there’s no such thing as European football-style relegation in MLB where actual punishment is possible, the overseers need to seriously consider creating a payroll floor to stop what the Astros are blatantly doing because it’s hindering the competitive balance that has long been the goal. The Astros are scoffing at that notion and it’s unfair to the rest of baseball that they’re being allowed to do it with impunity.

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General Manager is Not a Baseball Job, it’s a Political Office

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Fans of the Mariners should be very afraid if this story from Jon Paul Morosi is true.

Truth is, of course, relative. Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik might be following orders from ownership that Ichiro Suzuki is staying with the club no matter what; it might be that he’s saying things he knows aren’t true to keep the media sharks from following him and Ichiro around to ask what’s going to happen; or he could actually plan to keep a declining and old player as a centerpiece of his club on the field and in the lineup. In any case, it’s frightening and piggybacks on the Geoff Baker story from last week that said the Mariners have no intention of contending before 2015.

It’s stunning how the stat people who held Zduriencik as a totem for their beliefs abandoned him. No longer is he referred to as a “truly Amazin’ exec” who worked his way up through baseball in scouting and has embraced advanced stats to build his team. There’s no hope if they intend to move forward with Ichiro. Period.

All of this highlights the difficulty in being a GM in today’s game. Gone are the days when the name of the GM was only known because George Steinbrenner had just fired him. Do you know, without looking, who the GM of the Earl Weaver Orioles was? Or the “We Are Family” Pirates? Or the Red Sox in the 1970s?

No, you don’t. But if you don’t know the names of the GMs in today’s game then you’re not a real fan. It’s not a job anymore, it’s a political office. Not everyone is cut out to be a politician and by now Zduriencik is like a hamster running on a treadmill in some rich guy’s office. If it’s true that he believes Ichiro is still a “franchise player” then he should be fired.

If it’s true that upper management is telling him that Ichiro stays no matter what, he needs to say enough already with the interference and that he must be allowed to run the team correctly if he’s going to stay in the job.

Let’s say that he’s trying to take pressure off of Ichiro and the organization. If that’s the case, then he needs to learn to say the words, “We’ll address that at the end of the season but we have great respect for what Ichiro has accomplished here.”

Now if they do anything with Ichiro other than bring him back, Zduriencik’s inability to effectively play the game of lying without lying is even more reason why he shouldn’t be a GM.

There are the typical GMs and ex-GMs who are treated as idiots by outsiders who haven’t the faintest idea of how difficult a job it truly is. Dayton Moore is great at building farm systems but has proven wanting in making trades and signing free agents. Jon Daniels isn’t that far away from being considered an idiot after trading Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Ken Williams—who’s won a World Series—had to endure all sorts of absurd criticisms for his management style last winter and now has a team in first place. And like a professional wrestler whose ring persona alternates from “heel” to “face” depending on what the company needs and which feud would bring in the most pay-per-view purchases, Billy Beane has the Moneyball “genius” rhetoric attached to him again because some of the young players he acquired last winter are playing well and manager Bob Melvin has the Athletics performing five miles over their heads.

Again, in spite of the Moneyball strategy no longer existing in the form in which it was presented, Beane is serving as validation for numbers above all else, reality be damned.

Which is it? Are they geniuses? Are they idiots? Are they politicians? Are they people trying to do a job that’s become impossible to do without angering someone?

Do you know?

What makes it worse is the “someones” they’re angering are either using them for personal interests or don’t have the first clue as to what they’re talking about.

If Jeff Luhnow thought he’d be safe from their wrath—unleashed behind the safety and anonymity of computer screens—he learned pretty quickly that he wasn’t. The idea of, “they believe what I believe” didn’t protect him from the poisonous barbs and accusations of betrayal from the everyday readers of Fangraphs when he chose to make Brett Myers his closer. Even the paper thin-skinned armchairiest of armchair experts, Keith Law, to whom Luhnow supposedly offered a job (although I don’t really believe he did) went after his would-be boss questioning the decision.

It’s easy to criticize when not responsible for the organization; when there’s no accountability and one has the option of never admitting they’re wrong about anything as a means to bolster credibility. This, in reality, does nothing other than display one’s weaknesses and lack of confidence. It’s no badge of honor to never make a mistake.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to be the “I’d do” guy. I’d do this. I’d do that. But would they “do” what they say they’d do? Or would they want to quit after one day? After one negative column from a former friend? After understanding that being a GM isn’t about making trades, signing players and being a hero, but about drudgery and having to use ambiguous phrasing to keep from saying anything at all?

Do you think a GM or an inside baseball person wants to hear criticisms from the likes of Joe Sheehan? From Law? From Joel Sherman? Could these media experts handle the job and the savagery to which a GM in today’s game is subjected every…single…day? They’d curl into the fetal position and cry.

I’d never, ever last more than a week as a GM because: A) I don’t have the patience to answer ridiculous and repetitive questions from reporters; B) I can’t play the game of giving nuggets that I know are lies or exaggerations to media outlets and bloggers in order to maintain a solid relationship with them and exchange splashy headlines for the stuff I want out there for my own benefit; and C) I’m incapable of placating an owner or boss to the degree where I lose credibility.

Whichever one Zduriencik is doing is grounds for a change.

There comes a time when enough’s enough and this Ichiro nonsense, to me, is it.

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Chase Headley Is More Valuable Than…

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Chase Headley is an affordable and versatile switch hitter. He can run, has some power and plays good defense whether it’s at third base or the outfield. He can probably play first base relatively well. He’s not a free agent until after the 2014 season so any team that has him will have him for the foreseeable future at a very reasonable price.

He’s a nice player. He’s a pretty good player.

But this posting on MLB Trade Rumors implies, based on Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), that he’s something more than a pretty good player. It says specifically that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball.

This exemplifies a problem with WAR. It gives information that may or may not be accurate, relevant or in the proper context.

Does value equal worth?

In other words, it may be accurate that Headley is that good in this framework, but is it true? Is it fair?

Based on fWAR, yes Headley was the 13th “most valuable” player in baseball. (He’s dropped since the posting.)

But salary aside, would you rather have Headley instead of some of the players currently behind him in the list? Headley instead of Carlos Beltran? Instead of Brett Lawrie? Mark Trumbo? Jose Bautista? Joe Mauer?

Headley might hit for more power if he was in a friendlier home park, but don’t expect him to suddenly morph from what he is—10-12 homers a year—into Asdrubal Cabrera and have a wondrous jump in power to 25 homers.

Looking at other Padres’ players who’ve gone on to play in fairer parks—Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Mike Cameron—their power numbers have been the same or worse.

When in PetCo Park, the pitchers are aware of how difficult it is to hit a home run; that Headley hits a lot of balls up the middle which make it harder for him to hit home runs. They’re more likely to feed him pitches they wouldn’t if he were playing in a smaller park.

The dimensions of the park are static; the pitching strategy is variable.

Not unlike the oft-repeated and woefully inaccurate lament that if X player wasn’t caught stealing prior to Y player’s home run they would’ve had 2 runs rather than 1, it’s not taking into account that the entire pitching sequence would’ve been different and might’ve yielded an entirely different result.

It’s indicative of a lack of in-the-trenches knowledge to take fWAR—or any stat for that matter—at face value. Similar to those who said they’d stay away from Yu Darvish or Aroldis Chapman because of prior failures with Japanese and Cuban free agents; or the concept that because a tall catcher like Mauer has never made it as a star player then he’s not going to be a star player; or the Moneyball farce that college pitchers are a better option than high school pitchers, it’s a false “proof” based on floating principles that remove experience and baseball sense from the decisionmaking process.

Stats are important but not the final word. If you take seriously the idea that Headley is the 13th most valuable position player in baseball and judge him on that, quite bluntly, you don’t know anything about baseball and need to learn before putting your opinion out there as final. And if you knowingly twist the facts, that makes it worse because instead of full disclosure—statistical and otherwise—in spite of the possibility of them watering down your argument, you’re spiritually altering them to “prove” a nonexistent point. That’s not honesty. It’s agenda-driven and self-interested at the expense of the truth.

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Stat Guy Strong Arm

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Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and Fangraphs provides this prescription to begin fixing the Mariners woes for 2012.

Here’s the clip from the above link:

Transactions

Trade RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Brandon League, OF Greg Halman, 3B Chone Figgins (with Seattle absorbing $16 of remaining $17 million on Figgins’ contract), and SS Carlos Triunfel to Cincinnati for 1B Joey Votto and C Yasmani Grandal.

Trade 1B Mike Carp to Milwaukee for 3B Casey McGehee and RHP Marco Estrada.

Trade OF Michael Saunders and RHP Dan Cortes to Florida for RHP Chris Volstad.

Trade LHP Cesar Jimenez to New York for OF Angel Pagan.

Sign Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

Sign Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.

That’s only part one; I can’t wait for part two. Maybe there he’ll send Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan to the Yankees for Jesus Montero.

This thinking epitomizes what one William Lamar Beane—aka Billy Beane—said to Tom Verducci in one of the “it’s not Billy’s fault” pieces that came out to defend Beane (in advance of the homage known as Moneyball, THE MOVIE) for putting together a bad Athletics team; a team that Verducci himself picked to win the AL West before the season.

Beane’s argument was that the new breed of GMs have burst into baseball and are doing essentially what Cameron is doing; they’re saying “here’s what we’ll give you and if you’re smart, you’ll take it” in a Luca Brasi (or Frank Wren) sort of way.

Short of kidnapping his family or putting a gun to his head, I don’t know what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik could do to Reds GM Walt Jocketty to get him to accept the above package for Votto.

Though I see Tommy John in his future, Pineda’s very good; League is a guy you can find very cheaply on the market; Halman strikes out too much, doesn’t walk and from his numbers is a bad outfielder; Triunfel hasn’t shown he can hit in the minors; and you can have Chone Figgins and we’ll pay him. For that, you can give us a top catching prospect and one of the best hitters in baseball. We all done? Okay. Good.

The other deals are just as delusional.

What is this obsession with Erik Bedard and the Mariners? Haven’t they had enough?

Moyer? Again? He’s had a wonderful career, but he’s almost 50. Move on.

You want Pagan? He’s yours.

Why the Marlins would take Cortes and Saunders at all, least of all for Volstad, is unclear and unexplained.

Without getting into a long-winded “my way’s better” critique of Cameron’s plan, how about—before anything else—Zduriencik walking into ownership on hands and knees and begging to let him get rid of Ichiro Suzuki? Signing Josh Willingham? Pursuing Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder? Making a major bid for Yu Darvish? Jim Thome? David Ortiz?

Wouldn’t these be preferable options than making a lunatic proposal for Votto that would be rejected?

These deals are typical of the concept that outsiders with a forum and a stat sheet envision as the simplicity as to how deals are made. We call you, you accept and we’re done.

Much like the same people have the audacity to say—in a grudging tribute to Tony LaRussa on the day of his retirement and immediately after he wins a World Series—“I didn’t always agree with his strategies, but…” they have this vision of innate knowledge that doesn’t exist; of what they’d do.

They cling.

They cling to Moneyball being “real”; cling to the likes of Charlie Haeger, R.J. Swindle and Dale Thayer; and cling to a so-called revolution that was self-serving from the start.

It’s fine to print an off-season prescription of a scenario that could only exist in Tolkien, but this is reality; you’re not getting Votto for that package even if you do put a gun to Jocketty’s head and/or kidnap his family.

Jocketty would say, “kill me first”.

And I would say that too.

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Value Judgments

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I’m not picking on FanGraphs, but what are they trying to say with this type of piece— Carlos Beltran‘s Trade Value?

Are they conveying what Beltran‘s worth is independent of what the Mets could get for him?

Are they telling interested clubs that they shouldn’t consider giving up more than “C-value prospects”?

Are they suggesting to the Mets they not hold out for more than those lower echelon minor leaguers and kick in some money?

Is it all of the above?

I’m not sure.

There’s a disconnect with the adherence to stats, player “value” and what clubs should be willing to surrender to try and win immediately. Desperation, bidding wars and opportunity aren’t factored in because they’re elements of humanity that can’t be quantified by “shoulds and shouldn’ts”.

That doesn’t make them irrelevant.

For every club that does something that was retrospectively stupid like the Tigers trading John Smoltz to the Braves for Doyle Alexander in 1988 or the Red Sox trading Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for Larry Andersen in 1990, it’s ignored that the immediate ends were achieved—both of those clubs made the playoffs that year and lost; with a break here and there, they could’ve won a championship with the players they acquired. Andersen didn’t contribute much to the Red Sox and no one could’ve foreseen what Bagwell became; the Tigers wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Alexander’s ridiculous 9-0 run.

Was it worth it? Can the performances by Smoltz and Bagwell be transferred laterally to an identical degree had they not been traded?

Of course not.

You can say their talent would’ve shone through, but that’s a copout. It might not have. There are situations and circumstances that directly influence a player’s development and studying stats does not consider it. Smoltz might’ve faltered playing for his hometown team—he wasn’t exactly the most mentally together pitcher when he first got to the Braves; Bagwell was also playing near home and the Red Sox didn’t have much patience for young players then.

You cannot say that they would have replicated eventual success with their original organizations.

No one can predict what a GM is going to be thinking as he’s examining his club needs in July. If the Giants aren’t prepared to give up a Zach Wheeler now for Jose Reyes or Beltran, they might be willing if a playoff spot is in jeopardy. Perhaps they’ll give up Wheeler and more.

If Jorge Posada is still hitting .160 in June, would the Yankees consider Jesus Montero to rent Beltran?

You can say “no” now, but things happen at the trading deadline that bears no connection to the “value” placed on a player in a statistical sense. Setting guidelines has a place, but it’s not the final arbiter.

Does making a maneuver that doesn’t have a basis in numbers indicate that it was wrong? Heads were scratched when Giants GM Brian Sabean claimed Cody Ross. Without Ross, would the Giants have won the World Series? Maybe, maybe not; but the fact is that Ross was an integral contributor to the Giants championship. And they got him for nothing apart from money.

What a club “should” do in relation to numbers; what they “should” do based on reality; and what they “will” do are in no way connected. The Mets should set their sights on the best possible players they can get.

The proper way to do this—for any club—is to target players from potential trade partners and say, “I want X for Y”. Then wait. Once the demand is agreed to, the trade should be made. As time wears down and the deadline approaches, then adjustments should be made to get something for the player and it must be taken into account that the draft pick compensation might be more valuable than the mid-level minor leaguers they’re being offered.

If you accept the FanGraphs argument linked above and agree that only “C” prospects are reasonable, that’s all you’re going to get. And it’s a sure way to diminish the practical and non-statistical “value” that was the genesis of the FanGraphs posting in the first place.

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Stereotypes, Safe And Detrimental

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Dave Cameron of Fangraphs discusses the stereotypical “types” teams search for in filling positions—link.

I disagree with much of what Cameron says and, more importantly, why he says it; I detect an agenda that he and other stat people maintain to “prove” their way is best.

In this case, the premise is somewhat sound.

I can quibble with the assertion that it’s “harder to find a good hitting shortstop than any other position on the diamond”, but it’s the battle against stereotypes that—presumably—we can agree on.

I loathe the concept that a third baseman and first baseman both have to be sluggers; plodding, immobile, two-fisted maulers can be hidden in left field or first base; that the closer has to throw very, very hard; or that immutable “rules” must be adhered to when building a club.

It’s an old-school, ignorant and safety-first method of running a team.

There are so many factors in a team’s construction that holding onto any one sacrosanct concept is ruinous. What does the club need? Do they have a pitching staff that requires solid defenders? Will the player inserted at third base or first base cost the club more runs defensively than he’d provide offensively? Can the offense carry a non-existent bat?

These are not meaningless questions and they can’t be answered with the simplistic, primordial and inane “third baseman must hit homers”.

30 years ago, shortstop was a defense-first position. Before Earl Weaver shifted Cal Ripken from third base to shortstop, the position was relegated to the Bucky Dent, Mark Belanger, Larry Bowa, Ozzie Smith-type player who was in the lineup for defense and defense alone.

Look at some of the names that played shortstop regularly back in 1982 as Ripken became a shortstop who could actually hit and hit for power: Glenn Hoffman; Alfredo Griffin; Tim Foli. Apart from Robin Yount and Alan Trammell and a few that could hit a bit like U.L. Washington, Rafael Ramirez and Bill Russell, they were primarily no-hit glovemen.

Another interesting note in Ripken’s 1982 shift to shortstop was who replaced him as the primary third baseman for those Orioles. It was a minor league journeyman named Glenn Gulliver. Gulliver couldn’t hit (.200 average with no power that year), but he could walk (his OBP was .363) and field the ball at third base.

This was the ahead-of-his-time genius of Weaver—he didn’t care about perception; he inserted Gulliver into the lineup, batted him second and took advantage of what he had: a big third baseman superstar in Ripken who was quick enough and smart enough to play shortstop and a third baseman who had attributes he could take advantage of to make the team better.

It had nothing to do with clinging to stereotypes of “how things have always been”; it had to do with the hand he was holding and how best to take advantage of it.

Be wary of anything that subverts your will like the “sposdas” because it’s those who grasp frantically at the way things are “sposda” be who sabotage and ignore the obvious even if it’s right in front of their faces.

It’s the safe and stupid option.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Cold And Indifferent Truth

Hot Stove

Neither love-fest nor shooting gallery, on the day of his retirement, here’s the icy and brutally honest assessment of Andy Pettitte‘s career with its ups-and-downs; truths amid embellishments.

On the field and in a dark alley:

A player establishes relatively quickly whether he’s going to be able to handle the big stage of New York with the media, the attention, the temptations.

One thing that has aided the Yankees during the last 15 years of consistent championship contention has gone under-reported—that their “core four” Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada have stayed out of the front of the newspaper in a negative sense.

Aside from the Roger Clemens-PED controversy (more on that in a bit), as far as we know, Pettitte has been as clean off the field as he was gutty on it; the same can be said of Jeter, Rivera and Posada.

Jeter of course is as big a star as an athlete can possibly be and he’s a bon vivant nonpareil, but he’s shunned controversy and never consciously placed himself into a position where he could be embarrassed.

It was a more difficult road for Pettitte as he was a soft-spoken and subdued Texan; a handsome young athlete who likely had more negative influences available because of the evident shyness. The questions abounded if Pettitte was genuine or if the image was a means-to-an-end for the club and player.

But they were avoided.

If anything was a key to the Yankees run, it was that on and off field professionalism. Vultures and greenflies hover around a young athlete especially in New York; if he keeps from succumbing, he’s free to perform on the field.

As a pitcher, Pettitte was never the most dominant, but there was something about him that said he wasn’t going to wilt in the spotlight. He started his big league career in 1995 out of necessity as an extra arm out of the Yankees bullpen and didn’t enter the starting rotation until a month later. As a rookie he went 12-9 and was a major part of the Yankees late season run to the playoffs; his first post-season start against the Mariners was serviceable, but he was warming up in the bullpen when Jack McDowell blew game 5 in the series loss.

In the 1996 regular season, he went 21-8 and blossomed into a full-blown star; it was in the playoffs that his reputation began to cement itself. His performance in game 5—8 1/3 innings of 5 hit, no run ball, set the stage for the championship clincher in game 6.

As the years passed, Pettitte’s career didn’t follow the path some assumed it would. Rather than continue and improve, he became a cog in the machine. With high ERAs and accumulation of wins in the regular season, there was never an overt “fear” of Andy Pettitte where teams worried about not being able to score runs; he took advantage of the run-scoring machine those Yankees were; that they had a terrific bullpen and he won a lot of games.

You knew at the beginning of each season what you were going to get from Pettitte; that’s not on a level with the devastation a pitcher like Pedro Martinez brought forth on his victims, but it may have been as important. Knowing someone’s going to be there and not cower in the face of danger is a valuable asset.

Pettitte’s career took him to the Astros—a fact that’s conveniently glossed over in the postmortems of his career—and he left the Yankees as a matter of choice. It was said to have partially been due to the disrespect he felt he was receiving from the Yankees organization; that they had other priorities and fell asleep at the switch with their financial might seen as the final arbiter (sounds familiar now, doesn’t it?); but Pettitte took less money from the Astros after a desperation offer from the Yankees failed.

Three years later, he returned, did the same job he did in his first stint with the Yankees. Never dominant; always consistent; durable and money in the playoffs.

A few weeks ago, when the Yankees were said to have offered a contract to Carl Pavano, I said that Pavano is not the person I’d want at my back in a dark alley unless there was a beach, a Porsche dealership and a modeling agency in clear view on the other side; with Pettitte, I’d have no such hesitation—he’s the guy you want protecting you. If he lost, it wasn’t due to a lack of conviction or courage; it was because he got beat.

The PEDs and sullying of his reputation:

It’s not to be totally dismissed that Pettitte admitted to having used HGH. He claimed it was trying to overcome an injury and earn his paycheck by continuing to pitch.

As cynical as I am and knowing the way people almost universally are, I believe him. Just like I believe his assertion that he told the truth about Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee because it was the right thing to do—it’s a rarity.

Multi-millionaire athletes think nothing of flinging overboard a convenient scapegoat to save themselves; Pettitte could’ve done that with his testimony in the Clemens case, but didn’t.

Is it a giant black mark on his career or a mere blot?

I say it’s a blot; continually reference in calling Pettitte a “cheater” is a cheap, agenda-laden shot. It has nothing to do with the notion—which cannot be answered by an outsider—that Pettitte “wouldn’t do that”. You nor I would know what he’s up to in his private life; but I believe him when he says he used the drugs briefly and stopped.

In this era with Rafael Palmeiro‘s finger pointing and Clemens’s “misrememberations”, it was refreshing in the Jason Giambi sense that he did it and wasn’t going to lie about it. With Giambi, there was a bumpkin-like innocence that he was in court and under oath and wasn’t going to present falsehoods; with Pettitte it was because he knew what happened and wasn’t going to make a difficult situation worse for himself by denying that which he knew to be true.

The aftermath for player and club:

Could Pettitte, at age 39, decide at some point that he wants to play? And would the Yankees have him?

Of course.

But the team had to have prepared for this eventuality; Pettitte’s gone and, for all intents and purposes, he’s not coming back. I believe that the lack of desire played a part in his decision, but I also think that a physical breakdown is an issue; with back, muscle and elbow problems, to think that he’d again be the horse he’s been in the past is ignoring reality.

I doubt Pettitte wanted to go through a year of not knowing which pitch would be his last; whether his back or elbow would blow at any moment.

The reactions to the retirement have bordered on nonsensical.

I truly loathe when a club is attacked for that which they didn’t do, but the attacker doesn’t present a viable solution.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the following on Twitter yesterday:

LH targets kicked around by some #Yankees people: J. Saunders, S. Kazmir, W. LeBlanc, C. Richard, G. Gonzalez. Just ideas right now. #MLB

Some of the names are shots in the dark; others are absurd. For what possible reason would the Padres want to trade Clayton Richard? Why would the A’s trade Gio Gonzalez? More examples of the media coming to solutions in the vein of “the Yankees want, therefore the Yankees get” like talk show callers who want to trade Brett Gardner for Albert Pujols.

Scott Kazmir? Joe Saunders? Wade LeBlanc?

Good luck.

Also Fangraphs suggested the Yankees trade for Barry Zitolink.

Naturally Jonah Keri delivered the same stat-based “reality” that makes this a good plan. Much like the extolling of the Mariners last season, their numbers bypass the reality that Zito would get blasted in the American League East. The patient hitters in the division and throughout the league would do a number on him; he’d give the Yankees 200 innings and post an ERA of 5.50 with a load of homers, 5 inning starts and plenty of walks.

They’re better off with what they have rather than take the remaining $64.5 million guaranteed on Zito’s contract; presumably, he might demand that his full option for 2014 ($18 million) be exercised rather than the $7 million buyout; and Keri suggests that the Giants might pick up half of the money.

Why?

Like the Padres trading Richard, what’s in it for them aside from getting the Yankees top prospects whom GM Brian Cashman is not trading for Zito.

And finally, there’s Wallace Matthews on ESPN—link.

Matthews’s piece is conspicuous in its criticism without a solution.

What did he want them to do?

Let’s say they were putting faith in his competitiveness and more money would overcome Pettitte’s implication that he was done; what was the pitching market past Cliff Lee?

Could they have traded for Zack Greinke? Maybe. Perhaps they should’ve rolled the dice on the off-field questions surrounding Greinke’s suitability for New York and surrendered whatever it took to get him—Jesus Montero, Ivan Nova, whatever—but they chose not to do that. And I understand why.

The Pavano move would’ve been insane; but what were their options? Much like my questioning to the critics as to what Mets GM Sandy Alderson was supposed to do this winter aside from what he’s done, what was the diabolical scheme that Matthews would’ve executed to repair the fissures in the Yankees rotation?

I read the column and didn’t see one idea from Matthews—maybe because past Lee, there wasn’t one.

Andy Pettitte has retired.

It’s not a national tragedy; not fodder for Yankees ridicule; not an opportunity to savage their front office for inaction.

Instead Pettitte should be appreciated for what he was and not canonized as a demagogue for his attributes. That diminishes rather than aggrandizes. Holding him to a higher standard will ruin the good that he did on and off the field.

He won five championships; he behaved professionally and with class; he made a lot of money; and he told the truth.

It’s a great career without being great.

That should be enough for now.

And forever.