Leyland’s Rant

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Jim Leyland’s latest rant about “experts” that make baseball predictions wasn’t as much a reaction to something specific as it was an explosion resulting from long-simmering tensions about seismic changes in the way baseball is viewed and analyzed.

You can read what he said here on the Chicago Tribune website.

This was a reply to structural shifts and wasn’t directed at any individual in particular. It was a defense of himself and his work; work that’s been increasingly decried with the rising number of people who make snarky comments after insinuating themselves into his world without the foundation to do so.

His raving mania was a diversionary tactic, factually inaccurate and will only be judged in hindsight. He used the White Sox as a tool to get his point across.

Leyland’s been managing the Tigers since 2006 and the White Sox were good in some years and horribly disappointing in others.

Are there reasons to think the White Sox will struggle this season? With a neophyte manager, poor defense and shaky bullpen?

Of course.

Could they surprise if, as Leyland said, the starting pitching performs and the hitters account for the team’s deficiencies?

Absolutely.

What pretense he used for his soliloquy is neither here nor there.

Leyland and Tony LaRussa, among others, have shown righteous indignation bordering on condescending arrogance to being questioned by those perceived intruders.

They have grounds to feel that way.

How would you like it if an unwanted interloper—probably half your age—barged into your place of business and started telling you how to do it in an overtly obnoxious manner as if you’re a fool whose experience is irrelevant.

In spite of the old-school and over-the-top method of delivering the message, Leyland’s not wrong.

Leyland and LaRussa are coming from a place where they can be condescending to critics who don’t have their resumes; who cram stuff into their heads to put forth the image of expertise.

We see it all the time. There’s a difference between having a genuine background in the game by participating, watching, understanding and assessing and forcing a load of facts into one’s head, regurgitating statistics and terminology, then presenting a case based on bottom-line numbers as if it’s a math problem rather than a game played by human beings.

The line between knowledge and understanding is subtle, but imperative when determining who and who not to listen to. If Leyland has people who are saying foolish things and questioning his strategies without accounting and accepting the context of dealing with baseball players, running a clubhouse and keeping the media at bay, then he has a reason to go on a tangent to express his displeasure at the direction in which modern analysis has gone.

You can memorize names and numbers; quote concepts you scarcely comprehend to fit the profile, but that’s not going to replace having been in the trenches and deciding on a course of action with confidence in one’s position; there’s no validation for this from a formula or reading facts from 50 years ago in a book and attacking a Leyland or LaRussa because they disagree with you and don’t constantly discuss numbers or studies as a defense.

How does one proclaim himself qualified to question Leyland and LaRussa if they don’t know who Jack Buck was? If they don’t know that a knuckleball is thrown with the fingertips and not the knuckles?

The puffed up, self-indulgent, ego-aggrandizing titles you see on what essentially amount to fan websites—senior editor; founder; creator; lead writer—mean absolutely nothing in terms of credibility.

Such credibility has to be accrued through years of legitimate and verifiable work. That work doesn’t always have to have been retrospectively “right” such as “I was right about X team losing 95 games.” Or “I predicted Y would bat .225 this season with 8 homers.”

Predictions have to come from a basis of reason. If it’s just from some random statistic, where’s the analysis?

There’s a significant difference between looking at the numbers, for example, of Tim Lincecum and making broad statements as to why he’s off to a poor start. It’s easy to mention the decline in his velocity and to come to a random conclusion of him “breaking down”. It’s not so easy to study at his motion, determine glitches that would be imperceptible to laymen and to have a practical reason why he’s struggling and formulate ways to fix it.

Leyland’s diatribe came across as a wide-ranging spray of bullets directed at anyone and everyone in its path, but there’s a method to his madness. When someone who’s never picked up a baseball is sitting behind a laptop on Starbucks and makes references to random studies on numbers, innings and pitch counts and decides to criticize Leyland’s choice to leave Justin Verlander in to throw 131 pitches, does he not have a reason to retort?

Leyland’s had enough and was sending a message that will be ignored, misunderstood or scoffed at by the same pompous people who he’s referring to—people who don’t know anything—thereby defeating the purpose.

At least he vented. We don’t want him to spontaneously combust in the dugout.

It’s not the last time we’ll hear him go off on this subject.

And that’s a good thing.

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The Sarah Palin Effect and Baseball Nuance

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The Brewers have hired Johnny Narron as their new hitting coach to replace new Cubs manager Dale Sveum.

This gives them two Narrons on the coaching staff—bench coach Jerry Narron along with Johnny.

I’m not being snarky when I ask whether Keith Law has finally realized that Johnny Narron and Jerry Narron are not the same person.

In 2007, when the Rangers acquired Josh Hamilton, Law wrote a piece for ESPN about the move suggesting that they hire the “former Rangers manager” Johnny Narron as a “support system” for Hamilton given Johnny’s relationship with Hamilton in prior years as he recovered from substance abuse issues.

It made perfect sense.

The problem was that it was Johnny’s brother Jerry who was the former Rangers (and Reds) manager. It wouldn’t have been as glaring an error but for Law’s status as a “baseball insider”.

I wrote a blog posting in my loooong-ago blogging home MLBlogs that was indeed snarky—link.

But I’ve evolved since then. Slightly.

Law’s posting was later edited to correct the mistake. But that’s not the point.

There are factual errors and there’s are screwups.

This was a screwup stemming from an empty vault.

Jerry Narron shouldn’t be an unknown quantity for someone who fancies himself as enough of a baseball expert to comment on everything from scouting to stats to player moves to how stupid GMs of today are. In fact, it was Jerry Narron who, along with Brad Gulden, replaced Thurman Munson as one of the Yankees regular catchers for the remainder of the 1979 season after the Yankee captain’s tragic death in a plane crash.

This reminded me of a brief and not unfriendly back-and-forth I had with a fellow Twitter user about Joe Buck. I’d said something to the tune of, “we all know how Joe Buck wound up in the position he’s in” alluding to his father, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck. The other user, a relatively known blogger attached to ESPN and angling for a position in a baseball front office, said Joe Buck was in his current position because his dad was a former ballplayer.

How, if you want to be a baseball executive, do you not know enough basic baseball history to understand who Jack Buck was and what he was famous for?

It’s the Sarah Palin effect and the nuance of knowledge.

You can cram all the bits of information into anyone’s brain to try and make them sound like they have a baseline comprehension of whatever’s going on, but that doesn’t imply actual knowing—knowing by observation and retaining information as a matter of course through in the trenches work.

It’s why the armchair analysts who have the audacity to sit in front of their computer screens and criticize Tony LaRussa by implying what they would do were they in his position sound so ludicrous.

It’s not about making the statistically viable decision in every circumstance—it’s about handling people and accessing an accumulated experience to do what might seem unconventional or difficult to explain, but works.

This can’t be accrued by regurgitating scouting terminology and being an “expert” in name only; it comes from years-and-years of involvement. If the former governor of Alaska did something as elementary as reading the newspaper on a daily basis, she wouldn’t have had to go through mock debates with her benefactors on suicide watch and praying for the best possible scenario (or a fire) that she not humiliate them with a ridiculous gaffe that a 2nd grader would know was inaccurate.

It’s the same thing in baseball.

Studying statistics and being able to sound like you know what you’re talking about doesn’t make it so.

It’s why a numbers cruncher has no business walking into then-Padres manager Bruce Bochy‘s office and suggesting he bat pitcher Woody Williams second.

It’s why you have to know who Jack Buck, Red Barber, Russ Hodges and Mel Allen were.

And it’s why you should know who a fringe player who replaced a fallen hero and became a big league manager is and that he and his brother are two separate people.

Either you know it or you don’t; and most of those who are accorded credibility in today’s era of internet journalism and repetitive, circular factoids plainly and simply don’t.

It’s easy to tell the difference if you’re actually listening and know what you’re talking about yourself.

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