Earl Weaver (1930-2013)

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Glenn Gulliver exemplifies what it was that made Earl Weaver different as a manager from his contemporaries. It wasn’t Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.—all Hall of Famers. Nor was it Ken Singleton, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar—consistently top performers. It wasn’t Steve Stone or Wayne Garland—pitchers who had their best seasons under Weaver; it wasn’t Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein (an MVP-quality platoon) or role players Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley; it wasn’t even the one year Weaver had Reggie Jackson on his team and punctuated Jackson’s arrival by screaming in his face because Reggie wasn’t wearing a tie on the team plane. (Brooks Robinson found him one and explained how things worked in Baltimore—Earl’s way or…well, it was just Earl’s way. Reggie behaved that year.) It wasn’t the frequent ejections, the foul mouth, the chain-smoking, the public ripping of players, his longevity and consistency.

It was none of that.

It was a nondescript third baseman whom the Orioles purchased from the Indians prior to the 1982 season and who played in 73 big league games, 50 under Weaver. Gulliver, more than any other player, shows why Weaver was ahead of his time. If he were playing today, the two things Gulliver did well would’ve gotten him a multi-year contract as an in demand asset because he: A) walked a lot; and B) could catch the ball at third base.

Gulliver batted .200 in his 50 games under Weaver and walked so much that he had a .363 on base percentage. Weaver saw this, knew this, and could only wonder about the stupidity of those who questioned why Gulliver was playing at all with his low batting average.

Twenty years before Moneyball and everyone thinking they were a genius because they watched baseball for five minutes and knew how to read a stat sheet, Weaver was an actual genius and innovator by using a discarded player who other clubs had no clue was so valuable.

For all the talk of Weaver’s use of statistics, riding his starting pitchers, putting a premium on defense and battles with Palmer and Davey Johnson, the concept that Weaver was a dictator who didn’t know how to be flexible is only half-true. He was a ruthless dictator off the field, but on the field, he was willing to go to whatever lengths he needed in order to win.

Weaver’s teams were always near the top of the league in certain categories. They weren’t always the same. Many times, at the plate, it was on base percentage. On the mound, it was complete games and shutouts. Weaver was known not to be a fan of the riskiness of the stolen base, but as he looked at his transitioning club from 1973-1975 and realized he wouldn’t have the power to win, he let his players loose on the basepaths because he had no other alternative and during those years they were at or near the top of the American League in stolen bases.

If Weaver were managing today, that would be seen as “evolution,” or “adapting.” It wasn’t any of that. Often, the question has been asked how Weaver would function today if he were managing; if the old-school techniques of, “I’m the boss, shut up,” would fly with the multi-millionaire players who can get the manager fired if they choose to do so.

Like wondering why he was using Gulliver, it’s a stupid question. Because Weaver was so ahead of his time as a manager using statistics and that he adjusted and won regardless of his personnel, he would have won whenever he managed.

If a player had any talent to do anything at all, Weaver found it and exploited it for as long as he could, then he discarded them. He did so without apology.

Old-school managers who tear into the absence of the human element, increase of instant replay, and use of numbers are doing so because these techniques are marginalizing them and potentially taking their jobs away. Do you really believe that Weaver wouldn’t have wanted expanded instant replay? To have a better method to find tiny advantages over his opponents through numbers? The older managers who’ve subtly changed have hung around. The ones who couldn’t, haven’t.

On the other hand, Weaver wouldn’t have responded well to agents calling him and complaining over a pitcher’s workload; or to have a kid out of Harvard walking up to him and telling him he should bat X player in Y spot because of a reason that Weaver was probably already aware of and dismissed; or bloggers and the media constantly haranguing, second-guessing and criticizing managers and GMs endure today. But he always altered his strategy to the circumstances and he would’ve continued to do so if he managed in any era.

Interestingly, Weaver retired very young at age 52, then came back to manage a terrible team for a couple of more years before finally retiring for good at 56. In a day when Charlie Manuel, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre managed in their late-60s and early 70s, and Jack McKeon won a World Series at 74 and came back to manage again at 81, could Weaver had continued on? Could he have taken a couple of years off in his 50s and returned? Absolutely. He would’ve been well-compensated and just as successful as he was when he was in his 30s and 40s for one simple reason: he knew what he was doing. And that’s about as great a compliment that a manager can get.

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The Real Reason Moneyball Was Shut Out at the Oscars

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You’re wondering how it’s possible that such a wonderful, true-to-life, triumph over adversity story like Moneyball was shut out at an aboveboard and evenhanded event like the Oscars?

See the clip below.

Putting aside the glaring inaccuracies and outright fabrications of the movie and the twisted narrative of the book, I can say that it was watchable though not particularly good and certainly not one of the best films of the year.

I suspect it was nominated as a quid pro quo for Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller and to drum up viewership from the baseball-watching crowd who would normally not watch the Oscars.

Presumably it worked.

You’re being scammed. Again.

On another note, those that are bludgeoning Billy Beane and the Athletics with the suggestion (amid unfunny quips) that Moneyball didn’t win anything at the insipid Academy Awards as another “reason” that the A’s are “losers” are just as foolish as those who cling to the book and movie as if it’s real.

There’s no connection between any of it apart from what’s convenient for those with an agenda for Moneyball to be validated; for Beane to be a “genius”; or for those who rip Moneyball because they’re too lazy or don’t have the aptitude to comprehend it and refute it on its own merits.

They’re all the same to me.

That’s been my point all along.

It was never worthy of all this attention to begin with.

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Draft Daze, Haze, Malaise

Draft, Management, Media, Players

Mock drafts condense the absurdity and ineptitude of the majority of would-be “experts” making predictions as to whom’s going to go where and altering it repeatedly based on sources, rumors, “analysis” and whatever else.

The Pirates have supposedly chosen to select Gerrit Cole as their first pick. Now that’s being analyzed with some applauding it; some criticizing it; and most not having the faintest clue what they’re talking about.

Then there are the discussion as to whom the Mariners are going to take next; who comes after that; whether MLB recommended bonus slotting will come into play; blah, blah, blah.

Then what?

If these predictions come true, what happens? Is their innate knowledge validated? Or did they guess right? The majority of them have changed their predictions repeatedly based on…I dunno what.

If they’re right about something that has nothing to do with actual predictive skill in examining something like a game where it’s a matter of competition rather than people making picks based not on an act, but determination on which player is the right one to take based on dozens of factors.

This is more ego-driven than usual when it comes to beat writers and draft-watchers and would-be Mel Kiper, Jrs.

I’m waiting for someone to explain the purpose of predicting which team is going to take whom where? How does it affect the draft-watcher how much money a player receives as a bonus?

One thing I’ll give to Keith Law and a few others is that they’d actually be able to pick the players who are set to be drafted out of a police lineup. Having nothing to do with scouting ability and accuracy, at the very least, Law has gone to watch the top-tier amateur players and can base an opinion on what he’s seen—specious though it may be.

What about the following in which David Lennon of Newsday tweeted about a mock draft he participated in?

Just did mock draft with MLB Network radio. A beat writer from each team makes selection, in order. Barnes there at No. 13 for #Mets.

And?

What…does…this…mean?

Nothing.

That’s what it means.

It’s not a prediction; it’s not analysis; it’s a bunch of people talking about nothing based on nothing.

In other words, it’s a way to fill time; a column; a blog posting; or twitter inanities.

If you partake, you’re validating it.

And that’s on you.

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A Passover Bounty For The Hebrew Hammer

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Ryan Braun signed a contract extension with the Brewers through 2020.

Like Troy Tulowitzki before him, Braun’s new contract is on top of his prior contract that he signed after his rookie year. He’s guaranteed $145 million with a mutual option for 2021 and a $4 million buyout.

He’ll be 37-years-old at its conclusion.

Braun is a terrific hitter as is Tulowitzki, but I’m not a fan of these souped-up, long-term deals for players in their 20s. Essentially the Brewers and Rockies have locked themselves in with two fine players through the ends of their careers for a lot of money.

As much as there’s a new formula for value placed on players and what they’re likely to be worth financially, a 10-year commitment to one player is far too much for me to stomach. And for teams with payroll constraints like the Brewers and Rockies, it’s a risk to give even the most conscientious and serious players that kind of security.

Both Tulowitzki and Braun were signed at reasonable rates for the foreseeable future—Tulowitzki’s was until 2015; Braun’s 2016; now they’re locked in with their clubs.

Was there a sense of urgency to do this now? And the reaction to Braun making this decision to forego his chance at free agency in four years time is being treated as if he did the Brewers a tremendous favor. Ken Griffey Jr. took a far below market value contract at the time ($116.5 million) when he forced the Mariners to trade him to the Reds, the Reds and no one but the Reds. That didn’t go so well.

When Griffey’s deal was announced, Scott Boras said: “If the player owns a Rolls-Royce and he chooses to sell it at Volkswagen prices, that’s his right.”

Braun and the Brewers made a mutual decision to rely on one another for the rest of Braun’s years of productivity. Both sides seem happy, but I wouldn’t have done this due to the potential of complacency; satisfaction; injury; and age.

2021 is a long way away.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic.

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I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s 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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Viewer Mail 3.11.2011

Books, Management, Players, Spring Training

Norm writes RE Moneyball and stat guys:

I have to support Paul here. The reason Billy Beane is his white whale or even bete noire is simple: the Moneyball sabermetric fans are taking over the sports business.

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While I realize the dorks admit their stats are imperfect and are contantly trying to revise them, until they do develop the perfect stats, they should advance their cause with some humility. They should stop with the Joe Posnanski/Bill James shtick of ‘you thought the answer was A. Actually, the answer is B! Haha, you cretin!”
What it comes down to is this: if you were a team owner, would you trust a good squad of scouts to blanket a league and rate players, or would you save the money on scouts and just use ‘advanced analytics’ as they are currently presented?

And would you give Billy Beane any deference? In a post steroid world, where he cannot field an offence of slow white guys taking walks in front of juicehead sluggers?

Norm’s comment is exemplified in the visceral reaction to the new book that supposedly “blows the lid” off Moneyball. Such was the case with this snide posting from Rob Neyer in his new home on SBNation.

Neyer’s “best” shot?

“Anyway, I think I ordered this book months ago. Should be a hoot.”

Then, getting to the comments, you see the same reactionary, internet tough guy stuff that is always a hallmark of the last guy you want at your back in a dark alley. It’s weak and pathetic.

How about a cogent argument against their hypothesis without the snark?

Here’s a suggestion: read the book and come up with a detailed response rather than a vicious, mouthy retort based on something you haven’t read.

If Joe (Statmagician) ever contributed anything to this site, it was pointing out my constant harping on the phrase “stat zombie” creating an atmosphere of tension in which my own statements were secondary to my balled fists.

Calling names does no one any good.

Regarding that book “exposing” Moneyball, I doubt it’s of any use. There is a way to tear into Moneyball as it stands and it has nothing to do with disproving what Michael Lewis crafted, but taking the book and using it to destroy it in a calm, cannibalistic, point-by-point fashion.

Turn the tables and use Lewis’s own weapon to destroy Moneyball.

The men who wrote that new book can’t do it.

But I can.

And will.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE me, Billy Beane and Moneyball:

I hope you know that nothing about my comment was meant to be taken seriously. Except for the bit about the white whale.

In what way hasn’t Billy Beane already failed? He’s still a GM, sure, but he’s never fielded a WS team and most of his time in office has been dominated by the Angels.

If I’m waiting for Beane to fail, I’ve been waiting too long.

I know you were kidding; people think I’m obsessed and I’m not; I’m trying to teach the same people who feel as if Moneyball allowed them to proclaim themselves as experts that there’s a true path to learning the game properly and it’s not through the eyes of a Michael Lewis, a man with an agenda and the writing skills to subtly twist the narrative in the direction he wanted it to go.

The other issue with Beane and the hardcore “stats above all else” advocates is that there’s always an excuse for the failure. Nothing is more idiotic than the “playoffs are a crapshoot” nonsense; it’s close, but not quite, on a level with the “card-counting in the draft”.

Only through me can you achieve a power great enough to learn the true nature of the Dark Side…

Joe (Dagodfather on Twitter) writes RE Zack Greinke:

I got good news for you. There IS a clause in a standard player’s contract that says that they are not allowed to participate in any activity where they can reasonably be injured that’s not associated with preparing for their game. The problem is can playing basketball be considered “preparing for their game”? I know that may sound strange but it’s a great cardio workout and helps with agility, leaping, and going side-to-side. It also helps keep up their natural competitive nature without doing anything illegal.

I’m aware of the contractual stipulation, Joe.

I doubt any team—barring a catastrophic injury—will give a player a hard time about playing basketball in the off-season.

A) there’s no way to stop them; B) they’re elite athletes who can handle an intense pickup basketball game; and C) it’s not a dangerous activity.

Greinke was unlucky. If I were paying him, I’d prefer he refrained from doing it, but it’s better than other trouble players tend to get into in the off-season.

My main thrust in the posting was that there’s an overreaction to a chance injury. Because it was Greinke and not a nondescript middle reliever, the club shrugged it off because they can’t do anything else.

One such overreaction came on MLB Trade Rumors in this posting.

First it’s straight reporting as to what the Rangers would’ve had to surrender to get Greinke; then there’s this:

“Now that Greinke has a cracked rib, the Rangers are probably glad they held onto their players.”

Where’s the connection?

I could see if he blew out his elbow pitching or had a recurrence of his off-field depression issues from early in his career; but because he cracked a rib playing hoops the Rangers are more pleased they didn’t gut their system to get Greinke?

They rejected a deal based on the price; the player was injured in an off-field incident that might not have happened had the trade been to the Rangers and not the Brewers. It’s a Terminator-style alternate reality, but maybe Greinke would’ve had a Rangers-related activity on the day he played basketball; perhaps he’d have been house-hunting in Texas; or whatever.

It’s a stupid assumption that the Rangers are “relieved” because of an accident.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Zack Greinke:

Put that way, I guess the teams don’t have much of a say in what their players do in the offseason. I recall (Ken Griffey Jr.) getting hurt “playing with his kids”… they certainly can’t ban that.

It’s all in context and depends on the player, his salary and value to the team. Greinke gets the vanilla reaction from the GM; if it was Wil Nieves, he gets released.

Joe (Statmagician) writes RE Moneyball:

Have you seen the movie ‘Pi?’ Moneyball is your “Pi,” Paul.

Pi, Darren Aronofsky’s first full-length film made on a shoestring budget in black and white—great movie.

You neglect to mention that the protagonist happened to be right in his attempts at exposing the truth.

Just like me with Moneyball.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon.


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That Explains Michael Young

Free Agents, Media, Players, Spring Training

Explanations amid the bewilderment of why, why, why the Phillies were said to be kicking the tires of Michael Young a few weeks ago varied from overkill to my contention that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. called the Rangers just to check-in on Young; see what it would take to get him; gauge how desperate the Rangers were to move him and if they’d provide any financial relief for Young’s remaining $48 million on his contract while simultaneously taking little in terms of talent back.

Now we know.

Chase Utley has a knee problem—patellar tendinitis—that has prevented him from playing in any spring training games so far and he received a cortisone shot yesterday. There’s no “cure” for tendinitis apart from rest and anti-inflammatory medicine to alleviate it or, as Utley just had, a shot to make it bearable so he can play.

The Young inquiry now has a basis in fact apart from wanting to get a highly expensive roving utility player. Considering the paucity of second basemen available, Young is a reasonable replacement for Utley; plus Young can play shortstop and third base (both Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have had injury issues of their own in recent years).

Now it makes sense as to why (why, why) the Phillies were looking into Young.

This should probably present a lesson: there’s always a reason for teams to do what they do; despite my ravaging him for trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay so many moons ago, he had a reason for doing it; there’s always a reason.

Well, except for the Pirates.

But they don’t count.

In other Phillies news, Domonic Brown broke his hand swinging at a pitch in yesterday’s game against the Pirates—ESPN Story—setting off a firestorm of panic regarding the “injury-plagued” Phillies.

The purpose of this overreaction is beyond me.

Brown was surrounded by questions; the club has been looking into alternatives—Mike Morse recently and Jeff Francoeur in the winter—since Jayson Werth‘s departure, now they suddenly can’t live without him?

The Phillies will be fine for the time being with Ben Francisco and Ross Gload sharing right field until someone comes available at mid-season if Brown can’t handle the job.

Brown’s readiness for big league duty should be determined by his play; they should’ve shut their eyes and told Brown he was the right fielder and lived with him for the first couple of months of the season, sink or swim.

Then we get to the talk of the Phillies not being as offensively powerful as they’ve been in the past with age, injury concerns and the loss of Werth.

It’s shaky at best.

Let’s say hypothetically that their offense is compromised due to age and decline. So what? With that starting pitching, they’re not going to allow as many runs as they did in the past, therefore they won’t need to score as many.

All this talk about their bullpen being weak is nonsense. Both Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are in their free agent years (Lidge has a $12.5 million option for 2012) and are looking to get paid; Jose Contreras was good last season; they don’t need to be the offensive juggernaut they were in prior years; and they’re still going to score plenty of runs.

Rollins’s fall from MVP in 2007 to what he is now has been steep and worrisome, but certain things tell me that Rollins is going to have a major comeback season.

He’s expressed a willingness to alter his approach from the arrogant and self-defeating “I’m gonna be J-Roll” silliness that’s been a byproduct of his loudmouthed, blustery personality; he’s a free agent at the end of the season and at age 32, wants to get that last big contract.

Naturally there’s a correlation between his sudden agreeable response to entreaties that he change his hitting strategy and him wanting to get paid; but considering Rollins’s massive ego, it cannot be dismissed that his faltering rep around baseball as a big-game threat also has something to do with this willingness to change.

The criticism and caution regarding the Phillies—their age, injuries and departures—exemplify grasping at straws hoping they won’t be as good as their talent indicates they will be.

And they’re wrong.

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The Urkel Effect

Media, Players, Spring Training

Does it need to be said that Barry Zito is better than Jeff Suppan?

The mere concept of the Giants releasing a pitcher who’s owed $64.5 million through 2013 is ridiculous in and of itself, but it might make some semblance of sense if the replacement weren’t Suppan.

Aside from that, t’s nonsense.

And naturally it’s coming from Buster Olney.

You can see the important bits and pieces from the MLB Trade Rumors link here.

What happened to Olney?

There was a time when he was a respected baseball writer for the New York Times; but since moving to ESPN, he’s become little more than fodder for jokes and the equivalent of a tabloid journalist taking half-truths and innuendo and—as a matter of connectivity with his employer—blowing them out of proportion to gain readers, viewers and reactions.

Such was the case last year with the “rumor” that the Phillies and Cardinals were considering a swap of Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols. It was written up as if it were viable; Olney went on ESPN News to discuss it and, with the hostess uttering such inanities as “So, Buster, how close is this to happening?”, he launched into a discussion of it “not being close” but indicated that such a bit of derangement was possible.

It wasn’t and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said so; in fact, he sounded further aggravated than he presumably already was as he was still under siege for his decision to trade Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay; he didn’t need to be answering questions about idiocy at that point and conducting an investigation of his underlings as to whom Olney’s “source” was—if said source actually existed.

Now that I think about it, the deal was close. It was about as close as NASA is to sending an astronaut (or a trained monkey) to Pluto.

I don’t want this to turn into an indictment and diatribe against ESPN and Olney alone; looking at the concept of releasing Zito in favor of Suppan is outright lunacy and salary has little to do with it.

You can compare Zito to the old TV character Steve Urkel played by Jaleel White on Family Matters. When he was a kid, Urkel was cute, funny and entertaining; the suspenders, nerd glasses and hiked up pants made him a household name; but years later in the final stages of the show and as White grew to be very tall, it wasn’t funny anymore; it was disturbing.

The Giants are “frustrated” with Zito? Obviously and it’s got nothing to do with anything other than his salary and his performance.

The canned quirkiness; the special pillow he needed to sleep; the teddy bear; the hipster clothes and funky personality were all accepted and promoted while he was winning 18 games for the Athletics and dating starlets—all were part of the Zito “personality”. Now that he’s a financial albatross with an 85-mph fastball and the fifth wheel in a championship-winning starting rotation, it’s not cool anymore.

Regarding the implication that Suppan could take Zito’s spot, it’s not just crazy in the financial sense. Suppan’s not any good. He’s got little left in the tank; his career rise stemmed from the way the Cardinals, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan utilized him and from superior playoff performances; apart from that, he’s never been more than a journeyman with mediocre stuff.

Here’s what I would do if I were the Giants and wanted to salvage something from Zito: send him to Rick Peterson.

I don’t care about stepping on pitching coach Dave Righetti‘s toes; I don’t care about the perception that they’d be perpetrating an end-around on the baseball people that have tried to fix Zito and failed. The Giants have a lot of money invested in a pitcher who, at this point, is nearly useless in comparison to a baseline big leaguer.

What do they have to lose? And if there was ever a consideration of dumping him and eating the salary, wouldn’t they be derelict in their duties if they didn’t try that one last Hail Mary and send him to a pitching coach for whom he had his greatest success? Isn’t that better than releasing him because they were concerned about the pride of their staff?

What’s more important?

As for Righetti, he’d get over it. And if he doesn’t? So what?

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