The 2012 Athletics Are A Great Story That Has Nothing To Do With Moneyball

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Going to Michael Lewis for a quote about the 2012 Oakland Athletics because he wrote Moneyball as the author does in this NY Times article is like going to Stephen King for a quote on time travel and the Kennedy assassination because he wrote a novel about time travel and the Kennedy assassination. Lewis’s book was technically non-fiction and King’s is decidedly fiction, but the “facts” in Lewis’s book were designed to take everything Billy Beane was doing to take advantage of market inefficiencies and magnify them into an infallibility and new template that only a fool wouldn’t follow.

Lewis had an end in mind and crafted his story about the 2002 Athletics and baseball sabermetrics to meet that end. It’s not journalism, it’s creative non-fiction. Beane went along with it, became famous, and very rich. None of that validates the genesis of the puffery.

The intervening years from Moneyball’s publication to today were not kind to Beane or to the story…until 2012. The movie’s success notwithstanding, it was rife with inaccuracies, omissions, and outright fabrications such as:

  • Art Howe’s casual dismissal of Beane’s demands as if it was Howe who was in charge and not Beane
  • The portrayal of Jeremy Brown not as a chunky catcher, but an individual so close to morbidly obese that he needed to visit Richard Simmons, pronto
  • The failure to mention the three pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito
  • That Scott Hatteberg’s playing time was a point of contention and Beane traded Carlos Pena to force Howe’s hand to play Hatteberg—Hatteberg was still learning first base and wasn’t playing defense, but he was in the lineup almost every day as the DH from day one

There are other examples and it wasn’t a mistake. The book was absurd, the movie was exponentially absurd, and there are still people who refuse to look at the facts before replacing the genius hat on Beane’s head as “proof” of the veracity of Lewis’s tale.

This 2012 version of the Athletics is Beane’s rebuild/retool number five (by my count) since 2003. The Moneyball club was blown apart and quickly returned to contention by 2006 when they lost in the ALCS. That team too was ripped to shreds and the A’s traded for youngsters, signed veterans, traded veterans, signed veterans, traded for youngsters and finished far out of the money in the American League from 2007-2011.

Then they cleared out the house again and are now in the playoffs. It has no connection with Moneyball nor the concept of Beane finding undervalued talent. It has to do with the young players succeeding, as the article linked above says, and winning “in a hurry”.

Let’s look at the facts and assertions from the book/movie followed by the truth:

The A’s, under Beane, were “card-counters” in the draft

The only players on this Athletics’ team that were acquired via the draft and have helped the club are Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington, Sean Doolittle (drafted as a first baseman and converted to the mound), Dan Straily, and A.J. Griffin. The A’s drafts since Moneyball have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst, so bad that Grady Fuson—along with Howe, one of the old-school “villains” in Moneyball—was brought back to the organization as special assistant to the GM.

The hidden truth about the draft is that the boss of the organization probably pays attention to the first 8-10 rounds at most. After that, it’s the scouts and cross-checkers who make the decisions and any player taken past the 10th round who becomes a success is a matter of being lucky with late development, a position switch, a quirky pitch, or some other unquantifiable factor. Beane’s “new age” picks like Brown, Steve Stanley, and Ben Fritz, didn’t make it. The conventional selections Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton did make it, were paid normal bonuses of over $1 million, in line with what other players drafted in their slot area received. Brown received $350,000 as the 35th pick in the first round and his signing was contingent on accepting it.

Beane “fleeced” other clubs in trades

In retrospect, he took advantage of the Red Sox desperation to have a “proven” closer, Andrew Bailey, to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon. Bailey got hurt and, last night, showed why it wasn’t his injury that ruined the Red Sox season. He’s not particularly good. Josh Reddick has 32 homers—power and inexpensive youthful exuberance the Red Sox could have used in 2012.

The other deals he made last winter? They were of mutual benefit. The A’s were looking to restart their rebuild and slash salary waiting out the decision on whether they’re going to get permission to build a new park in San Jose. They sent their erstwhile ace Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for a large package of young talent with Collin Cowgill, Ryan Cook, and Jarrod Parker. They also traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for even more young talent including Tommy Milone and Derek Norris. The Diamondbacks got 200 innings and good work (that hasn’t shown up in his 13-12 record) from Cahill and are also-rans; the Nationals got brilliance from Gonzalez and won their division. The A’s slashed payroll and their young players, as the article says, developed rapidly.

Sometimes it works as it did with this series of trades, sometimes it doesn’t as with the failed return on the Hudson trade to the Braves in 2004.

They found undervalued talent

Yes. We know that Moneyball wasn’t strictly about on-base percentage. It was about “undervalued talent” and opportunity due to holes in the market. That argument has come and gone. Was Yoenis Cespedes “undervalued”? He was paid like a free agent and joined the A’s because they offered the most money and the longest contract. He was a supremely gifted risk whose raw skills have helped the A’s greatly and bode well for a bright future. The other signings/trades—Jonny Gomes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, Brandon Moss—were prayerful maneuvers based on what was available for money the A’s could afford. They contributed to this club on and off the field.

Grant Balfour was signed before 2011 because the A’s again thought they were ready to contend and all they needed was to bolster the bullpen. They’d also signed Brian Fuentes to close. Fuentes was an expensive disaster whom they released earlier this year; Balfour was inconsistent, lost his closer’s job, wanted to be traded, regained the job, and is pitching well.

The manager is an irrelevant figurehead

Howe was slandered in Moneyball the book as an incompetent buffoon along for the ride and slaughtered in the movie as an arrogant, insubordinate jerk. What’s ironic is that the manager hired at mid-season 2011, Bob Melvin, is essentially the same personality as Howe!!! An experienced manager who’d had success in his past, Melvin replaced the overmatched Bob Geren, who just so happened to be one of Beane’s closest friends and was fired, according to Beane, not because of poor results, managing and communication skills, but because speculation about his job security had become a distraction.

Melvin and Howe share the common trait of a laid back, easygoing personality that won’t scare young players into making mistakes. Melvin’s calm demeanor and solid skills of handling players and game situations was exactly what the A’s needed and precisely what Moneyball said was meaningless.

The 2012 Athletics are a great story; Moneyball was an interesting story, but they only intersect when Beane’s “genius” from the book and movie melds with this season’s confluence of events and produces another convenient storyline that, in fact, has nothing at all to do with reality.

The A’s are going to the playoffs and might win the division over the Rangers and Angels, two teams that spent a combined $170 million more in player salaries than the A’s did. It’s a terrific life-lesson that it’s not always about money, but it has zero to do with Moneyball and Michael Lewis is an unwanted interloper as the Beane chronicler since he knows nothing about baseball and is a callous opportunist who took advantage of a situation for his own benefit.

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Oscars Invitations—Lost In the Mail

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With Billy Beane attending the Oscars to support Brad Pitt and Moneyball and their nominations—link—I thought it would be appropriate to suggest some other characters from the book and film who should be asked to attend. Without them, there would be no story.

Art Howe

The epitome of insubordinate and self-interested evil who refused to adapt to the changing times by adhering to numbers and outright ignored his boss’s entreaties to play Scott Hatteberg.

Except Howe did play Hatteberg—just not at first base.

If you look at the facts (a novel concept they are, FACTS!!!), Hatteberg was in the lineup almost every day as the DH because he was new to first base and Carlos Pena was a Gold Glove caliber fielder.

Check this link if you’re actually invested in the Hatteberg/Howe truth.

The climactic scene in which Hatterberg homered to help the A’s win their 20th straight game was a scheduled day off; the circumstances are detailed in the book!

Mark Mulder/Barry Zito/Tim Hudson

Private detectives might have to be dispatched to find them since they were mysteriously absent from the film version of Moneyball and only mentioned in passing in the book.

Having three All-Star/Cy Young Award caliber starting pitchers is kinda important to analyzing the construction of a winning team.

Jeremy Brown

An armrest would have to be ripped from the seats in the theater to fit the morbidly obese film version of Brown into them.

The real Brown was bulky and not fat.

In a clever bit of double entendre, Brown could make a great show of walking to his seat.

Walking.

Walks.

Get it?

Sandy Alderson

Alderson’s Twitter account is rife with deadpan comedic musings.

Even if the audience needs the jokes explained to them, he’ll still be funnier than Billy Crystal.

Paul DePodesta

With his reputation tattered by the implication of the computer loving stat geek and saddled with the moniker “Google Boy”; having gone to the Dodgers and, in a career-kamikaze fashion (don’t blame Frank McCourt), trashed the team by adhering to the principles of stat based team building resulting in inevitable destruction, he replenished his image as a respected assistant with the Padres and Mets and smartly removed his name from the film before it did any more damage.

Jonah Hill

He should be lambasted for inflicting the unwatchable cartoon Allen Gregory on an unsuspecting public.

And I want the fat Jonah Hill, not this new skinny one.

Keith Law and Michael Lewis

In the pretentious, hackneyed and self-indulgent world of Hollywood, even the Oscar attendees might walk out at the rampant egomania of the toxic combination of Lewis and Law.

Stick them in a steel cage and let them fight it out. It won’t be a feud on a pro wrestling level with Superfly Snuka vs Bob Backlund or Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes, but I know I’d watch.

I’d probably hold my nose and root for Lewis.

Probably.

Me

The stat guys, celebrating their victorious revolution and—in spite of Moneyball being shut out at the Oscars (it’s not going to win anything)—enjoy their moments in the spotlight and bask in the adulation and validation.

Then I arrive and make my presence…felt.

Beane’s attendance at the Oscars is a start.

But my version will make it pure perfection.

Genius in fact.

GENIUS!!!!!!!

//

The Saga of Scott Kazmir

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Drafted, disciplined, traded, lionized, traded, released, finished.

The saga of Scott Kazmir is summed up neatly with that order of words.

With the news in this Jayson Stark piece on ESPN that his fastball is puttering in at 84-85 mph, he might be better-suited to begin throwing sidearm and marketing himself as a lefty specialist.

Because he was such a high-profile player and representative of so many different things—a questioned draft pick and trade; a falling star; trading a name player sooner rather than later; an attitude problem—it’s easily lost that Kazmir, with his draft status and subsequent salaries in mind, has been mostly a bust.

The Mets drafted Kazmir in 2002 and it wouldn’t have been as noteworthy had the process not been detailed in Moneyball. The Mets were going to draft Nick Swisher if Kazmir wasn’t available—and they didn’t think he would be—but he was and they took him.

In the minors, Kazmir had a reputation for swaggering arrogance and off-field mishaps. It drew the ire of the Mets’ influential veterans Al Leiter and John Franco when, in the team’s weight room, Kazmir changed their radio station and they told him to change it back.

Mets’ pitching czar Rick Peterson advocated the ill-fated trade the Mets made for Victor Zambrano in July of 2004 not because of disciplinary issues, but because of the cold, hard data that Peterson relies on in judging his charges. Zambrano would help immediately and Peterson felt that he could repair his mechanics and make him more effective; Kazmir was small, had a stressful motion and wouldn’t be a durable rotation linchpin for at least another 2-3 years and only that for a short period of time.

The Devil Rays acquired him while still being run by Chuck LaMar and brought him to the big leagues later that season. Opposing hitters were impressed and writers eagerly used the array of power stuff displayed by Kazmir to hammer the Mets decisionmakers for trading him. It was that Mets regime’s flashpoint and death knell. Zambrano went on the disabled list after three starts and the Mets came apart leading to the demotion of GM Jim Duquette in favor of Omar Minaya and the firing of manager Art Howe.

Peterson survived the purge.

Kazmir was impressive over parts of the next five seasons with his best and most durable year coming in 2007 with the rebuilding Rays. He struck out 239 hitters in 32 starts and made the All Star team. But there were warning signs. He had elbow and shoulder woes and, under the pretense of financial constraints and falling from playoff contention in August of 2009, the Rays made him available via trade.

The Angels came calling and dealt three prospects for Kazmir and the $20 million+ remaining on his contract.

In reality, the Rays saw that Kazmir was declining and an injury waiting to happen, so they dumped him and his salary and got some useful pieces in Sean Rodriguez and two minor leaguers in exchange.

Kazmir had a mysterious “back injury” in 2011 that was more likely a face-saving gesture from the Angels to let him try and straighten himself out while not enduring the embarrassment of a former All-Star being sent to the minors. While trying to come back, he got pounded in 5 minor league starts and the Angels released him.

After his release, teams considered Kazmir, but no one signed him.

As much as the Mets are rightfully criticized for that trade, it turned out that the mistake wasn’t dealing him, but what they dealt him for. Following that season, there was every possibility that they could’ve centered Kazmir around a deal for Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or inquired about Ben Sheets. Instead, they got Zambrano; Zambrano got hurt; and there was a regime change in Flushing.

Kazmir is about done now. The next step is either have a surgery that he may or may not need to “fix” a problem that doesn’t exist and “prove” that he’s on the comeback trail and will again have that velocity and movement that made him such a coveted prospect to begin with.

My advice to Kazmir is, as I said earlier, become a sidearming lefty specialist. He’ll always have a job and might even be effective in that role.

But will his ego be able to handle it? Unless he’s remarkably stupid and wasteful, he has enough money to live the rest of his life, so it comes down to whether or not he wants to continue playing baseball.

It won’t be as an All-Star starter because that pitcher, along with the one who’s immortalized in print and perception for the right and wrong reasons, is gone forever.

//

Billy Beane’s House of Lies and Simplified Math

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Another defense of Billy Beane and his “strategy” for 2012 is presented by Richard Justice MLB.com—link.

Let’s deal in facts, shall we?

Here are the players the Athletics have acquired this winter and their 2012 salaries:

Seth Smith: $2.415 million.

Bartolo Colon: $2 million.

This is a total of $4.415 million for two exceedingly mediocre “name” new additions.

Here are the departures:

Trevor Cahill: $3.5 million (guaranteed through 2015 at $29 million with options in 2016 and 2017).

Gio Gonzalez: $3.25 million (arbitration eligible for the first time).

Craig Breslow: filed for arbitration and asked for $2.1 million; was offered $1.5 million.

Andrew Bailey: arbitration eligible for the first time; figure a contract of $1.5 million.

David DeJesus: $4.25 million (2-years, $10 million guaranteed from the Cubs).

Josh Willingham: $7 million (3-years, $21 million guaranteed from the Twins).

Hideki Matsui: was paid $4.25 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Michael Wuertz: was paid $2.8 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Rich Harden: was paid $1.5 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

All for a total of $29.85 million based on what they’re guaranteed for 2012 or what they were paid in 2011.

These are the raises for players they’ve kept:

Kurt Suzuki: $1.6 million.

Coco Crisp: $250,000.

Brandon McCarthy: $3.275 million.

Grant Balfour: $25,000.

Brett Anderson: $2 million.

Daric Barton: $675,000

Joey Devine: $180,000

Adam Rosales: $175,000

That’s a total of $8.18 million.

Adding $8.18 million+$4.415=$12.33 million.

Subtracting $12.33 million from $29.85 million comes to $17.52 million.

So from a payroll of $55 million in 2011, the A’s have slashed a total of $17.52 million.

Justice writes:

When (Beane) looked at the A’s after the 2011 season, he saw a third-place club that had neither the payroll nor the Minor League talent to make a dramatic improvement. He had $51 million in contract commitments for 2012 and a $55 million budget even before attempting to re-sign his starting outfield of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp (only Crisp will be back).

“I had to look at it honestly,” he said. “Look at the moves the Angels and Rangers have made. They’re going to have payrolls rivaling the Red Sox and Yankees. It just seemed foolish to go forward with a third-place team that was losing significant parts. We felt we had to do something dramatic.”

“Honestly”? Beane uses the word “honestly”?

Where is he getting these numbers from?

They could’ve dumped Crisp’s $5.75 million and found another, cheaper center fielder somewhere who would do pretty much the same things Crisp does. Or they could’ve just stuck Josh Reddick out there and given him the chance to play every day. What did they need Crisp for?

McCarthy just had his first season of moderate health after bouncing from the White Sox to the Rangers and having repeated shoulder problems—which also cost him eight starts in 2011—and failing as a top prospect. The only way the Athletics were able to sign him was because he was short of options for a rotation spot. He’s their new ace?

Someone would take Balfour and his fastball.

Barton was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade (one of the prior teardowns) and Beane clings to him as if he’s hoping against hope that someday he’ll fulfill that potential.

The mischaracterizations and fabrications inherent in Moneyball—the book and the movie—are continuing unabated and unchallenged. Replete with salable buzzwords implying the same party line for his constituency, it goes on and on.

There’s a separation from rebuilding and collecting prospects and ratcheting up the rhetoric to maintain the veneer of knowing what one’s doing, having a plan and executing it.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Lies.

Fabrications.

Political-style calculations.

And the masses are still buying it.

Under no circumstances am I questioning the prospects nor the basis for making the trades of Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. We don’t know about the players he received and won’t know for awhile.

That’s not the point.

The point is that he’s spewing the same garbage he’s been spewing for years in a self-interested, self-absolving manner to shun the responsibility for the failures of the teams he built.

They’ve failed to meet expectations when they were supposed to contend and now they’re going to meet expectations by falling to 95 losses.

But it’s not Billy’s fault.

I don’t want to be sold something by a clever marketer/con-artist who’s still clutching and using this nonsensical and faulty biography.

Beane’s become a “means to an end” executive and that end is to hold onto that aura of “genius” that was created by Moneyball. There are still those that believe it and take his word for why he does what he does—they don’t bother to check.

Is it because they trust him? That they want to protect him? Or is it because they’re afraid of what they might find if they dig for facts?

The A’s are going to have a lower payroll and they’re going to be much worse than they could’ve been with worse players than they had because of this “strategy” that is played up in the latest piece about Beane.

When does this stop?

When will the true objective reality be examined and cited?

When?

//

Beane Goes Back to Basics and the Worshippers Rejoice

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In trading Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill for packages of prospects, Billy Beane returns to his roots in accumulating pitchers who rack up strikeouts and hitters who have power and get on base.

History has shown that it works…sometimes.

And it doesn’t work….sometimes.

So the lustful Beane demagoguery starts again as he is somehow shielded from blame for anything that’s gone wrong with the team he put together.

Moneyball is over and it’s been shown to be a farce in theory and practice, yet still survives the eager anticipation (it’s almost Christmas morning—an appropriate time of year) for such indulgences as Beane executes another housecleaning.

The up-and-down results of the prior flurries of deals he made can be glossed over; the reasons as to why he’s doing what he’s currently doing can be formulated and chanted like a mantra—there’s an inability to compete in a loaded division; the A’s have limited attendance due to an antiquated and uninviting stadium; they have to tear it down due the uncertainty of a planned new stadium in San Jose—all make some semblance of sense.

Or they’re convenient excuses for him to be absolved for whatever goes wrong while maintaining the credit for being, as J.P. Ricciardi said in Moneyball, “smarter than the average bear”.

Is he smarter than the average bear?

No.

He’s an average bear.

No more, no less.

The Gonzalez trade might have been made even if the A’s were a good team with realistic aspirations of contention. He has trouble throwing strikes and, as I said in an earlier post, is walking the fine line between being a star and turning into Oliver Perez; he’s about to get a big raise in arbitration; his mechanics are clunky; and his style isn’t conducive to consistency.

The trade of Cahill also yielded an impressive cast of young, cheap players; but what’s the point of even trying anymore when you have a consistent, innings-eating winner who’s signed to a reasonably long-term contract and he’s traded away just “because”?

Beane’s list of floating excuses is vast and overused.

Excuses.

For someone who was portrayed as the master of the bottom-line and cutting through the clutter and nonsense, excuses have become the hallmark of Billy Beane and his tenure as the A’s GM.

While he was on top of the world winning with a minimalist payroll, the annual loss in the playoffs was chalked up to the post-season being a “crapshoot”.

His drafts—said to be the dawn of a new era in which card-counting based on verifiable statistics was going to reinvent the game—were as pedestrian as everyone else’s regardless of the methods they were using to find players.

His treatment of his managers has been capricious and occasionally cruel.

And his reputation among the casual fans or curious onlookers who read the creative non-fiction of the book Moneyball and saw the dramatic license (and utter lies) in the movie has been rejuvenated to again give rise to the concept that he’s a transformative figure in baseball.

All he did was have the nerve to implement the statistical analysis that had been around for years yet hadn’t been utilized to the degree that Beane used them; he did it out of sheer necessity and it worked.

But once the rest of baseball caught up to him, he slithered like a snake into his new role: that of the shrugging and hapless everyman wearing a resigned grin; the poor individual who can’t hope to compete due to the untenable circumstances in every conceivable sense.

It’s a vicious circle.

The same things that are being said now were said when he traded Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Some of those trades worked well for the A’s and some didn’t; but to take this latest array of veteran disposal as a return to the days of yore and glory—when Beane had the Midas touch and his mere gaze caused mountains to crumble at his sheer will—is partaking in a fantasy that his worshippers refuse to let go even if reality casts its ugly shadow again and again.

You can find analysis of the prospects he received from the Nationals and Diamondbacks anywhere, but know the truth before buying into it because it’s been said before.

Repeatedly and inaccurately.

And will be so again.

I guarantee it.

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Trading Joey Votto Is Risky For The Reds

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The Reds are said to be prepared to listen to offers for Joey Votto.

It will only be known in retrospect whether this is similar to the Diamondbacks “listening” on Justin Upton before ultimately deciding not to trade him or the Rockies trade of Ubaldo Jimenez.

I’d be willing to listen on any and all players, but for Votto—age 28 and signed through 2013 at $9.5 million in 2012; $17 million in 2013—they’d better get at least one established, young, star-caliber player and two blue chip prospects.

At least.

Reds GM Walt Jocketty has received an undue amount of credit for circumstances out of his control. The Cardinals won regularly with him as GM and he made some solid moves in getting Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, Mark McGwire and Darryl Kile for very little. But his drafts were never particularly strong and he made some drastic mistakes such as trading Dan Haren for Mark Mulder.

Relying on a Hall of Fame manager in Tony LaRussa, a brilliant pitching coach in Dave Duncan and having players accept less money to stay in St. Louis were greater factors in the Cardinals success under Jocketty than Jocketty himself.

With the Reds, he again is benefiting from a foundation already in place upon his arrival.

The 2010 team that won the NL Central was put together before took over. Jocketty didn’t hire the manager, Dusty Baker; didn’t acquire any of the key players apart from Scott Rolen, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman. And Chapman is the only one for whom Jocketty receives accolades for foresight.

On the subject of Chapman, I will never understand how the same people with the Red Sox and Yankees thought that it was a good idea to give the amount of money they gave to acquire Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa chose not to spend the $30 million it cost to get that raw talent and searing fastball of Chapman.

Either they were gun-shy or stupid. Or both.

As for the Reds taking offers on Votto, they have a first baseman in waiting in Yonder Alonso and payroll constraints make it difficult to keep one player making $17 million in 2013.

But they’d better make sure they know what they’re doing, what they’re getting and that Alonso and others can replace Votto’s bat, glove and leadership.

It does make some semblance of sense. They’d ask a lot for Votto. And if they pull the trigger, they’d better get it.

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Stop Enabling Billy Beane

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Just stop it.

It’s enough already.

The latest set of alibis for Billy Beane and Moneyball comes from Tyler Kepner in today’s NY Times and—in the greatest insult to our collective baseball intelligence yet—they’e being utilized in the same way to excuse his mediocrity as they were to build the foundation for his myth of genius.

He didn’t have any money and had to figure out a different way to compete; he doesn’t have any money now so that’s why he’s losing.

He was in a small, relatively unappealing market where players wouldn’t go unless they had no other choice; he can’t get players to come to Oakland.

He didn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities; he doesn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities.

There were stupid people in baseball; the stupid people have suddenly gotten smart and are using his innovations.

What’s next? Mediocre reviews of the film or a lack of connectivity between book and movie are turning players away from joining a club that partakes in such dramatic license in the interests of propping up a story? The old ballplayer line of rejecting a job based on cinematic liberties?

Why is there this investment from the media in trying to salvage what’s left of the farce that was the appellation of “genius” on the part of Beane?

Beane’s justifications are taking on the ludicrous nature the type you’d hear from a bust on To Catch a Predator.

“I just came to talk to her.”

“I wanted to explain that she shouldn’t be meeting men on the internet.”

“She needs to do well in school, study hard and get into a good college.”

It’s not believable; in fact, it’s nonsense.

This isn’t to imply the issues of revenue, venue and increased knowledge from his counterparts aren’t hindering Beane’s efforts to maintain a competitive team—of course they are—but you can’t use the same arguments to create the illusion of brilliance as you do when explaining away mistakes. It doesn’t work that way.

The biggest irony is the “kinder, gentler Billy” persona that Beane—quite the actor himself—is putting forth.

It’s laughable that the same character who ranted, raved, cussed, broke things and bullied subordinates is now a cerebral, down-to-earth, somewhat resigned caricature who’s using those ridiculed excuses from above as a protective cloak to shield himself from all criticism; what makes it worse it how he’s being willfully assisted by the sycophants in the media and his remaining apologists whose agenda is clearly in line with their so-called “stat revolution” that was supposed to turn every Major League Baseball front office into something resembling a combination Star Trek convention and Ivy League school reunion.

I’ll bet that the “Billy Beane” in the film, played by the likable Brad Pitt, won’t be smashing any chairs on-screen. The Beane in the book is not likable at all. The character in the book was tearing into conventional baseball wisdom and running roughshod over the old-school scouts and antiquated thinkers who were invested in their own version of running a team; the movie person will be more palatable to the mainstream audience it’s seeking to attract.

Is the objective reality that so often referenced as to why Beane did what he did?

Beane was supposedly too smart and too much of an analyst to make it as a player, so he transferred his self-destructive intensity into the front office and turned it into a positive while simultaneously flipping the world of baseball upside down; but now he’s finding the same varied list of whys to maintain the veneer that his terrible team is not his fault.

Whose fault is it?

Beane had his chance to go to a big market club when he agreed to take over as GM of the Red Sox and backed out.

I’ve repeatedly stated how much of a disaster that would’ve been as his plans included trading Jason Varitek and signing someone named Mark Johnson to replace him; moving Manny Ramirez to permanent DH, precluding the signing of David Ortiz; signing Edgardo Alfonzo who was near the end of the line; and sending Kevin Youkilis to the Athletics as compensation for Beane joining the Red Sox.

Luckily for the Red Sox, Beane walked away from the deal and chose to stay in Oakand. Michael Lewis’s story was that Beane finally had a monetary value placed on his work with the Red Sox offer—documented evidence of what he could get were he to auction his stud services to the highest bidder. That was enough for him and he returned to the A’s. Family considerations played a part in Beane’s decision to remain with the A’s, but there were other, unsaid factors.

Isn’t it easier to stay somewhere where the expectations are muted and you’re treated as a demagogue? Where you’re about to be given a portion of a billion dollar business all as a result of this concept of being a genius? Where there are always ways to stickhandle around any missteps with the financial/ballpark/venue/competitive problems? Of existing in a vacuum?

If I hired a “genius”, I’d expect the miraculous. I’d expect him to figure it out regardless of what obstacles stand in his way.

Beane isn’t, nor was he ever, a genius. He filled a gap and exposed a market that was rife for exploitation. Once everyone else figured out what he was doing and started using the same techniques he did, he was right back where he started from. Genius is innovation and in that sense, there was a shred of “genius” in what Beane did; but he’s no innovator in that he created something new. He found a weapon and used it like some megalomaniacal James Bond villain.

He’s been able to gloss over repeated rebuilding projects where he traded away the likes of Nick Swisher, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for returns that have been weak or abject failures. He’s dispatched managers for shady reasons—but if the managers don’t get credit for the wins, nor should they be saddled with the losses. His “card-counting in the casino” approach to the draft was the stupidest thing in the book and has been proven to be an utter absurdity with continually terrible drafts. His pitchers have gotten injured over and over; wouldn’t a “genius” find a series of preventative measures to keep his players healthy apart from referring to the idiotic Verducci Effect—which Beane says he does?

How long is this going to last?

Is it going to last until the movie is in and out of theaters when the bloom is off a rose that’s existed far too long and has been protected from reality in the interests of selfish motivations? Will others join me in stating the obvious? Will Beane finally be seen for what he is?

Or will there still be pockets of protest trying to refurbish the crumbling facade of Moneyball?

Moneyball lives, but in a different form; it’s a shape-shifter; a chameleon bent on survival at whatever cost.

I tend to think, as the A’s stumble to a 90 loss season, there will be other voices saying the same thing I do.

But I said it first.

Beane’s corporate terminology and sudden reliance on the reviled “subjectivity” to protect his legacy and fairy tale status has failed in theory and practice.

No one’s buying it anymore.

They’re just waiting until after the film to admit it.

And that only makes the subterfuge and self-indulgence worse and those documenting it less and less credible.

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Soxfinger, Tony Tantrum And Another Casualty Of Moneyball

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Trade Rumors, Uncategorized

Let’s do this in order.

First the White Sox traded Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Blue Jays for veteran righty reliever Jason Frasor and 25-year-old minor league righty Zach Stewart.

This is not a “give-up on the season” trade by White Sox GM Kenny Williams (aka the James Bond villain known as Soxfinger). He dumped Teahen’s salary and gave up a pitcher in Jackson who they had no intention of keeping. Jackson’s good, but he’s represented by Scott Boras and the White Sox payroll is already bursting at the seams. It made sense to get a veteran reliever in Frasor to bolster the White Sox leaky bullpen.

In analyzing Stewart apart from what I can see in his minor league numbers, I’ll say this: it’s unwise to bet against Williams’s pitcher-recognition skills. It was Williams who acquired both Gavin Floyd and John Danks when neither were on anyone else’s radar; yes, he made the expensive and retrospectively mistaken decision to acquire Jake Peavy, but Peavy is a former NL Cy Young Award winner—it just hasn’t worked out. You can give him a hard time for trading Daniel Hudson to get Jackson, but it’s not something to go crazy over.

Clearly Williams sees something in Stewart to inspire him to make this trade.

Teahen is another failure from the 2002 Billy Beane/Athletics “Moneyball” draft in which Beane and his staff were supposedly “counting cards” in selecting players.

No commentary needed as to how that worked out.

After that was done, the Blue Jays spun Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson and Octavio Dotel to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters.

Miller is supposedly going to to the White Sox.

Let’s find a rational explanation. Or two.

Once Jonny Gomes was off the market, did the Blue Jays feel they had to make a move on Rasmus? (Satirical.)

Was Joel Sherman wrong in the assertion that the Cardinals were asking for a “ton” in a Rasmus deal? (Likely.)

Did the Cardinals judge this return as a “ton”? (Possible.)

Or is it all of the above? (Hedging.)

All kidding(?) aside, this trade has Tony LaRussa‘s fingerprints all over it.

The curmudgeonly baseball manager/non-practicing lawyer that LaRussa is, he’ll deftly separate himself from the trade and deflect responsibility and evidence in all directions to save the man in the mirror.

It turns out my repeated statements that LaRussa’s doghouse was “entrance only” were mistaken; there’s an exit, but it happens to lead to another town on a questionable exchange policy.

LaRussa wanted Rasmus gone and this is another case in which the front office is appeasing the manager to try and win now.

That doesn’t make wrong the analysis that Rasmus was never going to fulfill his promise in St. Louis; nor that his “stage-father” Tony Rasmus wasn’t going to back away from interfering in his son’s career to let the Cardinals do what they wanted. It’s just the way it is.

On the surface, it’s a weak trade for the Cardinals.

Jackson’s a rental; as mentioned before, his agent is Boras and the Cardinals have got to save their money to keep Albert Pujols. Jackson’s a good pitcher and will help them.

The key for the Cardinals will be Rzepczynski. He’s spent this season in the bullpen and that may be where he is for the rest of the season with the Cardinals having traded Miller, but he’s got starter stuff and a gentle delivery that bodes well for his durability—he reminds me of Mark Mulder when he was in his prime. Had Mulder not had the hip problems, I believe his shoulder would’ve stayed in shape to continue pitching as well as he did for the Athletics early in his career and not had its premature end.

Patterson and Dotel are veterans from whom you know what to expect—such as that is.

The Blue Jays got themselves an everyday center fielder in Rasmus who won’t be saddled with the pressures he felt in St. Louis. A clean start might be exactly what he (and his dad) need to fulfill his promise.

For the White Sox, this is a move for the now and the future; for the Cardinals, it’s a move to improve immediately; and for the Blue Jays, they’re hoping to be in a legitimate position to contend in 2012—and I think they will be.

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Theories

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Research is important.

And today, it’s easy.

With that in mind, I have to wonder why writers insist on twisting facts to bolster their arguments when the “facts” which underpin their assertions are so rapidly ascertainable.

The latest is in today’s NY Times: In Search for an Ace? It’s Best to Invest Early.

In this piece, Tyler Kepner attempts to “explain” how to successfully build a pitching staff through the draft. Of course there are the customary shots at the Pirates for repeatedly bypassing on pitchers they should’ve drafted and then watched the failures of the ones they did.

In the piece, there are the facts without context; quotes from executives; and blame doled out on those who were supposedly responsible for the missteps.

Everyone has a theory.

In Moneyball, there was the results-oriented and college player postulation that a team with limited resources should find signable, near-mature talent to use in the big leagues as quickly as possible.

With the Giants championship spurred by homegrown talent, naturally the focus is on developing young players—especially pitchers; the concept has evolved to drafting highly and selecting the best available arms.

Jennie Finch and her husband Casey Daigle now have a son called “Ace”; the implication is that because of those tremendous genetics to be tall and to pitch, there’s going to be a top draft pick on the horizon 17-20 years from now.

Then there’s the “new” way in which the same Pirates—mentioned earlier—are spending heavily on international prospects and investing in the draft by going over advised MLB slot prices.

Which is it?

Is it the last thing that worked?

Or is it a strategy that must be adhered to if the individual teams want to be considered intelligent and have books written about them?

Former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield is defended by his now-boss, Jim Hendry with the Cubs; it’s said that because of the interference of the Pirates ownership in what Littlefield wanted to do, he couldn’t win. Littlefield made some good trades like the one in which he acquired Jason Bay; and some terrible ones where he got nothing for Aramis Ramirez. The team was consistently awful under his stewardship and he quickly proved that there are certain executives who are not suited to being the architect of the organization—they’re better as assistants.

A lack of money doesn’t account for that; nor does it excuse the draft mistakes and the suggestion that the Pirates bypassed CC Sabathia for financial reasons and misunderstood his potential. But the entire foundation of the Sabathia gaffe is faulty because Kepner leaves out the other players who were drafted ahead of the big lefty.

The Pirates drafted Clint Johnston—a lefty who never made it as a pitcher despite big strikeout numbers; he didn’t make it as a hitter either after making the switch to first base and the outfield.

As for the other players who were missed by teams not named the Pirates, there were 19 players picked in front of Sabathia—link. Some of whom—Mark Mulder, Pat Burrell, J.D. Drew, Brad Lidge—made it; others who didn’t. Does that mean the Pirates should be singled out as “stupid”? Only if the other clubs are stupid as well.

How quickly did the Moneyball nonsense come apart as the 2002-2003 drafts which were supposedly orchestrated by the “genius” Billy Beane yielded some useful players like Nick Swisher, but placed an untenable amount of pressure on Jeremy Brown to live up to the role he played in the book; I’m convinced that had he not been such a central character, Brown could very well have been a useful bat in someone’s lineup; everyone knew his name for all the wrong reasons and he was done at 27.

This was exacerbated by Beane’s abandonment of the principles Michael Lewis’s story (not account, story) laid out as in subsequent years, Beane took the step of drafting the dreaded…high….school….pitcher!

It worked too with Trevor Cahill.

The Giants drafted highly—as Brewers GM Doug Melvin says in the article—because they were bad for a few years; but the Giants were smart (or gutsy; or desperate) enough to look past Tim Lincecum‘s size, unusual training regimen and stage father to draft him and leave him alone. How many other organizations would’ve accepted the terms set forth by his dad?

The genetics theory? It’s not irrelevant to think that a young player who comes from good athletic stock can mimic the skills of his parents, but you can pick and choose with that as well. Where’s Nolan Ryan‘s son Reid now?

The Pirates are spending money and expanding their international outreach, but it’s only going to bear fruit if they find players with the money they’re spending. Whether or not they’re acquiring talent is the key, not how much they pay for it. Considering the atrocious way in which the Pirates are being run by the current front office at the major league level, why would they know what they’re doing in scouting young players—money aside—and not have a clue how to make intelligent trades or understand that it was a terrible idea to non-tender Matt Capps?

We can go up and down the draft boards and find players that were overlooked for one reason or another, but what’s the point?

Mining for talent isn’t a science; it’s not a matter of spending money; nor is it a broad-based set of rules that must be adhered to for fear of being called a fool. It’s about knowing what you’re doing; being lucky; having the courage to do as the Giants did with Lincecum and leave him alone; teaching; and giving young players an opportunity.

The Giants succeeded because they had all those factors going for them. Not because of the high draft choices alone.

I’ll be a guest on two podcasts tomorrow. In the afternoon, I’ll be on with Sal at SportsFanBuzz; in the evening with Mike on NYBaseballDigest.

Don’t be scaaaaared.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

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.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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Not Ready For CenterStage

Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Despite all the hype and lusty predictions regarding Yankees prospect Manny Banuelos, he’s not ready for the big leagues right now.

I saw Banuelos for the first time last night and was very impressed; but there are other factors that have to be considered before anointing a 20-year-old as the cornerstone of the starting rotation for a club that has its eye on a championship every single year.

Let’s take a look at Banuelos without the blind cluelessness and rampant desperation prevalent today.

His motion and repertoire:

With a free and easy delivery and no leg drive, Banuelos is able to pop his fastball into the low-mid 90s effortlessly.

At the start of his delivery, he stands straight with his glove in front of his face, looks down at his feet as he steps back, brings his leg up, cocks and fires. The motion is similar to that of Scott Kazmir before he releases and follows through, but he doesn’t have the arm-wrecking violence of Kazmir so his comparable size (Banuelos is listed at 5’10”, 155 lbs but appears heavier) to Kazmir isn’t a concern for arm trouble the likes which Kazmir has experienced.

On release, he maintains a short stride without any discernible explosiveness from his legs; the gentleness is reminiscent of Mark Mulder who, while with the Athletics, had one of the smoothest deliveries I’ve seen in recent years.

With his short stride and simplified “step-and-throw” style, he reminded me of a very good and durable pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1980s-early 1990s, Tom Browning. Browning’s money pitch was a screwball.

As for his pitches, Banuelos displayed an power fastball with life and a superior changeup. He only threw 1-2 curveballs while I was watching. The movement and deception of the curve had a Barry Zito-quality (when Zito was in his heyday as a rotation-mate of Mulder). There was a sameness of of arm action until he ripped off the curve which adds to a hitter’s confusion.

If he’s able to maintain that when he’s throwing a fastball, change or curve and control the latter pitches enough so no one’s sitting and waiting for a fastball, he’s going to have big-time success.

The delivery is so repeatable and easy (like that of Cliff Lee), that mechanical issues are easily repaired as they occur. This is one of the problems Zito, Rick Ankiel and Steve Avery had (along with disappearing fastballs or non-existent control)—their motions were herky-jerky and complex; once one thing goes out of whack, everything is out of whack. Dontrelle Willis had the same issue.

While a major part of the success of the above pitchers were their fastballs and unique deliveries, once things came apart, it was all but impossible to retrace the steps and get it back in line. If that happens, the success disappears; once the success disappears, they spiral and listen to anyone and everyone trying to get back what they lost and they gradually become worse.

That will not happen with Banuelos.

Banuelos isn’t exactly overexerting himself on the mound and as long as he throws strikes, he’ll be durable and consistent. He’s poised and polished from both the windup and stretch and didn’t appear overwhelmed by facing the Red Sox.

Competitive vs ready:

Outside voices like David Wells have suggested that Banuelos is ready to pitch in the majors immediately.

For some highly fathomable and diverse reason(s), I don’t see anyone involved in any fashion with the Yankees listening to Wells.

Then you have Buster Olney saying that Banuelos might be ready to contribute in the big leagues as a reliever late in the season with the following on Twitter:

Banuelos just turned 20 on Sunday, and while he’s expected to start the year in Class AA, could see him as matchup LHer in Aug., Sept.

Yes.

Well.

The expertise of Wells and Olney aside, Banuelos is not going to pitch meaningfully in the big leagues this year.

Nor should he.

The Yankees are being intelligently cautious and resistant to outside influences. Banuelos has pitched 215 innings in 3 minor league seasons; never more than 109 in one season. To bring him to the majors in 2011—in any capacity other than for him to have a look around in a probable pennant race in September—would be counterproductive and perhaps damaging.

The question becomes the narrow line between competitiveness and preparedness.

Is he ready to be competitive in the majors right now?

Absolutely.

Is he prepared for the majors? To pitch for a Yankees team that is short in starting pitching and will be sorely tempted to push Banuelos if he’s doing well and they need him to stay in playoff position? To handle New York City as an up-and-coming Yankee?

For every Derek Jeter who was able to enter into a party city’s cauldron and deal with the temptations and differentiate between where to go, what to do, whom to be associated with, there are players like Miguel Cabrera who was physically ready for big league action at age 20, found himself in Miami, contributed mightily to the Marlins World Series win and has had his off-field life come apart as he’s gotten older.

No amount of guidance, watchfulness, warnings, advice and protection can avoid the inevitable mistakes for a 20-year-old.

As for the Olney idea that Banuelos can relieve late in the season, does anyone really believe that they’re going down that road again? That they’ll take a hot prospect, insert him into the bullpen (as a lefty specialist no less!!!) and have a possible Joba Chamberlain revisited?

Certain pitchers benefit from a year in the big leagues as a relief pitcher before being inserted into the starting rotation. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver was a proponent of that in the 1970s with the Orioles. Wayne Garland, Mike Flanagan and Scott McGregor all relieved to start their careers. Tony La Russa has successfully done it with Adam Wainwright and Dan Haren.

The Yankees are not doing that with Banuelos.

He’s never relieved at any level; it’s a different style and speed of warming up; and it resulted in the Chamberlain disaster.

It’s idiotic.

The future:

If he stays healthy, Banuelos is going to be a 15-18 game winner in the big leagues and provide 200+ innings.

But it’s not going to happen in 2011; in fact, he might not be in the big leagues to stay before mid-season 2012.

While I’ve savaged the Yankees organization for the yoke of expectations and designations as the “future” of the franchise that were placed on the shoulders of Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy; ripped into the limitations placed on those youngsters in a cookie-cutter style and produced poor results in two of the three, they’re handling Banuelos exactly right by not pushing him; by sticking to the script and stating unequivocally that he’s not making the team and will pitch in Double A this season.

If he doesn’t make it when he is deemed ready, it won’t be the fault of the Yankees as it’s been with Chamberlain.

Banuelos is going to be an All Star, but it’s not happening this year and if it costs the club a playoff spot in 2011, so be it. Certain things are more important, like the potential stardom of a promising young pitcher.

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 or BN.


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