Mattitude?

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The Nationals are reportedly going to name Matt Williams as their next manager. This comes as no surprise since Williams has long been rumored for the job due to his relationship with Nats GM Mike Rizzo from their days together with the Diamondbacks when Williams was a player and Rizzo was their Director of Scouting. Let’s look at what the Nats can expect from Williams.

Running the games

In 2007, Williams managed very briefly for the Diamondbacks organization in Double A. He managed in the Arizona Fall League last year. He’s been a coach in the Major Leagues with the club for four years. As much as experience is routinely ignored in the hiring of managers today, it matters.

Williams doesn’t have much managerial experience. For a team like the Nats, a concern for an inexperienced manager will be handling the pitching staff and making pitching changes – something Williams has never done and initially might not be adept at. He’ll need an experienced bench coach and pitching coach who he’ll trust and listen to and not men who are selected for the oft-mentioned “loyalty to the organization.” Those guys are generally there and will be there whether the manager succeeds or not creating the potential for mistrust.

It hasn’t been decided whether pitching coach Steve McCatty will return and Randy Knorr, who was passed over for the managing job, was the bench coach for Davey Johnson over the last two seasons. One would assume that both will stay.

The relationship with Rizzo

Rizzo has had high-profile dustups with the two managers he hired as Nats GM, Jim Riggleman and Johnson. Riggleman quit after 55 games in 2011 when he wanted his contract option exercised and Rizzo refused. Johnson disagreed with the Stephen Strasburg shutdown, openly chafed at the overseeing he had to endure in today’s game and threatened to quit/dared Rizzo to fire him. Had Johnson not been retiring at season’s end, it’s likely that Rizzo would have done just that at mid-season and replaced him with Knorr.

If Williams is thinking that the prior relationship between the two will put him in a better position than Johnson, he’s mistaken. Rizzo is in charge and he lets the manager know it. Considering Williams’s quiet intensity as a player, a disagreement between the two could become a problem. He’s not going to simply nod his head and do what he’s told.

The team

Williams is walking into a great situation that probably won’t need much hands-on managing. With the Bob Brenly-managed teams that Williams played for with the Diamondbacks, there wasn’t much for Brenly to do other than write the lineup and let the players play. The veterans policed the clubhouse and Brenly was sort of along for the ride. The same holds true for the Nats. Apart from tweak here and there, the lineup is essentially set. The starting rotation and bullpen are also going to be relatively unchanged.

The one mistake Williams can’t make is to walk in and decide that he has to put his stamp on the team by doing “something” like deciding they’re going to rely more on speed and inside baseball. Writing the lineup will be more than enough. The decision to consciously keep his hands off what doesn’t need to be changed is a window into a manager’s confidence. While Brenly wasn’t a good manager, his style was similar to that of Barry Switzer when he took over the powerhouse Dallas Cowboys in the mid-1990s – he knew enough not to mess with it. It worked and the team won. Of course, no other team was going to hire either man to manage/coach for them, but that didn’t have a bearing on the job they were hired to do and they did it.

Williams is going to benefit greatly from the improved health of Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos; he’ll be free of any constraints with Strasburg; the team is loaded. All he needs to do is be the serious, stern competitor he was in his playing days and he’ll be fine. Saying it and doing it are two different things and with a brand new manager who’s never done it before, there are still a lot of traps he could fall into and won’t know how to get out of. That’s what he has to look out for. Apart from that, it’s a great opportunity…as long as he doesn’t screw it up.




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John Rocker Tells A Truth No One Wants To Hear (Especially From Him)

CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MVP, Players, Politics, Prospects, Stats

There’s no difference between what John Rocker said and what baseball as a whole did regarding performance enhancing drugs. Rocker’s recent comments elicited a rehashing of his behaviors when he was playing the wrestling bad guy. The entire genesis of “Rocker is an idiot” stems from his ill-advised interview in Sports Illustrated. Because Rocker said some offensive things then doesn’t automatically make everything he says meritless. If it were a former baseball owner, a respected player, a broadcaster, an agent, or a writer who came out and said the same things Rocker said, would it be seen as blatant honesty or Ann Coulter-style, absurd over-the-top salesmanship?

Rocker said the following while appearing on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan:

Honestly, and this may go against what some people think from an ethical standpoint, I think it was the better game.

At the end of the day when people are paying their $80, $120, whatever it may be, to buy their ticket and come watch that game, it’s almost like the circus is in town.

They are paid to be entertained. They wanna see some clown throw a fastball 101 mph and some other guy hit it 500 feet. That’s entertainment. You’re paying to be entertained.

Was there anything more entertaining than 1998—I don’t care how each man (Sosa and McGwire) got there—was there anything more entertaining than 1998?

Nowadays Rocker’s a guest on radio shows only because they realize that whatever he says will be twisted out of proportion because of the new politically correct sensibility against PEDs. Never mind that the owners, the players, the media and the fans were all holding hands denying the reality that the home run records set by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and the resurgences from pitchers long past their sell-by date like Roger Clemens came about due to drug use. Since Rocker said it, it has to be treated with revulsion. The only problem is that he’s right.

After the 1994 strike that wiped out the playoffs and World Series, blew away Tony Gwynn’s last chance at hitting .400, ruined Matt Williams’s run at the home run record and essentially demolished baseball in Montreal, the sport went into overdrive to replenish fan interest. Whether or not there was a tacit decision to ignore PED use or a whisper campaign to encourage it probably depends on whom you’re talking to or about. Commissioner Bud Selig acts as if he had no clue what was going on; the players were looking to get paid; the front office people had to sign players they knew were using to keep their jobs; the owners couldn’t care less; the media turned their heads; and the fans came back to the ballpark to watch the players hit dingers and shatter records. If no one’s innocent, everyone’s guilty.

It was only when the moral outrage started based on the self-aggrandizing investigation of Jeff Novitzky that got the ball rolling on exposure of PED use in sports. By then baseball had no choice but to put up a front of ignorance and take steps to “clean up” the game. It’s still ongoing with the current Biogenesis investigation threatening to be the newest in a string of baseball’s attempts to be dictatorial against one of the most powerful and committed unions on the planet. To meet their current ends they’re willing to run the risk of another collusion verdict in the inevitable lawsuits to be filed by Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and all the other players named in the records.

To imply that Rocker is wrong in his assertion that it was a show MLB was putting on to entertain the fans and make a lot of money is contrary to the facts. His statements were not based on wringing the last vestiges of attention from his infamy.  He was telling a truth that no one wants to hear or admit.

It’s simple to dismiss Rocker as a bitter fool by pointing to an entirely separate incident that happened over thirteen years ago. What happens when someone who’s not perceived as a bitter fool says the exact same thing? Then will it be seen as someone bringing forth contentions that all of baseball, the media and the fans loathe to admit: they got a thrill out of seeing all the records falling and balls flying out of stadiums. In their statements, baseball acts indignant at the PED use. In their actions/inactions, they were in on it and, in fact, encouraged it.

Say what you want about Rocker as a person, but his statements are dead-on. Because no one wants to hear them, especially from him, doesn’t alter their accuracy.

//

Lusting For Luhnow, Part I

Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

We’re about a week away from a Jeff Luhnow bowel movement being encased in a climate controlled, clear reinforced plastic viewing chamber to be marveled at and admired 50, 100, 200 years from now in Cooperstown as if it was the work of a genius and not a bran muffin and coffee he had for breakfast on a particular morning in April of 2013.

For now, the adoration lavished on the Astros GM is limited to orgasmic sighs, lusty Twitter comments, and Hardball Talk postings about the I-Pads all the Astros’ players were given, beatific grins at the catchphrase in the clubhouse (“Process”), Baseball America columns discussing the number of Luhnow draft picks that opened the season on a big league roster, and the method in which Luhnow is rebuilding the Astros as if they’re an expansion team.

Of course it’s nonsense. With the free hand Luhnow’s been given by Astros owner Jim Crane, he’s in an enviable position on multiple fronts. First, the owner isn’t expecting results immediately and is letting the GM do whatever he wants in every aspect of the organization. Second, the media is rolling around and contorting itself into a pretzel to allow Luhnow a wide swath of absolution in spite of formulating a 2013 club that is going to be among the worst in the history of the sport. Third, his resume is being taken so drastically out of context that it won’t be long before he’s given credit for the Cardinals busting through from the team that constantly lost in the playoffs under Walt Jocketty/Tony LaRussa pre-2006 to the one that won two World Series in 2006 and 2011 with Luhnow as the scouting director. Fourth, he has the support of one of the largest growing constituencies in all of sports: the bloggers and social media “experts” who think they can run a club, scout, and analyze because they play fantasy baseball and can read a spreadsheet, yet never picked up a baseball in their lives and wouldn’t know what to do with one if they did.

Luhnow’s gutting of the Astros is fulfilling a mandate and reacting to the situation he entered. The Astros had bloated contacts, were notoriously thin in talent, and had neglected the farm system to the degree that there were very few marketable prospects for trade or development. He’s essentially running an expansion team in large part because he himself cleared out the house of any and all players that were there when he arrived. It may be a bit much to say they’re trying to lose, but it’s not too much to say they don’t care if they win. It’s a subtle difference and a large factor as to why they’re being allowed to put a team on the field that has a $26 million payroll and will have a dramatic impact on all of baseball with their historic and intentional awfulness.

Is it necessary to strip the whole apparatus down to its brass fittings in order to build it back up? No. It’s not. There are many ways to get where a club wants to go and the days of an expansion team having to take annual beatings for 5-7 years while their draft picks develop ended with free agency. The 1969 Mets and early 1980s Blue Jays were case studies of clubs that built from the bottom up and turned their fortunes around in year eight for the Mets (100 wins and a World Series), and year seven for the Blue Jays (89 wins in 1983 starting off a long run culminating in back-to-back World Series wins in 1992-1993).

However, those were the days before teams spent lavishly on free agents and had the ability to just buy their way into contention. Nowadays, it’s not necessary to wait. The Diamondbacks are the new age case study having won 100 games in their second season and a World Series in their fourth. Strangely, their success has been quantified as “lucky,” “mortgaging,” and “checkbook building” by then-owner Jerry Colangelo; then-GM Joe Garagiola Jr.; and then-manager Buck Showalter. They followed the strategies of Showalter—hired by the Diamondbacks shortly after the Yankees had fired him in 1995—and he took command of the implementation of Showalter-preferred teaching methods from that day forward. They were largely a creation of free agency by signing Randy JohnsonJay Bell and trading for Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams. This is often referred to with a scoffing eye-roll as if there’s something untoward about signing free agents and achieving rapid success with players drafted, signed and developed by other clubs. Like those who advocate eating organic foods and nothing else, there’s a sense of superiority for a team that developed their own players rather than purchased them. In reality, there’s no difference other than in the mind. The Yankees didn’t develop Babe Ruth. They bought him. So what? Does that diminish what he was? Not in any way.

The “development” attitude is supposed to be sustainable as if the atmosphere is being saved and global warming is being stopped by a player working his way through the organization and making it to the big leagues as a homegrown talent.

In the end, a win is a win is a win and it doesn’t make much difference whether it’s done by a bunch of mercenaries and a $150-200 million payroll or one with a $70 million payroll and the appellation of “genius” attached to the “architect” of the club.

The concept that what Luhnow is doing with the Astros is “right” is based on nothing more than the preferred public perception by the self-styled revolutionaries who feel as if statistics have taken over the game of baseball in an inextricable metamorphosis from what was to what is and what will be.

//

Baseball Will Adapt to Playoff Expansion

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When the devastation of the 1994 strike and subsequent canceling of the World Series is discussed, the main topics are usually the Expos’ demise; the Yankees’ interrupted return to glory; Matt Williams’s run at Roger Maris; and Tony Gwynn’s shot at hitting .400.

That the Texas Rangers were in first place with a record of 52-62 is rarely mentioned.

So what would’ve happened had those Rangers made the playoffs with a record under .500?

It’s easy to say, “Oh, they’d have gotten swept in the first round by the Yankees.”

But would they have?

The Rangers of 1994 had Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers in their starting rotation; they had Tom Henke as their closer; and they could bash.

Is it so farfetched to think they could’ve bounced the Yankees?

In addition to the other division leaders—the Yankees and White Sox—there were eight teams in the American League alone with better records than the Rangers when the strike hit.

Eight.

Would it be absurd to think that those Rangers would’ve made the playoffs with a record of 77-85, entered with house money thinking they had nothing to lose and gotten a hot pitcher like Brown—who happened to be unhittable when he was on—and rode their lineup and closer to a title that would’ve been seen as a large black spot on baseball’s system had it happened?

You don’t think it was possible?

It’s happened before.

The 1973 Mets and 1987 Twins were two clubs that shouldn’t have been in the playoffs if they’re judged on their regular season records. The Mets had a hellacious starting rotation and upset the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds in the then-best of 5 NLCS; the Twins had won 29 games on the road all season, knocked out the high-powered Tigers in the best of 7 ALCS and won the World Series by winning all of their games at home against the Cardinals.

At the time, home field advantage in the World Series was rotated. If the Twins had won the pennant in an even numbered year, they might not have won the championship.

It was circumstance. Or luck. Or design. Or all of the above.

Drastic changes to the game’s foundational rules have long been lamented as ruinous. The shift in strategy of inside baseball to the reliance on the home run; the outlawing of the spitball; expansion to the West Coast; the lowering of the mound; the draft; divisional play; the DH; free agency; the Wild Card; deep statistical analysis; drug allowance and drug testing—I can go on and on.

But the game survived and thrived.

It adapted.

You can be a purist and point out all the things that might’ve been better had certain new rules not been enacted, but it’s hindsight and one small alteration in the fabric of time sets in motion a million other possibilities.

I have no issue with 10 teams out of 30 having a chance to win a World Series after 162 games. Teams that win their divisions will have a far better chance in doing so than the four Wild Card teams that are going to be playing one game to get to the dance.

One game.

Anything can happen in one game.

Anything.

For every really good team that missed out on the playoffs under the old rules—the 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles come immediately to mind—there are teams that weren’t very good and made the playoffs because of the Wild Card or that they were in a weak division.

Is it fair? Should they have been left on the outside looking in because they happened to be trapped in a division with a team that wound up with a better record than they did? Should they have been excluded because they won their division with 82 wins?

Maybe they should. But maybe they shouldn’t.

Yes, there will be teams that play for third place, get into the playoffs and eventually win the World Series.

But so what?

With the one game playoff, the Wild Card is no longer as easy an avenue as it once was. A one game playoff is not what any team wants to bank their hopes on, so in essence this new configuration will provide more motivation for a team to win their division.

It’s in human nature to adapt.

And baseball will adapt as well.

//

Viewer Mail 1.11.2011

Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove

Joe (DaGodfather on Twitter) writes RE Bert Blyleven and the Hall of Fame:

I heard something interesting this week about him. I forget who said it but they said something to the effect that he was never a number 1 and never was a game 1 or game 7 pitcher. In fact, there was one year where his Twins made the playoffs and he didn’t even pitch in that series. So basically, forget the numbers, look at what his coaches, scouts, and GMs thought of him at the time. Do you really think they were ALL wrong and don’t know what they are doing?

Also, you never said, or at least I never saw, you say anything about whether you think Palmeiro, McGwire, and Bagwell should be HOFers. Personally, I think they should. You are not comparing players in different eras. You are comparing them to the people they played with. Seems to me that most of the players in the Steroids Era were using, hence the name. So, like it or not, they were the best of that era. And the HOF is a museum. A museum is supposed to present the facts of what their particular topic is, in an unbiased fashion. You don’t have to like the steroid era. You can wish it never happened but you can not pretend it did not and wish it away. Put these guys in, let everyone make up their own minds about them.

In general, I don’t buy into the assigned “numbers” for pitchers. Much like my argument against pure stat zombieing, these are human beings with different abilities—maximums and minimums. I’ll take a chance on a player who I think can be much more than his statistical parts suggest; I also like having players from whom I know what to expect; it goes without saying that any team can use a C.C. Sabathia or Roy Halladay who are going to provide consistent excellence whether or not they have their good stuff.

A year ago, I went through Blyleven’s career season-by-season when he just missed induction and he was harmed by being on bad teams much of the time—link. His contemporaries didn’t do him much good as Jim Palmer was the best pitcher in the American League and Catfish Hunter was on a great A’s team and padded his statistics that way.

How do you pigeonhole pitchers on mediocre teams? On great teams? Who was the “number 1” starter on the Yankees during their dynasty? In season, it didn’t make much difference who was starting a game; in the playoffs, even though he was despised, when David Wells was at the top of his game, he was who they wanted pitching; I’d put Orlando Hernandez ahead of Roger Clemens from those teams as well.

You can take that analogy to your Phillies as well. Do you want Halladay (who pitched a post-season no-hitter)? Cliff Lee (with his playoff success)? Cole Hamels (a former NLCS/World Series MVP)? Or Roy Oswalt (a fearless, unflappable veteran)?

The “numerical” designation is more about identification and ego than any realistic judgment in reality.

As for the statement that Blyleven was with the Twins during a post-season series and didn’t pitch. I assume you’re referring to 1970 when he was a 19-year-old rookie. The Orioles swept the Twins in three games in the ALCS; he was on a staff with veterans Jim Perry, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant and a young lefty named Tom Hall whose numbers were devastating. Blyleven did pitch in relief in that series.

I’m not as passionate a defender of Blyleven as Rich Lederer and the stat-obsessed are; in looking at his numbers, his contemporaries and the full context, plus the pitchers like Don Sutton who are in the Hall of Fame and is comparable in every aspect to Blyleven, then Blyleven is a Hall of Famer too.

I’m iffy on Jeff Bagwell—he may get caught up in the allegations that he was a skinny minor leaguer with no power and turned into a beast. I would not vote for Rafael Palmeiro—statistically his numbers took a wondrous jump at a strange time, a time in which PEDs were en vogue. I would’ve voted for Mark McGwire had he not embarrassed himself at the congressional hearings and then confessed to his steroid use out of personal convenience more than purely sincere regret. Now? No.

You don’t have to give them a plaque to have “everyone make up their own minds about them”. That’s rewarding them to foster discussion; the two things are not connected; that they’ve been excluded creates more of a debate than inducting them would.

If you want to look at contemporaries, look at Barry Bonds. He played clean and kept up with the users; he played with PEDs and dwarfed their numbers. It’s a transference onto the same playing field and he blew them away in both. Bonds is a Hall of Famer with or without drugs as is Roger Clemens; these other players weren’t and wouldn’t have been had they played straight.

Joe (StatMagician) writes RE Barry Bonds:

You used the words “BONDS,” “friendship,” and “loyalty” in the same sentence.

It’s interesting with Barry Bonds. Which is better? An affable “everyone’s friend” teammate? Or Barry Bonds who was aloof—even nasty—but was one of the smartest and best players of his era, steroids or not? For all the bickering and negativity between Bonds and his Pirates and Giants teammates, it was Bonds who had a profound influence on Matt Williams and Jeff Kent. He was always helping teammates with tips to be used on the field.

I don’t seecamaraderie as irrelevant, but in some cases it’s not necessary.He wasn’t his teammates’ friend? So what?

And Joe, are you buying my book this year or are you gonna keep being a mooch?

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Rafael Soriano:

Soriano gacks up big games? And wouldn’t pitch more than one inning for the Rays? Uh-oh. I don’t want him anymore for the Yankees.

It’s his history. He gives up big homers because he appears to try too hard in important spots. We saw it in game 5 of the ALDS when he allowed the backbreaking homer to Ian Kinsler in the ninth inning to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-1 deficit. I don’t know that I’d trust him to handle New York either.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Carl Pavano:

I wonder if we’re perhaps too hard on Pavano in regards to his hellish Yankeedom. I mean, did he really just mail it in and sit on the beach while being hurt with a smile on his face or was he genuinely upset that he couldn’t perform?

His body language in his first season was atrocious; then he got hurt. It’s possible that he got his money and lost desire; it’s happened before and if he had a mental issue with New York, the pressure and his station in life—“I got paid, now what?”—that’s understandable; but as time went on, it looked as if the perception was such that he felt there was no way to rehabilitate his image with the organization, media and fans and he gave up trying.

His injuries were real, but it was the sheer ludicrous nature of how he got hurt—crashing his Porsche with his model girlfriend; a bruised buttocks—that exacerbated his nightmare.

As a competitor, I’m sure he was embarrassed; no one wants to see such awful things written and said about themselves, but if he holds anyone responsible for his unforgettable (and not in a positive way) stay in New York, he need look no further than a mirror.