Lusting For Luhnow, Part II

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The narrative of Jeff Luhnow having been the scouting director who drafted the most players who opened the 2013 season on a Major League roster is taken far out of context in the effort to create a pithy and simple-minded conclusion that he was the mastermind behind the Cardinals and is a guarantee to rebuild the Astros in a similar manner.

Is it technically true that Luhnow has the most draftees on big league rosters in 2013?

Yes.

Is it accurate in its basest sense?

No.

The drafting of players is such a random thing and their making it or not making it is based on so many factors that have nothing to do with talent that it’s a meaningless assertion to make to credit any one person for it. How many high draft picks have flamed out and not made it to the degree they were supposed to? How many late-rounders became stars? Albert Pujols was with the Cardinals club that Luhnow supposedly built and was a 13th round draft pick. Chris Carpenter was a first round draft pick of the Blue Jays who was a combination of bad and injury-prone before he came under the tutelage of Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa and was completely rebuilt into one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade.

No one in their right mind is going to try and take credit for Pujols as a 13th round pick and say they “knew” what he was. His selection was a combination of a late-bloomer, luck and who knows what else? The scouting director is the one who receives the credit, but in reality it’s the cross-checkers and in-the-trenches scouts who find the players to begin with and recommend them to the front office who decide which player they want. Much of it is innate talent, happenstance, teaching, and opportunity. To think that any club believes a player drafted from the 8th round and beyond will do anything significant in the majors is absurd. The ones who do are an anomaly, the product of a trick pitch, late growth spurts or PEDs.

Yet here we are. No matter what Luhnow does, it’s treated as if he’s reinventing the game and receiving undue credit for his new thinking. But we can’t avoid the reality that his current club is going to lose somewhere between 105 and 115 games in 2013. Does that not matter?

The fervent and evangelical support he’s receiving is akin to George W. Bush abandoning the pretense of Constitutional separation between church and state and holding up a Bible saying he answers to a higher authority while mega-churches prayed for his election and turned out en masse to make it happen. Instead of the New Testament, Luhnow is metaphorically holding up a copy of Baseball Prospectus and answering to that “higher authority” and plucking people from its staff to function as his assistants.

It’s sort of like Mitt Romney’s binder of women only it’s Luhnow’s paperback of stat geeks.

They have their impressive degrees, theories and worship from the masses who see them as examples of what they believe as if that’s the final word on what’s right. This is a conceit that is growing prevalent as its supporters are emboldened by increased validation, accurate or not. The congregation—the like-minded media, bloggers, and social media “experts”—spread the gospel and make ham-handed and pompous fumblings with “conversion.” It maintains the undertone of an insecure, “we don’t really believe it” desperation and whininess asking why others don’t see the “truth.”

Because Luhnow is adhering to his beliefs and has the support of the likes of Keith Law, he’s receiving a pass for this monstrosity into which he’s crafted the Astros as they play, not to compete, but to accumulate draft picks. The teams that have had success in recent years but have done it in a decidedly old-school manner and told the outside “experts” to take a hike, namely the Giants and their GM Brian Sabean, are not credited for what they’ve created with the GM failing to get the accolades he deserves. Instead, before the champagne in the carpet of the Giants’ clubhouse had even dried, the media made it a point to search for someone, anyone in the Giants organization who would bolster them and render meaningless the argument that Sabean’s old-school methods worked. What they found was Yeshayah Goldfarb who is the Giants “Moneyball” guy in a Moneyballless organization. Goldfarb, who few even knew existed before he was dragged into the spotlight, was the behind the scenes wizard who pulled Sabean’s strings and “really” crafted the Giants into a World Series winner in two of the past three years.

At least that’s how the story was framed.

So how’s it work? If the GM fits the aesthetic as Luhnow does, he’s a hero and if he doesn’t (like Sabean), he got help from a guy in a darkened room recommending the team sign Juan Uribe? If the storyline doesn’t translate neatly into some singular person being a “genius,” by believing what the baseball revolutionaries believe, a Goldfarb has to be found somewhere?

The Luhnow rhetoric stems from what “we’d” do with the “we” being the aforementioned bloggers, media and people on Twitter. But because the “we” agrees with what someone is doing doesn’t make it right; it doesn’t make it unassailable; and it doesn’t make someone a “genius” before they’ve accomplished anything at all other than accumulate a load of worshipful hype, driven payroll down as low as it can possibly go and put together one of the worst clubs in history.

Let’s wait on the smiling bust of Luhnow to be placed in the room of every would-be GM who’s memorized the latest edition of Baseball Prospectus and thinks that somehow qualifies him or her to be a GM and tell experienced baseball players, coaches, managers, and executives how to do their jobs. He’s done nothing up to now other than demolish what was admittedly a crumbled infrastructure. But anyone with a wrecking ball and sufficient motivation could’ve done that. So far he’s a media creation and nothing more.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Tim Tebow’s Sideshow Reaches Its Climax

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Tim Tebow was acquired by the Jets as a gimmick while thinking he’s a football player. When the Jets saw what a limited football player he was and that the packages they installed centered around him didn’t fool anyone, they used him in a perfunctory fashion with dreadful results.

While still in the playoff picture, they marginalized Tebow. To make matters worse for Tebow, the game against the Cardinals in which Rex Ryan had finally seen enough of Mark Sanchez to pull him, Tebow was injured with fractured ribs, so Greg McElroy entered the game and led a game-winning drive. In a dysfunctional manner only the Jets can muster, Tebow’s fractured ribs prevented him from playing in the week before’s Thanksgiving night humiliation at the hands of Tom Brady and the Patriots (complete with Sanchez’s buttfumble) even though he was inexplicably active. It was inexplicable since the Jets never gave a coherent explanation. He was inactive against the Cardinals in the McElroy game. Then, in Jacksonville, Tebow was the number two QB and didn’t play when Sanchez played poorly again, but not poorly enough to be yanked, especially with Tebow sitting behind him and not McElroy.

If this sounds convoluted and confusing, that’s only because it is.

Sanchez stayed in the Jaguars game and the Jets won again, through no fault or help from Sanchez. Would Ryan have pulled Sanchez if he’d had McElroy available? And why wasn’t McElroy available? Because Tebow was needed in uniform in the town in which he starred for the University of Florida; playing against the Jaguars team for whom he’s likely to play in 2013 (and I do mean play, not stand there as an owner’s show pony and object for him to tell his socialite friends, “Look what I bought.”), he was the second quarterback with, barring an injury, no chance to actually play. Period.

Was it naïveté on the part of Tebow to believe that the Jets had intentions for him other than the owner seeing dollar signs when looking at Tebow’s chiseled arms? Did he truly believe the whispered sweet nothings Ryan, GM Mike Tannenbaum and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano (the “innovator” of the Wildcat formation that was supposed to be Tebow’s forte)? Was he confident enough in his abilities or trusting to the point that he felt that he’d be an important part of the offense and see 20 plays a game when its logic and reason were nonexistent? Was he hearing what he wanted to hear? Did he look at Sanchez and say, “I can beat out that guy,”? (In fairness, Steve DeBerg might be saying that right now and planning a comeback.) Did he believe that his faith was directing him to the Jets for a reason?

Was it all of the above?

More importantly, was Tebow wrong to allegedly refuse to play in the Wildcat packages last Sunday in the Jets’ loss to the Chargers, leaving the Jets to use Jeremy Kerley in the package and Tebow to put forth the decidedly un-Christian like pouting and self-interest when he was asked to do something by the team and refused?

I understand why he did it as do the other players, but given what he believes, he should have done what he was asked to do. That they intended to use him as an attention-grabber the week after the team was eliminated from the playoffs and he declined to partake is ignorant of the reality that he was being used as an attention-grabber when they traded for him.

This is where the self-image and truth clash. Tebow thinks he can play; the Jets thought he’d sell some stuff.

Perhaps Tebow has had enough of the Jets and how they run things and would like to stay healthy and alive to join another club that’s not going to treat him so shabbily and openly lie to him to use his star power to sell some jerseys and garner attention for themselves. But he has to accept that his limits as a quarterback predicate that he’s going to be given an opportunity, in large part, due to his celebrity. If, as expected, he winds up in Jacksonville next year, it will be a similar situation for a Jaguars team that has no expectations and nothing much to lose by playing him.

With he combination of Tebow’s inability to play, the lack of respect as a player he has throughout the league, and his latest episode of refusing to participate in the game when asked, how can the Jets bring him back?

Tebow can’t use his status to continually get job after job and make a ton of money with limited skills and then complain when teams use him for the same reason they keep giving him a job. It’s possible that he can learn to be a competent quarterback or, at the very least, one who can manage a game. The Jets used him and he used the Jets. The only ones that benefited from this use/use relationship were the Jets off the field by selling some stuff. That didn’t last long. Owner Woody Johnson’s deep involvement in Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid as the chairman of Romney’s New York campaign was repeatedly peppered with questions about Tebow and Johnson said while discussing his political activities that he “can’t get enough Tebow,” making clear where he stands in this messy situation.

As nightmarish as the scenario may be to Jets’ fans and Sanchez, with Johnson’s affinity for Tebow, he might be back with the Jets in 2013. Ryan and Tannenbaum are presumably dead-set against this and have to impress upon the owner the disastrous nature of a return engagement of Tebowing in 2013 is similar to the Republicans turning around and re-Romneyating Romney in 2016 expecting it to work better than it did the first time. Maybe Johnson would get that analogy and see past his own arrogance to comprehend that Romney 2016 and Tebow 2013 would be identically ludicrous and fail miserably. Maybe.

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Elephants, Donkeys and Cubs

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If a sports owner who decided he wanted to contribute money to a political Super PAC (Political Action Committee) that profiled presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as an unapologetic flip-flopper; someone who’s going to unleash the terrifying United States war machine on any and all countries that he deems as a vague “threat”; plans to cut taxes for the wealthy; take away Medicare, Medicaid and relegate the poor to what amounts to an inescapable cycle of poverty, would the media have reacted so indignantly as it has to the Joe Ricketts story?

I doubt it.

But because the patriarch of the Ricketts family that now owns the Chicago Cubs was interested in starting a Super PAC that was meant to rehash the inflammatory comments made by President Obama’s former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, it’s considered an affront and the basis to engulf the politics of Joe Ricketts to his son Tom Ricketts’s attempts—as owner of the Cubs—to secure public financing to refurbish Wrigley Field.

Politics and presidential politics are seeping into baseball. Rather than focusing on the retirement of Kerry Wood, the “miracle” of Bryan LaHair, or what Theo Epstein’s going to do to rebuild the Cubs, the story is off-field issues.

Considering how things are going for the Cubs on the field, maybe that’s not as terrible as it seems.

Because the “big bad billionaire” wanted to use his money in a politically legal way, it’s transferred into his son’s running of the Cubs. There’s no connection. Even if there was, here’s a solution: prevent the public financing of the improvements to Wrigley Field through the political process.

Political tactics are what they are and it’s not outrageous to bring up Obama sitting by when Wright was making these statements about the United States; that political expediency led to his repudiation of what was said and he left the church out of necessity if he wanted to win the presidency.

The dredging of the Wright controversy isn’t on a level with absurd questioning of the validity of the president’s birth certificate or other silly intimations. It may have been settled to the satisfaction of enough people to elect Obama president in 2008, but it could also be used to assuage the fears about Romney’s Mormonism and convince skittish evangelical Christians to get out and vote for Romney.

It’s politics and is expected.

I’m curious if the reaction would be so widespread if it were a liberal owner who was trying to do “good for the masses” with a Super PAC instead of the “greedy, hoarding rich guy” who simply doesn’t want to pay as much in taxes as he is now and is using anything at his disposal to elect a president who’d help him achieve that end.

I doubt it would.

Either way, should this or any political affiliation be associated with the Cubs because there’s no link between Joe Ricketts’s proposed Super PAC and his son’s stewardship of a baseball team.

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The Yankees Adhere To Conservatism

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With their conservative persona stemming from George Steinbrenner’s rightist agenda and continued with the current regime under Hank and Hal Steinbrenner (military school graduates both); Randy Levine (worked for the Rudy Giuliani New York mayoral administration and recently created a controversy by donating money to the reelection campaign of republican Massachusetts senator Scott Brown); and Brian Cashman (the newly minted bon vivant GM with a sex scandal to call his own), the Yankees are holding true to one of the tenets of the Republican Party by adhering to the rules of succession.

The Republicans nominate their presidential candidates based on who came in second in the prior election cycle.

This is the way it’s always been and we’re seeing it with a candidate that neither the evangelicals nor the hardline wants—Mitt Romney.

They did it in 2008 as well with John McCain.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless of the simplistic “when we go to the right, we win” mantra espoused by the talking heads on Fox News and the agenda-laden talk show hosts, there are numerous variables in the success or failure of the strategy including the turnout, the opponent and current societal circumstances.

The influence of opponents and circumstances are transferrable into baseball.

With their decision to use David Robertson to pitch the ninth inning last night in the Yankees’ 6-2 win over the Royals, their intentions have become clear as to whom is going to replace Mariano Rivera as closer for the rest of the season.

They’re going with the “next in line”. The next in line is Robertson.

Watching Robertson, I’d be very concerned.

His motion is, always has been and always will be a nightmare. He throws off an entirely stiff front leg and his arm recoils with extreme violence. He’s mentally tough enough to deal with the ancillary aspects of closing, but the “trying too hard” factort could lead to overstressing his arm and causing injury. The Yankees’ braintrust will tell him not to treat the ninth inning any differently than he did the seventh and eighth, but that’s easier said than done.

Given the decision to use Robertson last night, here’s what I suspect is going to happen. Robertson will close and they’ll use Soriano to set-up…for now. They’ll watch and see how Phil Hughes pitches tomorrow in Kansas City and if he pitches poorly, move him back to the bullpen for the rest of the season. Andy Pettitte is set to return and David Phelps pitched well on Thursday. They have options to fill out the rotation with Hughes in the bullpen.

At first, Soriano will get a chance to pitch the eighth inning, but if he struggles, they’ll flip him and Hughes and Hughes will pitch the eighth as he did in 2009.

The Yankees’ expectation of automatically being in the playoffs on an annual basis is partially leading them to using Robertson as the closer.

I would not trust Rafael Soriano as the closer in the playoffs. He’s pitched 7.2 innings in the post-season and allowed 3 homers—two of them backbreaking to his clubs, the Rays and Yankees. But they have to make the playoffs first—not a small feat—and there’s a small chance that Rivera might make it back for the playoffs.

If that happens, Soriano or Robertson closing is a non-issue; in fact, it would be easier to demote Soriano than it would Robertson and perhaps the confidence Soriano accumulates by doing well as the closer would extend to the playoffs and he’d be more than a “we hafta hold our collective breaths”, mentally weak, self-interested and overpaid pitcher not fit for the Yankees’ lofty expectations commensurate with his absurd salary.

After the season, that self-interest would come to the Yankees’ rescue in the form of the opt-out in Soriano’s contract.

Robertson is under contractual control until after the 2014 season; Soriano is owed $14 million for 2013 with the opt-out and possible free agency after this season. If he opts out, they’d pay him a $1.5 million buyout.

Soriano’s agent is Scott Boras. Boras has a history of convincing his clients to take free agency when it suits them and is undeterred by prior failures. Because Francisco Rodriguez and Ryan Madson both listened to Boras’s sweet nothings, expected huge riches on the open market and didn’t get them won’t stop Soriano from doing as he’s told and entering the free agent market again looking for more money, more years and a guarantee to close.

How much would it benefit the Yankees to get out from under that onerous and ridiculous deal to which they signed Soriano over the public objections of Cashman?

If Rivera’s coming back for 2013; if Robertson is there; if Joba Chamberlain returns; and Hughes proves himself capable of relieving full-time, what’s the value in paying Soriano that kind of money?

There is none.

The advantages of giving the ninth inning to Soriano are multiple and obvious, but the Yankees are making the safer and more explainable choice.

In the short and long terms, it might work.

But it’s still a mistake.

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Did Politics Influence the Jets to Acquire Tim Tebow?

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I came across an interesting tidbit in today’s NY Times.

This article about presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney contains a comment from Woody Johnson about Romney’s fundraising strategy. Johnson is the owner of the New York Jets and one of Romney’s national finance co-chairmen.

This got me to thinking that if Johnson is a member of the Republican party in high regard (and significant contributions) that he’s such a key member of the Romney team, then it’s possible that the Tim Tebow acquisition wasn’t only about football or about selling tickets—it was about politics.

It’s well known that Tebow is an evangelical Christian. What makes Tebow so marketable and popular isn’t that conservative Christianity in and of itself, but that he comes across as believing every word he says without pretense. When he and his mother appear in a right-to-life ad, it’s relatively assured that we don’t have to wait and see if Tebow is going to be on the news for impregnating a girlfriend and focing her to have an abortion.

With most athletes, the chasm between their public image and reality has been revealed so often that it’s almost expected that any player that fervent in stating his piety is eventually going to get caught doing something those beliefs say he shouldn’t be doing.

Amid all the criticism the Jets took for getting Tebow and undermining their starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, the conventional wisdom has been that the Jets’ owner Johnson wanted a marquee name to sell season tickets as well as Tebow jerseys, Jets’ hats, jackets and other apparel.

But was it Tebow’s convictions and values that attracted Johnson to him as well?

Most football coaches couldn’t care less what their players do away from the field as long as they stay out of jail and don’t get suspended. Jets’ coach Rex Ryan is more lenient than many other coaches. But with Johnson so prominent a participant in the Romney campaign, I have to wonder if there was more to it than the simplified salesmanship and possible use on the field.

This isn’t to suggest that Johnson is a radical right winger because Romney—despite his transparent attempts to portray himself as such—isn’t a radical right winger. He’s a pragmatist and a dealmaker.

Johnson might be the same way. It’s not as if he’s imported the most respectable of players and people. This is a team that had Plaxico Burress, Santana Moss, Antonio Cromartie and Sanchez, who’s no choir boy.

My guess is that Johnson is a Republican because Republicans are going to lower taxes on super-wealthy people like him. He’s a businessman and this is a business move. It’s not a hardline set of principles like those that led the religious right to vote for George W. Bush en masse without caring one whit what he planned to do or did as President.

But it can’t be discounted that Tebow’s code of conduct played a part in him being with the Jets. The owner has meddled before and it’s perfectly reasonable that his own personal preferences contributed to the Jets getting a player they didn’t really need on any level.

If this was done with any political end in mind, that makes it worse than the critics lament that Tebow was about marketing. It provides more ammunition to those who felt it had nothing to do with Tebow the football player and plenty to do with Tebow the commercial for “right” living. That the owner is an out-front Republican only adds to that implication that the actual playing of the game of football was one of the last items on the list for getting Tebow at all.

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