The Mets have 3 viable options with Matt Harvey

MLB

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey’s mechanics are a mess and his confidence is shot. This sounds like a recurring theme because it is a recurring theme.

After another objectively terrible outing against the Braves in Atlanta – six innings, eight hits, six earned runs – Harvey was defiant to the mere suggestion that he might be headed to the bullpen.

Short of that, it’s a mystery as to what else they can do with him. This is the third consecutive year in which the results are identical despite injury excuses, changes, tweaks, new voices, new training tactics and other attempts to recreate some semblance of what he was from 2012 to 2015. It’s not working. Unlike past years, the Mets have major league arms to replace him and are no longer kowtowing to him and his agent Scott Boras. It’s either produce or…what? That’s the question.

It’s silly to say that Harvey is “done” when he can still hit the mid-90s with his fastball. To say that he’s done with the Mets as an effective and useful pitcher is not. Repairing him will take time and work that the Mets, in their current construction, do not have.

The idea of the minor leagues has been floated, but given Harvey’s veteran status and that his approval would be needed for him to be sent down, that will not happen.

As things stand now, the Mets have three alternatives:

1) Give Harvey another start.

2) Send him to the bullpen.

3) Come up with a phantom injury (hamstring tweak; tired arm), disable him while they figure out where to go next, and save him the embarrassment of a demotion.

One thing is certain: if this team has any serious aspirations for 2018, they can’t keep putting this version of Harvey out on the mound.

This is where the situation grows complicated. In the immediate aftermath of Thursday night’s game, Harvey’s insistence that he’s a starting pitcher sounded more plaintive than confident. With manager Mickey Callaway saying that the club is unsure as to whether Harvey will make his next start, this can quickly spiral into a familiar fight between player and club with the main difference being that Harvey’s leverage is gone. If he reverts to the same diva-like behaviors he exhibited in his heyday – behaviors the Mets had no choice but to grit their teeth and accept – and he refuses a move to the bullpen, won’t go to the minors and is openly challenging the new manager and pitching coach, then they must get him out of the clubhouse.

Harvey and agent Scott Boras are smart enough to realize that this situation goes beyond his remaining time with the Mets. He’s auditioning for a job with another team in 2019. Whereas as recently as 2016, he and Boras were expecting a nine-figure bidding war for his free agent services, he’s now staring into the abyss of a one-year contract rife with incentives or even a minor-league contract. With that being the case, the overwhelming likelihood is that Harvey will publicly backtrack on his “I’m a starter” rhetoric, be a team player and say he’ll do whatever is best for the team.

But what’s best for the team? That’s what they’re trying to figure out and there’s no easy answer…if there is one at all.

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What’s next for the Reds after firing Bryan Price?

MLB

Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Bryan Price (38)

The Reds firing manager Bryan Price should come as no surprise. Their won/lost record of 3-15 is terrible in any context, but it’s incidental when determining Price’s fate. As discussed in my post for FanRag Sports here, Price had little chance of retaining the job beyond this season and if things went badly, it made sense to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

Price was in a bad spot from the get-go when he got the job in 2014. Replacing Dusty Baker and taking over a team that made three postseason appearances under Baker and never gotten beyond the first round, hiring Price was change for its own sake. He just happened to be the guy sitting next to Baker who was not a Baker acolyte and got the opportunity for a limited level of continuity to see if the same core of players would have different luck with a new manager. They didn’t. In Price’s first year, they finished at 76-86. Then the housecleaning started in earnest. From there, he was a “bridge” manager who would oversee a rebuild and whose expertise – pitching – was the area in which their new foundation was to be built. Acquiring talented young arms Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo among others was the basis of the rebuild. They had some decent power bats and could build around veteran star Joey Votto as the linchpin of the offense.

No one, least of all the Reds, were expecting the club to vault into contention in 2018. In a National League Central with the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers, there was essentially no chance of that. But when the season began and the Reds found themselves buried after three weeks even with those three competitors struggling, what was the purpose of delaying the inevitable and letting Price twist in the wind?

Jim Riggleman has been named as the interim manager. The club made certain to emphasize the word “interim.” This is familiar terrain for the veteran baseball man Riggleman having been the guy sitting next to the guy who got fired and taking over in similar circumstances as manager of the Padres, Mariners and Nationals.

For those scoffing at Riggleman and pejoratively labeling him as an old-school retread, he’s a good baseball man who will, at minimum, stabilize the situation as they decide on their direction.

And what direction is that?

Immediately, speculation centered around three names: Barry Larkin, John Farrell and Joe Girardi.

Larkin is a Reds icon and baseball Hall of Famer. He was a great player and is a good, well-spoken person. He’s expressed an interest in managing. Owner Bob Castellini likes “name” managers – that’s how Baker got the job in the first place – and Larkin fits that criteria.

However, there are dangers with this kind of hire. First, what exactly are Larkin’s managerial credentials? Being a great player does not imply that he or anyone will be a great manager. In fact, it’s generally the opposite. The better players are often terrible managers because they grow frustrated with players being unable to perform as easily or as intelligently as they did. “I did it, why can’t you do it?”

The problem with hiring Larkin goes beyond his inexperience. Placing a young president of baseball operations and general manager, Dick Williams, in a position where he has foisted upon him a manager who is clearly not of his choosing figuratively castrates him. If Larkin doesn’t work out as manager, the club will be confronted with the choice of firing and creating a rift with a popular player and personality who happens to be from Cincinnati; or retaining him not because of his work, but because they don’t want to create a rift with a popular player and personality. Hiring someone who is bulletproof from being fired is not a good thing and there’s no guarantee he can do the job. Fans don’t go to games to see a manager manage if the team is terrible, so why risk it?

Farrell was mentioned in the FanRag post as the obvious successor. The Reds hired him as a scout. Perhaps the implied hesitation of the Riggleman interim hire is so Farrell can gauge the organization before taking over on the field. He’s not great, but he does come with a certain cachet after winning the World Series with the Red Sox and is a good pitching coach. While Price is also a good pitching coach, the pitchers have stagnated, regressed or gotten injured under his stewardship, so maybe a different voice is all that is needed.

The idea of Girardi might be alluring to Castellini, but this is not a good fit for Girardi. He won’t want to go to a team that is still in need of retooling. As the Yankees struggle without him, it would be understandable if he sits on the sideline, does some broadcasting, and has his Yankees tenure look better and better as the team tries to find its footing with new manager Aaron Boone. Two jobs that immediately that immediately come to mind as better fits for Girardi are the Cardinals and the White Sox. For him to jump back in with the Reds smacks of desperation to take a job, any job, and that’s something Girardi neither needs to do nor should do.

Price was not the problem, but he was not the solution either. Therefore, firing him was justified.

The clock is ticking on Matt Harvey

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

After Matt Harvey’s performance on Saturday night, the clock is ticking on his time in the Mets starting rotation. The days of placating him, giving him rope, hoping and waiting for him to regain what injuries and perhaps self-abuse and age-related decline took from him ended when the club moved on from manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. Mickey Callaway, Dave Eiland and the new staff are taking no prisoners and are not letting sentiment interfere with doing what is best for the team and organization. Should Harvey continue to show the same stuff he has in his first three starts, this does not bode well for him.

Brave fronts and sunny assessments aside, Harvey was serviceable and lucky in his first start against the Phillies, mediocre in his second start against the Nationals, and poor at best in his third start against the Brewers. The same relentlessly positive statements about his first start were said whenever he didn’t get blasted in 2016 and 2017. It’s forced and subjective. Certainly, injuries are a part of that, but he has not been consistently good since 2015. He’s bluffing and trying to get by when a pitcher with his talents never needed to do so. As he approaches 30, learning to survive rather than effortlessly dominate will take time and dedication; two things the Mets do not and should not have regarding their erstwhile marquee star.

Ironically, Harvey’s final glorious moment with the Mets was Game 5 of the 2015 World Series when he convinced Collins to allow him to try and finish the complete game shutout, and was left on the mound as the Royals staged a rally to tie the game. The Mets lost the the World Series that night. Since then, for Harvey, it’s been a plummet with that moment, arguably, the first step off the cliff.

But none of that matters now.

The time for blame and search for explanations as to what happened to the guy who looked like a carbon copy of the mid-1980s Roger Clemens and has degenerated into someone’s 2019 reclamation project is over. The Mets are not blameless in what’s happened to Harvey and pinpointing exactly where he and they went wrong is impossible. However, it is inaccurate to absolve him of any role in the affair simply because he’s gutting his way through as best he can and he maintains that level of competitiveness as his abilities have declined so markedly. The late nights, diva-like behavior, inexcusable tardiness to the park, needless disputes between the club with agent Scott Boras as his frontman, endless tabloid drama that he seemed to foster intentionally – and that’s just the stuff that was reported and became public – were all Harvey. If the club bears any responsibility for it, it’s that they let it pass without telling him enough was enough and they weren’t protecting him, nor were they letting him slide because he was “special.”

Eventually, they did suspend him in May of 2017, but by then, what difference did it make? Suspending him earlier in his career would have been for his own good. Suspending him in 2017 was for the club’s own good because then at least he wouldn’t be pitching – and that’s with his replacement for his scheduled start, journeyman Adam Wilk, getting pummeled by the Marlins.

Fortunately for the Mets and not so much for Harvey, the club does not need to keep putting him out there every fifth day, hoping for a miraculous return to glory. They don’t have to concern themselves with getting something from him at any juncture beyond this season. Most importantly, the Mets are no longer stuck in the “we don’t have anyone else” trap. They do have someone else. In fact, they have two someone elses. Zack Wheeler’s encouraging performance against the Marlins on Wednesday could have been an anomaly, but when comparing his stuff to Harvey’s, Wheeler might be able to get away with missing his spots and being the same scatterarmed entity he’s been for his entire career and still be more trustworthy. Jason Vargas will eventually be ready to pitch and he’s entering the starting rotation, period.

Something’s got to give. Someone’s got to go. If, under Callaway, the Mets are adhering to the meritocracy template that Collins often spoke of but rarely followed through upon, then Harvey will need to become a third multi-inning reliever along with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, help as much as he can, wait for the clock to run out on his time with the Mets when both sides can move on.

With Harvey’s pending free agency and the percentage of Harvey and the Mets remaining together beyond this season comparable to the chances of Jennifer Lopez leaving Alex Rodriguez for Michael Kay – theoretically, it could happen, but it won’t – there is no reason for the Mets to put forth any pretense of fixing or showing reverence to Harvey for what he was three-plus years ago. And if this is what he is, a team with the rising expectations that go along with an 11-2 start cannot waste games with Harvey, whose reputation was built long ago with the club not under any obligation to be beholden to it anymore.

For the Nationals, it’s early…but

MLB, Uncategorized

Harper pic

Like any rivalry, the barking between fans of the New York Mets and Washington Nationals descends into the absurd, truthful though it may be. Repeatedly referencing the Nationals four shots at the playoffs and four first round playoff losses in the Bryce HarperStephen Strasburg years is undoubtedly accurate, but it’s not as if the Mets have won a championship during that time to accord them an unassailable argument to validate the mocking.

Still, the Mets won the pennant in 2015. The Nationals are saddled with not just the inability to get beyond the first round, but also the 2015 implosion that allowed the Mets to pass, lap and embarrass them, and a dwindling amount of time to make good on a cycle of seven years in which they had the most talent in baseball, all the pieces in place for a dynasty and are on the verge of letting it slip away. If it comes completely undone in the first month of what could be Harper’s last season as a National is more apropos than tragic.

The same Nationals fans who roll their eyes at Mets fans’ ridicule and seek to dismiss the Mets’ searing start as if order will be restored in due time are eliciting a sense of “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Already being six games out of first place after two weeks is not something to cavalierly dismiss. It’s not just that the Nationals have fallen so far behind so fast, but the way they’ve done it should be especially worrisome with a rapid spiral an increasingly possible outcome.

Even with a hedging halfway projection in the five games between Saturday and Wednesday, the Nationals could find themselves nine games out of first place with two weeks remaining in the first month of the season.

The Nationals have reason to reference injuries as a cause of their early-season struggles – a cause, but not the cause. The Mets had the same justification, well, forever and the Nationals showed no sympathy in beating them brutally. Why should the Mets not reciprocate when their rival is bruised and bleeding?

Daniel Murphy is still recovering from knee surgery and Adam Eaton has a bone bruise. Those are two key components from their lineup who are missing. Their starting pitching has been predictably excellent. The bullpen has been mediocre. What accounts for their 6-8 record at this writing is their offense. Ryan Zimmerman’s lack of game action in spring training was shrugged off as a tactical decision, but a .424 OPS and a 16 OPS+ after 47 plate appearances indicates that, yeah, maybe at-bats in minor-league games to keep him healthy for the regular season was not the best idea in the world.

Trea Turner has a slash of .208/.333/.283; Michael Taylor is at .160/.192/.180. Without Murphy and Eaton, not even a megastar like Harper and the embarrassingly underrated star Anthony Rendon can make up for that.

There is no answer to the question as to whether this would be happening to the Nationals had they not retreated to their familiar template of blame and cheapness with a key factor in success and failure — the manager — and given Dusty Baker the contract extension he earned not only with back-to-back division titles, but by cleaning up the mess left behind by the manager he replaced, Matt Williams.

Williams’s resume is eerily comparable to that of the manager they hired to replace Baker, Dave Martinez. Sabermetric advocates loathe Baker and love Martinez due largely to his longstanding affiliation with Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and his familiarity with the numbers-based, new age style utilized by the Cubs and before that the Tampa Bay Rays. Baker’s strength was never strategic. His strength is running the clubhouse and gaining favor with the players because they knew he had their backs and would let them do their jobs without constantly being in their faces. Results are what they are. Baker got them. Martinez is not.

An overriding concern should not be falling so far behind this quickly, but players like Harper, Murphy and Gio Gonzalez seeing where the season is headed and thinking of their pending free agency rather than salvaging what could be a lost cause by May. Harper in particular could have as much as half-a-billion dollars riding on this season. Does a desperate run and the work necessary to salvage a Wild Card justify risking that by diving, running into walls and busting on every play?

Yes, it’s early. No, the Mets and their fans should not be gloating. But that does not dispel the concerns that should be reverberating for the Nationals, because they are very real even in mid-April with 90 percent of the season remaining.

On Jason Heyward, the Cubs and Theo Epstein’s philosophy

MLB, Uncategorized

Heyward

Baseball general managers have their philosophies that frequently blur the line between belief systems and biases. The struggles of Jason Heyward are indicative of how Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein relies on that foundation to repeat similar mistakes made in the past — mistakes he should have learned from. Now the club is essentially trapped in the current situation with few alternatives but to accept and adapt.

The defenses and excuses for Heyward have run out. In 2016, his dreadful first season in Chicago was camouflaged by the Cubs run to the World Series and “saved”€ by the folk tale of his inspiring rain delay speech that roused the reeling Cubs from their punch-drunk stagger after the Indians had tied World Series Game 7 with an eighth inning rally. In 2017, the afterglow of that championship and Heyward’s supposed role in winning it saved him from the deserved vitriol that otherwise would be directed at such a monumental bust.

Although it’s still early in the 2018 season, the number of fixes, repairs, glitches, hitches and flaws that have befallen Heyward and their attempts to return him to some semblance of the player the Cubs thought they were getting have grown moldy, repetitive and tiresome like that preposterous story from the World Series. Two-plus seasons of popgun offense and admittedly still superlative defense have settled into the acceptance stage of the grieving process. This is what he is. Maybe he’ll give them 10 home runs and a .710 OPS –€“ if they’€™re lucky. Apart from that, there is a reasonable argument to say that he should not even be an everyday part of the lineup.

For all the statements about objective analysis as the driving force in decisions made in today’s game, Heyward’s 8-year, $184 million contract is the only thing saving him from being a defensive replacement in the late innings as the Cubs hope to get something of use from him apart from his glove and his “leadership” — something that, in most cases, the sabermetric community scoffs at.

When the contract was signed, the non-SABR community was bewildered at why a good but not great player with a history of injuries who didn’€™t appear to like baseball very much was so in demand. This is not to blame the Cubs. The Cardinals, Nationals and Yankees had interest in Heyward. Had the Cubs not paid him, someone else would have. That a player who was never mentioned as elite got to that point speaks to the overemphasis on statistics, projections and the intangibles — the latter of which SABR advocates downplay when it is inconvenient to their argument.

Heyward was a cumulative player whose age and widespread talents accrued enough production that his wins above replacement (WAR) was high enough to assuage any legitimate concerns about him.

He didn’€™t hit a lot of home runs, but he was a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder who could also play center field. He didn’€™t hit for a high average, but he walked a fair amount. He stole double-digits in bases and had a solid success rate when he did run. He was 26. It’€™s doubtful the Cubs or any team is planning on the worst-case scenario when paying a player so lucratively, but in Heyward’€™s worst-case scenario, they’d get great defense, some speed, some pop and an overall good player who would contribute to what they were building.

But now it is the worst-case scenario in that €™they’re stuck with a minimally productive player who’s in the lineup almost solely because of his salary.

This is wedded in Epstein’€™s theoretical-based way of constructing his teams. He attaches himself to certain players and won’€™t let go. In Boston, it was Hanley Ramirez who was traded while Epstein was in time-out after a tiff with Larry Lucchino and who he repeatedly tried to reacquire once he returned to run the Red Sox. Ben Cherington –€“ an Epstein acolyte — eventually made it happen once Epstein was gone and the results have been up and down. In Chicago, he’€™s had John Lackey, Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo –€“ all of whom were or are successes in Chicago. However, that attachment has also led to players like Heyward being hopelessly overpaid for what they provide amid embarrassingly transparent excuses continually proffered as to what the unseen contributions are with cherrypicked numbers used as justifications for his undeserved playing time.

Epstein’€™s resume will get him elected to the Hall of Fame. He’ll have earned enshrinement. Breaking two longstanding curses€ and winning long-awaited World Series in both Boston and Chicago accord him an impenetrable shield. That does not mean he can do no wrong and that he doesn’€™t make mistakes. Heyward is one of them and the Cubs will be paying for it through 2023.

Gabe Kapler and his bad start for the Phillies

MLB, Uncategorized

 

New Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has had a rough first week. With the strategic and technical bullpen gaffes, meandering explanations for those gaffes, and an arrogant attitude that is off-putting, he has done himself no favors, especially in a city like Philadelphia.

Compounding his situation is that the Phillies’ opportunistic aggression in the free agent market by signing Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter created unrealistic expectations for the season, some of which suggested that they were a playoff contender.

In context, it’s only a few games and he is a rookie manager who is coming at the job from a different viewpoint, one in which the numbers take precedence and the manager has his thumb on everything the players do. However, there are worrisome signs that could place his position in jeopardy even at such an early stage in his tenure.

His style comes across as stifling, going beyond the basics of being the boss when in the clubhouse and on the field to player nutrition and what seems like an attempt at 24/7 influence on the players’ conduct.

It’s notable that Kapler’s sole managerial experience came in A-ball as he took a break from his playing career and worked on the Boston Red Sox organization. In the low minors, it’s necessary to keep a tight rein on the players for disciplinary purposes. In the majors, even with a young team, it is not. Certainly, discipline and teaching are important with a young major league club, but this is not a group of pure rookies who need to have the manager constantly on their asses. The Phillies free agent signings should preclude such an overbearing attitude as Santana and Arrieta are both high quality people on and off the field and come from winning organizations with managers in Joe Maddon and Terry Francona who should be the ideal for all new managers not in their strategic maneuverings, but in how they give the players room to breathe, something Kapler has yet to learn how to do.

Kapler is intense and highly opinionated. He wants things done his way. But it’s not “my way or the highway” as much as it’s “my way, you’re a moron.” It’s the difference between philosophical disagreements and outright derision of the other perspective.

There’s a learning curve to managing in the majors and Kapler has quickly veered onto the shoulder of that road. There are six months to get it back under control. However, it does not take long to lose support not just of the fans and media – that’s to be expected no matter who the manager is – but of the players and the front office. Phillies GM Matt Klentak undoubtedly expected some growing pains and given his stat-centric style, is willing to give Kapler time to grow. Team president Andy MacPhail has literally been in baseball since birth and has adapted to the current generation as a means of survival. For someone who has seen everything in baseball, it is thoroughly understandable if MacPhail is watching Kapler and asking, “What the fuck is this guy doing?”

Initially, Kapler will get a break on that. If it continues, he won’t. That can be a negative influence not just on the young players the Phillies are trying to develop, but for the veterans in the clubhouse who, like Santana and Arrieta, have played for managers who do know what they’re doing and can see the signs of those who don’t. It can impact players wanting to come to Philadelphia as free agents and be a hindrance rather than a help.

Smart men have failed and stupid men have succeeded based on nothing more than their handling of people and adapting to the situation. If Kapler fails to adjust and fast, he could be the former and be out of a job before he realizes what happened and what went wrong, even if it’s clear to everyone but him.

Jose Fernandez and politically correct delusion

MLB

Jose Fernandez

The only shocking part of the news that not only was Jose Fernandez on the speedboat at 3 a.m., drunk and high on cocaine, but that he was driving the boat is that there are a great number of people who are surprised.

In the initial hours after his death, there were the long-distance eulogies and lamentations over the unfairness of a life being snuffed out so senselessly and suddenly. After the toxicology report was released revealing that he had been using cocaine it evolved into a “yeah but” implying that he placed himself in that situation, but it does not diminish what a good person he was. Now the goalposts are moved again. Eventually, when it’s more palatable, there will be more and more voices saying that Fernandez did this to himself and, unfortunately, he took two others with him; that it’s lucky he didn’t kill any innocent bystanders who happened to cross his path amid his recklessness.

The cause and effect of his death places the onus squarely on Jose Fernandez. Had he not been on a boat, speeding over the coal black water, high on cocaine and drunk, he would not have died. It’s that simple. That’s not an indictment of his abilities or his overall good-heartedness and enthusiasm, but a bare fact that is being obscured within the attempts to make him into something more than what he was: a 24-year-old who did a stupid thing that a lot of 24-year-olds do and had the money to do bigger and riskier, stupid things that he’d probably done before and gotten away with, but didn’t this time.

Of course, there are teams that know their players are indulging in recreational drugs and fans will wonder why they don’t do something about it. The answer is simple and comes in the form of a rhetorical question: What are they supposed to do? Had the Marlins known or found out about Fernandez’s drug use, whether it was recreational or he was an addict, and ordered him to go into rehab, what if he said no? If the Marlins told him he’d be out of a job were he to refuse their order for him to get treatment, there would only have been 29 other teams for whom he could work and wouldn’t just give him a chance, but would fight over his services and pay him a lot of money to play for them, drugs or not.

Here’s a fact: Had Fernandez gotten through his wild night of partying unscathed, he would have done it again. And if the Marlins had known about it or his drug use, they would have shrugged amid the reality of not being able to stop it.

This is a concession in every sport and for every organization.

Sports is a moneymaking, performance-based endeavor. While there is a façade of uprightness and fan-friendliness, it comes down to winning and making money. If the players are performing in such a way that they can do their jobs and help the team make money – hopefully even playoff money – then the organization will turn its head and look the other way because it benefits them.

So after all the tears and the what might have beens about Fernandez’s career, it ends with him having been directly responsible for the crash that led to his death.

None of that diminishes the gifts he possessed and what the baseball world will be deprived of because he’s gone; that his newly born infant daughter will not have her father and she won’t even have a chunk of his fortune because of the wrongful death lawsuits that the family is destined to lose – and probably settle out of court – because of this new information. But it does place into context a fundamental truth that the mythmakers of the Spartan ideal of athletes would have the customers believe and openly promote while knowing what’s really happening behind the scenes, one that should have been discarded long ago.

Dan Jennings represents a new threat to uniformed baseball people

MLB

Widespread bafflement and undisguised anger has simmered from the Miami Marlins’ stunning decision to replace fired manager Mike Redmond with general manager Dan Jennings. The results in Jennings’s first three games at the helm have mirrored what they were under Redmond with discombobulated losses and puzzlement as a team that many had considered a World Series contender looks closer to a club that’s heading for the number one pick in the 2016 draft. While owner Jeffrey Loria and his front office staff are loath to admit this sad fact – and probably won’t – it’s the flawed roster that’s the problem and not anything that the manager did or didn’t do.

That aside, Jennings put himself in this difficult situation by accepting the job. Uniformed baseball people have been anonymously expressing their dismay that the field is now being invaded by “suits.” While the Marlins situation is different from most other clubs in that there is a known quotient of dysfunction from the top down and has been for years, the Jennings hiring isn’t only offensive to those who have dedicated their life to the on-field, nuanced, “you can only learn by watching” portion of the game. It symbolizes the final infiltration of the last enclave in which players and “baseball people” held sacred and thought was safe.

To make matters worse, the Marlins aren’t even a pure sabermetrically-inclined team from whom this type of blurring of the lines of accepted propriety was possible or even likely. The Marlins under Loria are more Steinbrennerean than sabermetrican, lending credence to the idea that stat people are watching closely for the reaction to Jennings among the players, media and fans to see if they too can get away with a non-baseball person going down on the field and taking charge just as they’ve overtaken a large portion of big league front offices.

Uniformed baseball people accepted the new age front offices and statistical adherence not by choice, but out of necessity. These faceless, suit-clad front office people have no qualms about going into the clubhouse as if it too is their domain and they’re free to make “suggestions” to players, coaches and managers that are orders disguised as options. Now, with the Jennings foray down to the field, it might be making its way into the clubhouse completely.

The difference between uniformed personnel who work their way up through the minor league system as players, then coaches, then managers and finally find themselves on a big league staff or are actually in the manager’s office and those who are permeating baseball’s front offices today is that those who are in the front office have options for other forms of employment that will be just as, if not more, lucrative than being a GM or scouting director. Often, uniformed personnel can’t do anything else besides baseball. So it’s either accept the new reality or get a job at Wal-Mart. Another threat they have to parry is presenting itself and they’re resisting it.

The chipping away of the aura of the once insular and sacred realm of “baseball people” began with the widespread popularity and acceptance of the ludicrous stories in Moneyball. It blew up from there and is still multiplying like a disease meant to wipe out those who probably can’t formulate an algorithm, but have an innate sense of when their pitcher is out of gas. It’s easy to see why they’re chafing at Jennings being in uniform.

There’s no threat of the pure sabermetric front offices or even sabermetrically-leaning front offices having their current baseball bosses go down on the field as happened with the Marlins and Jennings. You won’t see Jeff Luhnow, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Brian Cashman or any of the other GMs who are stats-obsessed pulling on a uniform to run the team on the field. But is it possible that there’s a group of 20-somethings making a load of money in the stock market looking to buy a team with it in their minds to be the next subject of a book by having a non-baseball guy go on the field and win a World Series? The ego and arrogance that has led to the transformation of an endeavor that was once meant to be a plaything – a sports franchise – into a big business in which non-athletes can become sports celebrities. It’s treated as such. It provides a spotlight that these Masters of the Universe wouldn’t get by being mentioned on Bloomberg as a CEO with a $150 million bonus and a mansion in the Hamptons.

This is why the Marlins and Jennings could have unintended consequences throughout baseball. The Marlins are being deservedly ridiculed for what they’ve done. Jennings is a baseball guy, so It’s not “ridiculous” in the context of Bill Veeck’s midget Eddie Gaedel or Ted Turner going down on the field to manage the Atlanta Braves. It is, however, an intrusion into what the uniformed people felt was their domain. If one team does it, another team might do it. That’s what the uniformed people are rightfully afraid of more than they are offended by the Marlins’ breach of accepted protocol.

Theories on Tony LaRussa’s sabermetrics rattling

MLB

It’s been impossible to find an actual transcript about what Tony LaRussa said as a guest at the 2015 SABR Analytics Conference. Given what was tweeted and mentioned on other social media forums, it’s clear that LaRussa in his position as Chief Baseball Officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hasn’t altered his stance on certain aspects of sabermetrics. Let’s look at how LaRussa’s anger might be explained and if there’s any chance to understand rather than ridicule.

The grumpy old man defense

If you’ve dealt with a person who’s growing older, it’s inevitable that they’ll forget the way they behaved and the things they did when they were younger. Their worldview will harden and as the lines of propriety shift, even what was once the most liberal mind will begin to sound like a neoconservative.

LaRussa believes what he believes. He sees what he sees. He knows what he knows. If someone who he’s worked with or competed against and respects provides him with a new formula to gain an advantage on how to win a baseball game, he’ll listen. If Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella, Joe Torre and even someone with whom he doesn’t have the warmest and fuzziest of relationships like Dusty Baker, comes to him and advocates a new theory, he’ll be all ears because it’s guys talking baseball. If some baseball outsider walks up to him waving a computer printout or shoving an iPad in his face simultaneously telling him what he does is wrong and why he’s a moron for doing it that way, he’s going to react and ignore what they have to say. He’s going to rail against them to retaliate.

As someone who’s older and has seen pretty much everything there is to see in baseball on a practical basis, he might not believe that he needs to have a mathematical calculation to tell him what’s what. In part, it might be that he doesn’t want to have to work to change his opinion based on the numbers, but will make the change without admitting to why he’s making it. It’s a tacit admission and about as close someone like him will come to saying, “Hey, you were right and I was wrong.” That might be viewed as laziness, but at 70-years-old, don’t expect exhaustive study into WAR or wOBA.

The new age people better have a resume…in baseball

LaRussa is still friends with Sandy Alderson. It was Alderson who brought a large segment of sabermetrics into baseball. He’ll listen to what Alderson has to say. On the other side of the spectrum, having managed Billy Beane as a player and knowing Beane’s real life story and not some fictionalized version designed to make him into a superhero, LaRussa’s portrayal as the stripped emperor in Moneyball will automatically result in him balling his fists and lashing out at anyone involved in the book. His character was impugned as that of an antiquated, over-powerful dinosaur living off of an unfounded reputation as the original genius when the “real” genius (according to the book) was, in fact, Bill James and his pseudo offspring, specifically Beane for implementing the numbers to the degree he did.

Like a biblical tome and its followers, who cares whether it’s true? LaRussa does.

With some justification, LaRussa doesn’t want to hear from some 25-year-old kid who went to M.I.T. suddenly referencing an algorithm as to why LaRussa shouldn’t have bunted with his team down a run in the bottom of the ninth inning after the batter leading off the inning doubled. Experience counts and LaRussa has been doing this for more than 50 years.

While LaRussa still rails against Keith Law for the apparent – and factually inaccurate – belief that Law cost Adam Wainwright the National League Cy Young Award, the anger at Law is not just about that incident. As irrational as his dislike for Law is, he’s not the only baseball insider, young and old, veteran and newbie, who views Law with disdain. He’s just the only one who says it openly. Law’s resume is bolstered by having worked in a Major League front office with the Toronto Blue Jays, but when he was there, he was a numbers guy. It’s a false and circular “if-then” addition to his credentials. He left the front office, went to work for ESPN and suddenly became a “scouting guru.” It’s up to the reader and listener to determine whether or not his assessments are coming from a place of knowledge or if he’s simply soaked up information from actual scouts and is regurgitating them. I’m in the latter camp. Presumably, so is LaRussa.

The stat guys saying, “You don’t understand the math” is the same thing as LaRussa saying, “You never played the game.” Both have a basis in truth. To say that it’s just LaRussa and baseball that has chafed at the supposed outsider’s numbers-based intrusion, one need only look at Nate Silver’s ouster/departure from the New York Times as evidence that this is not a narrow experience limited to sports in which people who are in the trenches throw haymakers when the value of their work is called into question. There are ways to get others to listen to a differing viewpoint without alienating them and there’s a lack of people skills and deftness on both sides causing a din and drowning out what could be a profitable back-and-forth.

For someone like Law to imply that he could manage a game better than LaRussa or an experienced political reporter having his or her work denigrated by Silver is a petri dish for contentiousness and sniping. It’s no surprise that these figures are so polarizing when intruding into someone else’s life’s work.

The mirror image

The problem with many stat people is identical to why LaRussa doesn’t want to hear from them and why LaRussa’s early reputation was one of pompous arrogance: they come across as condescending and smug if you dare disagree with them. The group mentality and anonymity of the internet protects them from being called out on what they say and, when challenged, they’ll retreat to snark saying things they’d never say to the person were he or she standing in front of them.

When LaRussa was coming up as a manager, no one was doing what he was doing. The shifts; the frequent pitching changes; the lineup juggling; the spitting in the face of “this is the way we’ve always done it” made him a lot of enemies. Once he was successful, it was quickly and surreptitiously copied without an admission that he might have been right. The same thing has been happening with sabermetrics.

The two-faces

While he might be set in his ways, LaRussa’s not stupid. He knows that many of the people in the crowd at the saber conferences will politely ask questions, request pictures and autographs, tell him how much they admire him and then retreat to their laptops at a local Starbucks to write a 1,000 word blog post as to why he’s a fool.

For someone who has been in the masculine, testosterone-fueled world of baseball for almost his entire life to have to deal with these collateral sneak attacks is a personal affront as a professional and as a man. It’s LaRussa who advocates the use of beanballs as retaliation; it’s LaRussa who is so feisty a competitor that he almost had fistfights with opposing managers Baker and Buck Showalter; and it’s LaRussa who hears about or reads everything said and written about him to see if there’s the need to start a new vendetta.

Why he came back

At this point in his life, LaRussa could enjoy life in retirement, work in his various charities, make money as an adviser to teams, do some analysis and broadcasting work, and just take it easy. Perhaps he took the Diamondbacks job out of sheer competitiveness. Maybe he wanted the money. Or it’s possible that he wanted to prove to the world that an old-schooler like him could still show these interlopers a thing or two.

It’s no secret that he and Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow butted heads when Luhnow was hired to overhaul the draft for the St. Louis Cardinals as scouting director. A sheer outsider who’d never played baseball at a level higher than high school telling LaRussa about baseball? No. People undermining the pitching philosophies of guru Dave Duncan? Double no. Having Walt Jocketty forced out because he also resisted the insinuations of the Luhnow brigade? Triple no.

LaRussa, with his experience at sharp-elbowed infighting and inter-organizational politics, won the power struggle and Luhnow’s influence was eventually mitigated in favor of the LaRussa faction. Ironically, both departed the organization after that World Series. Both deserved a share of the credit for the last team they were involved in building, the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals. Luhnow left to run his own team and LaRussa left because he was going out on top and could leave validated that his way won. But that wasn’t enough. Now he’s trying to prove he can beat them at the front office game they’ve largely taken over and he’ll do it his way. He’s either going to win big his way or his archenemies will be proven “right.”

In truth, it’s a combination of both experience and new age numbers that are necessary to build a successful team. Neither will admit it and LaRussa is so egomaniacal and is immersed in the above issues that he’ll stick to his familiar rants to maintain the veneer of the original genius.

Josh Hamilton’s relapse: Is it really a surprise?

MLB

Josh Hamilton’s sobriety was always hanging on a spindly tendril that was capable of snapping at any time. For all we know, it had snapped several times including the incident in which he was photographed drinking and partying in a bar and this latest one in which he’s admitted to Major League Baseball that he’d used cocaine and alcohol over this off-season.

Are you surprised?

Really?

I can accept sadness, hope and even religious introspection in response to this news, but surprise? No. You’re not surprised because if you’ve kept an eye on Hamilton from the time he got back into baseball, you’ll know he was always teetering on the verge of another free fall. If you’ve paid attention to Hamilton from the time he was the first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 draft, nearly demolished his career and life with his self-abuse and got clean making a triumphant and inspiring return to baseball, you’ll know that he’d traded one dreamlike state for another. First it was the empty, false bliss of self-anesthetizing through alcohol and drugs, then it was repeated references to Jesus and his faith. Whatever you believe in terms of religion, it was obvious that Hamilton was still shunning full blown personal responsibility.

The dream-eyed, glazed over, “nothing is in my control therefore nothing is my responsibility” was destined to fail. The same media people and fans who are “praying” for Hamilton and writing impassioned pieces regarding their hope for his return to health are showing their hypocrisy after either publicly or privately rolling their eyes when he made such patently ludicrous statements that God told him he was going to hit a home run in the World Series. Now there are again references to an all-powerful being that has seemingly abandoned Hamilton when he needed “Him” the most.

There was hope that Hamilton would stay straight, but the signs have been there for years that he wouldn’t and it goes beyond the first few years of his professional career, frittered away in the spiral of addiction.

While the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Hamilton’s current employer – will express support for Hamilton on his road to wellness, they’d like nothing more than to speed up time to run the clock out on his contract’s expiration after the 2017 season. While the Texas Rangers placed Hamilton in a cocoon as he blossomed into an MVP and superstar, they refused to go beyond a certain level in what they offered him when his free agency arrived because they knew that it was a realistic, if not inevitable, possibility that he’d fall off the wagon. They seemed somewhat relieved that he left. In fact, they basically pushed him out the door. The Cincinnati Reds and the Tampa Bay Rays – the other teams that employed Hamilton – did everything they could to help him.

Not one did any of this out of care for a fellow human being.

While there might have been a speck of humanity in the decisions on the part of these organizations, there was also the matter of Hamilton’s natural gifts making him worth the risk. Those natural gifts made him the first overall pick in the draft. Those natural gifts got him another chance and, to his credit, he took advantage of it. But to suggest that these teams tolerated the danger of Hamilton falling off the wagon through benevolence, charity and human kindness ignores reality. The fact is that if Hamilton had been a 12th round draft pick who had these same problems, he would have been dispatched and gone from baseball forever with nary a concern as to whether he lived or died, let alone cleaned up. Teams placed him in a protective box because they felt they could take the chance to use his ability to literally do anything on a baseball field. For the Reds and Rangers, it worked. For the Angels, it hasn’t.

It’s somewhat appropriate that his public fall occurred while playing for a team located in Southern California. There’s an unrealistic fantasy that athletes, actors and anyone else who has addiction issues will be able to recover their sobriety and live their lives in a fairy tale of the power of treatment and redemption. Much of this is a crafted tale to promote an agenda and adhere to editorial mandates to push feel good stories to the masses and perhaps inspire those who have the same issues to seek treatment and hold to their sobriety. Whatever the reason, this is no shock.

For those who say “pray” for Hamilton or that he hit a hiccup in his sobriety are also taking the responsibility away from where it belongs: Hamilton. No one forced him to place himself in a situation where he might use again. No one held him down and poured alcohol down his throat. He did this to himself. Perhaps he deserves sympathy. Maybe he’s worthy of pity. But for someone who had been granted a gift to play baseball better than nearly anyone in this generation to take steps to destroy it, make it back well enough to receive $150+ million in guaranteed contracts, and go back to using is the same self-destructiveness that almost ruined his life and career 15 years ago.

According to all accounts, Hamilton is a gentle person; a nice man; someone who cares about his teammates, fans and helping others. On the field, the Angels made a mistake in giving him that contract. Off the field, it was an act of blatant stupidity that was destined to blow up in their faces. It did.

He doesn’t deserve an endless array of entreaties to “pray” for him. According to Hamilton, he did plenty of that himself and it didn’t work. There are many people in the world who deserve prayer if you believe in that sort of thing. Josh Hamilton isn’t one of them.