Translating GM-Speak, Votes of Confidence and Threats

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Most of the “rumors” or information from “insiders” is either fictional or planted and has no basis in fact. But there are other instances where baseball people say something without saying something; when they make a statement for selfish reasons, whether it’s to get the fans/media off their backs or to send a message to individuals. In recent days, there have been several such stories. As we saw with Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik saying that Ichiro Suzuki was a franchise player, then turning around and trading him, many times there’s an ulterior motive behind the rhetoric.

Let’s take a look at some statements and translate them into what is actually meant.

The Bobby Valentine vote of confidence

It’s called the “dreaded” vote of confidence because the perception is that it inevitably precedes a firing. Valentine just received one from the Red Sox’ front office. It’d be nice if some enterprising stat person with a lot of time on his or her hands did some research, looked into historic votes of confidence and crunched the numbers of a firing or not following the public declaration of job security.

The thing with Valentine is that he needs absolute support from the ownership to counteract the media/fan/player hate he engenders. If he doesn’t have that, there’s no point in keeping him around. If the Red Sox are truly invested in Valentine, they’re going to have to: A) make structural changes to the roster including getting rid of the subversive elements like Josh Beckett (which they’re probably going to try to do regardless of who the manager is); and B) give him at least an extra year on his contract for 2014.

They have to decide whether changing the manager is easier than changing the players and that can only be determined as they gauge interest in the likes of Beckett and even Jon Lester this September.

Translation: They don’t know whether Valentine’s coming back and it depends on a myriad of factors, not just putting up a good showing late in the season or making the playoffs.

David Samson on the Marlins

The Marlins’ hatchet-man, Samson, offered his opinions on this season. Here are the main quotes regarding owner Jeffrey Loria, baseball ops boss Larry Beinfest and GM Michael Hill:

“As we go into the offseason, the fact is, forgetting the injuries, the players we have right now should be winning games,” Samson said. “It’s clear the evaluation was wrong on certain players. It’s a constant process of seeing what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and changing. One thing we don’t want to be as a baseball organization is stubborn. We don’t want to not admit mistakes. Who is that serving?”

“Everything may change,” Samson said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting October, a little different than the October we envisioned …. [Loria] is angry and he should be. Me, Larry and Mike are only two, three and four in the disappointed department. He’s number one.”

The Marlins are a disaster, that’s something everyone can agree on. Given the constant changes in field staff and player personnel and that Samson mentioned the words “evaluation” and “wrong” without pointing the finger at himself or Loria, along with the history of Samson and Loria of firing people, there might be front office changes rather than field staff and player changes. The one static department has been the front office. Beinfest and Dan Jennings have been prevented from interviewing with other clubs for positions and they—Beinfest, Jennings, Hill—have super-long term contracts to stay.

Translation: Manager Ozzie Guillen is safe, but members of the baseball operations team are definitely not.

Manny Acta’s job security

Indians’ GM Chris Antonetti didn’t specifically say Acta would be back, but said he has, “no reason to think otherwise.” That’s not a ringing endorsement and the Indians have come undone—through no specific fault on the part of Acta—and faded from negligible contention. There’s talent on the team, but the issues they have stem from front office mistakes than anything Acta has or hasn’t done. Grady Sizemore was brought back and hasn’t played; Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe didn’t work out and were jettisoned; Casey Kotchman reverted back into being Casey Kotchman; Ubaldo Jimenez has been awful since being acquired from the Rockies.

I think they need a change and with Sandy Alomar Jr. still very popular in Cleveland and on several managerial short-lists, they won’t want to let him leave when he’d benefit the front office and shield them from rightful criticism for what they put together.

Translation: Acta won’t be back and will be replaced by Alomar.

Sandy Alderson says the Mets won’t eat Jason Bay’s contract

The Mets are saying they won’t pay Bay to leave. After this season, the Mets owe him $19 million. Those who are saying the Mets should just swallow the money are living in a dreamworld where $19 million is considered absolutely nothing. Yes, the money’s gone whether Bay’s here or not and while the Mets’ financial circumstances may have stabilized with the settlement of the Bernie Madoff lawsuit against the Wilpons, that doesn’t mean they’re going to hand Bay that golden parachute.

It’s not going to work in New York for Bay, but the Mets will exchange him for another bad contract before releasing him. A release would come next year despite the vitriol they’ll receive if he’s brought back.

Translation: The Mets aren’t releasing him now and won’t eat the money, but they’ll eat some of the money and trade him for another contract that’s equally bad. He’s not going to be a Met in 2013.

//

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Prince Fielder Cannonballs Into Detroit

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All the interpretations and projections are meaningless. What the Tigers defense is going to look like with Prince Fielder at first base and Miguel Cabrera at third, the speculation of how they’ll be declining by 2015, and the overwrought aghast at Fielder’s 9-year, $214 million contract—all are secondary and below to a simple analysis of the Tigers’ decision to pay Fielder: Owner Mike Ilitch has the money to spend, the Tigers have the need for a bat, Fielder was available and the Tigers purchased him.

Nothing else really matters.

Yes, he was the biggest player—literally and figuratively—left on the market and will create buzz.

Yes, there’s a legacy issue because it was in Detroit that Prince’s father Cecil Fielder returned from Japan and became a star.

Yes, the Tigers took an on-paper leap past the other teams in the AL Central.

Facts, numbers and contract details are not what Tigers fans want to hear now, nor are they of great concern to Ilitch, manager Jim Leyland or the veterans on the roster who want to win.

Fielder does create something of a redundancy with Cabrera. They’ll have to figure out who goes where when Victor Martinez returns either in late 2012 or by 2013.

Prince and Cecil are not on the best of terms, so this wasn’t due to sentimentality—the Tigers paid and Prince signed.

Ilitch and Leyland are not worried about 2015.

While the afterglow and shock are wearing off and the Eric Ortiz lust piece about last season’s Red Sox is edited by Detroit propagandists to insert the word “Tigers” instead of “Red Sox”, remember that dream teams rarely fulfill those expectations and this signing doesn’t automatically hand the Tigers the division title or a playoff spot.

But they’re better. The owner has a lot of money and he spent it.

If and when the predicted doomsday scenario comes to pass, the Tigers will likely have a new manager replacing Leyland; the owner will be extremely old; and Justin Verlander will have three more years of wear on his arm.

This is a now move by an owner who wants a baseball championship sooner rather than later and building for 2016 isn’t going to do him or Leyland much good.

With Martinez out for all or most of the season, the Tigers 2012 was in jeopardy before February. The contract they gave Fielder rectified the situation now. And in its immediate aftermath, no one’s worried about 2015, least of all the 82-year-old owner who realizes that in spite of all his money, he can’t take it with him.

Money is fleeting. A championship lasts forever. That’s what Ilitch wants and he’s willing to pay to get it.

And pay he did.

//

The Red Sox Come Apart

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How long ago it seems that Eric Ortiz of NESN wrote that ridiculous piece suggesting that the 2011 Red Sox were going to challenge the 1927 Yankees for the title of greatest team in history.

Not only was it was tempting fate at the time, but it’s absurd in retrospect.

Even with that, no one—even the most fervent and obnoxious Yankees fan with a mandate to knock their rivals down a peg—could have suggested that the Red Sox would stage the greatest collapse in the history of baseball and blow a playoff spot; that in rapid succession both their manager and general manager would be gone; and the team would be in utter turmoil during the playoffs and making headlines off the field instead of on.

But it happened.

The Red Sox blew that playoff spot with a humiliating fall that was stark in its creativity; they couldn’t pitch; couldn’t hit; and were fighting amongst themselves.

Manager Terry Francona—he of the two World Series wins and the skipper of the club for eight seasons—left before the team could make the decision not to exercise his contract options.

And the GM, Theo Epstein, has agreed to a 5-year contract to take over the Chicago Cubs.

At the very least, Eric Ortiz’s column was possible.

If what actually happened were presented by anyone as a prediction as to the outcome of the 2011 season for the Red Sox, they’d be treated as a deranged pariah with an intense and delusional loathing of the Red Sox.

But it’s real.

It happened.

The Red Sox have to endure the firestorm of angry fans; circling vultures in the media while finding a new GM and a new manager; they have to clear out the clubhouse of those that were divisive, destructive, disinterested in team harmony and simply cannot play anymore.

The Red Sox became a mirror image of what they was supposed to be.

The dysfunction was horrific. The backbiting and self-preservation began during the collapse and multiplied when the season ended; it’s gotten worse as Francona’s reputation is being besmirched publicly by those who chose to take the lowest of the low road by accusing him of overusing pain medication and that his divorce influenced what was seen to be an absence of focus that permeated the club.

This is nothing new. When a manager leaves of his own accord or there’s a mutual and “friendly” split, the underlying acrimony bubbles to the surface as the participants seek to have their own version of events as the prevailing history whether it’s true or not.

Joe Torre had to endure the vindictive and petty savagery of Michael Kay as the unsaid mouthpiece of the Yankees organization.

Dusty Baker had his financial laundry aired by the Giants after the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement after a season in which the Giants won their first pennant in 13 years.

Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland—all had breakups that were supposed to be clean but wound up as referendums on them as human beings and not as baseball men.

The off-field Francona stories are his business and no one else’s; for some angry person to be relating them as fact to the media is, at best, inappropriate; at worst, it’s despicable.

With Epstein, before judging him for leaving, put yourself in his position.

He’s 37-years-old; is working in his hometown for the team he rooted for as a kid and brought them something they hadn’t achieved—a World Series win—since 1918.

This was his life. And that was the problem.

It must’ve been claustrophobic to have his dream job and be entrenched and expected to remain there forever (and ever…and ever…and ever) like some tortured ghost at the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Neither he nor Francona appeared to be having fun anymore. When there’s no joy in winning and criticism, second guessing plus misery in losing, what’s the point of staying?

In the intervening years since the last Red Sox championship in 2007, the returns on Epstein’s work had become narrower and narrower. No longer was it good enough to make the playoffs; no longer was an ALCS appearance considered a successful season. Now, he had to: A) beat the Yankees; B) make the playoffs; C) win the World Series; D) acquire players to make the team the favorites to win the World Series next year.

For both Francona and Epstein, it had become a case of diminishing returns. They’re not blameless here; it’s entirely fair for ownership to look at the manager/GM and say perhaps it’s time for some new voices and fresh eyes to make the necessary alterations to try and fix this mess. There’s a lot to clean up. But the ancillary issues were factors not only in the departures of both men, but in the team fracturing in the first place.

It was circular. They won; they were expected to win again; they didn’t have the luxury of acceptable and necessary valleys to reach the peaks; they spent more and more on players who were available and might not have been perfect fits for the clubhouse or the town; they didn’t mesh; panic set in during times of trouble; and their world came apart under adversity.

As much as the Yankees are despised in Boston; as George Steinbrenner was reviled for his win at all costs attitude, the Red Sox have morphed into that which they hated most.

To maintain control, there have to be changes—painful changes that aren’t easy to explain through stats, spin-doctoring or self-indulgent justifications. Epstein was there for 9 years; Francona for 8. Most of the same players have been in the clubhouse for chunks of that time.

Bill James can formulate all the numbers he wants as a credit-taking exercise or self-absolving “reason” why they did one thing and didn’t do another, but that’s not going to placate the masses who want to know why.

Why did this team collapse?

Why is Francona gone and now treated as if he was lucky to have been employed in the first place?

Why did Epstein jump ship rather than repair it?

Maybe it was time for fresh blood, but it didn’t have to be drained so brutally from the prior regime at feeding hour.

Nearly a decade is too long for any group to stay together in a boss-employee relationship and repeat success. They became complacent, lazy and entitled. In order to freshen up the circumstances, drastic maneuvers have to be made. Either the core of the players has to be adjusted or the people running the show do. Static is untenable; it fails time and time again and is something the Red Sox missed when they continually brought back Jason Varitek when he could no longer play; when his reputation as the “leader” with that “C” on his jersey trumped what was one of the smart, ruthless baseball decisions they made when they traded Nomar Garciaparra and let Pedro Martinez leave. Why was Tim Wakefield still on the roster? How much clubhouse lawyering were they going to take from Kevin Youkilis?

They needed to tell some of these players to move on, but didn’t.

Is it any surprise that individuals were behaving as if they could do whatever they wanted to do in the clubhouse and in the dugout?

What were the consequences?

Francona, a players manager, couldn’t start disciplining the veterans out of the blue; nor could he rely on the likes of Varitek to police the clubhouse any longer.

It wasn’t working.

The payrolls increased; the need for star players at every position led to the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and signing of Carl Crawford; they spent on a player from Texas who’d spent his career in California and wasn’t ready for the Boston fishbowl in John Lackey; the lavish amounts of cash spent to fill the prominent holes in the bullpen created an atmosphere of unfamiliarity and sabotaged the team dynamic so they didn’t like each other, didn’t care about one another and behaved as if their statistics would carry them through.

Even the 2007 team, which had mercenaries of its own in J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo; self-interested loudmouths like Curt Schilling; bullies like Josh Beckett had others who kept the peace. A still relevant Varitek, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell didn’t take any nonsense from the diverse egos. The clubhouse still housed people who would go through a wall to win a game and protect their teammates; they wore the BOS-TON emblazoned across the front of their road jerseys with a pride that made them part of the fabric of the city and not just a player who worked there because they offered him the most money.

Where was the galvanizing force with the 2011 Red Sox?

There wasn’t one.

It was glossed over while the team was playing brilliantly throughout the summer and had they been able to win 2 more games at some point, none of this might have happened.

But it did.

Factional disputes and rampant disinterest grew more prevalent as things went poorly and Francona, despite his best efforts, couldn’t pull it together. On and off-field camaraderie with this Red Sox club wasn’t there. Independent of personalities, the team—on paper—should’ve been nearly as good as Eric Ortiz suggested. In practice, it was an arrogant and unlikable crew who thought they could throw their gloves on the field and saunter into the playoffs as a matter of divine right.

For all their reliance on numbers, the Red Sox had been a team of cohesion with a series of people that fit together. They succeeded on paper and in practice. If this season were played on a computer, these Red Sox were a sure bet for the World Series.

But it’s not played on a computer.

Good teams who have the group interests in mind close ranks when challenged. This club folded completely and started looking for people to blame so they wouldn’t have to take responsibility themselves.

Francona left before he could be dumped.

Rather than deal with a fallout that’s going to be worse before it gets better and be the man responsible for the decisions that will have to be made, Epstein took off for the exit as well.

There’s a big mess to clean up for whomever takes over as GM; for the manager who has to walk into that clubhouse and end the madness that was a large part of their undoing in 2011.

It was supposed to be a memorable year for the Red Sox.

And it was.

But it’s not memorable for a parade celebrating a championship.

It’s memorable because the tandem that led them to those glories left within two weeks of one another.

There’s a lot to repair. Odds are it’s going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

The wheels have come off. And there’s no going back now.

//

Francona-Red Sox Parting Is Mutual And Amicable…For Now

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The Terry Francona-Red Sox divorce didn’t take the road of the humiliating cuss-fest of Jimmy Johnson-Jerry Jones with the Dallas Cowboys in 1994; nor did it include a public spitting match as did the Jeffrey Loria-Joe Girardi parting in 2006.

For every contentious parting of the ways between manager/coach and his bosses, there are situations that end “mutually” as did Francona and the Red Sox.

It’ll be quiet for awhile.

Eventually Francona will want his side of the story out there. As he hears industry whispers from “anonymous” sources as to what really happened in the Red Sox clubhouse to expedite his departure, he’ll retort. Yes, Francona’s a classy, professional baseball man—but he’s also a competitor who won’t want his reputation sullied by circumstances that he doesn’t feel were his fault.

If it starts to float around that someone’s saying, “Terry did this; Terry didn’t do that; Terry lost the clubhouse, etc”, Francona will likely reply with, “Yeah, I wasn’t the one who brought <blank> into my clubhouse; I told them this guy was a problem; and I didn’t need to deal with <X> player.”

Watch.

It happened with Joe Torre and the Yankees and it’s going to happen with Francona and the Red Sox.

You can read the details and spin here on NESN and ESPN among other places. I have little interest in either side’s story because it’s always twisted and generally contains a grain of truth from all sides.

What I saw in Francona was a man who was tired of dealing with the crisis-a-moment atmosphere and ridiculous expectations that accompany a big money team that had become a powerhouse and star-factory; where anything short of a World Series win was seen as failure.

The Red Sox have become the Yankees.

They don’t want to admit it perhaps because they can’t face that reality, but it’s the truth.

In defense of Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner and John Henry, if they’re spending the ludicrous amounts of money they’ve spent on that team and the team underachieves, they have a right and duty to assess everything within the organization including their manager.

The concept of a “great” manager is contextualized.

Was Francona a “great” manager when he got the Red Sox job to replace Grady Little?

Not judging by his record of 285-363 managing the Phillies he wasn’t.

In retrospect, the hiring was inspired; but there were logical reasons behind it that I elucidated recently when saying blaming Francona for the club’s collapse was idiotic.

He got the job because he was willing to do as he was told by the front office and follow stat based strategies; he’d take short money for the opportunity; he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to convince to accept a trade from the Diamondbacks; and Francona wasn’t Little.

He won two World Series championships and became a popular figure within baseball because he’s a good guy. Players wanted to play for him.

But that doesn’t equate into being a strategic genius or indicate the ability to handle any and all issues that pop up in running a team in the Boston market with the around-the-world pressures and demands on and off the field.

This 2011 Red Sox clubhouse was said to be poisoned and divided. It’s absolutely stunning how the “gritty, gutty” Red Sox from 2004, 2007 and even 2009 degenerated back into the classic “25 players in 25 cabs” from the losing Red Sox teams of yesteryear.

This didn’t happen overnight and if they’re going to complain about the clubhouse chemistry, then they needed to take care of it during the season whether they were in first place or not; and after the manner in which this team fell apart, Francona clearly wanted some major changes made to the club or faced the prospect of being someone other than Terry Francona. It’s hollow if Francona walks into the clubhouse after being Mr. Affable for eight years and starts flipping food tables and screaming like a pre-image-rehabilitated Terry Collins.

It wouldn’t work.

Francona couldn’t be someone he’s not and clearly some of the problems—if he was going to come back and fix them—stemmed from players with immovable contracts; players who aren’t going anywhere.

So he chose to leave.

Did he see the writing on the wall that he was going to be fired and wanted to avert that from happening by being the “breaker-upper”? It’s possible.

Or maybe he just wanted out.

He seemed exhausted while talking about the meetings and relieved when it was over.

It was time for a break.

Once this sinks in, then the sniping will start. We’re going to get nuggets from those “close to” Francona, Epstein and ownership. They’ll go to their friendly reporters and leak things. Class and professionalism have nothing to do with it; they’re human beings and this is what human beings do—especially baseball human beings.

As for Francona’s replacement, the Red Sox have to bring in a manager from the outside.

The following is definitive and you can take it to the vault: Joe Torre is not going to manage the Red Sox. At 71-years-old, he doesn’t need the aggravation of managing again period and he’s not going to detonate the last sliver of a bridge remaining with the Yankees. He’d demolish his legacy completely and even if he wanted to do it, his wife wouldn’t let him. Forget it.

Considering the people already with the Red Sox, if there was a problem with the clubhouse chemistry, then what sense would it make to hire DeMarlo Hale, who was on the coaching staff while the chemistry problems were going on? You get rid of the manager who couldn’t reach segments of the room and replace him with the guy who was sitting next to him and has been with the club as long as Francona and clearly couldn’t get through to them either?

And at this point, I doubt Francona’s enthusiastic endorsement will go very far with the front office. Forget Hale.

It has to be an outsider; someone who’s going to crack some heads and won’t care about what’s been done in the past. Pete Mackanin‘s name has been mentioned and he deserves a shot after acquitting himself well in two interim jobs with the Reds and Pirates and a long minor league managing and big league coaching career. Ken Macha doesn’t take any garbage and is a former Red Sox minor league manager; Don Wakamatsu is essentially in the same position Francona was when Francona got the job.

If they’d like to trash the place, then Bobby Valentine would have the star power, managerial skills and fearlessness to do it. I doubt Epstein will want to deal with Valentine, so if that happens, it’ll come from ownership.

Some are putting out the suggesting that Jason Varitek take over as manager.

In the same vein as the hiring of Hale, what the Red Sox are supposed to do is take a team that underachieved—by their estimation in part because of disconnect in the clubhouse and that players were out of shape—and hire to manage it the leader of that clubhouse and a player who was out of shape?

Is that right?

I don’t think so.

The “captain” not only shouldn’t be the next manager, he shouldn’t be on the coaching staff; and forget about continuing his career as a player. They have to get Varitek out of the clubhouse.

Jonathan Papelbon is gone; Tim Wakefield has to go; David Ortiz is talking a lot about how he wants to come back and will miss Francona, but that says to me that Ortiz is concerned about his own job prospects. He’s limited in his options because he can’t play the field and not many teams are going to bring him in as a DH with the rampant concerns that much of his success is a product of being a Red Sox and hitting at Fenway. If the Red Sox tell him to beat it, he’s going to have trouble finding a lucrative spot elsewhere.

I’d let Ortiz leave as well.

If the clubhouse is poisonous, bringing in a new manager and maintaining the same personalities is only going to create a timebomb that’s going to explode fast.

Maybe that’s something the front office will want to use as an example that the new manager is in charge. If they retain a Varitek or Wakefield with the intention of releasing them early next year to sacrifice them, it’s a tactic right out of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. It’s risky, but it could work. I’d consider it.

This story isn’t over.

It’s a honeymoon of sorts following the deep breath of the divorce. No one’s at fault…yet. But it’s not over. When huge egos and the blame game is involved, it’s rarely a nice neat process of mutually agreeing to split.

We’ll see that in the coming weeks.

And it’ll get ugly.

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Blunt Group Therapy For Red Sox And Brewers Fans

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It won’t help, but I know what Red Sox and Brewers fans are going through.

You’re counting the days and games; scouring the schedules of your team and your competitors; calculating the likelihood and magic numbers for a playoff spot you once felt was guaranteed; examining the pitching matchups and acting as if nothing’s wrong when you’re worried, worried, worried.

Each loss; each injury; each day that passes and another piece of the lead is whittled away, you say, “just let us make the playoffs; I don’t care if we lose in the first round; I don’t want to deal with the embarrassment of being called a ‘choker’ and hearing the obnoxious Yankees/Cardinals fans and their smug self-satisfaction at the misery of others”.

I know.

I experienced it with the Mets in 2007 and 2008.

Of course, 2007 was far worse.

And the parallels are unmistakable.

Like the Red Sox of 2011, the 2007 Mets had high expectations after a disappointing prior season. The Mets were short-handed in the starting rotation relying on aging and declining veterans Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez and inexperienced and tired from a long-season Oliver Perez and John Maine; the Red Sox have lost Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz to injuries and John Lackey has been, um…not good.

The hype surrounding this Red Sox team was exemplified by the idiotic (before the season, during and maybe after) lusty fan piece on NESN by Eric Ortiz proclaiming the Red Sox as a direct challenger to the 1927 Yankees.

After reading that, a large segment of people wanted the Red Sox to lose.

The 2011 Rays, like the 2007 Phillies, have nothing to lose and are playing with the freewheeling “no one expects us to win anyway” attitude that allows them to relax. The Rays are younger and healthier.

Is it likely that the Rays catch the Red Sox? No. But examining their schedules with the Rays having 3 games in Boston next week and 7 games remaining with the Yankees, there’s cause for concern. If the Yankees have the division locked up, is it so farfetched to see the Yankees shun going all out to win in those 3 games in Tampa against the Rays to screw the Red Sox?

The perfect storm is in place because the Red Sox are playing the Yankees in 3 games at Yankee Stadium directly before they travel to play the Rays.

It’s possible that, to make the playoffs, the Red Sox will be rooting for the Yankees.

That’s not where they want to be.

With the Brewers, their arrogance is engendering loathing throughout baseball.

Yesterday I defended Nyjer Morgan for his Tony Plush persona because it’s nothing to get into a twist about—who cares what Morgan says and does? But the one thing a team does not want to do is inspire other teams to want to beat them more and ruin their playoff chances—the 2007 Mets did that with the Marlins and it cost them. And teams like the Brewers—who’ve won nothing—certainly don’t want to make a veteran team with a megastar like Albert Pujols angry.

The Phillies have a right to be arrogant; the Brewers don’t.

The Cardinals are now 6 games behind the Brewers.

Many lower-level teams are playing out the string and trying to get the season over with; for the most part, they want to win, but don’t care all that much which other teams make the playoffs; if they’re made to care because of taunting and narcissism, it’s a motivation that was unnecessary and self-destructive.

Ron Darling said something interesting during the Mets game yesterday. In essence, players who hit 4-5 more homers in September are doing so because they’re looking to pad their stats by the end of the season. This isn’t strategic nor is it done with the interests of team goals in mind. They’re guessing at pitches and hacking. If a player does this against the Cardinals and not the Brewers, that’s not good for the Brewers.

After today, the Brewers remaining schedule is relatively weak; the Cardinals have a few tough games with the Phillies; the Mets are looking to finish above .500; and the Cubs would dearly love to knock out the Cardinals.

Of the two teams that are in danger of a September swoon, the Red Sox are far more vulnerable than the Brewers; if either happens to join the 2007 Mets and 1964 Phillies as members of the exclusive club of inexplicable chokes, they have no one to blame but themselves.

And it could happen.

I know.

Because I saw it happen with the Mets.

Twice.

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This…Is…Dice-K!!

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Toss out Eric Ortiz’s statement that Daisuke Matsuzaka might be the “best no. 5 starter ever” as the rantings of an overly-excited and delusional Red Sox fan who happens to have a forum on NESN.

Even disregard out those who call Dice-K “Dice-BBBB” because of his penchant for walking people.

His performances in his first two starts are not isolated incidents. This is what he is.

He pitched serviceably in his first start against the Indians; he was about as bad as bad gets last night against the Rays; it won’t be a surprise if he pitches a near no-hitter in his next start; then starts the consistently inconsistent process all over again.

Matsuzaka is proof that statistics alone don’t tell the story. Examining his numbers without knowing the whole story and you’d think, “Hey, why’s everyone rip this guy? His numbers—apart from the walks—are pretty good.”

He strikes out a good number of hitters; he doesn’t allow many hits in comparison to innings-pitched; doesn’t give up many homers.

But his control is all over the place; he racks up ridiculous pitch counts in the early innings and has benefited—record-wise—by pitching for one of the best teams in baseball.

He’s not good.

When he pitches well there’s a tendency to disbelieve it; to think that he’s three pitches away from giving up 8 runs, as physically impossible as that seems. This is it. It’s not going to get any better nor is it likely to get much worse.

Accept it.

I’m not versed in the amount of ancillary moneys the Matsuzaka signing has brought in to the Red Sox. It’s possible that the expansion into the Japanese market and acquisition of Hideki Okajima (who helped them greatly in winning the 2007 World Series) has offset the posting money, contract and aggravation Matsuzaka has caused, but don’t look at the numbers as a universal truth when assessing Matsuzaka. Look at the pitcher on the whole.

And on the whole, he’s not good.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

I’ve started a Facebook fan page. It’s a work in progress.

//

Viewer Mail 4.9.2011

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

Peter Van Markwyk writes RE Rafael Soriano:

Doesn’t Soriano have some access to a PR company to give him a few sound bites? He could have headed off the media and taken the issue on straight with a few sound bites that said things like, “I just didn’t have the control I usually have,” or “I misjudged the Twins patience at the plate,” or something simple like, “I am disappointed in my performance today.” Anything along those lines would have been enough to squeak by, and following up with a solid performance next time would put the issue to bed.

Instead, this will now be a focus, and put pressure on Soriano to do well every time. Not a well thought out plan for him.

The Yankees provide the PR assistance. Soriano ran out.

He could’ve stood there, uttered three or four cliches and been done with it. The media would’ve respected him for standing there and not given him such a hard time.

Now when he blows another game there will be the anticipation to see if he’ll speak, what he’ll say and some will give him an even harder time for payback or to see if they can get a rise out of him for a juicier story.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Soriano:

Why aren’t Jeter and A-Rod and whoever else coming to Soriano and guiding him in the right New York direction? With all the ice-veined vets on that team, one would think ONE of them would befriend this dude and set him straight with how to go about his business. They’ve had plenty of time to prep him for this sorta thing.

From what I understand, Soriano doesn’t socialize much with teammates and never has; he does his own thing and disappears. Barry Bonds could get away with being mercurial; Rafael Soriano can’t.

When he was signed, it was said that the influence of Mariano Rivera would be a boon to Soriano’s reputation and he’d learn how to comport himself appropriately.

It hasn’t taken hold yet.

Sarge writes RE Scott Kazmir:

As an Angels fan, all I’ve heard for a year and a half is that Kazmir just “needs to put it all together”, “find his consistent release point”, blah blah, and that he’s always content with his start no matter how badly he gets creamed. Sorry – time’s up! Best case scenario for Kazmir this year is 7-15, and that’s with the Angels scoring a ton of runs when he starts, like they did vs the Royals on Sunday (when Kaz couldn’t get out of the third ining). Surely to God someone in Salt Lake can do better than that!! Even if a Bee came up and went 10-15 those extra 3 wins might be what’s needed to reclaim the division. But I’d never thought of putting Kaz in the bullpen .. interesting idea. We need a mop up man … maybe that’s a role in which he can “find himself” without consistently turning a potential victory into a defeat.

The Angels are slowly becoming the Mets.

I said at the time that the Kendry Morales injury happened in a way that could heretofore only happen to the Mets; now the Angels have placed Kazmir on the disabled list with a “lower back strain”—ESPN Story.

Oliver Perez mysteriously injured his knee after the club tried to send him for a rehab stint in the minors and he refused; the “injury” conveniently got everyone on the same page. Perez was able to go down to the minors for a few rehab starts without actually going down to the minors as a demotion.

The Angels have been willful in sticking to “their” way of doing things in the past. I question whether they’ll put Kazmir in the bullpen and leave him there when his “lower back strain” is better.

He’s still on the roster and getting a chance to pitch because of what he was 3-4 years ago and that he’s making a lot of money. He’ll get another chance due to those reasons as well.

Franklin Rabon writes RE the Red Sox start:

For a sport so obsessed with statistics, I’m always dumbfounded by how fundamentally terribly most sportswriters understand statistics. Statistics are supposed to be about expanding the information we have on a topic by giving a perhaps underappreciated angle on some phenomenon, then analyzing the phenomenon under the light of the maximum amount of the most informative information you have.

The Red Sox 0-6 start is mostly meaningless. It does perhaps blunt expectations for the team ,by maybe 4 games, so instead of thinking they’ll win 103 games, maybe they just win 97. In focusing on the 0-6 start writers are lazily focusing on one stat with extremely limited informational value. And worse than that, equivocating this team with extraordinarily different teams.

My problem with the way the 0-6 start was the catalyst for references to history is that they were taking it grossly out of context by not divulging (or looking for) information about the other teams that had started so poorly.

Here’s the list again—teams that started off 0-6.

Most of them were terrible!!

The media is picking and choosing numbers and dissemination of information to bolster their argument; all that does—when it’s discovered—is sabotage their credibility by making them appear shady or reluctant to provide full disclosure. Giving all the relevant information may water down the argument, but it also induces an aura of honesty.

Joe Sheehan did this with his piece about the Yankees, CC Sabathia, and the durability questions of pitchers who were at or around the size of Sabathia. I suspected strongly that most of the pitchers weren’t any good; weren’t in a talent class with Sabathia; and when I saw the list, I was right.

Hiding things is not a good policy.

The Red Sox will be fine.

Pam writes RE the Red Sox:

I have to be honest and say that I’m experiencing a bit of Schadenfreude as a result of the Red Sox’s woes. However, it is foolish for anyone to be dancing on their graves or predicting that they’re going to miss the playoffs.

The 2011 Red Sox are a really good team. One of the all-time greatest? I’m not so sure; that remains to be seen. But it’s ridiculous to think that these guys aren’t going to figure it out. They’re just too good. Every team has losing streaks during the season; it’s unfortunate for the Sox that their’s started on Opening Day. The Yankees will eventually have one, too, and I’ll have to grin and bear it (and will need comforting).

Chill out, Red Sox Nation.

The derangement is exemplified by the same individual who wrote the article comparing the 2011 Red Sox to the 1927 Yankees—Eric Ortiz of NESN—in his latest bit of, um, hyperbole.

At least I hope it’s simple hyperbole.

Ortiz wrote the following piece with the title: Red Sox Return to Underdog Role With Opportunity to Make History Like They Did in 2004.

He’s comparing an 0-6 record in April to falling behind 3 games to 0 in the ALCS?

Certain factions of Red Sox fandom have developed the bizarre combination of arrogance over the team’s success over the past 10 or so years and combined it with the paranoia and doubt that built up over the prior 86 years. It’s almost as if they can’t believe their good fortune and are worried about having won the lottery and someone pinching them to wake them up.

I hope Ortiz is an intentional shill for the Red Sox on NESN.

I’d hate to hope someone gets paid for writing the stuff he does and truly believes it, but considering the things people say, write, read and purchase nowadays, I fear the convictions are strong and unmatched with reality or any true understanding of baseball.

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long. It’s not a “preview”; it’s a guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter. We’ll hash out the details.

I’ve started a Facebook fan page if you’d like to be my fan.


//

Multi-Level Ridiculous

Hot Stove

This could be a duplex, triplex, quadriplex or multiplex.

Or more.

If you haven’t seen it, I’m of course talking about this, um, hyperbolic (let’s be generous) assessment of the 2011 Red Sox—2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History.

The title is bad enough. It inspires thoughts of Don LaPre with his “Greatest Vitamin in the World”; of Kevin Trudeau and his mysterious “they” who are out to get you, persecute you and destroy your life; of Sean Hannity and his “the hair does look different” when buying into the Elian Gonzalez haircut/faux photograph conspiracy theories during that mess in the year 2000 after the Cuban boy was rightfully reunited with his father.

You could equate this with anyone from the left, right, center, commercial, financial, PR, tabloid or whatever.

Written by Eric Ortiz, a few things about him and his column become clear: contrary to popular notion, the fluctuating concept of intelligence implied by graduating from Stanford doesn’t automatically equal a deep baseball knowledge of history and reality; he has nearly no objectivity nor encompassing knowledge in what he’s talking about; and I’m getting the idea that NESN has a Michael Kay of their very own functioning in a world of make believe.

And that’s before getting into the actual content.

Enthusiasm is one thing. Derangement is another.

The 2011 Red Sox and the 1927 Yankees?

Really?

Ortiz is making this comparison in January?

Good grief.

Let’s do this and let’s do it in an organized fashion.

Hold on tight.

The off-season “champion” doesn’t matter much.

Going back years, we’ve seen teams that were the “champions” of the off-season start the year with outrageous expectations and flame out almost immediately, the holes they failed to fill too gaping to cover by headline-making acquisitions.

How many times did George Steinbrenner sign the big free agent (or three) and watch as his meddling and failure to adequately address the necessary ancillary pieces in building a club cause his team to underachieve? It happened on an annual basis in the 1980s and was even more pronounced directly following the 1996-2000 dynasty as the dismantling of the cohesive unit was exacerbated by the losing mercenaries he brought in.

The Mets, under both Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya, would draw attention to themselves by making drastic alterations only to have dysfunction and mismanagement sabotage them to the point of embarrassment.

It’s happened with stat zombie teams as well—the Mariners and Athletics in recent years.

And, guess what? It’s happened with the Red Sox. Picked to be a World Series winner last season because of the signings of John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, the club stumbled with the new “defense-first” strategy early in the year and were derailed by injuries, poor performance by important pieces and two teams in their division that were healthier and better in the Yankees and Rays.

I love the decisions the Red Sox have made this winter; I think they’re the best team in the American League, but that makes little difference once the games start. The off-season champion is often standing on the outside looking in and wondering what went wrong with their master plan.

The 1927 Yankees? Did he do any research before coming to this conclusion?

Comparing eras—especially eras from nearly 100 years ago—is impossible and a colossal waste of time and energy. But looking at the differences between the 1927 Yankees and the Red Sox, along with the other clubs mentioned in the piece as examples of the “best” ever are helpful in detonating the foundation of Ortiz’s piece from the ground up.

The game was totally different then. There were only eight teams in the American League; the ball was dead; the crisis-a-day media wasn’t hovering waiting to post a blog, tweet or go bonkers on a radio show in dictating the decline and fall of the club after a 3-game losing streak; Babe Ruth, if he were playing today and behaved as he did then, would rival Kim Kardashian in the gossip pages; and expectations weren’t prefaced by a suggestion of such dubious magnitude that this is a team that will rival one of the best in history.

The 1927 Yankees had a Hall of Fame manager (Miller Huggins); and Hall of Famers at 1st base (Lou Gehrig); 2nd base (Tony Lazzeri); two HOF outfielders (Earl Combs and Ruth); and HOF pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

How many future Hall of Famers do these Red Sox have? Potentially, there’s Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester. Maybe. Dustin Pedroia? I suppose winning the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in his first two seasons give him a good start, but Fred Lynn won both in the same year with the Red Sox and became a very good journeyman player, not what he was expected to be after the start to his career.

The competition in 1927 wasn’t anywhere close to what it is today. The game was based on speed and inside baseball. When you look at those Yankees, led by Ruth (60 homers) and Gehrig (47 homers) and examine the league leaders from that season, you see that while that duo combined for 107 homers by themselves, the next highest total in the American League was Lazzeri with 18; after that, you had Ken Williams with 17; Al Simmons with 15; Harry Heilmann with 14.

Who could compete with that kind of power? Was there anyone in that era—in which the game was still evolving—that could handle a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning with Ruth and Gehrig due to hit and a tired starting pitcher who wasn’t coming out of the game for a fresh arm?

Those Yankees could pitch and they played good defense; but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if their pitching was slightly subpar; if their defense was a bit shoddy. This is because they battered pitchers into submission!!!

The 1927 Yankees scored 131 more runs than the next highest scoring club in baseball, the Detroit Tigers.

Who could compete with that?

The 2011 Red Sox? They’re going to score a lot of runs; they’ve got great pitching; they’re built to win now and have all the attributes that Ortiz mentions—on base skills, power, speed, great defense—but can injuries be accounted for? Can the other teams in the American League who are also very good and/or have money and prospects to make drastic improvements at mid-season be so easily dismissed to the point of thinking this Red Sox team is going to compete with the 1927 Yankees?

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”.

What?!?

Has Ortiz ever watched Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch? And if he has, would he know what he was looking at to begin with?

I would expect such similar nonsense from a fan blog or the aforementioned Michael Kay. This is what passes for analysis?

It would be one thing if he were simply writing the best-case scenario and going over-the-top, but the way this is presented it’s as if Ortiz has never watched a baseball game in his life and has neither the statistical nor in-the-trenches knowledge to comprehend anything about baseball—the future or the past.

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”?!?

Um, okay.

Off the top of my head, here are a couple of problems with this suggestion: One, teams have only used a regular number 5 starter going back to the late 70s, early 80s; before that, they used a swingman/extra guy to take the start when they wanted to cut back on the workload of the main men.

Two, the best number 5 starter idea is demolished by Daisuke Matsuzaka not being any good and that the teams who accumulated big win totals with deep starting rotations had starters who were far superior to Matsuzaka.

A quick search of teams had superior number 5 starters (in no particular order) like the 2002 Yankees (Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, David Wells, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and an extra guy named Ted Lilly); the 1998 Braves (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood and Denny Neagle); the 2005 Cardinals (Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan); and the 1988 Mets (Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, David Cone, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda).

There are others you could dig through and find a better number 5 starter. Oh, and none of those teams won the World Series. Not one.

All due respect to Terry Francona, those teams were managed by men who were better managers than he—Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Davey Johnson.

Finally, we get to Daisuke Matsuzaka himself.

He’s not any good.

You can parse his 2008 season any way you want, but he’s been a disappointment on and off the field and has progressively gotten worse as teams have learned to wait for him to walk them. He’s been injury-prone, selfish, whiny and eminently hittable. Sprinkling in a near-no-hitter every once in a while does not a successful pitcher make. The wins he has accumulated stem more from having an excellent team behind him, complete with a deep bullpen to bail him out of trouble and win him games after he logs his usual 5 innings with 3 runs allowed (if he’s on his game).

Matsuzaka has been nowhere near worth the press, the money (posting and contractually), nor the hype. He’s been a better investment for the Red Sox than Kei Igawa was for the Yankees, but I’d have been a better investment for anyone than Igawa was for the Yankees.

The “best no. 5 starter ever”?

Yah.

Speaking of accumulating wins…

If the 2011 Red Sox win 117 games or 99, what’s the difference if they don’t meet the expectations that are apparent in such propaganda as written by Ortiz on NESN?

The 2001 Mariners are mentioned:

The 2001 Mariners won 116 regular-season games to set the American League record for most wins in a single season and tie the 1906 Cubs for the major league record (though the North Siders accomplished the feat in 152 games). Both those teams failed to win the World Series. The Cubs lost to the White Sox in six games in the Fall Classic. The Mariners didn’t even make it that far, falling to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.

The Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. The way they are constructed, they could surpass the 116-win mark, but nothing less than a World Series title will make Boston happy.

Yes, I’m quite sure the Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. Whatever that’s worth.

What a win total has to do with anything is beyond me; much like expectations, they’re meaningless in practice. A fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of how teams win is the culprit in missing that reality.

The Big Red Machine of the 1970s were picked to win every year and it was said the Machine was equipped with a “choke” because they always lost until 1975-1976.

The Orioles of the 1970s were considered a similar disappointment as were the Dodgers. The Athletics and Mets of the 1980s were in this category as were the 116-win Mariners and the 1990s Indians and Braves. That the latter mentioned clubs kept running into the Yankees and losing is irrelevant—they lost.

You can’t quantify a number of wins as meaning anything. Those 2000 Yankees collapsed at the end of the season and turned it on for the playoffs; the 2006 Cardinals did the same. Both won the World Series.

The great Braves teams were never able to overcome the absence of a reliable, big time closer; no one in their right mind (or with the faintest clue about baseball) could look at that 2001 Mariners team and think they’re one of the “best” teams in history.

Those massive win totals are—many times—a confluence of events more than any teamwide “greatness”.

It doesn’t help that they lost.

The 1988 Mets and Athletics were “better” teams than the champion Dodgers, but the Dodgers had the hot pitcher (Orel Hershiser) and the magic (Kirk Gibson). Does anyone remember the Mets and A’s as anything other than underachievers that Hershiser single-handedly ripped to shreds?

As for the 1927 Yankees, by 1929, they were dethroned by a Connie Mack‘s masterfully built competing juggernaut Philadelphia Athletics. The Yankees team in 1929 was essentially unchanged from 1927. They too lost.

It happens more often than you’d think, but judging from the pants-changing excitement exemplified on NESN, you’d never know it.

Hubris makes for great sports moments.

Buster Douglas knocked out the “invincible” Mike Tyson.

The New York Giants beat the “unbeatable” New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The United States hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.

It happens and it happens all the time. Many times it’s a byproduct of self-importance and arrogance; others it’s due to unfilled holes and factors that can’t be accounted for…especially in JANUARY!!!!

When idiotic fan blogs disguised as even-handed journalism like that which was written by Eric Ortiz on NESN begin popping up this early, it has a tendency to snowball; to create an atmosphere of loathing in the hopes that such a team—unbeatable, unstoppable, unbelievable—will lose.

Other clubs know the difference and if they try just that tiny bit harder just to stick it to those that view themselves so highly, upsets are inevitable.

With the tiered playoff system and short series, anything—anything—can and usually does happen.

This Red Sox team is terrific on paper; but they, like any other team, are not unbeatable, regardless of this bit of “journalism”. If this is an example of the hubris we’re going to see as the season wears on, I’m going to be among the number that hopes to see the team lose just to see this type of thing proven wrong not only because it’s arrogant and obnoxious garbage but because it’s an invitation to disaster.

Disaster has a way of finding those that dismiss it’s potential for wreaking havoc on the best-laid plans.

My suggestion to those that are buying into the hype is that they calm down because they’re asking for fate-related trouble. Big trouble.

Fate will find you.

It always does.