The Objective Truth About Luhnow

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Simultaneously searching for a greater understanding through objective analysis, the stat people have taken to using subjectivity to bolster the resumes of the like-minded whether it’s accurate or not.

In this NY Times article by Tyler Kepner, the new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has his work glossed over in such a way to bypass how he got into the game; the issues that surrounded him with the Cardinals; and that he’s doled credit without full details nor the assignation of blame.

Luhnow was hired by the Cardinals in the heady days following the publication of Moneyball—before the story was proven to be a skillfully written fabrication. The specific purpose of the book was to prop up the supposed “genius” of Billy Beane and designed to document the antiquated nature of those who hadn’t been educated at an Ivy League school, didn’t use numbers as the end-all of existence and trusted their in-the-trenches experience and their eyes to assess players.

Immediately Luhnow became seen as a threat to veteran GM Walt Jocketty and manager Tony LaRussa. He had the ear of owner Bill DeWitt and the organization set about altering the draft strategy. In addition to that, the organizational pitching philosophy, which had been designed by pitching coach Dave Duncan, was scrapped much to the chagrin of Duncan, LaRussa and Jocketty.

The front office had broken into factions with the old-schoolers battling the new age thinkers who, like Luhnow, were imported from other industries and whose presence was viewed as interloping on what they’d always done; what had been successful.

Kepner is sort of accurate (albeit with the count slightly off) when, in describing Luhnow’s first three drafts, he writes:

In those same years, St. Louis drafted 24 future major leaguers, the most of any team.

But is it spiritually accurate?

The list of big league players that Luhnow drafted from 2005-2007 are as follows:

2005: Colby Rasmus; Tyler Greene; Bryan Anderson; Mitchell Boggs; Nick Stavinoha; Daniel McCutchen; Ryan Rohlinger (did not sign); and Jaime Garcia.

2006: Adam Ottavino; Chris Perez; Jon Jay; Mark Hamilton; Shane Robinson; Allen Craig; P.J. Walters; David Carpenter; and Luke Gregerson.

2007: Pete Kozma; Clayton Mortensen; Jess Todd; Daniel Descalso; Michael Stutes (didn’t sign); Steven Hill; Andrew Brown; Brian Broderick; Tony Cruz; and Adron Chambers.

Apart from Garcia, is there one player that jumps out so you can say, “Wow, what a great pick that was!”?

The drafts were pedestrian. Because 24 of the players drafted in those three years made it to the majors, it doesn’t imply “success”.

A player simply making it to the big leagues is contingent on a myriad of factors—some of those for Luhnow are that the players were traded away for veteran help; such veteran help generally only comes from a team that is in need of young talent because they don’t have the money to keep the veteran players they’re dealing away, so they’ll be more open to giving prospects a chance in the big leagues.

Just as wins and losses have become a borderline irrelevant barometer in determining how well or poorly a pitcher has pitched in a given season, the number of big leaguers produced in a draft is rendered meaningless as well.

There’s little-to-no correlation between a draft being judged as “good” and the players making it to the majors for a token appearance.

Succeeding Jocketty, Mozeliak was placed in a position where he had to assuage his cantankerous veteran manager LaRussa (sometimes “yes-ing” him to death to keep him quiet) while fulfilling the mandate of ownership that became clear when they hired Luhnow in the first place.

This was a subtle and underappreciated accomplishment by Mozeliak.

Were the late round players who made it to the big leagues—some of which became star-caliber like Garcia—the result of change in philosophy spurred by Luhnow’s presence? Or was it typical luck that has to be present as it was when Jocketty’s operation picked Albert Pujols in the 13th round of the 1999 draft?

The trades that Kepner brings up came as a result of LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting to get what he wanted due to his stature and accumulated credibility from years of winning his way. They had nothing to do with Luhnow in a concrete sense.

The perception of a star player like Matt Holliday being available via trade is connected to his contract status; he was not re-signing with the Athletics and the 2009 A’s were playing poorly, so they traded him for some players that had been drafted under Luhnow.

One thing doesn’t justify the other.

Luhnow is in a less contentious position with the Astros than he was when he entered baseball as an outsider in 2003. With a new owner; a barren farm system; and essentially an expansion roster, he’s free to do whatever he wants from top-to-bottom and hire people who are of similar mind and will implement what he believes.

But it’s got nothing to do with what he did as a Cardinals executive because his contribution was secondary to having a Hall of Fame manager and a GM who was adept at placating those with differing philosophies that were trying to push him in one direction or another.

If anyone deserves the credit for the Cardinals ability to navigate these issues and still win, it’s Mozeliak.

Will Luhnow be a Paul DePodesta? Someone with the knowledge of numbers and solid resume but was unable to deal with the ancillary aspects of the big job? Or will he be a Jon Daniels? One who overcame a rocky start and muddled ownership/managerial situation, but has become one of the best, if not the best GM in baseball?

We won’t know until we know.

Luhnow’s getting his chance now. He’s the boss of the Astros. For better. Or worse.

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Soxfinger, Tony Tantrum And Another Casualty Of Moneyball

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Let’s do this in order.

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

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

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

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

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

No commentary needed as to how that worked out.

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

Miller is supposedly going to to the White Sox.

Let’s find a rational explanation. Or two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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