A Red Sox Return to the Past

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You, like the Red Sox, wanted to travel through time. Not as the basis of a morality play in a Twilight Zone episode, nor a movie whose theme is to appreciate the small things you have rather than lamenting what you don’t have due to opportunities missed. You just want to go back in time to a “better” place.

And you do. Your eyes open and, instead of the cold winter of Boston you’re in Florida. Walking toward the Red Sox spring training facility, there are several puddles on the ground from a morning rainstorm, but the clouds have given way to a bright blue sky and glowing sunshine.

You hear someone nearby say the words, “Let’s go see the idiots,” and immediately feel a twinge of joy, remembering Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar—the heroes of 2004.

You pass a newsstand and glance at the headlines to prove to yourself that it’s actually real. You see:

“Red Sox new acquisitions bring positive vibe to clubhouse and power to lineup”

“Who among the Red Sox proven and talented short relievers will close?”

“President Bush declares U.S. will not bow to terrorist dictators”

“Young players indicate bright Boston future”

“Yankees have more questions than Red Sox”

You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that your desire to reach back to what was—like that of the 2013 Red Sox—worked. You approach the park and see the sign.

“Welcome to Red Sox spring training…” and your heart stops when you read the words: “Winter Haven, Fla.”

Winter Haven. Wait a second…

The Red Sox haven’t held their spring training in Winter Haven since 1992. They moved to Fort Myers in 1993.

Oh no…

You rush back to the newsstand and grab the paper The Lakeland Ledger and look at the date. March 24….1990.

Oh my God. I went back too far.

You rush toward the spring training facility with your mind calculating the ramifications. President Bush is the first President George Bush; the Red Sox, coming off a disappointing season in 1989, signed Jeff Reardon to join Lee Smith as the second closer; the word “idiot” wasn’t said as a term of endearment, he actually thinks they’re idiots; you arrive at the outer fields and see the minor leaguers and, oh dear Lord, in a Red Sox uniform is Jeff Bagwell, traded late in the 1990 season for Larry Andersen to help win a division championship; Bagwell was third in line at third base behind Wade Boggs and Scott Cooper and was expendable…so they thought. Cooper, Carlos Quintana, Mo Vaughn and John Valentin are four of the minor leaguers who were meant to lead a Red Sox return to prominence. The memories of the disasters come flooding back.

1990 will yield a division championship—having experienced the immediate future following that 1990 season, you see. And you know. More clubhouse “attitude” with Jack Clark. More wasted money and terrible results. Multiple pitchers who can close. A new manager who has a Boston history, minor league bona fides, support of the players and media and a tough guy persona, Butch Hobson. You remember the hope and desperation; the fear of knowing deep inside with an inherent negativity from history—1967, 1975, 1978. And you know.

Then you flash to the most horrifying words to a Red Sox fan, “GM Lou Gorman,” and it sends you into a screaming fit of hysterics that draws a crowd; you’re lying on the ground; people are telling you to calm down, that help is on the way; hovering on the outside of the group is a tall, swaggering man wearing a sportcoat, white pants and sunglasses. He casts a bearing of disinterest and says, “Somebody call the nutsquad for this guy,” you recognize the foghorn voice and gruff, old-school, matter of fact tone to be that of Ted Williams.

Your fear rises.

Medical staff congregates around you. Flashing lights enter your peripheral vision. Wild eyed and shaking, you find yourself restrained and placed in the back of an ambulance. Overhearing the driver say, “The Red Sox can do that to anyone.”

This is not 2004!!!!!!!!

“Would you shut up back there?!?” To his partner, he says, “I can’t stand the screamers.”

The siren wails as you scan for an escape. Pulling hard at the restraints, your resistance is futile. Then you remember. You close your eyes and repeat the words the time-bending shaman instructed you to say following his warning. The entire text enters your vision verbatim:

“He who seeks the future must look into the past. He who seeks the past understands the future. Neither is what you want. Neither is what you expect. Your key to freedom when understanding has reached you are the following three words: ‘Pesky Papi Theo.’ Then you will be home.”

You say the words. Your world spins and you awaken…to find yourself back in 2012. You’re home and relieved…for the moment. Then it hits you. Christmas is coming as is a brand new year to replace the hell of 2012 with Bobby Valentine, the year that was meant to replace the hell of the 2011 collapse. Valentine, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez—all symbols of the passionless and dysfunctional collection of bubblegum cards the front office mistakenly believed would maintain their annual trip to the playoffs on sheer numbers and talent alone. They didn’t. They’re gone, but your calm is transitory. Terry Francona is in Cleveland and Theo Epstein is in Chicago. Nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed. As happy to be home as you are, you look at the headlines. You read of the credit given to the Red Sox GM Ben Cherington for altering a toxic clubhouse with “winning” personalities; for hiring the “right” manager; or “fixing” a shoddy starting rotation and questionable bullpen; for getting back to basics.

But what basics are they? The basics of 2003-2004 or the basics of 1989-1991?

It’s not simply a matter of adhering to the fundamentals, but adhering to the right fundamentals.

John Farrell, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli (maybe), Joel Hanrahan—a return to what built the new Red Sox in the first place—all reminiscent from the glory of less than a decade ago. Except you traveled to the true mirror of the 2013 Red Sox and see 1990. You see the name Bagwell in today’s headlines, but it’s not as a prospect; it’s for his possible entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame with the insignia of the Houston Astros on his hat. Peter Gammons was enthusiastic then; Peter Gammons is enthusiastic now.

The terror continues.

The early 1990s were another era of so near, yet so far; of hopping from one strategy to another and desperately waiting for one to work. Of maddening trades of youth for age; of signing that “last piece” giving the team what they “need,” be it a new starting pitcher; a new closer; a galvanizing personality in the clubhouse; a center fielder; a new manager—something.

You went back too far. And so have the Red Sox. The results and fallout will be identical with many years to go before truly returning to the glory days that seem so far away.

You wanted to see the future and you saw the past. They’re identical. They’re a nightmare. Except you can’t wake up from it or utter a phrase to go elsewhere. It’s real. And there’s no escape from reality. It has to play itself out. And it will.

It will.

//

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Zack Greinke Reverberations and Madness

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Zack Greinke has reportedly agreed to terms with the Dodgers on a 6-year, $147 million contract. Let’s look at the reality and reactions.

The money

For those looking at the Greinke money, comparing him to pitchers from years past and wondering what they would’ve earned had they entered free agency at the same age as Greinke, it’s a stupid question and argument. What would Sandy Koufax get? What would Pedro Martinez get? What would Greg Maddux get? What would Randy Johnson get?

Does it matter? Had they been free agents at age 29 in 2012, they would’ve gotten more money than Greinke. But they’re not. So it’s meaningless speculation.

Then there are the complaints that it’s “too much” money—not in context of pitchers who were better than Greinke, but in context, period.

The pitchers listed above weren’t available. As for the contract itself, how is “enough” quantified? Would $120 million be acceptable? Why is $147 million “too much” and what amount is “just right?”

Greinke is the best pitcher on the market, found a team willing to pay him, and he got the most money. If and when Justin Verlander is a free agent (and he probably won’t be), he’ll set the market. That’s capitalism. That’s baseball.

The media

Joel Sherman exemplifies the half-wit media by saying the following on Twitter:

I know timing/supply-demand determine $, but if you had to pick 10 SP to win game for your life, would Greinke even be in the 10?

First he says essentially the same thing I said and made perfect sense in saying it regarding supply and demand. Then he ruins it by making a ridiculous assertion about a “game for your life” that there’s no way to prove its veracity one way or the other until after the fact. Greinke pitched poorly in his one post-season chance, but he was no Kenny Rogers—a thoroughly overmatched, frightened, and non-competitive performer for both the Yankees and Mets who no one could’ve thought he’d turn in the masterful work he provided in the 2006 playoffs and World Series when he was all but unhittable.

Was Dave Stewart a post-season ace before he became one? Was Curt Schilling?

You don’t know until you know. It’s not as if Greinke is tricking people with a pitch that could abandon him at any moment. Like the aforementioned Johnson and Martinez, they know what’s coming and can’t hit it.

This type of “analysis” is a desperate search to be contrary and not based on fact at all.

For the rest of baseball

The “haves and have nots” argument no longer applies as teams like the Athletics and Rays have shown the way of keeping their players or trading them away at their high value to maintain realistic cost while contending. The idea that Billy Beane’s strategies stopped working is accurate. Other teams caught onto what he was doing, souped it up and spent money for the undervalued assets he was able to get on the cheap before. The Rays adapted and overtook the A’s as the team that maximized what they had and could afford with new data and not the old “on base percentage as the Holy Grail” and “counting cards in the draft” idiocy.

The big money clubs who’ve spent wildly haven’t distinguished themselves with annual championships; in fact, many of the clubs have turned into overpriced embarrassments who, like the Yankees, are paring down to avoid luxury tax penalties and are rapidly heading toward a collapse because they tried to copy the Rays and even the Red Sox in development and failed miserably. The Red Sox, Angels, Marlins, and Phillies spent madly in the last several years and the results varied from disastrous to mediocre.

Teams that want to prevent Greinke-like contracts have to take the risk and do what the Rays have done with Evan Longoria, the Pirates have done with Andrew McCutchen, and the Rays and Mets have done with Matt Moore and Jonathon Niese—sign them early and hope they make it worth the team’s while to do it.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers spending spree doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win in and of itself, but they do have some semblance of continuity backed up by the new money their ownership is spreading around, much to the anger and chagrin of all observers due to jealousy or the simple desire to complain.

It made no sense to pay $2 billion and then try to create a winner with an $80 million payroll and prove how much smarter their baseball people are than everyone else. It made no sense to hire Stan Kasten as team president and have Magic Johnson as a front man and not let them do what they do the way they know how to do it.

Kasten is a professional dealmaker and, unlike Randy Levine across the country with the Yankees, isn’t despised and openly meddling with the baseball operations implying that he knows more than he does (and Kasten is a qualified baseball man, unlike Levine). Kasten helped build the enduring Braves playoff dynasty using development and Ted Turner’s money to keep his own players, trade the minor leaguers for veterans, develop youngsters for the Braves’ use, bolster the club with Maddux-like stars, and let his GM John Schuerholz be the GM and the manager Bobby Cox be the manager.

He’s repeating the process with the Dodgers, Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly.

Comparisons to the aforementioned clubs that spent insanely is not accurate as a “that didn’t work, so neither will what the Dodgers are doing.” The Dodgers spent a ton of money and are asking their manager Mattingly, “What do you need?” whereas the Angels, with a new GM Jerry Dipoto who didn’t hire Mike Scioscia had different theories on how a team should be run; the owner Arte Moreno betrayed what it was that made the Angels a beacon of how to put a club together as he spent on players who simply didn’t fit and created a glut and altered identity, leading to the image of dysfunction and disarray.

The Red Sox made a mess in 2011, compounded that mess in 2012, and are getting back to their roots with questionable decisions currently being made by Ben Cherington when the jury is still out on whether he’s one of those executives who was better off as an assistant.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has the countenance and behavior of a character straight out of a Dickens story with barely concealed greed and unrepentant evil, while Magic is the charming frontman to bring the fans in and impress the players with his star power.

Star power.

Magic was a Lakers star with a star coach Pat Riley and a glittery style that inspired the moniker “Showtime.” It wasn’t just a show. The Lakers were a great team with star talent surrounding Magic in the form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, underappreciated stars like James Worthy, and gritty tough guys like Kurt Rambis. Magic is the epitome of cool who knows everyone, gets invited to every party, has access to all the trappings of Los Angeles with the age and wisdom to advise players what and whom to avoid. He’s got an eye not just on winning, but winning in the Hollywood fashion with stars and style. He’ll fill Dodger Stadium and make it the cool place to go again; he’ll recruit the players; he’ll represent the team to make everyone money; and he won’t overstep his bounds into the baseball ops.

They didn’t buy it as an investment to flip in a few years; they bought it to turn it into a greater financial powerhouse and increase its value. That’s what they’re doing and Greinke is a cog in that machine to achieve the end.

And for Greinke

No one will ever know whether Greinke, whose past emotional problems are given far too much weight considering they six years ago and haven’t cropped up since, could’ve dealt with New York, Boston or Philadelphia.

Going to the East Coast with the pressures and expectations inherent with the Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies wasn’t a good fit. But the Angels weren’t matching the Dodgers’ cash and the Rangers were the main competition for the pitcher’s services and were a winning, positive locale for him and his former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader wife. But they were outbid and have other, more reasonably priced options via trade.

That left the Dodgers. It’s a laid back atmosphere as a matter of course; they already have an ace in Clayton Kershaw so the pressure won’t be as great for Greinke to win 25 games; and no one will bother him as they would in New York, Boston, or Philly.

He got his money; he’s a great pitcher; and will continue to be a great pitcher for a Dodgers team that is a legitimate championship contender.

//

Red Sox Return to a Strategy From 10 Years Ago

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After a last place finish and disastrous 2012 season, it’s a convenient storyline for the Red Sox to get back to their “roots” that built the annual title contender under Theo Epstein from 2003-2011. That the reality of this narrative isn’t precisely accurate is beside the point. They won. Because they won, the SparkNotes version of how it happened has degenerated into a brief and simplistic summary that using stats and undervalued attributes while also spending money was the “formula”.

Facts get in the way, so the facts are being eliminated in most Red Sox-centric circles.

I’m indifferent to allegiance and twisting truth to fit into what a constituency wants to hear, so here are those facts:

  • A large chunk of the Red Sox 2004 championship team was built by Dan Duquette
  • What Billy Beane had planned to do (according to Michael Lewis, so take it with a bucket of salt) had he followed through on his agreement to take over as the team’s GM after the 2002 season would’ve resulted in a horror movie
  • The Red Sox were somewhat dysfunctional during that whole time with the mad scientist closer-by committee experiment; Epstein eventually resigning and returning to win a power struggle with Larry Lucchino; and other examples of infighting
  • They were lucky with players like Mike Lowell, whom they were forced to take even though they didn’t want him
  • The 2007 club that won their second World Series in four years was the product of tossing money at their problems as a reaction to fan anger following their 2006 stumble
  • There were numerous other unquantifiable occurrences that were equally as important in the building of the brand as their adherence to new age statistics.

Rises of this nature tend to take on lives of their own and the Red Sox, who had turned to the new age techniques in part because their new ownership was intent on running the club as a business and in part because what they’d tried for so many years—keeping up with the Yankees and other clubs by doing the exact same things—had failed repeatedly. They made the switch to cold-blooded calculation out of necessity as much as design. What they were doing wasn’t working; what Beane was doing in Oakland was working, so they consciously mimicked the template and souped it up by hiring Bill James and backing up their newfound convictions with money.

Eventually though, after two championships, it wasn’t enough. There could no longer be the intelligent free agent signings stemming from their own analysis and volition, reactions and outsider perspective be damned; they had to compete with the Yankees and get the biggest names; a season in which the club finished with 95 wins and lost in the ALCS was not good enough anymore. In the World Series win or bust world, the Yankees had been joined by the Red Sox. It’s an almost impossible vacuum in which to function over the long-term. When operating under such self-administered constraints, teams tend to do things they might not otherwise do. The Red Sox were bounced in the 2008 playoffs by the low-budget Rays; the Angels took them out in 3 straight games in the 2009 ALDS; they were riddled by injuries in 2010, but still somehow won 89 games and missed the playoffs; and they spent wildly and absurdly in the winter of 2010-2011 to import more names whose suitability to Boston should have been known beforehand as players to avoid. Unlike acquisitions from the early days for the transformation when Johnny Damon and Curt Schilling could handle the madness surrounding the Red Sox, Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Adrian Gonzalez couldn’t.

Culminating in the overriding expectations and disaffected personalities that behaved as entitled and disinterested brats, the 2011 Red Sox undermined their manager Terry Francona, acted as if they were entitled to a playoff ticket simply due to their payroll and reputation, and collapsed. Trying to patch it together with one more run, the club took the shattered strategy to its logical conclusion by hiring a “name” manager to replace the discarded and exhausted Francona, Bobby Valentine. Epstein climbed the exit hatch to take over as President of the Chicago Cubs and the new GM, Ben Cherington, didn’t want Valentine. Lucchino overruled him, the coaching staff and factions in the front office passive aggressively set Valentine up to fail. Predictably Valentine’s reputation and personality resulted in a mid-season mutiny and exponential selfishness that dwarfed that which doomed Francona.

A 69-93 season, endless ridicule, and a livid fanbase spurred the Red Sox to get back to the drawing board and they’re in the process making a show of returning to what it was that sowed the seeds for their decade long dominance.

Amid all the ESPN headlines of expectancy for the 2013 comeback; with the money freed from the salary dumps of Crawford, Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett; the promises of a return to the past by hiring a link to that past as the new manager John Farrell, the signing of “character” players such as Jonny Gomes, David Ross, and the pursuit of Mike Napoli, it’s taking the tone of an on-paper back to basics of a strategy that is now behind the times.

When Epstein sought to remake the club in the statistical image, it was new and few clubs understood it, were willing to implement it, or knew what they were doing if they tried. Already in place was a megastar starting pitcher in Pedro Martinez and some young players in the organization such as Kevin Youkilis who would cheaply contribute to what they were putting together.

These factors are no longer the case. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are a good place to start a rotation, but are not on a level with Martinez and there’s little backing them up; the bullpen is weak; the lineup is pockmarked with gaping holes. In 2012, when clubs scour the market for players, everyone has the same numbers and uses them. It’s not 2002. Clubs are taking the initiative by signing their young stars long term; the Red Sox farm system has been gutted by ill-thought out trades for “name” players. Players that had undervalued attributes like on-base percentage are not floating around for a pittance. When the Red Sox made the decision to dump Shea Hillenbrand in favor of a player who had been a journeyman, Bill Mueller, it was reasonable to wonder what they were doing. It was a stroke of genius as Mueller won the batting title, the Silver Slugger, and was a key component to the 2004 championship.

Is Gomes a Mueller? Is he going to develop into something other than what he’s been his whole career? How about other players they’re avidly pursuing like Napoli or Nick Swisher?

Yes, they’re good players and likable personalities who will help the Red Sox be better than what they were in 2011-2012 on and off the field. Unfortunately, that doesn’t eliminate the inherent problems of clinging to a bygone template to sell to the fans and media to put forth the pretense of getting back to fundamentals. The days of a player being different from his perception are over. Substance is required, but the substance is lacking as the Red Sox revert to the past.

Farrell is straight out of central casting as a manager. He’s well-spoken, handsome, big, intimidating, and the remaining players from his time as Francona’s pitching coach like him and lobbied for him. Everyone from the front office is onboard with his hiring and they’re giving him a freedom to hire coaches he wants and a voice in the construction of the roster that was not given to Valentine. That doesn’t alter the fact that no one from the Blue Jays has expressed regret that he’s gone; that the Blue Jays were one of the worst run clubs in baseball during his time and were atrocious in the most rudimentary aspects of the game to the point that had the Red Sox not wanted Farrell back so desperately the Blue Jays were probably going to fire him. Francona, for his faults, was a sound strategic manager who had managerial experience with the Phillies. But like the Francona Phillies, the new team Francona has been hired to manage, the Indians, doesn’t have very much talent and his mere presence isn’t going to change that or the end results on the field. The same thing applies to Farrell on a different scope tied to higher expectations. Farrell’s limited managerial experience and terrible results won’t be glossed over in Boston as they will for Francona is Cleveland because Francona knows what he’s doing and Farrell doesn’t.

The Red Sox of 2004-2010 would have won with Farrell as the manager because they were so talented that there was little for the manager to do other than write the lineup, make the pitching changes, deal with the media, and steer the ship—perfect for a figurehead. It also helped that the competition in the division was mostly limited to the Yankees and, for a couple of years, the Rays. Now, with the Red Sox lack of talent and stiff competition in the division, they can’t toss out their return to glory concept and expect to win because they’re all on the same page with the manager and they have a couple of gritty players added to the clubhouse. They need pitching; they need bats; they need guidance; and they need to be managed.

Napoli, Swisher, Gomes, Ross, and Farrell aren’t going to undo the dilapidation that was an end result of years of patchwork repairs reaching its nadir in 2012. The obvious thing is to blame Valentine and make the claim that the mistakes are now understood and won’t be repeated. It’s easy. It’s also inaccurate. Farrell’s back; James is more involved; everyone’s working toward the same goal. The Red Sox are upfront about operating from the 2002-2003 playbook in 2012-2013. Is that going to vault them from 69-93 to 90-72 or a similar win total that will put them in playoff contention in a bearish American League?

Do you see the problem there? Considering what they’re doing and how they’re marketing it, the Red Sox clearly don’t.

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The Big One: Trout vs Cabrera for AL MVP

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Exemplifying the polarization of old schoolers vs stat guys, Mike Trout vs Miguel Cabrera for the Most Valuable Player has become a territorial tug-of-war for the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file baseball fan. What’s missed amid the visceral anger, grumpy tantrums, and condescending pomposity is that the MVP is not the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) Award; nor is it the Triple Crown Award. There are criteria for the voter to follow when selecting his MVP and they follow (taken directly from the Baseball Writers Association website):

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1.  Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.

2.  Number of games played.

3.  General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

4.  Former winners are eligible.

5.  Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

This leaves such room for interpretation that it’s inevitable that stat guys whose lives are based in WAR (baseball’s version of the military industrial complex) are going to ignore any dissenters as to other factors and look at WAR and WAR alone to make their decision. It’s also inevitable that the voters will do what they want regardless of said criteria and, as George A. King III did in 1999, will omit a deserved candidate (in this case Pedro Martinez) due to ludicrous partisanship disguised as an epiphany.

Murray Chass rants about what Chass rants about; Mike Francesa demands to “see” the number of catches Trout made to increase his defensive value past Cabrera’s offensive numbers; Jeff Passan shakes his head disapprovingly with a disconsolate, “I think that’s sad” that he thinks Cabrera’s going to win; Keith Law tweets in Latin.

Chaos ensues.

None of this helps. If anything, it forces the open-minded to pick a side among the entrenched with few understanding exactly what they’re advocating or why. The proper method to convince the undecided (or even the decided) is to provide a cogent, understandable, and palatable point-of-view without rancor, arrogance, or perception of force. The argument has to be shifted from where it is to where it should be.

So let’s examine the MVP race in the American League and decide who should win. I’ll play Abraham Lincoln to provide the foundation to end this destructive and pointless civil war.

WAR vs the Triple Crown

I listed the players in MLB history who have won the Triple Crown and whether or not they won the MVP here, along with the circumstances of their winning or losing the award.

The Triple Crown is not the deciding factor for the MVP. It is part of the decisionmaking process and has to be placed into proper context. The same can be said for WAR. WAR is a formula designed to evaluate how much better an individual player is than the baseline Triple A player that you can find anywhere for nothing—basically, a ham-and-egger—and it adds in defense, baserunning, and offense. Based on WAR, Trout (10.7) is the MVP over Cabrera (6.9). But it’s not that simple.

That the feat of winning the Triple Crown hasn’t been accomplished in 45 years does matter. Cabrera’s offensive slash line was .330/.393/.606 with an OPS of .999 (leading the majors), and an OPS+ of 165. Trout’s slash line was .326/.399/.564 with an OPS of .963 and an AL leading OPS+ of 171. Cabrera hit 44 homers; Trout 30. Cabrera isn’t a baserunner; Trout is a great baserunner who stole 49 bases in 54 attempts. Trout’s presence is seen as having saved the Angels’ disappointing season from an utter disaster as he arrived with the club at 6-14 and immediately provided a cleansing spark to a toxic atmosphere. Cabrera was the linchpin of the Tigers offense.

Calculating the OPS is also misleading because Cabrera’s walk total declined from 108 in 2011 to 66 in 2012 because he had Prince Fielder hitting behind him. Cabrera doesn’t strike out (98); Trout does (139). Cabrera is a double play machine (28 to lead the majors); Trout grounded into 7.

Where does the dissection stop and the diagnosis begin?

Because Cabrera had Fielder hitting behind him, his old-school offensive stats were bolstered as teams had to pitch to him, and hindered as his new-school stat of OPS was lowered because he walked 42 fewer times. Had he walked 20 more times in 2012, how much would that have increased his OPS and decreased his RBI/HR totals? We don’t know because, like WAR, it’s speculative.

Trout’s WAR was driven up by his defense and speed; Cabrera’s was dropped because he didn’t add anything on the bases and was a below average defender. Does that tally up to Cabrera being deprived of the award?

Defense, speed, credit, and punishment

Did Muhammad Ali become the legend he is because he was great at beating on a punching bag? No. It was because of his work in the ring. Taking points away from Cabrera because of his poor defense at third base is the same thing. He’s not a good third baseman and Trout is a great defensive center fielder. Is it fair to punish Cabrera because of what he can’t do? It’s like refusing a great novelist the Pulitzer because he’s not a poet; depriving an actor the Oscar because he can’t sing. Why should he have to justify what he can’t do and have it reduce the impressiveness of what he did do?

Cabrera was the epitome of the team player by accepting the shift to third base to accommodate Fielder and losing weight to improve his range. Not every star-level player of Cabrera’s caliber would do that. When he got hit in the face by a ground ball in spring training, the easiest thing for Cabrera to do would have been to toss his infielder’s glove on manager Jim Leyland’s desk and say he’s not going back there—and he could’ve done that and gotten away with it putting the team in an awful position right before the season started. But he didn’t. He moved to third to help the team and, defensive metrics aside, was actually far better than anyone could have expected given that he hadn’t played the position in five years.

Does he get credit for that?

Trout’s defense is absolutely a factor in the MVP voting, but calculating the runs he supposedly saved statistically is ignoring the number of runs the Tigers added by their addition of Fielder and Cabrera’s selflessness in moving to a position he wasn’t good at playing to accommodate that signing. Does WAR account for the team-oriented move? No. Because it can’t since it’s not a number in a calculator.

Much like depriving a pitcher of the MVP because he’s a pitcher, you cannot logically take away the MVP from Cabrera because Trout had a higher WAR due to his basestealing and defense when, at the plate, Cabrera was the bigger threat.

Team results

Where would the Tigers have been without Cabrera?

Where would the Angels have been without Trout?

The Tigers would have been in the situation where they had to find a third baseman and a middle of the lineup masher to replace what they would not have had without Cabrera. Could they have done that? And where would they have finished in the AL Central without Cabrera?

They could, I suppose, have traded for the available at the time Chase Headley or could have made the Mets an offer they couldn’t refuse for David Wright, but that would’ve gutted the system of the players they eventually used to land Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, effectively rendering their acquisitions as a net loss. The Tigers would not have made the playoffs without Cabrera, Sanchez, and Infante.

And the Angels?

They were 6-14 when Trout was recalled in what was labeled as a desperation move for a fractured and shocked team and the Angels went 81-58 with him in the lineup. Would they have righted the ship without him in time to end up at 89-73 and out of the playoffs? Given the star power of the club, their pitching, and willingness to make mid-season deals for the likes of Zack Greinke, it’s not much to expect that team—without Trout—to have righted their ship to the mediocre degree that they did. Trout is given the credit for the club getting straight, but they probably would’ve gotten straight anyway and finished in third place with Trout or anyone in center field.

The “value to the team” argument goes to Cabrera because his team made the playoffs and Trout’s didn’t and because the Tigers had no options at third base and the Angels did in center field.

The winner

This is a landmark case in the extreme wings of baseball. Extremities win on occasion, but for the most part, it’s nuance that rules not by force and not by transformative thinking, but by reason and reality. And by reason and reality, the AL MVP is the Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera.

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2012 MLB Award Picks—Cy Young Award

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Let’s look at the award winners for 2012 starting with the Cy Young Award with my 2012 picks, who I picked in the preseason, and who I actually think is going to win regardless of who should win.

American League

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Verlander won the Cy Young Award and the MVP in 2011. His numbers in 2012 weren’t as dominating as they were in 2011 and the Tigers had a better team in 2012, so he’s not an MVP candidate this season, but he still did enough to outdo the competition for the CYA.

Verlander led the American League in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and was at or near the top in advanced stats such as Adjusted ERA+ and Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

The WAR argument is a factor, but not the factor to set the stage for the MVP analysis between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Price led the AL in ERA and wins, but was far behind Verlander in innings pitched and strikeouts.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

If he hadn’t had two terrible games in September in which he allowed 7 earned runs in each, he would’ve been higher. In addition to those games, he allowed 6 earned runs in two other games; and 5 earned runs in three others. He was pitching for a bad team that couldn’t hit, pitched a perfect game, and threw 5 shutouts.

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Had he not gotten injured and missed three starts, the Angels might’ve made the playoffs. It wouldn’t have won him the award unless he’d thrown three shutouts, but he’d have had a better shot. He won 20 games and was third in ERA, but only logged 188 innings.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

In his first year as a starter, it was Sale’s smooth transition to the rotation that led the White Sox to surprising contention.

***

My preseason pick was Price.

The winner will be Verlander.

National League

1. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

Which will win out? The story of Dickey and how he rose from a first round draft pick whose contract was yanked from under him because his elbow didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament, then to a 4-A journeyman, then to a knuckleballer, then to a sensation? Or will the fact that he is a knuckleballer and the perception of him using a trick pitch sway some voters away from his numbers to the concept of giving the award to a “real” pitcher (as ridiculous as that is).

When Jim Bouton was making a comeback as a knuckleballer in 1978, he pitched well against the Reds of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. The Reds quantified their inability to hit Bouton with head shakes at how slow his offerings were. Bouton’s friend Johnny Sain said something to the tune of, “You’ve discovered a new way to assess a pitcher’s performance—go and ask the opponent what they thought.”

How Dickey did it and debiting him for using a “trick pitch” is like refusing to give Gaylord Perry the Cy Young Award or Hall of Fame induction because he admittedly threw a spitball. Everyone knew it and he got away with it. It’s the same thing with Dickey except he’s not cheating.

Dickey won 20 games for a bad team and led the National League in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

I wouldn’t argue if Kershaw won the award. You can flip him and Dickey and both are viable candidates.

Kershaw led the NL in WAR for pitchers, was second in adjusted ERA+, led the league in ERA, was second in innings pitched and strikeouts. He was also pitching late in the season with a hip impingement injury that was initially thought to need surgery. (He won’t need the surgery.)

3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

I am not punishing a great pitcher for being a closer. Saying he’s not a starter is similar to saying that a player like Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he never hit the home runs that Alex Rodriguez hit. He’s not a slugger. That’s not what he does. It’s the same thing with Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera. Make them into a starter, and it won’t work. But they’re great closers.

Hitters are overmatched against Kimbrel. And yes, I’m aware you can make the same argument for Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman’s ERA was half-a-run higher than Kimbrel’s, but Kimbrel’s ERA+ was 399 compared to Chapman’s 282. For comparison, Rivera’s highest ERA+ in his career is 316; Eric Gagne won the 2003 NL CYA with an ERA+ of 337.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Cueto was second in WAR (just ahead of Dickey), third in ERA, first in adjusted ERA+, and third in wins.

5. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

Gonzalez won 21 games, but didn’t pitch 200 innings. He has a Bob Welch thing going on. Welch won 27 games in 1990 and won the Cy Young Award in the American League, but Dave Stewart had a far better year than Welch and Roger Clemens was better than both. Welch was the beneficiary of pitching for a great team with a great bullpen. Clemens was second, Stewart third. Dennis Eckersley had an ERA+ of 603 (that’s not a mistake) and walked 4 hitters (1 intentionally) in 73 innings that season. Welch had a good year, but it’s not as flashy as it looked when delving deeper into the truth. This is comparable to Gonzalez’s predicament.

***

My preseason pick was Tim Lincecum.

Kimbrel is going to win on points as Dickey, Gonzalez, and Kershaw split the vote among starters. I see some writers punishing Dickey for being a knuckleballer due to some silly self-enacted “rules” or biases just as George King of the New York Post deprived Pedro Martinez of a deserved MVP in 1999—link.

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Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

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Blame for Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox Failure Extends Worldwide

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Bobby Valentine was fired as manager by the Boston Red Sox yesterday with approximately $2.5 million remaining on his 2-year contract. He’s taking the fall for what wasn’t simply an organizational set of problems, but for issues that extended far beyond Boston and were negatively influenced by people, perceptions, and circumstances. Valentine certainly bears a portion of the responsibility for what went wrong in his dream job that rapidly—immediately–degenerated into a nightmare, but there’s plenty to go around.

Let’s look at the map with percentages as to who’s at fault.

Boston, MA

The Red Sox were in total disarray after their collapse in September of 2011. Manager Terry Francona’s contract options were not exercised (technically he wasn’t fired, but he was fired); GM Theo Epstein left for the Cubs shortly thereafter; and the roster was essentially stagnant with owner John Henry slamming shut the vault that had bought and paid for Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

They had a choice: either hire one of the names that GM Ben Cherington preferred like Gene Lamont or Dale Sveum, or do as team CEO Larry Lucchino wanted and hire the polar opposite of Francona and a big name, Valentine. Lucchino was reestablishing his power with the departure of Epstein and, as expected, got his way. This implication that had the Red Sox hired one of Cherington’s choices as manager, everything would’ve been okay, is ridiculous. The team needed structural changes on the field—changes they didn’t make. Such maneuvers would’ve been nearly impossible to construct with other clubs and sell to their fanbase and media, but they could’ve done something to break from the past by dispatching a veteran or three.

I understand why they did what they did with Valentine, but do they? Are they willing to admit it and look into the mirror? Does the Red Sox front office know what they did wrong and why it didn’t work? That it was a huge gaffe to drop Valentine into that toxic stew without altering the ingredients by getting rid of Josh Beckett over the winter? That saddling Valentine with coaches that were a sure bet to undermine him would serve nothing apart from giving the players a sympathetic ear to complain to and the media an “unnamed source” through whom the players could anonymously air their gripes? That these coaches would play clubhouse politics to expand their own influence and possibly become the manager of the team themselves?

The transformation from intelligent and comprehensive decision-making that was implemented under Epstein was gone in favor of spending on free agents and making headline-worthy trades for big names to keep up with the Yankees.

After the 2011 debacle, rather than formulating a cogent plan that may or may not have included Valentine, everyone was looking out for himself. Lucchino with his freedom from Epstein to do what he preferred and have the world know he was in charge again; Cherington going along to get along and letting Lucchino have his way; Valentine for not making sure he wasn’t surrounded by a pack of Judases; and the players for behaving as spoiled, entitled brats.

35% at fault

Arizona

I’m sure Francona, observing the Red Sox train wreck from the ESPN booth and his Arizona home, was amused and satisfied at the 69-93 record and last place in the American League East that the Red Sox “achieved”. Not to imply that Francona wanted the Red Sox to disintegrate as they did, but the implosion somehow validates that the 2011 collapse was not the fault of the former manager when, in part, it was. Francona’s lackadaisical discipline and inability to stop the breakdown of intensity; stem the rise in overwhelming arrogance; and harpoon the sense that because the Red Sox had become such a machine over the years that they were automatically anointed a spot in the post-season, made 2011 inevitable. Francona had been there too long; the team had become complacent under his leadership; and his refusal to appear at the Red Sox 100th anniversary celebration and then decision to show up in a passive-aggressive display of selfishness against Lucchino while he knew the difficulty Valentine was having only exacerbated the situation.

His looming presence as a popular and well-liked person who happened to be in the ESPN broadcasting booth shadowed Valentine and the Red Sox. The idiotic entreaties from the likes of Ken Rosenthal and now others that the Red Sox bring him back are similar to a divorced couple that splits and only remembers the good times and not the reasons they broke up in the first place.

Francona is a good, but not great manager who will do well if he has the players to win. Put him in a rebuilding project such as the Indians and he’ll revert to the, “nice guy, okay enough manager…I guess” individual he was with the Phillies when all he did was lose. He got the Red Sox job because he was willing to take short money for the opportunity, he was agreeable to Curt Schilling whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire, and he would adhere to stat-based principles and do what the front office told him. In short, he was the opposite of Grady Little. The concept that he’s more than that because he was the manager of a loaded Red Sox team is a concocted story that will be proven to be false if he does indeed go to the Indians. (I don’t think he will. He’ll wait out the Tigers/Angels/Dodgers/Diamondbacks jobs.)

12% at fault

Toronto, Canada

The Red Sox are enamored of John Farrell. They wanted him a year ago and didn’t want to surrender what the Blue Jays supposedly asked for (Clay Buchholz) in compensation for their manager. Farrell desperately wants to go back to Boston and he is the next manager of the Red Sox, for better or worse.

That the Blue Jays are willing to let him go to a division rival should be a warning sign to the Red Sox that they may not be getting the problem-solver they’re looking for. Farrell is popular with the players, beloved by the Boston media, and a conduit to the memory of when the Red Sox were a championship team. But, as the Blue Jays and their fans will attest, his in-game managerial skills are lacking and the Blue Jays were an undisciplined and haphazardly run bunch that was expected to be much better than they were in 2012. His longing gaze back at Boston and that Boston was gazing back didn’t help Valentine either.

1% at fault

Chicago, IL

From poor drafts in 2008 and onward, to overpaying for free agents nationally and internationally, the 2012 Red Sox were largely put together by the current president of the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Those are the same Cubs that lost 101 games under Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer, and the manager that Cherington preferred, Sveum. The Cubs were in need of a total overhaul and that’s what Epstein and his crew are doing, so he can’t be blamed for the monstrosity they were this season, but the 2012 Red Sox are absolutely Epstein’s responsibility. He decided to git while the gittin’ was good, but that doesn’t absolve him of the carnage that his acquisitions, signings, and failure to address lingering issues created.

Also in Chicago was Kevin Youkilis of the White Sox.

One of the seminal moments of Valentine’s downfall in Boston was his innocuous criticism of Youkilis early in the season in which he said he felt that Youkilis’s commitment was lacking. It was amazing how a presence like Youkilis, who had begun to be seen as a problematic clubhouse lawyer and divisive busybody in September of 2011, evolved into a rallying point for the Red Sox veterans to say, “See?!? Valentine’s a jerk!!”

Whatever the catalyst was of Valentine’s criticism and Youkilis’s eventual trade to the White Sox, was Valentine wrong?

The injury-prone Youkilis wasn’t hitting for the Red Sox, they had a replacement at the ready in the younger and cheaper Will Middlebrooks, and after Youkilis joined the White Sox, he was the same inconsistent, limited player he’d become for the Red Sox.

Youkilis was an outlet for strife within the Red Sox roster, but he was one of convenience.

30% at fault

Los Angeles, CA

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Crawford were traded to the Dodgers in a salary dump that the Red Sox were beyond lucky that they were able to complete. Gonzalez was a bad fit for Boston due to his laid back West Coast personality and desire to be left alone to do his job. As the veteran leaders like David Ortiz got injured and Gonzalez was called to the forefront on and off the field, he was swallowed up, unable to come up with any legitimate, intelligent response as to why the club faltered in 2011 and was coming unglued in 2012 aside from referencing God.

Crawford tried hard, but was hurt. His deployment was a point of contention between Valentine and the front office with the random decision that he would play X number of games and get Y number of games off to account for an elbow that required Tommy John surgery.

Beckett is the epitome of the problem child bully who needed a smack, but no one in Boston willing to give him that smack. The one person that Valentine needed to come to an understanding with was Beckett. Or the Red Sox had to trade Beckett. Neither happened in time to save 2012, and when they finally traded Beckett in August, it was too late to do any good.

Is it fair to blame Beckett for not behaving as a professional and an adult when he’s never done it before in his entire career and it was up to the front office to accept that and get rid of him? Is it fair to blame Gonzalez for not being any more of a leader than he was with the twice-collapsed Padres clubs for whom he was also the centerpiece? Is it fair to blame Crawford because he was hurt?

Not really.

4% at fault

Stamford, CT

After waiting so long to get back into Major League Baseball as a manager, there has to be a sense of embarrassment for Valentine that he got the chance of a lifetime with a team that spends a lot of money and was rife with stars and that he “blew” it.

But did he blow it?

Valentine, being Valentine walked into the job with the knives already out to get him. The perception of him being a loud, arrogant, condescending, abrasive, micromanaging nuisance notwithstanding, it was up to him to get the players to take him at face value based on their dealings with him rather than dredging up old criticisms from those with an axe to grind such as John Franco, his deposed closer with the Mets.

Valentine saw how Francona became lauded and celebrated after breaking the “curse”; that it could have been him who was managing the Red Sox back in 2003 had he been willing to compromise on his principles and tell Lucchino during an informal chat that he disagreed with Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch in that fateful game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But he refused to criticize Little, wound up in Japan for several years, missed out on the Marlins and Orioles jobs and was left with one final opportunity.

Early in the season, had Valentine been the strategic wizard he was portrayed to be, then it might’ve been okay. But he was rusty having not managed in the big leagues for 10 years and in the American League for 20. In an apropos analogy considering Valentine’s bicycle spill in Central Park during the last series against the Yankees, managing is not like getting on a bicycle. Valentine tried and fell.

Valentine won’t regret taking the job, but he will regret not making a greater effort to get the veterans on his side; on not allowing coaches that he didn’t want and were likely to be undermining influences to be on his staff; and for not making a greater effort to dispel the aura than he carried around with him. Making the effort could have helped. Telling Beckett and others, “Listen, I’m sure you’ve heard all the stories about me. Some are true, some aren’t. But I was in my 40s then. I’m 62 now. This is my last chance. I know it, you know it. I wanna win. You guys wanna forget about what happened last year. Let’s work together to make it happen.”

Beckett would probably have still acted the way he did (and does), but Valentine could say he tried.

This was Valentine’s last shot. There are two strategies to take when facing a last shot: 1) go for the deep strike and say, “If I’m going down, I’m going down my way,” and make sure you’re comfortable with everything for better or worse; or 2) be conciliatory and agreeable, hoping it works out based on talent level and available money.

Valentine chose the latter with the results we see. He bears a significant portion of the responsibility and was jettisoned, but this was a combined effort from all over the map and top to bottom. No one should be spared from their part in the horror film that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

18% at fault

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Farrell Would Fix Some, But Not All Of The Red Sox Problems

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Nine years after he was hired, oversaw two World Series wins, endured a martyred firing, and the inevitable sliming on his way out the door, it’s easily forgotten that Terry Francona was selected by the Red Sox for three main reasons:

  • He would adhere to organizational edicts regarding strategy
  • He would work relatively cheaply for the opportunity
  • He was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were desperately trying to acquire

Of course there are macro-reasons behind Francona’s hiring such as being salable to fans, that he was well-liked throughout baseball, he wasn’t Grady Little, among others, but it came down to those three simple factors that made him a reasonable choice. In fact, Larry Lucchino had chatted with Bobby Valentine about the job back then, but the chat never went far enough to warrant an interview because—according to Valentine—he wouldn’t criticize Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to keep pitching in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. It didn’t help that Valentine was Valentine and he would’ve wanted a significantly higher salary than Francona accepted.

Now the Red Sox are said to be interested in reaching back to the Francona coaching staff and hiring (or trading for) John Farrell, current manager of the Blue Jays. There are positives and negatives to hiring Farrell that are reminiscent of the hiring of Francona. The negatives of Francona were his atrocious record as manager of the then-talentless Phillies, that his low salary would’ve made him an easy fire if the team didn’t live up to expectations, and there was a chance that the players would tune him out because this was in the aftermath of Moneyball and the manager was seen as a faceless, nameless, and replaceable functionary operating at the “do this or else” whims of the front office. With his record and popularity in subsequent years, Francona was able to break those shackles and get paid more lucratively while being treated with greater respect, but his power within the organization was limited and, as 2011 showed, there wasn’t much loyalty or appreciation considering all he’d done.

Farrell’s negatives include his strategic weaknesses during games, that he’s going to cost the Red Sox a player (the Blue Jays asked for Clay Buchholz last year; expect something less, but still useful); and he hasn’t been successful in the bottom line with the Blue Jays in spite of a powerful offense and plenty of talent.

The media, fans, and players would be fully onboard with the hire—something Valentine didn’t have; prospective players wouldn’t turn down the Red Sox money specifically because of the manager; and there would be a perception of, “Now we’re getting back to the Red Sox way.”

But are they getting back to the Red Sox “way”? Is Lucchino going to step back and let Ben Cherington do what Theo Epstein did and build a team the way he prefers with on base percentage, power, feisty competitors, and reasonable salaries? Or is he going to meddle, make his presence felt, and shoehorn players and people into the mix when they just don’t improve the recipe?

The Red Sox did a smart thing in getting rid of Josh Beckett (he had to go); Adrian Gonzalez (not cut out for Boston or for a leadership role); and Carl Crawford (miserable in Boston, injured). They slashed money and Valentine is clearly going to be out sooner or later. It’s irrelevant that Valentine’s “controversial” interview yesterday was blown out of proportion for soundbite and attention purposes—it’s not going to work with him. But it just as easily might not have worked for Francona had the Red Sox been as dysfunctional in 2004 as they were with Francona in 2011 and with Valentine in 2012. Would it be better with Farrell? It might if they truly get back to what it was they had in 2004. But everyone longing and promoting Farrell’s return had better realize that if they move forward with this same template of broken links in the chain-of-command, Farrell’s not going to have much more success that Valentine did this season of Francona did in September of 2011. It takes more than a managerial change to fix this mess.

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The Youkilis Situation Could’ve Been Handled Better

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The Red Sox are not known for their amicable partings of the ways with players, managers and executives.

Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra, Terry Francona and Theo Epstein all left under acrimonious circumstances so it’s not surprising that Kevin Youkilis is on the trading block and has been treated as if he was a spare part rather than a key to their success over the past six years.

Youkilis isn’t innocent here. His intensity, hatred of losing and temper were once seen as attributes, but once he was injured and his production diminished, those personality traits were suddenly viewed as negative. The temper turned into whining; his hatred of losing became self-indulgent tantrums; the intensity deteriorated into clubhouse lawyering.

What was once galvanizing morphed into the subversive.

It doesn’t matter which is accurate. It’s all about perception. When the team was winning, Youkilis’s personality was part of the fabric that made the club successful; when they began losing, it was a problem that had to be excised.

Bobby Valentine didn’t do the Red Sox, himself or Youkilis any favors by calling the player out for his seeming lack of passion. Boston tends to magnify everything and a manager like Valentine—accustomed to New York and a press corps with a million other stories to cover—certainly didn’t expect what was an innocuous comment to explode the way it did. In New York it would’ve been a story for a day or two and then faded away. In Boston it was a topic of conversation for weeks and validated the players’ fears about Valentine.

The biggest factors for the Red Sox in this haven’t been Valentine, Youkilis, the emergence of Will Middlebrooks or the team’s struggles that have necessitated dramatic changes for the greater good. The upheaval from last fall and departures of Francona and Epstein got the ball rolling. Had Francona been brought back, Epstein would’ve stayed; had Epstein stayed, Larry Lucchino wouldn’t have asserted himself in the baseball operations department; there would be no Valentine. If Epstein had stayed, he likely would’ve insisted on making serious changes to the roster. That would’ve had Youkilis traded last winter rather than heading into the season with him already unhappy at being symbolized for the 2011 collapse.

Blaming Valentine or Youkilis is simplistic. The Red Sox disarray that precipitated the departures of Francona and Epstein set the foundation. They could’ve gotten something for Youkilis last winter. Now they’re probably going to get nothing apart from another name added to the list of players who gave their hearts and souls to the Red Sox and Boston and were unceremoniously—even cruelly—kicked out the door when they’d outlived their usefulness.

It didn’t have to be this way.

It shouldn’t have been this way.

But this is how it is.

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The Santana No-Hitter From Soup To Nuts

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Let’s go point-by-point on Johan Santana’s no-hitter.

The call at third base.

Umpire Adrian Johnson called Cardinals’ outfielder and former Met Carlos Beltran’s would-be hit foul when it was fair. He blew the call, but it wasn’t as blatant as it’s being made out to be, nor was it the opposite of Jim Joyce’s blown (and gutsy) call from two years ago on Armando Galarraga’s imperfect/perfect game. Joyce called it as he saw it in spite of the situation and not all umpires would’ve done that. Umpires know the circumstances during a game, but their training is such that they’re highly unlikely to openly let it influence a call. It might’ve been subconscious, but we’ll never know one way or the other. Johnson himself probably doesn’t know for sure.

It happens though. One of the best and most respected umpires in history, the late Harry Wendelstedt, preserved Don Drysdale’s consecutive scoreless inning streak by ruling that Dick Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way on a Drysdale pitch that hit him. Drysdale was able to extricate himself from a jam and continued his streak.

It’s possible that Johnson was hoping the ball would be foul to keep the no-hitter intact, but that doesn’t make it a preplanned decision.

As for the idea that it tarnishes Santana’s accomplishment, you can find any instance in baseball and diminish it. Did the 1985 Royals deserve their World Series win after it was helped along by Don Denkinger’s mistake on a Jorge Orta ground out in game 6 as the Cardinals were on the verge of winning the World Series and wound up losing that game and game 7? They won game 7 by a score of 11-0 as Bret Saberhagen pitched a complete game shutout. The Royals won the World Series. It wasn’t handed to them.

Does the blown call ruin Mike Baxter’s catch in the seventh inning? No.

The Cardinals had ample opportunity to break up the no-no after the mistake. They didn’t.

Santana and the Mets earned their moment.

The history of the Mets.

With all the great and very good pitchers that have come and gone from the Mets—Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Nolan RyanDavid Cone, Jerry Koosman, Frank Viola—it’s a testament to the luck involved with pitching a no-hitter. That it was Santana who accomplished the feat sweetens the moment more than if it was done by a journeyman who will never be heard from again.

The pitch count.

This obsession with pitch counts served to leave fans worrying about what Mets’ manager Terry Collins was going to do with Santana as his number rose further than it ever had in his career. A similar instance occurred with the Yankees in 2010 as CC Sabathia reached the eighth inning with a no-hitter against the Rays and after it was broken up, manager Joe Girardi needlessly said he was going to pull Sabathia rather than let him throw too many pitches, no-hitter or not. Sabathia himself was bewildered and it would’ve been interesting to see whether Girardi would actually have done it.

It’s possible that he would have and the only result would’ve been to bolster the assertion that he’s a puppet of management and slave to his ridiculous binder of arbitrary numbers.

Collins was right in leaving Santana in to finish the game. The players support Collins, but that support could’ve been destroyed with one paranoid and silly move in taking his pitcher out as he was going for history. Adrenaline carried Santana past any exhaustion and he appeared to get stronger as the game went along. Collins is the same manager who justified his removal of Jose Reyes from the final game of the season in 2011 after Reyes bunted for a base hit to preserve his batting title. It turned out to be Reyes’s final game as a Met, but Collins didn’t know that then. The club wanted to keep Reyes and Collins basically said after the fact and in response to the criticism that he wasn’t going to ruin his relationship with Reyes for one play in one meaningless game. To be sure an old-school manager like Collins didn’t like what Reyes did, but he let it go for the good of the franchise. He did the same thing with Santana. Whatever happens from now on, happens.

Social media egomania, self-involvement and what “I” would’ve done.

The word “I” is in quotes because I’m not talking about myself.

Twitter became a world of the media inserting themselves into the narrative as to how the Santana no-hitter was affecting them as if we care; as if it matters.

Gonzo journalism worked for Hunter S. Thompson because he innovated it and was good at it. Others are doing it now and doing it poorly. Nobody cares how the Santana achievement affects David Lennon, Bob Klapisch, Howard Megdal, Joel Sherman, Ken Davidoff or anyone else.

But it’s all about me-me-me-me-me-me. It’s ego, arrogance and nothing else.

Yankees’ fans were doing it as well. There was an aura of the maintenance of bullying and “dominance” over the “little brothers”. The tone was “Yeah, have your moment but remember who’s in charge here.”

The Yankees are in charge of nothing and until Mets’ fans and the organization as a whole pushes back against this perception that the Yankees’ money and history is a foundation for such a logically false statement, it’s going to continue.

There were also those who said something along the lines of, “I’d take Santana out because the season is more important than one game.”

It’s not absurd to say that the Mets had to keep an eye on that game and an eye on the rest of the season, but to suggest that it was an no-brainer to pull him is the epitome of the ease of decisionmaking on social media for those who aren’t making the decisions. They’re not the ones who have to face the player in question (Santana), his teammates, the fans and the media after making such a monumental maneuver. The Twitter experts have all the balls in the world sitting nude in front of their computer and expressing what they think they would’ve done but would probably not have had the nerve to do; nor would they ever be in a position to do it, rendering the point moot.

It was a great night for the Mets and any amount of contextualization and obnoxiousness isn’t going to ruin it regardless of how hard the perpetrators try. They have their no-hitter. It’s in the record books as such and it won’t be taken away. Ever.

*NOTE: Those winding up here searching for the naked video clip of a Mets player following the no-hitter, I had embedded it but the content was removed from Youtube due to copyright infringement and I deleted it because the video was no longer viewable.

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