The Astros Reality Is Beginning To Sink In

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We’ve come a long way in a month. On opening night in Texas, the Astros beat up on the Rangers 8-2. Following the preseason prognostications as to how bad the Astros would be (I had them at 45-117), that one game inspired an absurd belief that they wouldn’t be all that bad. There were orgasmic reactions to GM Jeff Lunow’s in-game interview on ESPN with the response being, “He has a plan!!! He…has…a…plaaaannnnnnn, ohhhhhhh!!!!”

Owner Jim Crane made some arrogant and obnoxious statements in a Wall Street Journal article that went largely unreported and uncriticized (except for me); he was lauded for providing every player with an I-Pad like his players were a group of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyers given a “frightening new information machine.” Luhnow made an absurd projection that manager Bo Porter might be managing the club for decades. On and on.

From the time Luhnow was hired, the media has squealed in pre-teen girl delight as if they were at a Justin Bieber concert at the new metrics permeating the organization from top to bottom. They’re a pure stat guy club complete with the bizarre titles (Sig Mejdal—Director of Decision Sciences); multitudes being hired from various stat guy sources (Baseball Prospectus); a mutually beneficial “interview” of Keith Law for a position in the front office in which the ESPN “expert” made a great show of “choosing” to stay at ESPN when a job may not have even been offered; and the new, unapologetic manner in which the Astros are shunning any and all old-school techniques preferred by veteran baseball people.

There won’t be any inter-organizational squabbles and questioning of Luhnow’s credentials as there were while he was with the Cardinals and Tony LaRussa played sharp-elbowed politics to mitigate Luhnow’s influence and win the turf war. He’s in charge. It’s his baby and, admirably, he’s doing it his way and hiring people who will implement his vision.

In the end, it’ll work or it won’t. If it does, it will have more to do with the team accumulating years and years of high draft picks because they were so historically awful than because of any undervalued finds on the part of the front office. That’s just reality. It was so with the Rays, will be so with the Astros and is a fact that those looking to anoint the next “genius” will conveniently brush to the side when embarking on an archaeological dig for reasons to twist the narrative in their preferred direction—exactly like Moneyball.

Now the mainstream media—especially those who are unabashed stat guys who defend Bill James’s most ludicrous statements regarding Joe Paterno and think Billy Beane’s bowel movements are objects of worship—are not only catching on as to how bad the 2013 Astros will be, but are speculating as to whether they can rival the 2003 Tigers and 1962 Mets in terms of historic awfulness. The Astros are this bad with a few useful veterans on their roster. Imagine what they’ll look like in August once they’ve dealt away Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Wesley Wright, Jose Veras and maybe even Jose Altuve. They’ll have a legitimate chance to reach the depths of the Cleveland Spiders of 1899. And I’m not kidding.

The media can present the contextualized explanations as to what the Astros are doing (“What’s the difference between winning 40 games and 60 games?”) and they’ll kindasorta be right. It doesn’t make much difference. But to the fans of the club who’ll have to endure this and listen to the mantra of “trust us, we’re smart” from Crane, et al., it’s going to get tiresome quickly as they’re being abused. Crane is going to need a thick skin to get through the amount of cow refuse he’ll have flung at him as the season moves along. As a loud and brash Texan, he talks like he’s ready to withstand the criticism, but when it starts coming from those who were supportive as part of their own personal agenda and they leap from the plummeting rocketship in self preservation, we’ll see if he lashes out or stays the course. I have a hunch that it will be both. Then there will really be some good stuff to write about as Crane is saying derogatory things to critics/fans because his team is so dreadfully, embarrassingly bad. He’s used to people kissing his ass and they’ll be kicking it instead. That adds up to an explosive response that will come sooner rather than later.

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The Astros Experiment In Baseball Engineering

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When the Astros offered Tim Bogar a job to be their new bench coach, Bogar turned it down because the deal included a clause that he couldn’t interview for managerial jobs elsewhere. When discussing this somewhat odd demand, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said he didn’t comment on “human resource issues”.

Never before have I heard the words “human resources” referenced in a baseball context, especially by the GM.

This exemplifies the different tack the Astros are taking in rebuilding their club from what amounts to a moribund and barren expansion team. It’s an experiment in baseball engineering that continues from the hiring of Luhnow to the naming of a Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein as their pro scouting coordinator, to the unique title they anointed on Sig Mejdal as “Director of Decision Sciences”. Yesterday, they continued the trend of loading their front office with the highly educated when they hired Harvard graduate David Stearns as assistant GM. Whether or not it works will be known only in retrospect, but it strikes me as a reinvention of the wheel. Because Luhnow is so immersed in data crunching, is beloved by stat people for his supposed success in building the Cardinals minor league system into the pipeline for talent, and is running such a horrific and mostly talentless organization, he’s receive carte blanche from owner Jim Crane to do what he wants.

The credit for the Cardinals is a shaky premise at best. Luhnow’s entry into baseball was rocky and stemmed from Bill DeWitt’s desire to recreate the club in the Moneyball image. The insertion of a total outsider who’d come from the corporate world was not taken well by the old-school baseball men in the Cardinals organization and eventually sowed the seeds for Walt Jocketty’s firing and Tony LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting in which the future Hall of Fame manager won the power struggle. It’s easily glossed over that Luhnow was stripped of his power after the 2010 season. I wrote of Luhnow’s drafts in this posting immediately after he got the Astros job. The truth about anyone’s drafts is that there are so many factors that go into a player’s development that blaming Luhnow for Colby Rasmus or crediting him for Allen Craig is a partisan attempt on the part of the analyst depending on his beliefs. Supporters will say that Rasmus is a talent who was mishandled by LaRussa, critics will say that Rasmus is badly overrated. The credit/blame game can go on forever. But now Luhnow’s in charge of the Astros and he’s implementing what he believes. It’s admirable, but admiration doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed.

Does Goldstein have the qualifications to do the job for which he was hired? Is there a joint appraisal process in effect and if the scouts disagree with what the numbers say, who breaks the tie and how does he do it? Goldstein comes from Baseball Prospectus which, like the Ivy League, has become a mill for baseball front offices and in the media. BP has a tendency (if you read the back of their annuals) to relentlessly promote what they got right. “Look, we nailed this, that and the other thing” is a selling point without mentioning what they got wrong as if it was a matter of circumstance and if the players, managers, or front office people had done what they were expected to do, the numbers would’ve played out as correct. It’s a wonderful world to live in in which there’s no possibility of being defined wrong due to a constant shifting of the goalposts after the fact to make oneself right.

I’ve had people credit me for being right about the Red Sox pending disaster (I had them at 81-81; no one could’ve predicted 69-93) with Bobby Valentine and am quick to point out that I also picked the 98-loss Colorado Rockies to the win the NL West. To me, it gives more credibility to embrace the negative and understand why it happened and learn from it to be more accurate the next time.

There is no “way” to build a team nor to make accurate projections in a sport. Nate Silver has had his reputation launched into the stratosphere because of his brilliant and right-on-the-money work with predicting the Presidential election on Fivethirtyeight.com. Inexplicably, that has morphed into a validation of his PECOTA baseball system of predictions, but it’s comparing the Earth to Neptune. There’s no connection. Baseball is not politics and in spite of the different algorithms used to come to the results, it’s easier to calculate a voting bloc than it is to determine how Bryce Harper or Mike Trout are going to function as big leaguers; how the Red Sox players would react to Valentine.

Keeping on the political theme, what we’ve seen recently is baseball’s extreme left wing and extreme right wing grapple for a proximate cause as to why the Giants have won two of the past three World Series. Questions and assertions are popping up as to whether Giants GM Brian Sabean’s old-school sensibility and management style signaled the “end” of Moneyball or if Moneyball is still the “way”. Both premises are ridiculous. Assuming that the Giants’ championships discredit Moneyball is presuming that Moneyball was a solidly researched and accurate foundation to begin with instead of a fictionalized and twisted story that was crafted by a skillful and self-indulgent mythmaker, Michael Lewis.

Moneyball was never an actual “thing,” therefore it’s not something that had to be proven wrong because it wasn’t right in the first place.

On the other side, this piece on HardballTalk discusses a stat guy in the Giants’ front office named Yeshayah Goldfarb. The posting lavishes praise on Goldfarb and doubles as an apparent repudiation of anyone who dare question the value of Moneyball and numbers. It’s written that Goldfarb influenced the Giants acquiring and keeping the likes of Javier Lopez and Juan Uribe for the 2010 club.

Lopez? They needed a stat guy to suggest they trade for a sidearming lefty? They got Lopez from the Pirates who was only a Pirate because, in 2009, he was horrendous for another stat based club with the Red Sox and allowed to leave as a free agent where no team other than the Pirates made him a decent offer.

But the stat guy knew!!

Um…no.

The truth is it had nothing to do with numbers. It had to do with Lopez being a breathing left-handed pitcher. Nothing more. If Tony Fossas at 55(?) years old chose to make a comeback, there would be a team to have a look at him because he’s lefty. Period. And Uribe? Really? So the Giants had a brilliant group of numbers people who advised them to keep Uribe in 2010 and he became a post-season hero, but the non-stat based Dodgers signed Uribe after that season, he’s been a disaster, and Ned Colletti’s an idiot? Goldfarb also gets credit for Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey, yet no one other than a Jewish weekly knew who he was. Amazing. Is that how it works?

No. It’s not how it works in any manner other than looking back at what occurred and finding “reasons” to bolster one’s position. The “Yeah, we’re in!!!” aspect of Moneyball still lives as the front offices are infested with people who didn’t play baseball, but have calculations and college degrees to get them in and become the new age hires. But much like Moneyball and the Giants, there’s a clutching at credit for floating principles that can’t be quantified. If the Astros are in the playoffs in 2-3 years, there will be an explanation for it, but the bickering factions will use their own methodology to determine what it is—both might be right, both might be wrong and neither side will admit it.

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The Pirates Are Where The Astros Hope To Be 3-5 Years From Now

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Reviving a dead franchise doesn’t happen overnight and creating a Frankenstein monster of discarded body parts (AKA players who no one else wants and have to be overpaid to join a perennial loser) while hoping for lightning to strike at just the right moment is random, desperate and doomed to fail. The Pirates of the past two decades were in the same position as the current Astros club multiple times with rebuilds, plans, schemes and different architects. Now the Pirates are winning with their own young players and a low payroll. The Astros are starting over after years of trying to win immediately and neglecting the farm system. Both sides are acting intelligently.

The Pirates have the prospects to get any player they want via trade, but chose to take the conservative route in getting Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros.

The Astros are clearing the decks in preparation for their move to the American League.

Both sides gain from the deal that sent Rodriguez from the Astros to the Pirates for three minor leaguers, lefty pitcher Rudy Owens; lefty pitcher Colton Cain; and outfielder Robbie Grossman. Rodriguez’s contract stipulations and the amount the Astros are paying is below, clipped from this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Rodriguez’s contract pays him $10 million this season and $13 million next year as part of a three-year, $34 million contract he signed before the 2011 season. He has a $13 million club option for 2014 that becomes a player option because he was traded.

According to an industry source, the Pirates are responsible for $1.7 million of Rodriguez’s remaining salary in 2012, $8.5 million in 2013 and $7.5 million in 2014. The Pirates only receive cash from the Astros in 2014 if Rodriguez exercises his option.

Rodriguez has long been underrated, is durable, and throws strikes.

In addition to the Rodriguez move, the Pirates are recalling top outfield prospect Starling Marte. It’s doubtful that they’re doing it to showcase him for a trade as other clubs would; the Pirates let their prospects play and it appears as if they’re saying that they’re going to win with their youngsters and a financially sensible plan rather than deal them for veterans, increase the payroll and commit to older players. It’s simplistic to say, “Get ‘X’ veteran star and a young team on the way up will automatically be a contender,” but it doesn’t work that way. The Pirates have turned the corner, in part, because this group was allowed to develop together and there are no star divas in the clubhouse to interfere with manager Clint Hurdle’s discipline. I’d be hesitant to mess with the chemistry by importing a star. Rodriguez is not a star, but he’s pretty good and he’ll benefit from the Pirates vast home park and good defense.

For the Astros, the criticism of Jeff Luhnow sounds similar to the grumpy and idiotic ranting of the crotchety old men who wouldn’t understand OPS if it was mixed in their Metamucil as they scoffed and ridiculed the Astros’ hiring of “non” baseball people Sig Mejdal and Stephanie Wilka to be integral parts of his front office. Luhnow partially invites the eye-rolling with the new age titles such as “Director of Decision Sciences” for his hires and his over-technical manner of speaking as if to say, “These are complicated matters,” when they’re really not all that complicated. But none of that matters once the decisions start being made and the Astros are making the right decisions. Are they supposed to spend money on mediocre veteran players to win 70 games when, by the end of this season and next, it’s going to do more damage to the organization?

They’re moving to the American League West in 2013 to a division with the Rangers, Angels, resurgent Athletics and a Mariners organization flush with young pitching. It makes zero sense to keep or acquire veterans now. As for the suggestion that the Astros are getting middling prospects for their veterans, what were they supposed to get? Their system was barren when Luhnow arrived and he’s stocking it with volume and players he might be able to use. He’s slashing players with high salaries like Rodriguez, Carlos Lee and Brett Myers who aren’t going to be with the team if and when they turn the corner into contention. He’s doing the smart thing.

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Who Wants Oswalt? And What Does Oswalt Want?

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In a stagnant economy Roy Oswalt is being notoriously fussy about accepting a job offer in a location that’s not “perfect” for him.

I’m only half kidding.

Presumably, with the money he’s made in his career (according to Baseball-Reference, it’s somewhere in the vicinity of $91 million) he doesn’t need to continue pitching for financial reasons; obviously he wants to pitch in the right situation.

For him the right situation appears to be either the Rangers, Reds or Cardinals.

The Red Sox have been hot and cold on him and can use him. But Oswalt isn’t the big city guy and wouldn’t want to deal with the aggravation of Boston, the new league and Bobby Valentine.

Philadelphia is probably as “big” a city as Oswalt would agree to and he did so only reluctantly because it was in the National League, the Astros were horrific, it was short-term and the Phillies had a chance to win a World Series or two while he was there.

The Cardinals don’t have the room in their rotation for him and they’d like to trade Jake Westbrook or Kyle Lohse and sign Oswalt, but if that happens it won’t be until mid-late-spring training at the earliest until clubs see what they need and deal with injuries of their own before taking either one of those mediocre pitchers with high salaries.

The Reds can absolutely use him, but are saying they don’t have the space in their budget to pay Oswalt what he wants ($5 million ain’t cutting it) and GM Walt Jocketty thinks Oswalt is waiting out the Rangers.

The Rangers starting rotation is full and they could use—not need, could use—a bat more than Oswalt.

He’d welcome a return to the Astros if the Astros weren’t on track to lose close to 100 games. Apart from nostalgia, what do they want with him?

The Astros’ Director of Decision Sciences Sig Mejdal will direct GM Jeff Luhnow to steer clear of Oswalt; then they can tell Oswalt to decide look for work somewhere else.

But it’s not an exact science.

Oswalt also told the Blue Jays and Indians that he’s not interested in pitching for them. The Blue Jays and Indians are two good teams that have under-the-radar shots at playoff spots.

It generally works out badly when a pitcher goes to a venue he would prefer to avoid because of money or because he needs a job. Teams that are told straight out that a player doesn’t want to play for their club would be well advised to take them at their word and move on.

So where does that leave him?

Right now, it’s either the Red Sox, wait for the Cardinals or sign with the Reds on a lowball contract.

It’s not as if Oswalt is a guarantee of health and performance.

He missed 9 starts last season with a back problem that was threatening to end his career. In August, he returned and pitched well with his normal velocity and durability.

But back problems are dicey.

He can still pitch and the best spot for both Oswalt and the teams supposedly interested is the Reds. Of all the clubs, they have the combination of space in the rotation and the clearer path to the playoffs.

If he’s searching for circumstances that are perfect and won’t take a down the line salary, he’s going to have to wait and see which teams get desperate.

And that won’t be until mid-late-March or perhaps into the season. Oswalt signing with a preferred team in April/May is better than an “oh, okay already” signing like he’s doing someone a favor in Februrary/March just because he wants to get it over with and has no other choice.

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The Astros’ New Name

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The Houston Sabers.

It immediately came to me like a bolt of Force Lightning from my Sith fingertips when I read the following tidbit from the NY Times:

ASTROS CONSIDER NAME CHANGE The new Houston Astros owner, Jim Crane, is considering changing the name of the franchise as well as its uniforms.

Crane said Monday that the team would conduct a study to decide whether to switch the name.

The team was established in 1962 as the Colt .45s and has been called the Astros since 1965, when it was changed to coincide with the move to the Astrodome.

Any changes would not happen until 2013, when Houston moves to the American League.

“We had the Colt .45s, and everybody liked that one,” Crane said. “So you can imagine how upset they were when we switched that. What you get when you look at the fan base is the older we get and I’m old, you don’t like to change. But the younger fans are very receptive to change and the older ones aren’t, so that’s what we saw with the American League.”

If the Astros do change their name, I suggest the new name reflect their organizational philosophy and attach itself to something that’s going to attract the Sabermetrics crowd that’s already lining up to worship at the altar of new GM Jeff Luhnow and his lieutenants, the Director of Decision Sciences (whatever that is) Sig Mejdal and Coordinator of Amateur Scouting Stephanie Wilka.

They even interviewed Keith Law! And, depending on who you believe, supposedly offered him a job. Of course that would mean you believe…Law, since Law was the only one who provided any information on this implied (not said, implied) job offer which he graciously turned down (or was never offered) to remain at ESPN.

Apart from a morbid curiosity of how bad they’re going to be; when manager Brad Mills will be fired; which injury lands Fernando Martinez on the disabled list; or if they somehow find a taker for Carlos Lee, there’s really no reason to watch the Astros.

They have to find a way to get people to pay attention to them.

Presumably, Crane will be smart and use this consideration as an opportunity to garner that attention for his club—a club that’s going to be atrocious for the next two seasons before the switch to the American League—and have fans weigh in on what the new name should be.

Whether the new strategies are going to work is the question and I’m curious to see the answer myself.

But if they’re thinking of a new name, there’s only one that fits into the evolving blueprint: the Houston Sabers.

There’s no other choice.

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Managers/GMs on the 2012 Hotseat

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It’s never too early to talk about who might be in trouble in the front office and dugout.

Let’s take a look.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik was hired in late October of 2008. In retrospect, the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Mariners was the turnaround from 2008-2009 when they went from 61-101 to 85-77.

The 2008 team wasn’t 100-loss bad. They sustained crippling injuries to closer J.J. Putz and would-be ace #2 Erik Bedard and the entire season came apart. By the end of May, they were 15 games under .500 and double-digits out of first place.

When the news came out that Mike Morse had signed a contract extension with the Nationals, the trade Zduriencik made sending Morse to Washington for Ryan Langerhans was referenced on Twitter along with the now-laughable ranking of the Mariners of the sixth best organization in baseball a couple of years ago.

The trending topic is #6org as if it’s the most absurd thing in the world.

But, like the rise from 100-losses to moderate contention in the span of a year, it’s all in the details.

Zduriencik has done many good things as he’s reduced the Mariners’ payroll from $117 million when he took over to around $94 million in 2012. His drafts have yielded Dustin Ackley, Daniel Hultzen and Kyle Seager.

He’s also done some stupid things like signing Chone Figgins and engaged in activities that, at best, are described as amoral such as trading for Josh Lueke, signing Milton Bradley and double-dealing on the Yankees in the Cliff Lee trade negotiations.

It’s not all his fault. Some of what’s happened has been forced on him by the front office (re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. and keeping Ichiro Suzuki). But he got the credit for the 2009 rise, he gets the blame for everything else. That’s how it works.

The Mariners are in a nightmarish division and just pulled off a risky trade sending Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. We won’t know the true end result of this trade for years, but if Pineda pitches well in pinstripes and Montero and Noesi don’t live up to expectations, that could be it for Zduriencik. The “right track” stuff won’t play if the Mariners again lose 90 games and with his contract running through 2013, Zduriencik may be running out of time.

Fredi Gonzalez, Manager—Atlanta Braves

Much to the chagrin of the more dialed-in Braves fans, unless they start the season 10-25, he’s not going anywhere.

He did a poor job last season even before the collapse that drove the Braves from a playoff spot that should’ve been assured. His strategic decisions were occasionally nonsensical and he appeared defensive and borderline arrogant in justifying the way he ran his team.

Do the Braves have an on-staff replacement and if they make a change? Would they be willing to hire an unproven Terry Pendleton? Probably not.

One intriguing option was Terry Francona, but Francona joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and I doubt he’s going to step out of the booth and back on the field in 2012. I’m getting the feeling that he took his interviews with the Cubs and Cardinals right after leaving the Red Sox looking to keep managing and when he didn’t get those jobs, he came to terms with broadcasting as a new career option and will enjoy being around the game without the stifling pressure from managing in Boston for 8 years—pressure that negatively affected his health.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Francona doesn’t return to managing at all for the foreseeable future.

The one name that’s possible with Gonzalez—not likely, but possible if the season is spiraling out of control and needs to be saved—is Bobby Cox.

The veterans would welcome him back and while he’d be reluctant to replace his hand-picked successor, if John Schuerholz and Frank Wren tell Cox that Gonzalez is gone whether he takes the job or not, he’ll take the job. Chipper Jones could go to upper management and says enough’s enough with Gonzalez and try to convince Cox to take over for the rest of the season.

Remember that Cox didn’t want to move from GM to manager in 1990 when Russ Nixon was fired and Cox subsequently stayed until 2010 and wrote his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker, Manager—Cincinnati Reds

Baker and GM Walt Jocketty have never been on the same page. Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and the only thing that saved him from being fired at the conclusion of his last contract in 2010 was that he won the NL Central.

As evidenced by trading a large chunk of their minor league system for Mat Latos and the signings of Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick, the Reds are going for it now and have to win.

There’s no veteran successor on staff and Francona would be an option in Cincinnati if he were looking to get back in the dugout, but he’s not.

One interesting scenario is if Tony LaRussa is bored in retirement and his old cohort from Oakland and St. Louis, Jocketty, comes calling. LaRussa and Baker despise each other and it probably wouldn’t sit well with several of the Reds players, but if they’re not fulfilling their mandate, they’d have no one to blame but themselves and, like the Red Sox with Bobby Valentine, would have to deal with the consequences.

It won’t matter because the Reds are going to play well this year and Baker’s a survivor, but the expiring contract is hovering over the manager and team.

They’d better get off to a good start.

Brad Mills, Manager—Houston Astros

The new front office led by Jeff Luhnow kept Mills, but that may be because it makes no sense to pay a different manager to run a team that’s going to lose 100 games in 2012 regardless of who’s in the manager’s office.

Mills’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Astros mess is not his fault and he seems to be a competent manager, but Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane inherited him and it’s only fair that they hire their own man if that’s what they’d like to do.

One can only hope they don’t hire a new manager and, like Sig Mejdal’s new age title of “Director of Decision Sciences”, they choose to refer to the manager as “Director of On-Field Strategic Interpretations and Implementations”.

Maybe they’ll hire Keith Law to manage the team. I know I’d love to see that as he deals with Brett Myers.

That would be a narrative!

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The Shady Non-Story of Keith Law and the Astros

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How is it possible when any tiny little bit of baseball news on and off the field is reported by multiple outlets that—during a relatively slow time—no one has any details of the job Keith Law was supposedly offered by the Houston Astros?

What you’re telling me is that Jon Heyman, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick and Jayson Stark (both of whom work for ESPN with Law) don’t have any details on this bit of “news”? On a baseball news day in which MLB Trade Rumors was posting stories entitled “Phillies Release John Bowker”; “Cardinals Shopping for Right-Handed Reliever”; “Phillies Interested in Jeremy Accardo”; and “Mets Re-Sign Miguel Batista”, the Law-Astros story received no attention and no digging apart from what Law himself said on Twitter?

Really?

What would be said if Sergio Mitre came out and said that he’d chosen to leave the Yankees rather than be the number two starter behind CC Sabathia?

Or if Grady Little said he’d chosen not to return to manage the Red Sox to replace Terry Francona?

They’d be ridiculed.

But because of his status as a former assistant in the Blue Jays front office who has carved out a snarky niche for himself as something other than a stat guy and is now a TV analyst and scout, his pronouncements are given credibility.

Do they warrant credibility?

It’s circular.

Highly educated at Harvard and other fine institutions of higher learning>>writer for Baseball Prospectus>>former Blue Jays assistant>>ESPN analyst/scouting and draft guru>>interviewing with the Astros.

But is it real?

Should we believe him?

It’s hard to tell.

Weeks ago, it was reported that Law interviewed for several front office positions with the new Astros braintrust led by Jeff Luhnow.

Luhnow proceeded to hire Sig Mejdal as his “Director of Decision Sciences” (whatever that is); and Stephanie Wilka as his Coordinator of Amateur Scouting.

But no Law.

Yesterday Law said the following at about noon Eastern time on his Twitter feed:

I have chosen to stay with ESPN. It was a difficult decision, and I’m very grateful to the Astros for the opportunity.

The opportunity for what is unclear.

Did they offer him a job or not?

The tweet was so opaque and laden with ambiguous phrasing and plausible deniability that it looks like a political cover story to protect Law’s reputation as the ultimate baseball insider; someone who knows his way around front offices, crunches the numbers and travels around doing “scouting”. He has a breadth of experience and knowledge, thereby according him as an “expert” in the media.

But is he?

Where is this story and why doesn’t anyone with inside informers and leaks have the details of the job that Law implies—doesn’t say, but implies—the Astros offered?

The only reporting I can find online ends up back with Law’s pronouncement. Here on Hardball Talk, Aaron Gleeman reports what Law said on Twitter.

No one knows what job he was offered?

Circular.

And back to Law.

Law has me blocked on Twitter. Why? Probably because I call him an armchair expert who regurgitates scouting terminology. I don’t call people names or curse at them; his decision to block me is indicative of a skin far too thin to say the things he does in the tone he says them.

Blocking me on Twitter was, retrospectively, a bad idea. Truth be told, I don’t remember if I ever even followed him (I don’t think I did), so blocking me informs the world at large that he knows who I am. That’s unless he scours Twitter during his off hours and blocks random people. With (at the time of this writing) 364,584 followers, that’s highly unlikely.

Law strikes me as someone who’s very conscious of how he’s perceived and is desperately seeking to maintain and bolster his reputation; but when one is caught in prevarications or twisted facts as he was when he had his somewhat embarrassing slap fight with Michael Lewis over Law’s negative review of the film Moneyball and then backtracks like a trapped waterbug, his agenda reveals itself.

Later, in what was clearly an effort to say, “look, the Astros aren’t done hiring after Mejdal and Wilka”, Law tweeted:

Astros have received permission to interview Cardinals regional cross-checker Mike Elias for a Special Assistant role in scouting

Someone asked if that was the same job Law was offered and he replied:

no, I don’t think it’s the same job.

Here’s what I suspect: the Astros interviewed Law as a courtesy without any intention of hiring him; the story of said interview was leaked (possibly by Law himself); this was either an attempt on the part of Law to extract a better deal from ESPN or to shoehorn his way into a front office job with a GM in Luhnow who believes what Law believes in building an organization; the Astros may or may not have offered him a position, but that position was such that it was either designed for him to turn down because it was so low on the totem pole or didn’t happen at all and they’re letting him kindasorta say they did in a face-saving gesture; and now he’s made a great show of “choosing to stay at ESPN” when he really didn’t have much of an alternative to leave from the beginning.

How is a story that begins and ends with one source—the subject of said story—to be taken at face value?

It can’t.

If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

But through the principles of deduction, what we’ve learned so far and from whom we’ve learned it, I don’t think I am.

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Jeff Luhnow’s Petri Dish and The Sporting News Misogynist

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Apart from getting webhits for saying something stupidly controversial and drawing the ire of, well, everyone, I’m not sure as to the purpose of this Stan McNeal Sporting News piece about new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow filling out his front office with like-minded people who adhere to stats above all else.

Whether Luhnow’s way is going to work or not is a matter of conjecture. It’s a petri dish of statistical thought and implementation that hasn’t truly been tried before.

J.P. Ricciardi took Moneyball to its logical conclusion by mostly following the book’s tenets to the letter and his results were up-and-down; Paul DePodesta used stats and a total disregard for humanity to destroy the Dodgers and was fired after 20 months; the Rays altered the plot and used a load of high draft picks, fearlessness, intelligence in both old and new school techniques to build a team that made the playoffs in three of the past four years without any money and a rotten ballpark, but no one has done what Luhnow is clearly going to do and has had the time to see if it can succeed.

The posting linked is intentionally offensive and I don’t understand why someone who believes differently would attack his opponent like that. But it’s his column and the Sporting News that has to answer for one of their writers posting it; it’ll resolve itself.

As for the Astros hirings, are you now starting to see why Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa viewed Luhnow with jaundiced eyes and were threatened by his presence when he joined the Cardinals? He had the ear of the owner and was coming at baseball decisions from a foreign train of thought diametrically opposed to what they were accustomed to; add in that Jocketty and LaRussa were men with credentials being forced to adhere to a new blueprint and it wasn’t because what they were doing wasn’t working—they’d won doing it their way. Both men could’ve left the Cardinals and would’ve had their choices of jobs immediately.

It’s no wonder the situation got so messy that Jocketty was fired and LaRussa had to resort to sharp-elbowed infighting to get his way.

Is this Luhnow’s fault?

No.

The situation was difficult and the Cardinals fought through the dysfunctional factions and still won.

Now Luhnow’s off on his own and is receiving free rein from the Astros new owner Jim Crane.

“Director of Decision Sciences” is a pompous and ridiculous title for a job anywhere—not just in baseball—but Sig Mejdal fits into what Luhnow wants to create. McNeal calling Stephanie Wilka a “cheerleader” as the lead to her impressive resume and education is idiotic, plain and simple.

If the Astros become a success, the overwhelming probability is that it won’t specifically be because of Luhnow’s stat based theories nor the people he’s hired, but because they’re going to have the number 1 pick in the draft in 2012; they’ll probably have the number 1, 2 or 3 pick in 2013; and are a good bet to be picking that high in 2014 as well.

High draft picks are an equalizer to lots of mistakes as long as Luhnow and his people don’t get too clever.

And they might.

We don’t know.

This is actually a circumstance where I’d dearly love to see draft picks available for trade. What would Luhnow do? Would he pull a Jimmy Johnson NFL move and package the top pick for a series of lower round choices and try to re-stock the organization? Is there a consensus number one pick a la Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in 2012? MLB is missing a golden opportunity to make the draft irresistibly attractive for something other than hype and manufactured stories about players we’ve never heard of and will likely never see in the big leagues.

Luhnow’s ridiculed predecessor as Astros’ GM, Ed Wade, also gave the club a few pieces upon which to build with Brett Wallace, Jonathan Singleton and J.A. Happ. It’s not much for what’s essentially an expansion team, but it’s something.

The problem the Astros and Luhnow have is that everyone is looking for undervalued talent and using the same numbers to find it. How can you find undervalued talent if there’s nothing left to undervalue?

You can’t.

In the coming years, we’re going to see the end result of the stat-based building of a team from scratch by a front office comprised of baseball outsiders crunching numbers. Doing what McNeal did and issuing misogynistic and ignorant proclamations in the guise of “news” and “analysis” is not forwarding the argument for those who, like me, don’t believe that Luhnow’s way is going to work.

McNeal’s not making a case based on anything. He wanted attention and he got it. It’s not a good way to go about getting it and presumably, he’ll pay the price for being a fool. And he’ll deserve it.

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