SI’s Tom Verducci Grades Free Agents A Month Into The Semester

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Of course one month is more than enough time to determine whether or not a free agent is a bust or a boom. So it goes with Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci Effect” of twisted pitching studies designed to prove the out of context and unprovable) having the audacity in Sports Illustrated to grade players who signed this past winter based on their production over the first month with their new teams.

Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s also out of context.

He talks about expectations with players like Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, and B.J. Upton and that Edwin Jackson has been “horrible” for the Cubs. Then there are references to big signings of the past by teams like the Yankees getting CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season.

Yes, Greinke’s hurt. But his injury wasn’t one in which the Dodgers made a mistake by signing a pitcher who quickly tore an elbow ligament—he got run into by a 6’2” 240 pound truck named Carlos Quentin and broke his collarbone. He gets a grade of “C” because he got hurt?

Then we get to the “expectations.” Because teams either misjudged what they were getting by failing to look at the production of the players such as Upton or airdropped a mentally and physically fragile person like Hamilton into the dysfunction trumping all current MLB dysfunctions with the Angels doesn’t call into question the entire process of free agency. Sabathia is “declining?” Where? Teixeira is hurt and has still hit the ball out of the park and played Gold Glove defense when he’s played. The Yankees signed Burnett and got Burnett. They bought a flawed pitcher, they got a flawed pitcher. This is the most prevalent aspect of free agency: teams don’t accept what they’re getting and think they’ll unlock a player’s talent simply by having him put on their uniform. It’s not the money. It’s the misplaced beliefs.

In general, there’s a reason a player doesn’t live up to expectations when signing a big free agent deal. The Braves purchased a player in Upton who had a slash line of .246/.298/.454 in 2012. In 2011 it was .243/.331/.429. In 2010 it was .237/.322/.424. This is also a player who was repeatedly benched and called out by teammates on the Rays for lack of hustle. What’s wrong with B.J. Upton? Nothing apart from that fact that he’s B.J. Upton.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Upton will start hitting to achieve the numbers he did in the last three years, hit his 18-20 homers, steal a few bases and play good defense in center field. This is what they bought. Now they’re disappointed because he didn’t turn into Rickey Henderson?

Verducci references players as “lemons” like they’re a bunch of used cars because clubs are taking the principle of supply and demand to its logical extreme by paying for a 1998 Honda as if it’s a 2013 Lamborghini. If a club does that, who’s at fault? Is that a “lemon” or a dumb decision on the part of the team that purchased it? The sign says “as is.”

Reading the article, you start to see through the SI scheme of garnering webhits by the linking in the middle of Verducci’s article to a piece “studying” teams over the past decade that “won” the previous winter and how they fared the next season; in the middle of that piece, another linking goes to that bastion of incredibility Joe Sheehan (he of the belief from 2004 that the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in the 2001 draft over Joe Mauer and projected Mauer’s future production to Mike Sweeney’s) looking at the “myth of winning the winter.” It’s only a myth because the media constantly harps on crowning a winner in the winter since they don’t have the imagination to write about anything else in the off-season. As for the judgment of players a month into the season, there are other things to write about. What’s the excuse this time?

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The Yankees Saved Hughes For His Next Team

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If the innings limits and protective strategies had worked at least once, I’d say there’s a basis for having them, but this applies to Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Stephen Strasburg and any other pitcher who’s been held back in the interests of clubs “protecting” their investment: THEY DON’T WORK!!!!

The Yankees placed these rules on all their young pitchers they drafted highly and valued to keep them healthy. Neither Hughes nor Chamberlain stayed healthy and they haven’t been particularly effective either. So what was the point? The false, weak argument will say, “Well, we had no idea about that then; we were following doctors’ advice; we studied the numbers and history; we’d do it again.”

Isn’t the point of drafting and developing pitchers to have them pitch and pitch well for the team that drafted them? Hughes is going to be 27 in June and has a solid won/lost record for his career of 52-36. The record is a byproduct of having pitched for the Yankees for his entire career in an era when they won over 90 games on an annual basis and were loaded with offense and a deep bullpen that doesn’t blow leads. His peripheral numbers are mediocre and the same logic that qualified Ivan Nova’s 16-4 record in 2011 as not entirely accurate also applies to Hughes with the main difference being that the Yankees didn’t use the same strategies on Nova and didn’t think much of Nova, yet he’s been just as good as a pitcher they did tie up, Hughes.

That’s bad for the perception, so it’s ignored.

Yesterday Hughes was diagnosed with another injury, a bulging disk in his neck, said to have occurred during infield practice. It’s not the Yankees’ fault, but it’s an example of the fragility of athletes in general and pitchers in particular when they’re performing the occasionally dangerous and stressful activity of baseball.

What have they gotten with all the developmental rules? With the numbers that they, hopefully, didn’t extrapolate from Tom Verducci? With the constant shifting of roles, shutdowns, break periods, and pitch counts?

Nothing.

This is not to pick on the Yankees. Many teams are doing the same things with similar results, but Hughes’s latest injury makes him a worthy example. Hughes has been a mediocre pitcher who could have been a star had they just left him alone. Like Kennedy, Hughes will have to develop elsewhere and be allowed to pitch the 200 innings that, after six years in the big leagues, he’s yet to do. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and there will be a team that looks at Hughes and says, “We’ll sign him and let him pitch,” and will be rewarded with, at least, more than the Yankees have gotten from him.

Teams are paranoid and afraid to do something different from the current orthodoxy and self-proclaimed experts sitting behind computers, crunching numbers and waiting for an opportunity to critique. The Giants, with an old-school GM Brian Sabean, have built one of the best pitching staffs in baseball—one that’s brought them two World Series titles in three years—and they did it by drafting two high school pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain) and one pitcher who was too small and had such a unique motion and training regimen that teams didn’t want to touch him (Tim Lincecum). What do the Yankees have? Two failed would-be stars and another top prospect who almost won the Cy Young Award for the Diamondbacks two years ago.

The Moneyball concept of not drafting high school pitchers because of the “risk” has thankfully been tossed overboard. The Verducci Effect is in the process of being phased out. (For the record, if my GM said he was using the arbitrary research of a sportswriter to develop and dictate how he used his pitchers, I’d fire him.) Teams are looking at the reality and realizing that maybe young pitchers might be better-served to be allowed to throw innings and incorporate other factors rather than the numbers handed to them by Ivy League graduates armed with an algorithm. Isn’t this is why there are pitching coaches, managers and scouts: to determine a pitcher’s tics, movements and mechanics to decide when he’s tired; when he’s at risk for injury; how he should be deployed?

Pitchers are fragile, but instead of using that fragility as a basis to freeze them for a later date, perhaps the opposite would be a better strategy: let them pitch while they can pitch and move on when they can’t. A team deciding to do that will certainly get better results than the Yankees have with Hughes, who is probably counting the days until he can get out of the Yankees constraints and go to a club that will let him enjoy his prime years as something other than a what might have been. Currently, he’s a failed experiment in building a young pitcher and a case study of those poor decisions creating a pitcher who can be found on the market cheaply to be used and discarded.

Hughes keeps getting hurt; he’s the Yankees’ fourth starter; he’s leaving at the end of the season because the Yankees won’t want him back at the money he’ll ask for and the pitcher would probably like to get a fresh start. With all of these facts, tell me, what was the point of the rules they used as a garrote to strangle his future?

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Pineda to the Bullpen Would be a Disaster

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What reasonable and successful organization would trade their top hitting prospect for a young pitcher of tremendous ability and then consider moving that young pitcher to the bullpen or even the minor leagues in the season after that young pitcher made the All-Star team?

The Yankees of course.

Because of his “lack” of velocity and their glut of starting pitching, Michael Pineda—the prize acquisition who cost them Jesus Montero from the Mariners—is in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation. With the Yankees deciding which pitchers among the foursome of Phil Hughes, Pineda, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will be shifted elsewhere to accommodate Andy Pettitte’s return and the two starters whose jobs are safe, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, they’re again returning to the failed strategies that have derailed so many talented arms.

It’s insanity that could only happen with the Yankees.

Rapidly becoming the place where top pitching prospects go to see their careers die, the Yankees rigid rules, regulations and rampant paranoia have gone past a laughable state of ridiculousness and into the realm of George Steinbrenner-style lunacy.

Ask yourself a question: how many starting pitchers have the Yankees acquired or drafted who’ve been nurtured by and successful for the Yankees themselves?

Hughes?

He’s been mostly good and occasionally injured, but realistically had he been pitching for a team that has a history of homegrown pitchers becoming linchpins in their rotations like the Giants, Rangers, Angels or Rays, would he have come close to reaching his potential by now or would he still be on the bubble between rotation and bullpen; trading block and minors?

Nova?

The Yankees have constantly diminished Nova’s abilities and forever been on the precipice of getting rid of him. Much like the circumstances with Mariano Rivera in 1995 when Buck Showalter famously didn’t believe his eyes with the icy fearlessness that eventually made Rivera into baseball’s cold-blooded assassin, the Yankees have become so immersed in “stuff” and stats that they’re not seeing the determination in Nova that will make him a solid starter…somehwere. Yankees fans should hope it’s not in Scranton.

Who else?

Don’t mention Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and David Wells; and don’t give them a hard time about Carl Pavano.

Pettitte was accorded the room to function and evolve without absurd rules and restraints; but since he arrived in 1995, how many young pitchers have become major contributors to the Yankees?

When trading a young impact bat like Montero, you’d better be sure of what you’re getting back. Pineda is talented and has a power fastball, but the Yankees have done everything possible to make him feel as if the ground beneath his feet is in danger of opening up and swallowing him before the season has started. If they were worried about him; his changeup; his makeup for New York, then why did they trade for him in the first place?

What’s the purpose of whispering about his velocity?

Why put him in the frame of mind where he’s pitching for his job when he’s going to have to adjust to the attention that comes from being 23 and living in the big city while wearing pinstripes?

The Yankees are the team about whom other teams whisper: “Let’s just wait until they get impatient.” Those other teams are watching and sniffing around Hughes, Nova and probably dropping out feelers for Pineda—already—because it’s been consistently proven that the Yankees don’t know how to follow through on creating their own young starting pitchers.

They talk a good game and stoke media buzz and fan expectations, then wonder why the pitchers are unable to live up to that hype.

Ian Kennedy was dispatched and won 20 games for the Diamondbacks; Ted Lilly became an underrated and feisty mid-rotation starter; Jose Contreras helped the White Sox win a World Series; Javier Vazquez could pitch successfully in every uniform apart from a Yankees uniform and they decided they’d bring him back after a nighmarish ending to his first tenure; Chien-Ming Wang was never considered a top prospect either and they treated him as such while he was winning 19 games in two straight seasons.

The template with their young pitching is a disaster and they’ve shown no signs of altering it in the face of the repeated practical failures. Those failures go on and on unabated.

One would think that an intelligent organization would stop, look at what the Giants did with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner; the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley; or the Rangers with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison and tweak—if not outright change—what they do.

But they don’t. They’re clinging to these edicts as if they were decreed from the pitching heavens by Cy Young himself and sermonized by Tom Verducci as the agenda-driven deliverer of the message in written form.

If they make the decision to send Pineda to the bullpen, it’s going to be a disaster; it will haunt him and the Yankees for the entire time he’s is a Yankee and grow exponentially worse if Montero hits.

And please, don’t mention Jose Campos—the 19-year-old wunderkind who no one knew before he was anointed as the “key” to the deal while he’s in A-ball. Judging from their work with the above-listed pitchers, what makes you think he’s going to be any good in a Yankees’ uniform if and when he arrives?

The new blueprint in destroying a young pitcher is underway in the Bronx. They’re not learning from the rickety foundation and decried architects; there’s no regulating agency to shut them down.

Making mistakes is one thing; continually repeating the same mistakes in a hard-headed fashion is absolute arrogance and stupidity.

This construct is going to collapse and they have no one to blame but themselves.

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Stat Guy Strong Arm

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Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and Fangraphs provides this prescription to begin fixing the Mariners woes for 2012.

Here’s the clip from the above link:

Transactions

Trade RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Brandon League, OF Greg Halman, 3B Chone Figgins (with Seattle absorbing $16 of remaining $17 million on Figgins’ contract), and SS Carlos Triunfel to Cincinnati for 1B Joey Votto and C Yasmani Grandal.

Trade 1B Mike Carp to Milwaukee for 3B Casey McGehee and RHP Marco Estrada.

Trade OF Michael Saunders and RHP Dan Cortes to Florida for RHP Chris Volstad.

Trade LHP Cesar Jimenez to New York for OF Angel Pagan.

Sign Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

Sign Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.

That’s only part one; I can’t wait for part two. Maybe there he’ll send Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan to the Yankees for Jesus Montero.

This thinking epitomizes what one William Lamar Beane—aka Billy Beane—said to Tom Verducci in one of the “it’s not Billy’s fault” pieces that came out to defend Beane (in advance of the homage known as Moneyball, THE MOVIE) for putting together a bad Athletics team; a team that Verducci himself picked to win the AL West before the season.

Beane’s argument was that the new breed of GMs have burst into baseball and are doing essentially what Cameron is doing; they’re saying “here’s what we’ll give you and if you’re smart, you’ll take it” in a Luca Brasi (or Frank Wren) sort of way.

Short of kidnapping his family or putting a gun to his head, I don’t know what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik could do to Reds GM Walt Jocketty to get him to accept the above package for Votto.

Though I see Tommy John in his future, Pineda’s very good; League is a guy you can find very cheaply on the market; Halman strikes out too much, doesn’t walk and from his numbers is a bad outfielder; Triunfel hasn’t shown he can hit in the minors; and you can have Chone Figgins and we’ll pay him. For that, you can give us a top catching prospect and one of the best hitters in baseball. We all done? Okay. Good.

The other deals are just as delusional.

What is this obsession with Erik Bedard and the Mariners? Haven’t they had enough?

Moyer? Again? He’s had a wonderful career, but he’s almost 50. Move on.

You want Pagan? He’s yours.

Why the Marlins would take Cortes and Saunders at all, least of all for Volstad, is unclear and unexplained.

Without getting into a long-winded “my way’s better” critique of Cameron’s plan, how about—before anything else—Zduriencik walking into ownership on hands and knees and begging to let him get rid of Ichiro Suzuki? Signing Josh Willingham? Pursuing Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder? Making a major bid for Yu Darvish? Jim Thome? David Ortiz?

Wouldn’t these be preferable options than making a lunatic proposal for Votto that would be rejected?

These deals are typical of the concept that outsiders with a forum and a stat sheet envision as the simplicity as to how deals are made. We call you, you accept and we’re done.

Much like the same people have the audacity to say—in a grudging tribute to Tony LaRussa on the day of his retirement and immediately after he wins a World Series—“I didn’t always agree with his strategies, but…” they have this vision of innate knowledge that doesn’t exist; of what they’d do.

They cling.

They cling to Moneyball being “real”; cling to the likes of Charlie Haeger, R.J. Swindle and Dale Thayer; and cling to a so-called revolution that was self-serving from the start.

It’s fine to print an off-season prescription of a scenario that could only exist in Tolkien, but this is reality; you’re not getting Votto for that package even if you do put a gun to Jocketty’s head and/or kidnap his family.

Jocketty would say, “kill me first”.

And I would say that too.

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Ryan Leads The Way For The Pennant-Winning Rangers

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As affable as he is in interviews, Nolan Ryan is neither subdued nor calm; he’s a relentless competitor who was an ornery and conservative cuss as a pitcher and has transferred that competitiveness to the front office while still putting forth that veneer of someone you’d like to have a beer with…provided you don’t mess with him.

In contrast to the way the Yankees babied their young pitchers to middling/poor results (and presumably will continue to do so with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances), the Rangers pushed their starters to go deeper into games as they did during Ryan’s day. It’s not as extreme as Ryan having thrown 200 pitches in a start, but they’re not automatically removed when they reach an arbitrary number of pitches. And if one happens to get hurt, the coaches can explain to Ryan exactly what happened and why and not worry about being fired to keep up appearances to the general public.

This belief—that pitchers can and should be made to do more than was considered “optimal”—is permeating the organization; the Rangers haven’t had the spate of arm injuries other clubs have had. Any perceived connection would have to be studied in depth, but they’re doing something different because Ryan has allowed them to do something different.

Ryan has the cachet to tell his baseball people to loosen up on the pitch counts; his baseball people are stat savvy and scouting-oriented to find players who are either going to make it in Texas as Rangers or be trade bait. Stats have met old-school. Ryan is in a unique position that Billy Beane—née “genius” in name and creative non-fiction only—isn’t. Ryan can say, “I’ve been here before so don’t try that big league stuff on me”, but can add the addendum that he was actually good at it, unlike Beane. In fact, Ryan was one of the best and most durable pitchers ever.

Ryan’s station as president of the club lays the blame or credit at his desk if it doesn’t work or if one of the pitchers get hurt. Part of the reason teams like the Nationals are so protective of Stephen Strasburg isn’t due to any random, layman silliness like “The Verducci Effect” by that noted pitching expert Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, but because they don’t want to be held responsible if and when an injury does occur due to deviating from the preconceived “norms”.

This is why you’re likely to see Neftali Feliz, currently one of the game’s best closers, shifted into the starting rotation once and for all in 2012 as they sign or trade for a relatively inexpensive and established closer along the lines of Heath Bell or take a chance on Francisco Rodriguez. They’ll do it because they can do it and because it makes sense to have an arm like Feliz starting rather than relieving; and now, after closing in big games, he won’t have the “deer in the headlights” gaze when he runs into trouble in the third inning of a game in June.

Ryan was an innovator with his proper use of mechanics; as one of the first pitchers to integrate weight training into his regimen; and was borderline vicious on the mound. If the man running the team understands what’s being done and will comprehend why an injury occurs, there won’t be any fear of trying something different as if some lower level staffer’s job is on the line.

The Red Sox circumstances are different from the Yankees, but would’ve been handled by Ryan as well. Their pitchers don’t generally suffer arm injuries if they follow the Red Sox prescriptions, but their off-field behavior was tolerated by the club and led to the rampant dysfunction and infighting that are now coming out as part of the collapse that prevented them from making the playoffs.

In the waning years of his career, Ryan himself had a special arrangement with the Rangers that he wouldn’t accompany the club on certain road trips when he wasn’t pitching; this led to friction between manager Bobby Valentine and other old-school veterans like Goose Gossage who chafed at the preferential treatment and said so. Pitchers like Steve Carlton were known to go into the clubhouse and sleep on days they weren’t pitching. Had the Red Sox been doing “man stuff” like messing around with groupies or simply napping, no one would’ve complained; instead, there was a shadow government feel to the starting rotation and a sense they could do things that could be deemed as blatantly disrespectful to the organization and tore at the fabric of clubhouse harmony by drinking beer, playing video games and eating fried chicken.

One would be a “boys will be boys” activity of chasing girls and keeping that within the realm of the man’s world of baseball clubhouses; the other is simply childish and destructive. Ryan would absolutely have put a stop to that nonsense, presumably by removing the video game apparatus and beer from the clubhouse. The disconnect between on-field management and ownership was as responsible for the Red Sox disaster and any individual.

When he was pitching, Ryan was the intimidator who stalked the mound and would throw at anyone for impropriety. (Bunting on Ryan and making him run were ill-advised.) That has incorporated itself into the way he’s run the Rangers.

There’s a continuity with the Rangers because of Ryan and they’re able to withstand such controversies off the field as Josh Hamilton falling off the wagon and drinking before the 2009 season and manager Ron Washington having failed a drug test in 2009. It may or may not be subservient to authority figures to say, “if Nolan says it’s okay, then it’s okay”, but it’s working. They’ve been aggressive in their trades to beef up the bullpen; they built up the farm system and signed players who fit into what they’ve tried to construct rather than the biggest names out there; and they’re doing it with a $92 million payroll.

They’ve won back-to-back pennants and beaten the Yankees and Red Sox at their own game by using techniques and strategies implemented and allowed by the president and CEO of the club (and also a Hall of Fame pitcher), Nolan Ryan.

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Ricketts Should Not Fall For “The Verducci Effect”

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I’m not referring to a writer’s research and guidelines on how to use pitchers.

I’m talking about the hiring of a GM.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is receiving endless streams of suggestions, cajoling and none-too-clever infomercial style second and third hand job applications for GM candidates. The most prominent of which being Billy Beane.

Hopefully—for Cubs fans—Ricketts performs his due diligence, conducts interviews and hires the person he wants to hire and not because a Beane acolyte keeps suggesting it or thinks “Beane to the Cubs” would be a juicy story.

In his latest piece, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote the following regarding Beane and the Cubs:

Beane, once excited about a chance to work with money on the prospect of team moving to San Jose, must understand that Oakland is a dead end job. The club will have posted five straight losing seasons, plays in a football stadium and is no closer to getting an okay to relocate. Beane turns 50 next year, and like great GMs of his era — Pat Gillick, John Schuerholtz, Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, etc. — he needs the challenge of heading another organization for personal growth, if not legacy. Beane is signed through 2014, but owner Lew Wolff will not stand in the way if Beane decides to leave.

“I think it’s something Billy might consider,” said one friend. “I’ll tell you this: if they ever get Billy to come in for an interview, it’s his job. That’s how good he is.”

Personal growth?

Is Verducci referring to Beane’s ridiculous reputation as a genius or his ginormous ego?

These nuggets coming from “friends” and “those close to Beane” are plants because Beane wants out of Oakland; he wants in to the Cubs; and the media and those close to him who may have something invested in Beane being seen as this all-knowing seer of all things baseball are trying to grease the skids and influence Ricketts to make it happen.

Verducci is the same man who wrote a piece in Sports Illustrated weeks ago defending Beane as the Athletics are—again—crumbling around him; he’s also one of the multitudes who picked the A’s to win the AL West this season.

How is it possible to receive credit without the allocation of blame?

So the A’s were good enough to pick to win the division independent of a bad ballpark and indifferent fan base before the season, yet those are two of the reasons the A’s have collapsed to 14 games under .500 and the situation is now a “dead end job”?

The A’s imported 5 “name” players this past winter—Grant Balfour; Hideki Matsui; David DeJesus; Josh Willingham; Brian Fuentes—to join a solid starting starting rotation; they were picked to win…and the team is a disaster.

He fired his manager.

And the team is a disaster.

Beane was supposedly a “genius” because he had no money to work with and somehow found a way to win; now he’s still a “genius” and “that’s how good he is” in spite of annual failures and betrayal of the tenets that crafted his “genius” to begin with?

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t matter how many laudatory and patently ridiculous books are written; it’s irrelevant how much dramatic license is taken in a movie and who’s playing the protagonist; and it’s meaningless how many writers pop up to defend the indefensible with increasingly ludicrous alibis that you’d have to be bottom-line stupid to believe.

Ricketts may choose to hire Beane and Beane might do a good job, but like last season when the likes of Joel Sherman were pushing-pushing-pushing Sandy Alderson on the Mets, it has to be the decision of the man or men in charge that this is who I want running my club.

Writers have an agenda with Beane; understand that before doing what the media and fans want because they’re not the ones who are ultimately responsible for the aftermath.

And Verducci spelled “Schuerholz” wrong too.

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Waiting (Hoping?) For The Breakdown Of Tim Lincecum

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Tim Lincecum got knocked around by the Diamondbacks in the Giants’ 7-2 loss last night.

The Diamondbacks’ broadcasters—I’m not sure who they were, but it wasn’t Daron Sutton and Mark Grace—were discussing Giants V.P. of Player Personnel Dick Tidrow and his suggestion that Lincecum, when he was drafted, go straight from college to the big leagues so his “max effort” innings (1000 was the number) would be used by the big league club and wouldn’t be wasted in the minors—the Giants would get “max” use from his “max” effort.

Needless to say, the Giants didn’t do that.

This was all said while Lincecum was getting pounded for the second straight start after having been brilliant from late June until recently; whether it would’ve been an issue had he struck out 16 and pitched a 2-hit shutout is unknown, but I’d guess the answer is no.

But he hit the magic number of 1000 last night.

“Magic” as in a nice, round number of convenience. Sort of like planning a military operation around the days of the week. It’s a random parameter and an imaginary smoking gun.

There’s a palpable rhetorical chafing among certain members of the Giants organization that they were and are completely left out of the Lincecum world. From the time he was drafted, there was an edict not to mess with his mechanics. And they haven’t. I still wonder what pitching coach Dave Righetti says to Lincecum on his visits to the mound. What is there to say? Coaches and front office people don’t like being marginalized, so they shake their heads and wait for the “I told you so” opportunity as if they want the guy to get hurt so they can be “right”.

Where the number 1000 innings got its start, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I was so dumb I thought that on the day of my 13th birthday, my voice would change as if that magical moment would flip a switch to adulthood.

Not much has changed.

Pigeonholing human beings and their physical limits is ridiculous.

No one mentions the pitchers who weren’t treated like delicate flowers that would shatter in a gentle breeze because it doesn’t “prove” their hypothesis. Greg Maddux; Randy Johnson; Nolan Ryan; Tom Seaver—they did something novel known as pitching. We’re seeing it with Justin Verlander now. Brandon Webb was allowed to pitch; was the best pitcher in baseball for 5 years; won one Cy Young Award; could’ve won two more; and got hurt with his career likely over. Would he have been better off to have been babied? Maybe he would’ve lasted longer, but I can’t see how he could’ve been a better pitcher; but he definitely could’ve been worse.

With the Verducci Effect and other such silliness, the above-mentioned names are considered outliers to the norm. But what’s the norm?

The “norm” that once existed was what was enacted—they were allowed to pitch. This was before the proliferation of laymen doing research and scrutinizing players from the time they’re amateurs; these laymen are creating a culture of paranoia.

Is Lincecum a part of the Seaver/Ryan/Maddux “norm”? Or is he part of today’s “norm”?

Lincecum, in his formative years, was kept in a Todd Marinovich-like cocoon (without the fascist father and the heroin) in his on-field endeavors and had perfect, undeviated mechanics from the time he started to now. How is he even part of this discussion? Because his development was different, he’s different and since he’s not one of “them”, he’s an exception to that which is supposedly documented as fact.

These innings limits and expectations of breakdown make it easier. Easier to explain away in injury. Easier to justify diminished velocity and results. Easy to shift the blame from someone, anyone in the organization and chalk it up to an arbitrary number of innings and pitches. It’s like someone having a heart attack—you don’t know why it happened and there’s no one to blame if there’s not a direct cause.

Just let the man pitch without the retrospectives, comparisons and groundwork to say, “it’s not my fault”. Please.

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Stop Enabling Billy Beane

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Just stop it.

It’s enough already.

The latest set of alibis for Billy Beane and Moneyball comes from Tyler Kepner in today’s NY Times and—in the greatest insult to our collective baseball intelligence yet—they’e being utilized in the same way to excuse his mediocrity as they were to build the foundation for his myth of genius.

He didn’t have any money and had to figure out a different way to compete; he doesn’t have any money now so that’s why he’s losing.

He was in a small, relatively unappealing market where players wouldn’t go unless they had no other choice; he can’t get players to come to Oakland.

He didn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities; he doesn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities.

There were stupid people in baseball; the stupid people have suddenly gotten smart and are using his innovations.

What’s next? Mediocre reviews of the film or a lack of connectivity between book and movie are turning players away from joining a club that partakes in such dramatic license in the interests of propping up a story? The old ballplayer line of rejecting a job based on cinematic liberties?

Why is there this investment from the media in trying to salvage what’s left of the farce that was the appellation of “genius” on the part of Beane?

Beane’s justifications are taking on the ludicrous nature the type you’d hear from a bust on To Catch a Predator.

“I just came to talk to her.”

“I wanted to explain that she shouldn’t be meeting men on the internet.”

“She needs to do well in school, study hard and get into a good college.”

It’s not believable; in fact, it’s nonsense.

This isn’t to imply the issues of revenue, venue and increased knowledge from his counterparts aren’t hindering Beane’s efforts to maintain a competitive team—of course they are—but you can’t use the same arguments to create the illusion of brilliance as you do when explaining away mistakes. It doesn’t work that way.

The biggest irony is the “kinder, gentler Billy” persona that Beane—quite the actor himself—is putting forth.

It’s laughable that the same character who ranted, raved, cussed, broke things and bullied subordinates is now a cerebral, down-to-earth, somewhat resigned caricature who’s using those ridiculed excuses from above as a protective cloak to shield himself from all criticism; what makes it worse it how he’s being willfully assisted by the sycophants in the media and his remaining apologists whose agenda is clearly in line with their so-called “stat revolution” that was supposed to turn every Major League Baseball front office into something resembling a combination Star Trek convention and Ivy League school reunion.

I’ll bet that the “Billy Beane” in the film, played by the likable Brad Pitt, won’t be smashing any chairs on-screen. The Beane in the book is not likable at all. The character in the book was tearing into conventional baseball wisdom and running roughshod over the old-school scouts and antiquated thinkers who were invested in their own version of running a team; the movie person will be more palatable to the mainstream audience it’s seeking to attract.

Is the objective reality that so often referenced as to why Beane did what he did?

Beane was supposedly too smart and too much of an analyst to make it as a player, so he transferred his self-destructive intensity into the front office and turned it into a positive while simultaneously flipping the world of baseball upside down; but now he’s finding the same varied list of whys to maintain the veneer that his terrible team is not his fault.

Whose fault is it?

Beane had his chance to go to a big market club when he agreed to take over as GM of the Red Sox and backed out.

I’ve repeatedly stated how much of a disaster that would’ve been as his plans included trading Jason Varitek and signing someone named Mark Johnson to replace him; moving Manny Ramirez to permanent DH, precluding the signing of David Ortiz; signing Edgardo Alfonzo who was near the end of the line; and sending Kevin Youkilis to the Athletics as compensation for Beane joining the Red Sox.

Luckily for the Red Sox, Beane walked away from the deal and chose to stay in Oakand. Michael Lewis’s story was that Beane finally had a monetary value placed on his work with the Red Sox offer—documented evidence of what he could get were he to auction his stud services to the highest bidder. That was enough for him and he returned to the A’s. Family considerations played a part in Beane’s decision to remain with the A’s, but there were other, unsaid factors.

Isn’t it easier to stay somewhere where the expectations are muted and you’re treated as a demagogue? Where you’re about to be given a portion of a billion dollar business all as a result of this concept of being a genius? Where there are always ways to stickhandle around any missteps with the financial/ballpark/venue/competitive problems? Of existing in a vacuum?

If I hired a “genius”, I’d expect the miraculous. I’d expect him to figure it out regardless of what obstacles stand in his way.

Beane isn’t, nor was he ever, a genius. He filled a gap and exposed a market that was rife for exploitation. Once everyone else figured out what he was doing and started using the same techniques he did, he was right back where he started from. Genius is innovation and in that sense, there was a shred of “genius” in what Beane did; but he’s no innovator in that he created something new. He found a weapon and used it like some megalomaniacal James Bond villain.

He’s been able to gloss over repeated rebuilding projects where he traded away the likes of Nick Swisher, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for returns that have been weak or abject failures. He’s dispatched managers for shady reasons—but if the managers don’t get credit for the wins, nor should they be saddled with the losses. His “card-counting in the casino” approach to the draft was the stupidest thing in the book and has been proven to be an utter absurdity with continually terrible drafts. His pitchers have gotten injured over and over; wouldn’t a “genius” find a series of preventative measures to keep his players healthy apart from referring to the idiotic Verducci Effect—which Beane says he does?

How long is this going to last?

Is it going to last until the movie is in and out of theaters when the bloom is off a rose that’s existed far too long and has been protected from reality in the interests of selfish motivations? Will others join me in stating the obvious? Will Beane finally be seen for what he is?

Or will there still be pockets of protest trying to refurbish the crumbling facade of Moneyball?

Moneyball lives, but in a different form; it’s a shape-shifter; a chameleon bent on survival at whatever cost.

I tend to think, as the A’s stumble to a 90 loss season, there will be other voices saying the same thing I do.

But I said it first.

Beane’s corporate terminology and sudden reliance on the reviled “subjectivity” to protect his legacy and fairy tale status has failed in theory and practice.

No one’s buying it anymore.

They’re just waiting until after the film to admit it.

And that only makes the subterfuge and self-indulgence worse and those documenting it less and less credible.

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Billy Beane Is Not Ready For His Closeup

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Tom Verducci took great care to rub Billy Beane‘s ego just the right way in the latest piece to justify Beane’s supposed “genius”—a genius that exists only in the realm of the absurd called Moneyball, coming soon to a theater near you.

More built-in excuses permeate the Sports Illustrated article.

Other baseball front offices are using Beane’s innovations, improving and streamlining them and are backed up by big money; the absence of  luxury boxes at the Oakland Coliseum hinders their ability to take advantage of the lucrative ballpark revenue; and limited payroll due to a cheap owner—which was the impetus for him finding other ways to compete at the start—all provide protection for Beane amid the fact that the Athletics were a very trendy selection for the playoffs this season but have again disappointed to the level of embarrassment.

They were picked in 2009 as well.

They were good enough to pick before 2009 and 2011 and when things didn’t go the way they were expected, the “reasons” popped up.

Was the Athletics fetish a byproduct of convenience to the narrative of Moneyball because the movie was on the way? Or did the prognosticators think that this year was when the A’s would turn the corner?

I don’t know.

All I know is that it hasn’t worked.

You can’t say the A’s are going to be good based on Beane’s decisions and then find a multitude of reasons why they’re not good to defend him. It doesn’t work that way.

In 2009, the big trade for Matt Holliday and signings of Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera didn’t yield the veteran presence to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday was traded at mid-season to the Cardinals in the annual Athletics housecleaning and the Cardinals made the playoffs; Giambi was released and wound up with the playoff-bound Rockies; Cabrera was traded to the Twins where he helped them make the playoffs.

At least Beane’s signings helped someone make the playoffs.

Are the Beane cheerleaders going to twist facts into a pretzel to somehow credit him for those playoff berths for the teams that wound up with his refuse?

In 2010, the A’s young pitching took a step forward and they wound up at…81-81.

This, of course, spurred another bout of off-season aggression as they traded for Josh Willingham and David DeJesus and signed Hideki Matsui, Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to supplement the young pitching staff (again) and step up in weight class to battle with the perennials of the AL West, the Angels and the surging Rangers.

What we see now is a team that sits at (54-68) and is falling fast.

I may have given them too much credit in recent weeks when I’ve said that it’s going to be ludicrous for the film Moneyball to open while the A’s are in the midst of a 74-88 season.

They’ll be lucky to finish at 74-88.

Beane fired his “best friend”, manager Bob Geren, not because Geren was a mediocre manager who had lost the clubhouse.

No.

He fired him and blamed the media for taking the focus off the field and making the manager a story that wasn’t going to disappear until it was addressed.

The A’s hired Bob Melvin to replace Geren and Melvin is talking about what he wants for 2012.

Um, so now Beane’s manager has a say in what’s going on? Where’s the middle-managing ideal of a marionette dancing on the strings of the genius in the front office, doing what he was told and liking it? The same storyline and club that diminished one of the best managers in history, Tony LaRussa, to nothing more than a hindrance to that idiotic organizational ideal is going to let a respectable journeyman manager—in the Art Howe tradition—like Melvin have any say whatsoever in team construction? Really?

They also recently hired Phil Garner to work as a special adviser to manager Melvin.

If anyone remembers how Phil Garner managed, he was the epitome of the man who worked from his “gut”—that means “I don’t wanna hear nothin’ about no numbers”.

What’s he going to do over there? I thought Beane was the titular and all-powerful head of the organization who made every…single…decision based on objective analysis?

What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: they’re desperate; they’re a laughingstock; and they don’t know where to go or what to do next to save their one asset whose end is nearly at hand—Billy Beane.

He’s what they had.

He was their beacon; the one selling point.

Now as the team is atrocious and the movie is hurtling for the remains of his reputation like an out of control train, they know the questions will be asked after-the-fact: if he’s a genius, why’s the team so terrible?

The book and movie are for the masses who aren’t interested in the backstory and reality of what Michael Lewis was doing. The majority won’t know or care that the book is a farce and the movie is a very loose interpretation of that book—“loose” in this instance meaning unrecognizable.

But the knives are out for Beane.

Many people in baseball who were steamrolled by that same train are watching with breathless anticipation for Beane to get his comeuppance.

And it’s coming.

So what now?

As 20/20 hindsight and reality has shown us the flapdoodle (I looked up a synonym for “ridiculousness” and “flapdoodle” jumped out at me) that is Moneyball, how can any mainstream writer like Verducci have the audacity to still try and defend whatever tatters are left of Beane’s reputation?

His team is a joke.

He’s a joke.

The movie’s going to be a joke.

That’s your objective reality, folks.

Flapdoodle.

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That’s Not Moneyball, It’s MacBeth

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What’s worse than a bully?

A bully who’s tough and loud and out-front when he’s on top, but starts whining and complaining when his victims rebel and retaliate?

The bully—beaten, impotent and powerless—cries and complains that the system has been tilted to render him inert.

What happened to the character “Billy Beane” from the book (and upcoming movie) Moneyball? Why is he suddenly lamenting the days of years ago when he was considered a “genius”? Shouldn’t a true genius be able to adapt to changing times and maintain that veneer of brilliance regardless of obstacles in his path?

A psychiatrist could have a field day with Beane as he endures the embarrassment of a terrible team in advance of a movie from a book that made him into a character that didn’t and couldn’t exist.

More than any legitimate sequence of events apart from having taken advantage of an opportunity, Beane is left with this. This being the Sports Illustrated story by Tom Verducci (he of the Verducci Rules in which he dictated to big league organizations how they should use their pitchers—thanks) finding more excuses as to why Beane has become a case study in pompous arrogance and self-importance getting its just reward and comeuppance for perceived infallibility based on a crafted narrative.

Did Beane really believe the press clippings? Did absolute power corrupt absolutely? Or did the same things that caused him to fail as a player—despite all the hype surrounding his prodigious talent—cause his downfall as an executive?

He couldn’t deal with failure as a player; he apparently can’t deal with failure as an executive.

And he has failed.

You can pick apart the bottle-capping, self-image preserving snippets from the Verducci article:

“Is it a more challenging environment? Absolutely,” Beane said. “Ten years ago teams didn’t value young players, other than as chips or assets to get the players they needed.”

***

This year Beane found too many phone calls that came his way that sounded like this: “I have interest in one of your players and this is what I’m going to give you for him.”

“That’s not deal-making,” Beane said.

***

“We had seven years. Tampa Bay — and they are very, very smart — has made it to the playoffs two out of the past three years, and may not make it this year, and then what? To have any kind of window will take building a team organically, having to have something like 80 percent of your roster [homegrown]. That is extremely hard.

I can go through these statements and tear them apart easily. If you look at the foundation of the Yankees and Braves teams from the 1990s, the majority was homegrown and buttressed by smart trades and free agent signings.

The deal-making process may have changed, but Beane’s complaints appear to stem from things not going his way rather than the way they’re done now.

And the Rays are contending and stockpiling draft picks. With their intelligence and ability to make the most out of what they have, they’ll remain competitive even without a new ballpark with the corresponding revenue.

Beane kept the A’s contenders briefly, but could not maintain because he was exposed for what he is and isn’t. Oh, and the A’s need a new ballpark. That’ll fix all the issues of Beane’s gaffes in drafting, trading and free agent signings. That’s it.

Are you still buying this?

Here’s the objective truth: he is an opportunist whose time is coming to an end.

He’s not a genius no matter who tries to continue promulgating that lie because it serves as a foundation for what they believe and want you to believe.

During the spellbound afterglow of the revolution reaching its apex, it was conveniently forgotten that those who join in on any kind of a movement at the last second will leap from the hurtling train when it goes off the rails; all that’s left are the sycophants and true believers whose self-interests dovetail with the protagonist and the mythmaker.

Beane’s running low on allies; after the movie and this disastrous season (the witches tell me to expect 75-87), he’ll be increasingly isolated.

Like MacBeth.

The false king is sobbing and indulging in self-pity.

I have no pity and I’m sure a great many people in baseball who either lost their jobs or were steamrolled by the Moneyball bandwagon feel the same as I do.

He asked for it and he got it.

The good and the bad.

Don’t cry about it now.

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