Kansas City Royals: Early Season Notes

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Because it’s unquantifiable on their spreadsheets many stat people ridicule the concept of “veteran presence.” The most prominent player whose intangibles are scoffed at is Michael Young. Young has been a very good hitter for his career and a leader in the clubhouse. Why that’s something to try to use as weapon to hammer him with is hard to understand. Much of it, I believe, is due to the likes of Keith Law and his combination of arrogance and obnoxiousness regarding the concept followed by the gang mentality of others who, in trying to garner favor from Law (for inexplicable reasons), provide the sycophantic, “HAHA!!! Veteran presence?!? Absurd!!” as if they have any clue about what it entails in the first place. I’d venture to guess that the majority of these people never participated in team sports and haven’t the faintest idea of how important it is to have leaders in the clubhouse and people who know the terrain of crafting a winner. It’s not simply about having good players. It’s about having people who’ve been there before and can be trusted not to panic regardless of the circumstances.

It was the same Law-style, self-proclaimed “experts” who, last December, abused Royals GM Dayton Moore for trading a large package of youngsters including top outfield prospect Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. The trade was seen as a panic move on the part of Moore in an attempt to have short-term, on-field gain in order to save his job. The opposite argument asks how many years they were supposed to try and rebuild before taking a gamble to move up. They needed pitching and, yes, veteran presence to facilitate taking the next step. Shields was a key part of a Rays team that made a similar rise with homegrown prospects. That franchise was the object of an endless stream of jokes because of their consistent ineptitude. It’s not simply that Shields is standing in the middle of the clubhouse saying, “I’m the leader,” but that he shows it on the field with innings, complete games, and gutting his way through when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

Most young players need a “this is how you do it” guy to teach them. The vast majority of the Royals’ roster is a group of youngsters who’ve never been part of a big league winner. The 2008 Rays’ leap into contention was, in part, brought about by the young players they’d drafted during their years of being atrocious and some savvy trades, but another significant part was due to their acquisitions of veterans Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, and Jason Bartlett who’d won before and knew how winning clubhouses functioned.

The Royals are currently 10-7 and are teetering like a child learning to walk. They’ve accomplished that record with good starting pitching; a bullpen that has the potential to be devastating; and are leading the American League in runs scored in spite of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer being off to slow starts.

The Royals were roundly savaged when they traded Myers; they were waved away when they posted a 25-7 record in spring training; and since most of their analysis isn’t based on being accurate, but accruing the perception of having been accurate no matter the amount of twisting required to do it, the “experts” are quietly hoping that the acquisitions of Shields and Davis along with the re-signing of Jeremy Guthrie fail so they’ll have been “right.” If they have the tiniest flicker of baseball intelligence, they’re seeing the reality of the 2013 Royals: they’re very dangerous and have shown the resilient signs and growing confidence of something special happening in Kansas City for the first time in almost 30 years.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. It’s useful all season long. Check it out and read a sample.

2013 Book Cover 3

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“Because They Did It” Is Not A Viable Argument

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Baseball analysis has become a newest latest endeavor. Whatever is “working” is seen as the new strategy and this should be copied, in a circular fashion, because it “worked”.

Joel Sherman, whose obsession with the Mets is bordering on restraining order status, says in today’s NY Post column that the Mets should trade David Wright, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese. Sherman, in typical outsider “what I’d do” tone, says he’d make all three moves for prospects or lateral pieces.

What I’d do. It’s an oft-used phrase that denotes a nonexistent fearlessness that, in the trenches, would be real in a small percentage of those who say it.

You know what he and Keith Law and any of these other so-called media experts would do if they were in a position of authority to run a franchise? They’d get swallowed up and be ridiculed and dismissed from the position within a year, if that. It’s so simple and easy to run a franchise and take potshots when there’s no responsibility for the results. Running a club isn’t about being a wheeler-dealer and making trades, holding press conferences, and being interviewed on TV and radio. It’s a lot of drudgery. It’s answering to bosses like owners and team presidents.

The Red Sox are a case study for a display of how that goes for a baseball guy who climbed his way up through the bowels of a franchise as Ben Cherington did and found himself cleaning up a mess with an inveterate meddler in Larry Lucchino hovering over his shoulder at every turn. The Red Sox are a classic example of how quickly images can turn. If, in the winter of 2011, you went to any player, coach, manager, prospective manager, or front office candidate and asked them if they’d love to be a member of the Red Sox, to a person they’d say absolutely. Now with that the atmosphere so toxic and in rampant disarray, who wants to go there and deal with it? That happens to every franchise and it’s based on success, failure and the perceptions of everything in between.

The GM job is not about making earth-shattering trades and getting the players he wants on his path to world domination, lucrative speaking gigs, and best-selling books as to his managing style. The GM has to deal with season ticket holders. He has to sell. He has to provide a plan that lives in the parameters of what’s set by the people he answers to. Not one has full autonomy to do whatever he wants. He doesn’t own it, therefore he doesn’t have that option to do whatever he feels like doing.

In Sherman’s piece, there’s no actual alternative provided if the Mets trade Wright, Dickey and Niese. What are they getting back? How can they sell this to the fans who are still willing to shell out money to go to games? Will anyone go to games if Wright, Dickey, and Niese are gone for prospects that will someday be ready?

It’s a random suggestion that teams do what other teams have done like it’s a mathematical problem that would be solved by copying the formula. Years ago, it was the Moneyball theory; then it became old-school stats; then it became spending money; then it became the Rays’ way; then it became the “luck” argument.

Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson can’t trade Wright or Dickey and he knows it. Presumably, so does Sherman. But that doesn’t prevent this trash from still popping up as if it has credence.

Anyone can find any historical context to provide foundation for a plan that they’re not in power to enact. Because the Athletics traded away their veteran players for youngsters and it worked, that’s become the new basis to call Billy Beane a genius while ignoring that his supposed brilliance was a story of creative non-fiction that spun out of control. Where was the “genius” when the A’s were awful for half a decade in spite of several reboots and attempts to try different strategies, none of which worked? It just happens to be working this year. That doesn’t mean that if the Mets trade any of the above players, they’re going to yield similar results.

The Orioles are called lucky. Were the Rays lucky when they got 13 homers after acquiring journeyman Gabe Gross in 2008? Were they stupid when they gave—and wasted—$16 million on Pat Burrell? When they spent $8 million on Troy Percival?

The new managerial template has clubs hiring men who’ve never managed anywhere. Robin Ventura with the White Sox and Mike Matheny with the Cardinals have their teams contending and that has given validity to this idea. But it’s ignored that Ventura was a calm, cool presence who has clubhouse bona fides as a former All Star player and is the polar opposite of the tiresome act of the man he replaced, Ozzie Guillen. Matheny walked into a ready-made situation with a team that won the World Series the year before and had stars at key positions, with a good starting rotation, and powerful lineup. The “no experience necessary” sign when hiring a manager will last as long as it seems to be working. Once a team hires someone without experience and he presides over a disaster, it too will change.

Law contradicted himself in the middle of a self-indulgent rant against Ron Washington using Michael Young to play shortstop last night. First it was such a horrific mistake that the Rangers were playing Young at shortstop that he went on and on about it, then he tweeted that the Cardinals “big win” over the Nationals meant one game in the standings implying that it had no bearing on the past or future. Which is it?

I have no idea why Washington played Young at shortstop, but it wasn’t the reason the Rangers lost the game. It was used to go on a tangent that I’m willing to bet Law had planned and was waiting for an opportunity to use. Law indulges in these snark-filled, condescending tantrums on Twitter that appear designed to compensate for some inadequacy. It’s like he’s trying to prove something. Washington couldn’t go to the high-end schools that Law did and make it through; on the same token, Law couldn’t play in the big leagues, nor could he run a club on the field.

If you put Law in a position where he was running a club on the field, the players would ignore and mock him. The Rangers’ players play hard for Washington and, judging from the smuggled audiotape from before game 7 of the World Series last season, Washington’s ability to do “player speak” is far more important to that franchise than hiring someone who’s going to adhere to every statistical quirk and possibly lose the clubhouse—and games—in the process.

If Law tried to talk to players in this fashion, it would be similar to the suburban white kid writing gangsta rap framing them as his experiences that spurred the lyrics rather than mimicking what he’s heard from the outside. It’s not real.

Sherman and his ilk can go on and on about phantom stuff they’ve “heard” from “executives”; they can state with unequivocal certainty of what they’d do if they were in a position of power, but it’s as if Sherman put out a cover album of Public Enemy with the undertone that he’d lived that life.

It’s a farce. It’s a joke. And it’s self-evidently transparent if you’re willing to put your own biases to the side and look at it objectively, something Sherman, Law and the majority of the mainstream media are unable or unwilling to do.

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Your Idiot Rumor/Stupid Idea Of The Day 7.24.2011

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It was a close call. The near winner was the rumor that the White Sox and Cardinals were discussing a trade that would sent White Sox pitchers Edwin Jackson (a pending free agent) and reliever Matt Thornton to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus.

Supposedly the White Sox were also going to send young players to the Cardinals or a third team was going to be recruited to help facilitate matters.

Do the White Sox even have any worthwhile young players past Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale and Dayan Viciedo? And why would the Cardinals want to rent Jackson and take Thornton, who was a total disaster as the White Sox closer for Rasmus, who’s taken up residence in Tony LaRussa‘s entrance only doghouse?

Rasmus is 25 and under team control for the next 3 years. If they’re going to trade him, they’d better get a substantial amount more than Jackson and Thornton and don’t do it in a fit of pique for a manager like LaRussa who’s going year-to-year and is notoriously prickly with anyone—especially a young player—who dares rub him the wrong way.

It’s lunacy.

But there was another rumor that was even more deranged.

The worst of the worst is reserved for the Nick Cafardo weekly piece summed up here on MLBTradeRumors.

Here’s the relevant bit:

Some Nationals people believe a change of scenery would greatly benefit B.J. Upton, and are considering “offering the moon” for him.

The “moon”? For B.J. Upton?

The same Nationals organization that thought they were going to straighten out Lastings Milledge, Scott Olsen and Elijah Dukes is going to somehow get through to Upton?

Have they learned from their mistakes in the attempted nurturing and maturing of the aforementioned problem children and the failures? Do they have a new strategy that the Rays haven’t tried?

The Rays have benched, yelled at, physically challenged and fined Upton. They’ve had leaders like Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen, Gabe Kapler and Evan Longoria in their clubhouse and not one has gotten through to Upton. Joe Maddon is probably the easiest manager any player is ever going to play for while according him a modicum of respect. Short of sticking him in a room alone with Kyle Farnsworth and telling Farnsworth to do whatever he has to do short of killing Upton to get him in line, I don’t know what else they can do.

So what gives the Nats the idea that they’re going to unlock the secret to Upton’s massive talent? Who came up with this concept and why would they surrender the “moon” to get him? Is this the same line of thought that spurred them to give Jayson Werth $126 million? Because if it is, maybe they should do the exact opposite of what they think is a good move now.

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