Monday, June 30, 2008

A Disaster On Paper And In Practice

Since Moneyball enthusiasts are so fond of pointing to stats in their beliefs of constructing a team, here are some stats for the San Diego Padres: Team Record: 32-51; Record according to the Pygmalion Win
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Theorem: 32-51; ranked 15th in the National League in runs; 2nd in strikeouts; 15th in OBP (they're a Moneyball team!); 9th in ERA; 10th in runs and hits allowed.
They were picked by numerous people----credible and not----to go as far as winning the World Series this year and while teams like the Mariners and Mets have been the object of relentless ridicule this year, no one seems to be unloading on the Padres to the degree that their performance warrants. In fact, there are still those----again, credible and not----who are trumpeting the candidacy of Padres assistant Paul DePodesta for a future GM job. It's getting difficult to come up with analogies to exemplify the silliness of even suggesting DePodesta for a top job considering the anecdotal evidence that he has neither the competence nor the right to be up for any job in baseball, let alone one in
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which he's again put in charge of a team.
Manager Bud Black was almost directly responsible for the team blowing their lead in the NL West last season by allowing Jake Peavy to pitch on short rest against the Diamondbacks and hasn't shown the strategic acumen to coax more than what he's gotten from this flawed roster. As well-spoken and respected as Black is in the media, the question has to be asked: given how the team blew a playoff spot last season (similar to the Mets), and that they look like an expansion team this year, how has Black not been fired? The Moneyball ideal of having a manager do the bidding of upper management and take short money for the job also entails the front office's ability to randomly fire the manager when the team isn't performing. In this system, with this
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roster, there's no way to tell whether Black would be an effective manager if he were legitimately put in charge of a team, but the evidence of his work so far indicates that he is more deserving of the ax than Willie Randolph or John Gibbons were in their respective jobs.
GM Kevin Towers isn't absolved of blame here either. It's a convenient excuse for every employee in the Moneyball system to shield blame from themselves when things go horribly wrong by hiding behind the numbers. Towers is functioning under some heavy-handed interference from team president Sandy
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Alderson and payroll constraints, but he's the GM and receives credit for being "smart"; but is this the roster of a "smart" GM or organization? Are the results? The Padres can only hide behind the injury card for so long. The Angels lost their two top starting pitchers and didn't miss a beat; the Red Sox have been without a chunk of their starting rotation and the best clutch hitter since Reggie Jackson in David Ortiz and you don't hear them whining; the Yankees are hanging in there with a bunch of journeymen starting pitchers; the injury excuse can explain away some poor play, but
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32-51 is what it is on paper and on the field.
As for DePodesta, what is it about him that people still insist that he's qualified to be a GM in the big leagues? Is it his Harvard degree? Is he such a charming and nice guy that people want to help him? Is it that they don't want to let go of the Moneyball ideal that the system is "better" than the way other teams go about running their teams when it's being disproved by the day by the repeated failures it's spawned? It reminds me of the democratic political consultant Bob Shrum. He's touted as an "expert" and introduced as a democratic consultant as if the mere designation is supposed to justify his position and imply expertise; but the man has never won one presidential campaign in which he was involved----not one. The list of losers Shrum has been involved with is a vast
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wasteland of democratic hopefuls who were dispatched----Dick Gephardt, Michael Dukakis, Bob Kerrey, Al Gore and John Kerry. One-by-one they lost, all of them. Yet Shrum's writing books about his work and given some form of credibility. Is it because people like him or because he's somehow convinced others with charts, graphs and numbers as to why he's been right all along but was unable to convince the people who matter----voters----of his brilliance?
Karl Rove is sleazy, Machiavellian and repulsive; he looks like the guy in the khaki raincoat who just left the adult bookstore and is skulking away to try and avoid detection, but he has one important attribute to validate his political standing----he wins; and I can guarantee you that he would be just as effective working for the
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democrats as he's been working for the republicans. It's fine to stand on beliefs and principles as people like DePodesta seem to with the Moneyball system, but in the end someone has to be responsible for getting results. Adaptability and getting things done are more important than being liked. After DePodesta's nightmarish tenure with the Dodgers and this train wreck in San Diego, how is he still being promoted for a GM job? It's an honest question for which I'm still waiting for an answer. I don't expect one anytime soon.
The one thing that the Padres are fortunate about is that the fans in San Diego are perfectly willing to move along with such a disastrous team because the weather and laid back atmosphere of the town itself precludes such angry calls for someone's head as would be heard in New York, Philadelphia or Boston. They can go along their merry way with a team that, right now, looks like it could lose 100 games and
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continue to try and convince the public that it's just a matter of a tweak here and there and things will resume as they were in the past few years, but the truth is right there in the numbers and on the field regardless of what they use as rationale for this nightmare. That the fans can easily say, "The Padres are terrible? Well, Chargers training camp is coming soon and until then, we can just go to the beach" is saving them from the rightful indignation that they deserve and that's part of the problem.

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