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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008
- Andy Pettitte's return from a rain delay:
Of course there are differences between the two circumstances; Pettitte is a veteran who should be allowed to have a strong say as to whether or not he's fit to go back out to the mound after a delay; Johnson was a rookie who shouldn't have had any say at all in whether or not he returned to the game. Girardi's been blamed by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria for the injuries incurred by their young pitchers, so it would be natural for him to be reluctant to take the risk of returning a pitcher----any pitcher----to the mound after any kind of delay, but it showed Girardi's fortitude and was a good sign in his managerial future that he didn't let the Johnson incident cloud his decision and sent Pettitte back out there. There's still no evidence that Girardi's handling of Johnson in that one incident precipitated the injury one way or the other, but most managers would have figured it was better to shield themselves from criticism by removing the pitcher. It's a good attribute for a manager to have when he does what he feels is necessary rather than what's safe in the eyes of the media.
- Why do they play the Superman theme song when Fernando Tatis comes to bat?
- Carlos Delgado and Darrell Rasner:
Darrell Rasner received great credit when he arrived from the minor leagues and had a series of solid starts rescuing an injured and beleaguered pitching staff, but he's also shown that he's more of a journeyman than a legitimate starter for a team that has designs on contending for a championship. His fastball is eminently hittable and he occasionally loses command; for a pitcher with such limited stuff, Rasner has to be perfect or hope that the Yankees score a bunch of runs; when that doesn't happen, he's vulnerable.
The Rasner situation reminds me of when Jon Lieber was pitching for the Yankees against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS and had pitched brilliantly in game 2 outdueling Pedro Martinez. All we heard was how Lieber worked fast, pounded the strike zone and challenged the hitters; the accolades lasted until game six when Lieber gave up four runs in 7.1 innings and was outpitched by Curt Schilling as the Red Sox tied the series. With pitchers who don't have dominating stuff, their results depend on many factors including the umpire's strike zone; whether they're able to get their breaking balls over or have enough movement on their fastball to prevent it getting hit into space like Delgado's crushed shot off of Rasner. He's a fifth starter at best and the Yankees need to beef up their pitching if they're even going to make the playoffs because if they don't hit with guys like Ranser on the mound, they don't win.
- Oliver Perez turns another corner, or does he? Or maybe he doesn't; or maybe he does; maybe...maybe not?
The departure of Rick Peterson and his constant harassment of Perez and harping on little details ad nauseam probably helped the pitcher feel less claustrophobic while working, but that doesn't have anything to do with five days from now. More than any other pitcher, Perez is truly a guy who's a variable from one start to the next.
- Jose Reyes throws a tantrum when Carlos Delgado drops his throw:
- The NL is wide open for just about every team:
The Nationals have some interesting young talent (much of it listing toward the juvenile delinquent side), but it's a question as to what GM Jim Bowden's plan is; last season the Nationals succeeded in rejuvenating the careers of Dmitri Young (who had personal and professional issues that made him toxic to most teams), and Ronnie Belliard (who couldn't find a big league job after winning a ring with the Cardinals); but instead of taking the veteran players who were playing solidly for a non-contending team and maximizing their value by trading them to contenders for youngsters, Bowden lavished lucrative extensions on them. Belliard has been awful this year and Young is overweight and injured. This year they have some veterans who have value. They could get something for Cristian Guzman, Aaron Boone, Odalis Perez and Tim Redding; are they going to make the same mistake as they did last season and hold onto players who are unlikely to be around if and when the Nationals are contenders?
As for the rest of the league, even teams like the Reds and Pirates have an excuse to make some intelligent, under-the-radar moves for veteran help (if it doesn't cost that much) to see if they can loiter around the Wild Card race. The only team that looks like a lock to make the playoffs right now is the Cubs; Lou Piniella has them running on all cylinders similar to the way he molded his Mariners teams into well-oiled machines. He's gotten surprising contributions from his veterans like Jim Edmonds and Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood has handled the closing duties as well as can be expected. That being said, the Cubs are certainly not guaranteed to blow through the playoffs to the World Series. Who knows how Wood will react to being on the mound in a game 5 or game 7 of the playoffs; when the whole season is riding on his right arm? The Cubs aren't under any circumstances a guarantee to even get out of the first round of the playoffs, which should be all the more reason for the other NL teams to go for improvements and try to win now.
Every contending team has their needs; even the teams that are playing very poorly and having trouble staying over .500 have reason to make a deal for an impact player. If the Brewers or Braves get a starting pitcher; if the Dodgers or Mets get a power bat; if any of the teams still in contention get one player who provides a spark, they could find themselves in the playoffs; and the absence of a team head-and-shoulders above everyone else makes the National League wide open and ripe for whichever team gets hot at the right time. Two years ago, the Cardinals overcame a woeful final month and proved that the regular season means nothing in the playoffs; there could be a similar situation this year if the right team gets the right guy to light a fire.
- The possible breakup of Mike and the Mad Dog:
I've never been shy to unload on Francesa and Russo when they've deserved it for insipid gaffes or arrogant bluster in the area of sports; and I've certainly never been shy to unload when they've gone over the edge in saying things about other people that are borderline slanderous or simply offensive and disrespectful; I've also given them credit numerous times for good work they've done, specifically in interviews. This may be a situation where the two want to be their own entities; don't need to deal with the tension that is poisoning the relationship and is quite possibly stirring the interesting dynamic between them; and don't want to be aggravated by the quirks of the other anymore; they're both in their 50s with young children and lives away from the studio. Maybe they just don't want to deal with everything anymore.
One thing that both should remember before committing to a breakup is that they'll never be as popular as individuals as they are as a tandem. Their audience will never reach the apex it reaches as they work together and they're not going to have the influence (positive and negative) that they do now. Even with all the ancillary aspects to such a combustible partnership, that power (such as it is) is very difficult to walk away from over some issues that might be able to be ironed out with time and a brief separation.
If I was asked to guess what would happen, I'd say that they're going to look at all the positives and negatives of staying together versus splitting up and wind up continuing with the show. Francesa will be able to handle a solo act far better than Russo especially if the newspaper account of Russo heading to satellite radio is true. Francesa, for all of his pomposity, condescension, arrogance, self-importance and clinging to untenable beliefs, has enough of a viable take on sports and sober (especially compared to his partner) approach to be able to function alone. If Russo thinks he's going to go to satellite radio and approach the audience that he's able to attract now (even when he works alone on Saturdays), then he really is the Biggest Idiot in the World. Howard Stern, giant that he is in the radio industry, was only able to attract a fraction of his audience to satellite radio; people are not going to run out and start paying for radio to listen to Christopher Russo. On his own, he'll get a big contract, as will Francesa; they'll get a lot of money, but that may not satiate the appetites that both have for being the voices of the angry and unhinged sports fan every weekday afternoon in New York City. If they're willing to live with that, then they should by all means go their separate ways; the question is whether the money is more important than their cachet; that's what they have to weigh more than any of the other details of their staying together or splitting up.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
- Mets 15-Yankees 6 (Game 1); Yankees 9-Mets 0 (Game 2):
The Yankees aren't going to be able to function for much longer with the likes of Dan Giese, Ross Ohlendorf, Kei Igawa, Edwar Ramirez and whatever other journeymen they come up with to eat some innings. They can't count on Ian Kennedy to provide a spark and no one seems to know when Phil Hughes is coming back. The Yankees have the prospects to get Roy Oswalt without digging too deeply into their farm system and that may be what they're going to have to do because the Rays don't look like they're going away and what the Yankees are trotting out there now just isn't going to cut it.
Pedro Martinez's velocity and stamina were expected to be the issues when he returned from his injuries, but his velocity has been consistently in the upper-80s to low-90s; Pedro's problem has been his command and that his head occasionally doesn't appear to be on what he's doing. There's no excuse for a pitcher the stature of Pedro Martinez to be walking five guys in 5 2/3 innings; and where was his mind on Johnny Damon's grounder to second in the fifth inning? The pitcher is supposed to automatically bolt to cover first base on any ball hit to the right side of the infield; it looked like Pedro was in his own little world and not paying attention to what he was doing. For a guy who tries to set an example for the other pitchers on the staff, it was a colossal gaffe even though it probably didn't affect the result.
- Cardinals activate Mark Mulder and put him in the bullpen:
- Marlins 3-Diamondbacks 1:
- Rangers 8-Phillies 7:
Friday, June 27, 2008
- I don't want money, and I don't want medals:
I don't want money, and I don't want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that faggoty
There's nothing wrong with saying the words, "I made a mistake", but apparently those that make a living writing and talking about baseball haven't yet made that discovery and if that's one of the prerequisites, I'm relegated to my devoted readers who can see through the crud of the "mainstream" media and are aware that it takes more competence to admit that one is wrong than it does to simply try and erase a mistake hoping no one noticed.
- Shaun Chacon's job prospects:
What I don't understand is how guys like Darryl Strawberry and John Rocker got chance after chance after careers full of controversy and missteps and Chacon's career is said to be over for one incident in an eight-year career that has (as far as we know) been clear of off-field problems. If Chacon apologizes to Wade and Wade accepts the apology, why shouldn't he get another chance with another organization. My one piece of advice for Chacon would be not to ask Wade for a recommendation. (A satirical resolution to this story would be if the Phillies sign Chacon; the not-fully-evolved Phillies fans would probably worship Chacon regardless of how he pitched because the majority of them probably wanted to choke Ed Wade numerous times while he was the Phillies GM and they'd have a player who'd actually done it.)
- Athletics 5-Phillies 0:
- Twins 4-Padres 3; call in the National Guard for the Padres train wreck:
The Giants have that young starting rotation to fall back on; the Dodgers are bursting with talent and have a manager whose teams are known for second half surges; the Diamondbacks are playing badly, but they too are packed with prospects and have too much talent to continue playing like this; the Rockies are fresh off a World Series appearance and many of the young players who carried them there are experiencing a sophomore slump and should level off with some experience; but the Padres?
Other than Jake Peavy (if his arm stays attached to his shoulder) and Adrian Gonzalez, what do they have that bodes well for the future? Chase Headley and Kevin Kouzmanoff could become All Stars, serviceable big leaguers or underachievers; there's no way to know. As for the rest of the roster, they're a bunch of veterans nearing retirement; journeyman who should be bench players and waiver wire pickups; their farm system is said to be barren. Bud Black and Kevin Towers might get the blame for what's happened, but they're not really at fault. If a baseball wanted poster for incompetence is going to be distributed, it should have one face and one name on it: Sandy Alderson. I expected the Padres fall under .500 this year, but no one could have expected them to descend into this, and what this is is an utter train wreck.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
This can't be right----ESPN Story. The Associated Press is reporting that Shawn Chacon has been released by the Astros and if "he isn't claimed by another major league team by Monday, waivers will expire and his contract will be terminated without pay." The Astros have every right (some would argue a duty) to release Chacon after the incident with GM Ed Wade, but I don't think they can just not pay him without a hearing of some kind. He has a contract and while there are morals clauses in every contract, it's really hard to get out from paying a veteran player with a guaranteed contract. No matter what Chacon did, the Players Association isn't going to let this go if it's in fact accurate and I find it hard to believe that it is.
- Shawn Chacon attacks Astros GM Ed Wade:
Whether or not the player was justifiably angry doesn't enter into the equation when attacking their boss. Yes, it's true that certain players are more powerful voices in an organization than upper management; and yes, some players don't think about consequences before they act, but the incidents that come to mind immediately of a player attacking a supposed authority figure have all resulted in that player being jettisoned and actually ending up in a better situation than before.
Lenny Randle beat up Texas Rangers manager Frank Lucchesi after Randle lost his starting second base job to Bump Wills and wound up getting traded to the Mets, where he had an excellent season in 1977 as a starter. Wills had an excellent year as well for the Rangers. Then there's the Latrell Sprewell incident in which he choked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo while with the Golden State Warriors. It's no excuse, but Carlesimo is a notorious screamer who didn't have the history of success to sway the players to the idea that he had any business yelling at them to begin with. (Example: Larry Brown or Pat Riley yelling----okay; P.J. Carlesimo yelling----not okay.) Sprewell attacked and choked Carlesimo during a practice in 1997 and was suspended without pay and Sprewell eventually wound up rejuvenating his career with the New York Knicks. On the one hand, it's impossible to function as a boss when concerned about being attacked if something needs to be said to or done with the employee that he's not necessarily going to like; on the other hand, maybe the boss shouldn't be yelling at his employees to begin with.
If these players had histories to the tune of Elijah Dukes and his long rap sheet of violent offenses, then it would be understandable; but Randle was a bright, well-liked guy; Sprewell, while occasionally difficult with incidents of his own, is well-spoken and intelligent; and Chacon functioned under the no-nonsense Joe Torre with the Yankees without incident. Some guys are short-tempered; others only lose their cool in such a way when they're sufficiently provoked. If Wade behaved as Chacon claims he did, he was out of line before the story turned into an assault. The assault will be the story, but Chacon might be telling the truth.
The Astros can try to do with Chacon what the Warriors tried to do with Sprewell and "fire" him, but they'd probably only be putting him out of work for a brief time because he's a pitcher in an era that is desperately short on pitchers and, to be honest, Chacon hasn't pitched badly at all this season. Someone will take a chance on him if he's let go by the Astros and it's probably just as well for all involved if he's never allowed in the Astros clubhouse again.
- Luis Castillo's contract:
The Mets couldn't sit around and wonder who was going to be playing second base for them while they were still so unsettled at catcher and without a legitimate ace to front the starting rotation. The second base options available----Ruben Gotay, Damion Easley and Jose Valentin from in-house; and David Eckstein and Kaz Matsui from outside----were either unreliable (Gotay, Easley and Valentin); had played for the Mets before and failed (Matsui); or overpriced themselves into small, short-term contracts with other teams (Eckstein). And Castillo hasn't been that bad this year.
If the complaining fans were expecting anything more than a slap hitter who stole bases and got on base at a relatively good clip, they didn't know anything about Castillo to begin with. His defense has been poor and he moves like a 55-year-old man, and he does some things that are annoying like waving the bat in the strike zone on 3-0 counts (I don't think that distracts the pitcher as intended), he's not the root of the Mets problems. Eckstein was the Mets first choice to play second base this season, but he got greedy and had to take a lowball deal from the Blue Jays.
Amid all the speculation about Castillo and the possibility of his injuries placing him on the disabled list, if I were the Mets, I would just keep writing his name in the lineup when he says he's okay to play, and sit him when he says he's not. Other than that, there's little else for them to do. If the Mets don't turn things around, it won't because of anything that Castillo did or didn't do; he is what he is and that's not as bad as it's being portrayed because he's been almost what they rightfully should have expected at this point in his career regardless of what he's being paid.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
- Umpire Brian Runge deserves a fine and suspension:
In the fourth inning of what eventually became a Mariners 11-0 win, Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran respectfully objected to a strike call from home plate umpire Brian Runge. In general, the umpires don't mind if the batter complains while looking anywhere other than directly at him. In reading Beltran's lips, he didn't even cuss; all he said was that the pitch was "down". Runge stepped out from behind the plate, removed his mask and stood in front of Beltran starting a problem where there shouldn't have been one. Beltran kept his composure and manager Jerry Manuel came out to protect his player and was bumped by Runge for what appeared to be no reason. In a moment of completely justified anger, Manuel exploded and was ejected. Beltran soon followed suit and the Mets went on without their manager or number three hitter for the rest of the game. Players get fined and/or suspended for such infractions as bumping the umpire; will Runge be suspended for initiating the contact with Manuel? For standing in front of Beltran like some would-be tough guy in a bar who yaps and yaps and ends up getting his brains beaten in when he goes too far?
And what exactly did Beltran do that was so out of line? Has anyone ever seen Jeff Kent barking at an umpire while he's batting? In what seems to be every at bat, Kent disputes a call while staring down at the plate and unleashing a series of colorfully decorated complaints to the home plate umpire and gets away with it every time; from what I understand, Beltran isn't one to cuss much, if at all; what did he do to warrant such a reaction from an umpire who was obviously looking to assert some invisible code of manhood?
Winters's suspension last year was construed as a betrayal of the umpires by the league office, but it was applauded by those who have seen and been on the other end of an umpire's megalomaniacal power trips for years; is Runge going to be allowed to get away with going out of his way to start the confrontation and then in an unprovoked move, bump the manager who was just trying to protect his player? Beltran and Manuel are going to get fined when Runge is the one who deserves the punishment. The question is whether the league is going to turn a blind eye to one of their "cops", or are they going to send the message that some of these wannabe macho men had better tone it down a bit? At the very least, Runge deserves to be called on the carpet because he's the one at fault.
- White Sox 6-Dodgers 1:
He's no longer turning his hips as prominently, nor is he pausing in mid-delivery as long as he once did and Lowe appears to be rushing his delivery from his leg lift. It used to be that he lifted his leg and pushed his throwing hand and glove together before breaking his hands and firing; now he looks like he's moving too quickly; because of that, he's short-arming the ball by not making as big a circle with his throwing arm to catch up and compensate to get where he's supposed to be. He also looks like he's dropped his arm angle and isn't getting on top of the ball as he did when he was at his sinkerballing best. If these mechanical issues are out of sync, of course Lowe's results aren't going to be what they once were; of course his pitches aren't going to dive down at the hitting zone and will be devoid of pop. What's most disturbing is that it took me such a short time to notice the problems and the Dodgers haven't corrected them already.
These things should neither be hard to spot, nor to correct. If Honeycutt hasn't noticed it, what good is he as a pitching coach; if Torre hasn't noticed it after all those years facing Lowe while he was with the Red Sox and Torre was managing the Yankees, I'd want to know why if I were owner Frank McCourt. Isn't their expertise why they're getting the big bucks?
- Rays 6-Marlins 4:
- An apology from J.P. Ricciardi to Adam Dunn...or not?