Thursday, October 22, 2009

Torre's Big Blunder

  • The Phillies overwhelm the Dodgers:

Would things have been different had the Dodgers won game 1?

It's a classic second guess of Dodgers manager Joe Torre to question his decision to start 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw in the opening game. There are arguments on both sides of the equation.

On the positive side, Kershaw has wicked stuff; his numbers this season (aside from his won-lost record) were fantastic; and he seems to have the personality to handle such a pressure-packed assignment.

On the negative side, he's 21; he's very inexperienced; and the Dodgers had a multitude of veteran options to use in his stead.

Torre has been managing for a very, very, very long time, and while his strategy has always been slightly above average to good, his main strength is psychologically understanding his players. An intelligent, astute and empathetic man, Torre more than any other manager in baseball understands the mentality of each and every one of his players from the stars (Torre was one himself) to the journeymen hoping to hang on and wring every last ounce out of big league life (see Mientkiewicz, Doug). Obviously, he accounted for every aspect the decision to start Kershaw entailed, but in the end it turned out to be a gaffe.

A game 1 start was far too much to lay on the shoulders of such a young pitcher. Trusting him as the tone-setter looked smart as Kershaw rolled through the first four innings before one falling domino led to another as walks, wild pitches and a homer tore the wheels off. That more than anything else----the Phillies power; their bullpen coming through----set this series up for how it evolved. (Of course, we might not be talking about this had Jonathan Broxton gotten one more out in game 4, but such is the nature of the playoffs.)

If it were me----and I should've said this beforehand----I would've started one of my veterans. It takes a special type of young pitcher who's got the breadth of experience and results to warrant a game 1 start. I'm talking about Dwight Gooden, who at Kershaw's age already had a Rookie of the Year award, a Cy Young Award and had posted one of the most dominating seasons (1985) of a pitcher in the history of baseball at any age; I'm talking Gary Nolan, who was so cocksure of himself that he responded to the statement on reaching the big leagues, "wait 'til you see Tom Seaver pitch" with "wait 'til Tom Seaver sees me pitch." I'm talking Steve Avery, who early in his career, attacked hitters like they'd keyed his car and kicked his dog.

As great as Kershaw promises to be----he'll contend for the Cy Young Award as early as next year----he wasn't ready for that prime assignment. It was a mistake by Torre in an area of the game where he's usually impeccable, judging the mental makeup of his players. It could very well have cost his club a trip to the World Series.

  • Yes, I picked Dodgers in 6 and I was wrong:

This series came down to the Phillies offensive relentlessness, that their bullpen got the big outs when it counted and the Dodgers bullpen didn't. If you combine the Phillies regular set of bashers with the players like Carlos Ruiz who rise to the occasion in the playoffs, and they're hard to stop. Even when they get shaky pitching performances, they're never out of a game because they don't quit and have that devastating power from the lineup, top-to-bottom.

On another note, despite my having been wrong about the NLCS; and even though depending on whom you talk to I inspire two emotions, love and hate and will get a variety of opinions regarding things I've said and done (I have no regrets), there's one thing that can be said about me from now to the end of time. It's the following:

At least I never slept with Lumbergh.

  • Steve Phillips----the Bill Lumbergh of the baseball world:

Without sounding condescending, for those of you unfamiliar with the famous Bill Lumbergh, I suggest you rent the film Office Space of click here to learn all you want (or don't want) to know about Lumbergh.

And I thought I was self-destructive.

I'm not getting into the gossipy stuff; nor the abuse being heaped on this clearly unstable young woman who has far bigger issues than this current controversy to deal with----no, my question to Steve Phillips is why he did this. After the way he almost lost his job as GM of the Mets with a similar dalliance involving a club employee in Port St. Lucie in which the team was sued and he was allowed to remain in his job, did he not learn his lesson?

ESPN has granted Phillips a leave-of-absence to deal with his problems at home similarly to the way the Mets did. I've long repeated that had I been Fred Wilpon, I would've given Phillips a leave-of-absence as Mets GM too----a permanent leave-of-absence. But the Mets let him come back and he did a reasonably good job in building what turned out to be the second best team in the National League for the late 90s and in 2000.

After the Mets fired him in 2003, Phillips's reputation as a GM was toxic in part because of a series of moves----acquiring Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn; firing Bobby Valentine to name three----that were mistakes. His portrayal as a foil/buffoon to be preyed upon by the Ivy League educated "geniuses" and Billy Beane in Moneyball also contributed to this idea that he was an inept executive. Like most of Moneyball, it was agenda-driven, out-of-context and inaccurate.

Rather than seek another job inside baseball as an assistant GM, the well-spoken, handsome and telegenic Phillips ventured into broadcasting----and was very good. His profile increased at the ESPN as he gradually rebuilt his reputation as a smart baseball guy and he found himself as the third man in the booth on Sunday Night Baseball to counteract the insipid Joe Morgan with actual thought-driven analysis. In addition to that, he'd even replenished his reputation inside baseball to be mentioned as a GM candidate again. His star was rising----and he demolished it again with his inability to control himself around any and all women regardless of their age, instability or whatever.

People give second and third chances regularly in this country especially for sex scandals. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is in the process of re-creating himself and doing a fairly reasonable job of it considering the laughingstock he was after his involvement with prostitutes. Phillips may not be that lucky because he clearly doesn't get it.

He's done this to himself and he's going to have a hard time coming back again even if ESPN lets him keep his job. This is what's commonly classified as a train wreck.

  • Viewer Mail 10.22.2009:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

Listening to the reports, it seems like Torii Hunter was mixed up in second guessing his own teammates (Brian Fuentes especially) and calling them out on it, which caused some in-house bickering (rare for an Angel club I admit). Surely seeing the Yankees arrogant pre-sale of World Series tickets prior to clinching the pennant will make all that go away and get these guys fired up.

That was strange coming from an Angels clubhouse that handles their issues in-house and without leaks. It was mostly due to frustration that they let the Yankees get off the deck and put the team in a hole. I'm sure Mike Scioscia squashed it almost immediately and the team is back on the same page.

There are defensive reactions everywhere regarding the Yankees blatant arrogance in announcing the sale of World Series tickets while they still have something of an important factor remaining in winning the pannant. We're getting "the Angels are selling World Series tickets too, blah, blah, blah." But there's an aura of "we've got it won" around the Yankees even as you can hear the concern amid the bluster; concern that's left unsaid with the inaudible, "don't we?"

I'll say this, the palpable worry will begin to build into barely concealed panic if the Angels get the series back to New York; and if it gets to game 7? Hold on tight because their paranoia will manifest itself in ways that we cannot begin to fathom. When things spiral, they'll eat each other. Watch.

Michael writes two comments RE the Yankees:

we're not going down despite all of your hopes and dreams--but your comments on GI joe have been spot on--all along...

yeah you're right those angels need to be motivated. those world series ticket sales will be just "the ticket" to get them going !!! you can punch their ticket to a world series parade in disneyland baby-- heck yeah!

The Yankees may or may not close it out, but there was similar laughter in 2004; in 2006; in 2007. I'd be ready for anything if I were a Yankee fan especially with A.J, Burnett starting game 5. The Angels have shown an unmatched instinct for survival in this trying year on and off the field.

Disneyland might be too expensive even for people with big league paychecks.

I think there's a misconception here. On some level, I'd like to see the Angels win because of the aforementioned issues, but the main reason I'm rooting for them is because I picked them. If I'd picked the Yankees, I'd be rooting for them. I'm almost completely indifferent to most results at this point including those involving the Mets because as sick as I am, I'd rather be right than most anything else.

With Girardi, I don't think anyone who's watched him manage can debate that his lack of experience as a manager has hindered him in all aspects of the job despite his intelligence.

In his year with the Marlins, it was dealing with bosses; with the Yankees it was the media and player relations in 2008, and in 2009 his tweaking based on obtuse numbers in making decisions that aren't just bizarre, but are blatantly stupid. The Yankees players must know this and will try to put up another crooked number to mitigate the manager. If John Lackey doesn't do them the favors that Scott Kazmir did with the walks, they could start to press in the later innings for fear of losing and having to come back home with the Angels still alive. Girardi's overmanaging will creep up again in a close game. You have reason to be concerned about that.


Michael said...

I can't wait to hear what you have to say about last night--hurry! and no i'm not being sarcastic. you can read my small take on it on jane's blog

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