Friday, March 5, 2010

I Introduce You To Baseball's....Um....."Best" GM(?)

  • Not only is it hard to quantify, but it's wrong:

I love it when stat zombies try to escape their numerically oriented and narrow worlds to venture off into the unknown to quantify the unquantifiables and only serve to provide more reasons why they should stay in their little worlds immersed in reams and reams of papers; surrounded by calculators; Bill James posters; drenched copies of Moneyball; and no human contact whatsoever.

Such a venture is documented as Sports Illustrated's Tim Marchman ranks the 30 MLB General Managers from best to worst in this article.

I'm not getting into a critique/argument of who should be 6th, 15th, 18th, etc. It's a worthless endeavor that many times has as much to do with luck and money as it does with evaluative skills. There are good GMs in bad situations; there are bad GMs in good situations; there are GMs with positive and negative attributes that make them hard to judge accurately. But when you do as Marchman does and anoint one GM as the "best" based on nothing, it has to be addressed.

According the Marchman, the "best" GM in baseball is...Rays GM Andrew Friedman.



By way of reasoning, Marchman writes the following:

For as much praise as the Rays have received over the last few years, they've probably deserved even more. Over the last three years they've spent just a million dollars per marginal win, the sort of thing that gets baseball wonks to draw hearts around pictures of Friedman. Maybe the best example of their method is the preposterous contract to which they signed Evan Longoria during his first days as a major leaguer -- if the Rays exercise all the options in the contract, they could end up paying him less than $50 million through his age 30 season, which makes him the single most valuable commodity in baseball. Friedman has also won a pennant and maintains one of the game's best farm systems. It may seem absurd to say of a 32-year-old whom few people had heard of a year and a half ago, but he and his braintrust are the best in baseball.


Okay. Let's dissect this.

Here's the reality of Andrew Friedman as the Rays GM. When he first took over the club he and the neophyte ownership didn't have the faintest clue what they were doing. A rotisserie baseball fanatic who came from the banking industry, Friedman was the latest in a long line of fans who were thrust into the spotlight to run a club because a friend purchased a club and it was a fun thing for them to do. He was a stat geek who'd actually played baseball at Tulane and was immersed in numbers to the point that it was somehow a qualification to run a team.

When the new Rays braintrust took over, Friedman was seemingly afraid to make a mistake and did little to nothing to improve the club after he took over for former GM Chuck LaMar in late 2005. Friedman showed little capacity for handling the player personnel; but what was worse was that he was unable to deal with the players as people in a way that was best for the organization.

It was a free-for-all. The Rays had drug addicts (Josh Hamilton); players with anger issues (Elijah Dukes); a coach that was busted for DUI (Jim Hickey); and a former top draft pick who flung a bat at an umpire in anger (Delmon Young).

They did absolutely nothing to address these issues in the proper fashion. And that proper fashion was to tell these people straight out that if they were unable to behave in an appropriate manner with a baseline code of conduct imperative to an organization, then they'd be gone. Period. It's vital for an organization to tell their employees that if they don't want to be part of that organization, then they'll be accommodated; and that includes behavior on and off the field.

Was Friedman able to handle the big league player? The highly-priced bonus baby? The coach who did something stupid?

Clearly not at first.

The team was atrocious on the field (they lost 101 games in 2006; 96 games in 2007); and in utter disarray off the field. Then the magical season of 2008 happened.

Let's take a look at the way the players from that club were acquired, whether it was brilliance, luck or circumstance that created the dramatic turnaround from a laughable organization into the American League Champions and, a year-and-a-half later, the anointing of Friedman as the "best" GM in baseball.

Smart moves by Friedman:

He acquired Dioner Navarro in a trade with the Dodgers for Julio Lugo; J.P. Howell in a deal for Joey Gathright; and Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza for Delmon Young and Jason Pridie.

He drafted Evan Longoria and David Price.

He acquired Ben Zobrist from the Astros for Aubrey Huff.

Navarro was a prospect who'd been traded twice. The Yankees sent him to the Diamondbacks in the Randy Johnson deal; the Diamondbacks sent him to the Dodgers for Shawn Green; getting anything of use for Lugo was a great move.

The Bartlett/Garza move was excellent in two ways. One, it shored up the defense (and no one----no one----could've expected Bartlett to put up the offensive numbers he did at age 29 in 2009). Garza's main problem in Minnesota was a temper that he's still yet to fully control, but there was never denying his ability. Two, it got Young----immature and insubordinate----out of town.

The drafting of Longoria could be seen as lucky, but he's turned out to be a star and credit has to go to the person doing the drafting.

The trade for Zobrist was a stat move. Zobrist's numbers in the minors were absurdly good and despite not performing adequately as a big leaguer until 2008 and developing into a star in 2009, his acquisition also has to be recognized.

Baseline discipline moves:

It was easy to rip the way the Rays gave Josh Hamilton away, but what were they supposed to do? He hadn't played a full season since he'd been a pro; there was no indication that he was ever going to clean up and even if he did, who knew whether the years of self-abuse had robbed him of his prodigious skills that made him the top pick in the draft in 1999? As a matter of discipline and saving the roster space, Hamilton had to go.

Elijah Dukes has MVP-talent; but he was violent; he was threatening; and he was unstable. They couldn't keep him around especially with a weak manager like Joe Maddon running the club on the field.

The aforementioned Young was another high draft pick whose behaviors might have been bridled at some point, but getting Bartlett and Garza while weeding the organization of a potential problem was necessary.

Lucky moves by Friedman:

Carlos Pena is a stat zombie's dream. He hits a lot of homers and walks a lot and was a journeyman's journeyman before joining the Rays on a minor league contract in 2007. He'd bounced from the Rangers to the Athletics to the Tigers to the Red Sox to the Yankees. He'd played regularly on occasion; hit his homers; put up his high on base numbers and was expendable.

In 2007, the Rays were ready to release him at the end of spring training, changed their minds and got 46 homers, 121 RBI and a .411 on base.

Was this any foresight on the part of the front office? If it was, it was a remarkable bit of gazing into crystal ball; so remarkable that it's ridiculous to believe it was anything more than hitting the lottery.

Gabe Gross had never been able to hit. Always solid defensively, but known more for having been a college quarterback at Auburn than for his baseball skills, Gross was acquired from the Brewers early in the 2008 season...and started hitting home runs. He hit 13 homers during the Rays run, many of them clutch. This was a dart thrown while wearing a blindfold.

Grant Balfour is an Aussie with a power fastball and no clue where the ball was going. The Rays signed him, stuck him in the bullpen and he learned to throw strikes having a fantastic year in 2008 before reverting to what he was in his Twins/Brewers days in 2009.

Eric Hinske is an on-base/power bench player who's always going to have a job because he can hit the ball out of the park, but signing him was a flier that turned out well.

Were these moves lucky or smart? Did it take any intuitive baseball abilities to find these players and have them work as well as they did? Is luck a justifiable reason to consider someone the "best" at what they do?

The foundation:

People are quick to credit Friedman and co. for what the Rays have supposedly become; but what was there when they arrived? No one thought much of former GM Chuck LaMar or owner Vince Naimoli, but there were, um. some pretty good pieces in place when the new crew arrived.

Here's the list:

Carl Crawford (2nd round, 1999)
B.J. Upton (1st round, 2nd pick, 2002)
James Shields (16th round, 2000)
Scott Kazmir (acquired from NY Mets for Victor Zambrano, 2004)
Andy Sonnanstine (13th round, 2004)
Reid Brignac (2nd round, 2004)
Jeff Niemann (1st round, 4th pick, 2004)

Would the Rays have improved so quickly without Crawford? Upton? Shields? Kazmir?

What did Friedman do in these cases?


Stupid moves by Friedman:

It may not seem like much, but they dumped Jorge Cantu and Joe Beimel for nothing; and traded Edwin Jackson for Matt Joyce after 2008. Jackson was a horse for the Tigers that the Rays could've used; and Joyce was a disaster.

To sit there and declare Friedman as the best GM in baseball is offensive on so many levels that in a similar fashion to the bewildered countenance I exhibit every time another zombie emerges from the crypt to defend Paul DePodesta's time as Dodgers GM (complete with the unanswerable and apoplectic: "Are you really gonna sit there and defend this guy?!?"), I didn't know how to respond at first.

Ruminating created the above evisceration of Marchman's try at quantifying such a thing as the "best" not because it's stat zombie-ing, but because it's stupid. To make it worse, he's wrong!!!

In a world with Larry Beinfest doing the job he does as Marlins baseball boss, how dare he name Friedman as the top guy. Friedman's developed into a smart and gutsy executive (evidenced by the trade of Scott Kazmir late last season); but to say he's the number one guy? Based on what? Based on nothing. That's what. And it's a farce.

  • Pushing the Prince's button highly effectively:

When this ranking list first popped up, I was openly wondering what Marchman was thinking in a different----albeit reactionary way----on Twitter. Joe at Statistician Magician came up with a clever and slick way to send me *teetering* on the edge of a total meltdown with the following:

The stat 'EOW', efficiency over wins, gives him a 96.2 on a scale of 100.

My eyes bulged.

My hands shook.

My teeth clenched.

My blood boiled.

I started strangling my laptop...until Joe let me know that it was something he made up.

But doesn't the EOW sound like something they'd come up with? Doesn't it?

Well played.

  • Viewer Mail 3.5.2010:

Larry writes RE Me:

Hey Prince, you may be waaaaay over the top at night on Twitter (and during the day too) but this baseball blog of yours is sensible, interesting and readable. I'll be reading. Take care @HeartyLarry

PS: Tell anyone I had something nice to say and I'll deny it.


Larry may be a habitual line-stepper, but he's essentially harmless.

All kidding aside, thanks for the compliment. I think that the borderline explosiveness----the duality as it were----helps me in both venues. One aspect of a person's personality doesn't supersede the other. They can exist simultaneously. If I lost the "over the top" Prince, the cogent, organized and sensible Prince would be compromised.

Plus it's entertaining. Not on purpose. It just is.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She Fan writes RE Fantasy Baseball:

So not into rotisserie/fantasy bb.

If I got involved, it...would...end....badly.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Teddy Ruxpin and Fantasy Baseball:

The worst thing about Ruxpin, let us not forget, is where ya have to insert the tape.

As for fantasy, I play it -- a lot and well... meaning, I make $$$ doing it, and it's fun for me -- but I realize the most boring thing in the world is listening to some jagoff talk about his fantasy team. Therefore, I keep mine to myself.

But I will say this: the good fantasy players have known who Kyle Blanks is for some time and he is definitely getting drafted in the late round roto leagues. Believe that.

I was too old when Teddy Ruxpin came out to ask for one without looking like a total loser. I wanted it anyway.

I briefly considered Fantasy Baseball a couple of times before deciding that I enjoyed my own fantasies more. And they got nothin' to do with baseball. (Don't ask.)

John Seal (Prospective West Coast Spiritual Advisor for The Family) writes RE Teddy Ruxpin and Fantasy Baseball:

I recently quit one of my two fantasy leagues. It's time consuming, so unless you're super dedicated, it's not really worth playing.

That said, I'll bid $2 for Teddy Ruxpin. Is Rainbow Brite still available?

I might have to start considering Fantasy Baseball now. It's be a powder keg, but it'd be hysterical in a deadly sort of way. The best comedy comes from potential for destruction; that's why I'm on this earth I'm afraid.

They reference Rainbow Brite frequently on Robot Chicken. I was more a Mego Super-Heroes man myself----at least until a couple years ago. Yes. I know. I'm 38. I like my superhero toys.


Jeff said...

Yur boy Beane came in at the arbitrary number 10 position! What has he done? What has he won? How many league titles? How many World Series?

The Rays had one good year. It's gonna take more than just one good year to convince me.

And Jocketty is too far down. I'd have him in top 5.

"drenched copies of Moneyball"...?


She-Fan said...

Good move by Joe with that EOW. Sounded plausible to me.

Joe said...

I thought ten was fair for Beane.