Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Selective Criticism And Agenda-Driven Justification

  • If it was anybody else...

For years, Billy Beane was seemingly immune to criticism. In the heady days following Moneyball, amid the continued success of the Oakland Athletics, people----stat zombies and starstruck readers alike (of whom I was ashamedly one)---- were reluctant to truly analyze Beane's work and come to the objective conclusion that not only is Beane not a "genius", but he's done a mediocre job building and rebuilding the A's.

Objective analysis is the name of the game, isn't it? Yet so few were willing to truly get into the muck and partake in the negative side of said objectivity----that negative side is when reality hits you in the face and you realize that the person upon whom you've placed your hopes may not be as good as the press clippings suggested.

Like the remaining holdouts----the Rob Neyers and Dave Camerons----who still occasionally provide lukewarm defenses to Paul DePodesta's nightmarish tenure as Dodgers GM with the assertion, "he didn't do that bad a job", you must realize that it's not a defense of DePodesta himself as it is a defense of what they believe. I have news for you: DePodesta did do that bad a job; in fact, he was a horrific GM who wrecked a team on the verge of a title run.

We're seeing another GM get a pass for doing a job that could only be considered mediocre at best as he makes bewildering moves; his team stumbles in the recesses of baseball's netherworld; and the the only cover he has is his reputation that was built on nothing more than embracing statistics and having a background in scouting with anecdotal success.

I'm talking about Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

The appellation of "genius" is thrown around so liberally in today's society in general and sports in particular that it's lost all meaning apart from something to throw back in the faces of those who provided the label in the first place when it proves not to be so.

Zduriencik was called a genius.

Why?

Was it because of the aforementioned acuity in using stats? Was it his work as the Director of Scouting for the Brewers in the drafts that yielded the likes of J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun? Was it the Mariners drastic turnaround from 100-game loser in 2008 to a surprise contender and 85-win team in 2009 in his first year at the helm? Was it the way he was aggressive for the Mariners and made a series of bold moves such as acquiring Cliff Lee?

There's no debating that Zduriencik is a good executive; that he's got the courage to match his convictions and make rapid-fire calls; but did he deserve the accolades he was receiving this past winter when the Mariners were a trendy pick to contend for a playoff spot (by me included)?

He did a lot of stuff, but were they all intelligent, well-thought-out, team-building maneuvers? The Lee trade was a no-brainer; getting rid of Carlos Silva's contract and taking a chance on Milton Bradley was a good idea; but signing Chone Figgins for what amounts to 5-years and $45 million? Trading for Casey Kotchman? Bringing back Ken Griffey Jr?

Now, with the Mariners flopping in last place with a record of 31-44, 15 games out of first place and the Wild Card run a fantasy, he takes two young minor leaguers with talent and trades them to the Indians for...Russell Branyan.

The same Russell Branyan who was a Mariner last season and had his career year; the same Russell Branyan (a darling of the stat zombies) who left as a free agent and was replaced by the offensively inept Kotchman.

Why? Why re-acquire Branyan now just as Zduriencik fields offers for Lee? Not only did he surrender two young players with ability----Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz----but the proffered reason for the move was something out of backwards talk usually relegated to politicians and talk show hosts to avoid actually saying something.

Zduriencik's rationale came in the following quote from this Geoff Baker column:


"If you look at our team, as we move forward, just about every player who is here now will be here again next year," he said. "We're committed to the development of our players and that goal, that objective, has never changed for us. But part of that development process is also winning games. We want our players to be able to experience winning games this year. And we're trying to do what we can to give them what they need to get there."


What?

Will the Mariners win a couple of more games with Branyan than they would with Casey Kotchman playing first or whoever DHing? Maybe. Will it make a difference in the future? Possibly. I'm not going to talk out of both sides of my mouth and decry the importance of intangibles like the innate feel of winning games for a team's future. Winning an extra game here and there can't hurt; but this made no sense unless they're looking to spin Branyan off and get a couple of prospects they like better than the ones they traded to the Indians.

As for the analysis we've been hearing of the young players that were traded to get Branyan----that they're unlikely to break into the Mariners outfield anytime in the near future----who can know? Even if they weren't going to make it with the Mariners (and the Mariners outfield isn't so impenetrable that it's a guarantee they wouldn't have become big league factors), if their age and minor league numbers are any indication, they certainly could've brought back more than Branyan in a trade. For a team so devoid in talent as the Mariners, it's hard to understand the point; in fact, the deal made no sense.

Like Beane and DePodesta, Zduriencik is living off the subjective. He's one of "them", so he gets the benefit of the doubt. Imagine if it was Dayton Moore of the Royals who did this? The reaction would've been akin to a public flogging. But because he's made so many additions and subtractions with which the Zduriencik supporters agree, he gets free rein or gentle questioning----not the brutality reserved for the likes of Moore.

Does Zduriencik deserve it? Did he deserve credit for a team that had everything go wrong in 2008 and everything go right in 2009?

The Branyan trade is the latest hit to the monolith of the stat zombie----that if you believe what they believe you "get it"; that the decisions you make are allowed to develop before target practice begins.

Is Jack Zduriencik a "genius"?

No.

In fact, after this trade and the justification behind it, you can make the argument that he's flying blind and throwing things at the wall for specious reasons just as the likes of Moore are accused of doing. Much like one smart action doesn't create a Hall of Fame executive, one gaffe doesn't send the executive into idiocy.

Success or failure is mostly determined in hindsight; with the way Zduriencik has been running the Mariners , I am no more prepared to cast him as a fool as quickly as others anointed him a genius. He's been on the job for a year-and-a-half----too soon to come to a conclusion one way or the other.

But re-acquiring Branyan adds to the list of reasons to take a second look at Zduriencik and hold off on the accolades for awhile to see what he does next and if what he does next works, because the things he's done in preparation for and during the 2010 season haven't worked at all.

  • Joel Zumaya's arm injury:

I saw this happen and, for an instant when the Twins broadcasters said, "Zumaya's hurt", it didn't register. Considering the numerous injuries the star-crossed flamethrower has had in his career I thought, for a second, that they were showing a clip of one of his prior ailments.

It was horrifying to see a pitcher who exhibits the veneer of toughness as Zumaya to fall to the grass and literally cry in agony. You can watch it here, but suffice it to say it didn't look good for Zumaya; in fact, it looked like a total elbow blowout. You can forget about him for the rest of the season...at least.

It's a shame to lose a pitcher with his ability and swagger.

  • The shout-out from the Diamondbacks booth:

I was on Twitter last night while flipping back-and-forth on TV between the Mets, Braves and Phillies games when I got a message from the hellraising Arizonan @tinapope12 that said, "U just got a shotout fr Sutton on FSN-AZ Dbacks vs Cardinals bout Edwin Jackson. Good work."

I said, "WHAT?!?!"

Then I got another message from loyal soldier @Bern_Edelen telling me the same thing. After that, I heard from a muckraking voice from our dual pasts at MLBlogs when an Email arrived from Matt at Diamondhacks filling me in on most of the details.

Evidently D-Backs broadcasters Daron Sutton and Mark Grace likes what I had to say in my posting on Sunday----link----regarding pitch counts and why it was a positive that manager A.J. Hinch allowed Edwin Jackson to try (and succeed) in completing his no-hitter despite having thrown 149 pitches in the effort. They read a large chunk of the relevant part and even had a graphic with what I'd written.

I wish I could've seen it, but even had I been watching the Diamondbacks-Cardinals game, I wouldn't have because I had the Cardinals feed on Extra Innings. I doubt Al Hrabosky was talking about me as well.

I dunno what I would've done if I did hear it; probably slowly turned my head from the laptop towards the TV thinking, "did that really just happen?"

It's nice to know that all this work isn't going to waste and that there are people reading and appreciating all the time and effort I put into it. It encourages me to push harder knowing I'm being heard by more than the loyalists who've been with me from the beginning. (And I know who you are.)

Thanks to the D-Backs telecast for using it.

Listen to my appearance with Sal at SportsFan Buzz from a week ago Thursday2010BaseballGuideCover.gif. Click on the site link or click here.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and Noble.com. It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

4 comments:

Jeff said...

Congrats on bein' liked by Sutt & Grace! I missed it too... for the same reason... gotta have Al & Dan calling my Redbirds games.

This is just the beginning, Prince.

Just the begining....

She-Fan said...

That shout out is the coolest thing I've ever heard! I would have jumped out of my seat! Wow! See? Your hard work is not in vain.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

SWEET! Congratulations on the D-Back shout out! What's good is good Dude! And that kind of stuff always finds it's way. Stay ruthless. Don't forget us little people.

rmiller said...

DePodesta did do that bad a job; in fact, he was a horrific GM who wrecked a team on the verge of a title run. >>
That little tidbit is perhaps "common sportswriter wisdom" but hardly up to the standards of one who considers himself a knowledgable baseball blogger.
As a long-standing Dodger fan, your oversimplification just misses the mark. If "wrecking a team" is referring to the infamous LoDuca trade in 2004, clearly that didn't "wreck" the Dodgers ability to win the NL West that year. The Finley trade made nearly the same time recouped and then some the meager production loss from proven 2nd half fader, LoDuca. In fact both LoDuca and Mota were so horrible in Sept that they may well have cost LA the NL West had they been kept. Granted, LA got little value from the Florida guys that year but the loss of LoDuca was the most over-estimated media-created myth in some time.
I am not one who believed in DePodesta's alleged "genius", nor lamented his firing as a great injustice. He didn;t have the communication skills to be a good GM.
But he wasn't "horrific" and he didn't "wreck" anything in LA except himself. His key acquisitions in '05 (Kent, Lowe, Penny, Drew) helped the Dodgers win NL West in 2006 and Lowe remained on to help win in '08 also. He made some bad moves in '05 also, but some of it was due to a budget cut of nearly $ 20 mil v. 2004 season because the owner was running on a thin cash margin.