Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Honesty Is Hardly Ever Heard

  • So you should value it when and if you get it:

All I ask for is honesty.

If you're a stat zombie and have an agenda, admit you're a stat zombie and have an agenda. Is it so hard? If you're old school and are either unwilling or unable to comprehend complex metrics----or out-and-out don't know how to use a computer----admit it; confess to one's frailties, limitations and faults.

Accepting responsibility, wrongness or a lack of understanding is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength; it's a step in the right direction toward maximizing potential and garnering credibility. In fact, the refusal to confess to one's failures is the ultimate in arrogance; it leads to condescension, anger and a larger gap in credibility. Some simply don't get it. Their inability to grasp this simple tenet is quite likely what leads to the other aspects of their failure to contextualize their beliefs in a way that will foster debate and, if not win new converts to their cause, at least come to a grudging respect for the other viewpoint.

They don't get it.

Such is the continuing case with the stat zombie-old school war of attrition that's not going to end anytime soon. Everything's self-centered and specious; there's no justifiable argument because positions have been locked in with no wiggle-room for nuance. The perception that any and all backing down will imply a betrayal is relegating both sides to the comforting embrace of like-minded individuals with those that accept the necessity for both numbers and experience-based judgments trapped in the middle.

We're never going to get anywhere as long as there are people who take what they need out of the overall story and try to tamp down anything that doesn't feed into their hypothesis; their conclusions; their religion. I've said it before and I'll say it again----calculating a formula is not analysis. Anyone can do it and it doesn't make one an expert; nor does it qualify anyone and everyone to build and run a major league organization. They think it does, but it doesn't. A high SAT score or impressive degree from an Ivy League school does not automatically mean that a prospective club boss will be able to handle the big league egos; manipulate trades; deal with a manager and his coaches; subtly placate the press; extinguish fires. Intelligence has something to do with being a boss, but not as much as is believed.

Such is the case as the debate on the future of the Mets rages. Some are suggesting they need to tear the whole thing down; others say they have enough talent on the roster to tweak here and there to legitimately contend with what they have; others are pushing forth their own blueprint not because they feel it works (in most cases----some really believe this stuff), but because it suits their own ends.

This is wrong.

Some are offering viable names to run the team; others aren't. The extreme wing of the stat zombie faction are offering up the likes of Paul DePodesta as the replacement for Omar Minaya.

I'm not getting into my usual rant about DePodesta and his disastrous tenure as the Dodgers GM; I'm only tossing this out there to prove a point. The point is that even if DePodesta is "intelligent" and "nice" and "experienced" as a baseball executive, his failure in Los Angeles----for whatever reason----excludes him from an undertaking like that of the Mets. I'm quite sure that DePodesta is all of the above-listed adjectives; people believe that I have some personal animosity towards him and I don't. What I do have is an allergy to the way he demolished the Dodgers----and he did demolish the Dodgers----in a 20-month span of time.

You can try and defend what he did----say that the team made the playoffs in 2004 in his first full season; advance the argument that his foundation led to the 2006 NL West division winner as well----they're not accurate, but you can say it. The facts are that he fired a good manager in Jim Tracy for no reason; he made a series of stupid and ill-thought-out trades when they were unnecessary; had two atrocious drafts; and the only reasons the 2006 Dodgers made their playoff run were the weak National League which allowed them to take the Wild Card with 88 wins and that new GM Ned Colletti traded for veterans like Greg Maddux while the team was under .500 and a sell-off would've been the prescription for the fading team rather than trying to get back into the race.

Had the trade for a Maddux not worked, had the Dodgers continued to stumble, Colletti would've looked as foolish as the Mets did in 2004 when they were half-in/half-out of contention and traded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. The only way to tell whether the active or inactive GM was smart is in hindsight.

The Dodgers of 2006----comprised partly of players DePodesta had brought in, partly of player Colletti brought in----were floundering; they got hot and made the playoffs. Some have credited DePodesta for that and for 2004, but shielded him from blame for the 2005 nightmare; for the awful drafts. I don't see how anyone immersed in "objective analysis" can pick-and-choose their facts while hoping to maintain a shred of credibility.

So, he gets credit for the positive things he did----Derek Lowe and Jeff Kent were good signings; in later years, Brad Penny was of use even though the initial trade for him was a ghastly mistake that may have cost the Dodgers the World Series----and he gets a pass for the drafts? For firing Tracy? For Odalis Perez?

I don't understand.

Some blame the McCourt ownership for the failure; others blame vindictiveness stemming from his portrayal in Moneyball; others simply dislike the idea of a stat-based way or running a club; but none of that matters. Hiring DePodesta based on a work of fiction like Moneyball is like hiring William Shatner to pilot a rocketship based on Star Trek. In the words and tone of Shatner: It. Won't. Work.

To me, from the outside and knowing what I know, it appears as if the McCourts have allowed their baseball people to run the team as they see fit and spend what they need to spend; yes there are the absurdities surrounding the owners that have culminated in this awful divorce and custody fight for the team, but that has little to do with the success the Dodgers have enjoyed under their stewardship; I'll take a some turmoil for back-to-back NLCS appearances and annual contention.

It is nothing personal. He was a bad GM. But his supporters can't admit it. Either can't or won't. Are they so blind?

So, you see more of the twisting with the preemptive epitaph for the tenure of Mets GM Omar Minaya. Here's a clip from Rob Neyer:

More than anything, I just wanted to use this chance to mention (again, probably) how badly Omar Minaya messed up with Heath Bell and Francisco Rodriguez.

Last season, Bell led the National League with 42 saves. This season, he's got 41 saves and hasn't blown a chance since late May.

Of course, not so long ago Bell was a Met and Minaya gave him away.

Well, that's not completely true. Minaya traded Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson. Since then, Adkins and Johnson have combined to appear in 14 major league games and Heath Bell has 85 saves and a 2.51.

How did this happen? I wasn't there. Maybe Bell was biting the heads off chickens and spitting their blood at elderly clubhouse attendants. But my guess is that Minaya placed too much faith in Bell's short time in the majors and not enough faith in his minor-league performance.

In 2005 and '06, Bell pitched 64 games for the Mets -- 84 innings -- and gave up a whopping 107 hits. At the same time, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was excellent: 3.25 with plenty of strikeouts.

Since joining the Padres, Bell's strikeout-to-walk ratio has stayed roughly the same. He's given up slightly fewer home runs. The big difference has been the hits. Which might have been predicted, considering his (apparent) bad luck with the Mets and his solid numbers in the minors.

Granted, there was no reason to think Bell would become this good. But if Minaya had held on to Bell for just one more season -- in 2007, he pitched brilliantly as Trevor Hoffman's setup man in San Diego -- he might have been dissuaded from spending $47 million on Francisco Rodriguez, who a) hasn't been as good as Bell, and b) is now in a big bowl full of trouble.

If Minaya had trusted the numbers, today he would have Bell and $47 million of baseball players not named Francisco Rodriguez.

Everybody makes mistakes. But this was a real doozie.

The trade of Bell for Johnson and Adkins was atrocious. There's no getting around that. But this implication that Heath Bell was never given a chance and the Mets failed to look at his minor league numbers before coming to an accurate assessment is silly. Bell was not good with the Mets in his opportunities to pitch for them. This is fact and no amount of anger or vengeance on the part of Bell for his continued up-and-down between Triple A and the big leagues is going to alter this fact.

That's objective reality.

Another deal that looks hideous now is the one that brought Ambiorix Burgos from the Royals for Brian Bannister. Bannister has been quite useful for the Royals even though when he's not on his game, he get blasted. He wasn't good for the Mets either; he was wild, injured and had mediocre stuff----in short, a disposable commodity. Burgos----regardless of his injuries and despicable behavior since then (link)----had a near-100 mph fastball; similar strikeout numbers to Bell; and was a viable option as set-up man/closer; he was also six-and-a-half years younger than Bell. Burgos replacing Bell made sense at the time despite the players who were surrendered in their individual deals.

Old-schoolers point to this trade as gaffe as well, but these are the same people who suggest that the Mets need to get more "athletic" (whatever that means). Ben Johnson was certainly athletic----he looked terrific in his uniform and could run; problem was he couldn't play baseball.

So which is it? Barring anything inexplicable, Bell was not getting a chance as the Mets closer unless he established himself as a set-up man as he did with the Padres in 2007. Was this possible? Yes. Was it likely? No. Finding a useful pitcher for his role is, many times, an accident of circumstance. I happen to believe that Hisanori Takahashi has the stomach to be the Mets closer; and the stomach is a large portion of doing the job. Did the Mets know what they were getting in Takahashi? That he'd be so professional, fearless and versatile that they can't possibly afford to lose him if they have any designs on contention next year? Probably not; they probably thought he was a veteran lefty from Japan who they'd have a look at. It worked and they've uncovered a gem.

There's much to attack Minaya for; there's much to defend him for. The same goes for DePodesta. But to do it in this way is not accurate; it's nothing more than defending one's turf; it's self-serving and doesn't bolster any argument but the one I make; the argument that you can't take someone who has such a clear goal in mind seriously; that they're not reporting honestly or giving a valuable opinion----they're setting battle-lines.

This contributes nothing to a solution.


  • Scolding Michael Kay, Part II:

I'm waiting for Michael Kay to threaten to punch me in the face like he did with Phil Mushnick.

I highly doubt anyone, anywhere is going to Michael Kay for in-depth baseball analysis, but is it too much to ask that he doesn't tell stories about which he can't even get the facts straight? Kay's annoying and easy to ignore----he doesn't know anything about baseball----but he's like an embellishing student desperately trying to make it sound like he studied and filling his exam booklet with pablum so he'll maybe, kinda sorta hit on the facts he needs accumulate points to pass the test.

First, a few months ago, Kay went on about how the Marlins forced the Tigers to take Dontrelle Willis as a precondition to getting Miguel Cabrera; that they wanted out from under Willis's contract. Well, Willis didn't have a contract; if the Marlins wanted to get rid of Willis, all they had to do was non-tender him; it was the Tigers who signed Willis to that contract extension which ended up being a total, Oliver Perez-style black hole.

It was either a lack of research, pure ignorance, or both.

Last night, he was at it again. In discussing Rays closer Rafael Soriano, Kay suggested that the Braves traded him because Soriano was a free agent and the Braves weren't going to pay him big money, long term to stay; they offered him arbitration to get the draft pick when he signed elsewhere.

The problems with this strategy went as follows: A) the Braves didn't think Soriano was going to take arbitration and signed Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito within days of one another to replace Soriano and Mike Gonzalez as their short relievers; B) the free agent offers for Soriano weren't lucrative enough for him to eschew the guarantee the amount he'd get in arbitration (he wound up with $7.5 million from the Rays) and he accepted it; C) the Braves didn't have the money to keep Soriano as they were already fielding offers for Javier Vazquez due to financial constraints and had signed two relievers.

That is what happened.

No one is saying that Kay should know this off the top of his head. It'd be nice if one who portrays himself as a baseball expert did know this, but everyone makes factual errors here and there. But shouldn't he do the barest amount of research before opening his mouth? This was a big story when it happened; the Yankees were involved because they traded for Vazquez; where was Kay?

This is idiocy. Plain and simple.

  • Droppin' and drivin':

Kyle Drabek will make his major league debut for the Blue Jays tonight in Baltimore against the Orioles. Drabek was a centerpiece in the trade of Roy Halladay to the Phillies and, from what I've heard, he has his father Doug Drabek's classic drop-and-drive style of delivery. It's a difficult technique to master, but the longevity of the pitchers who've used it----Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Robin Roberts----suggest that it's a sound principle to stay healthy.

I have to remember to watch it.


  • Viewer Mail 9.15.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees:

I agree about using Mitre, expect that Joba was available. Well, in fact he wasn't because apparently he still has an innings limit. That's the part I don't get.

Joe Girardi looks very, very tired; haggard even. It's hard enough managing in New York with that collection of egos and the media, but the handcuffs must make him feel claustrophobic.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Yankees:

He may not have brought Mo in, but he and Maddon both went a bit crazy with their respective benches. The Rays lost their DH spot because of it! I know they have expanded rosters this month and all, but I still thought all the shuffling was a bit much.

Now, if you don't mind, I have some Torborging to do. (Oooh, that sound dirty)

The amount of pinch-hitting for an American League game is almost unheard of. I'm indifferent to the complaints that the expanded rosters alters competitive balance; the players are there, use them.

Gabriel (Capo) writes RE WAR:

I agree in your assessment of the WAR statistic. It's a very tricky statistic both in calculation and interpretation. As an example, this season José Bautista has a WAR of 4.6, and Miguel Cabrera has a WAR of 6.5. I think those are subestimations of the "win capability" of those players, and I think the teams they're in would be a lot worse than 5 and 7 more losses, respectively. It doesn't take into account the sparkplug mentality players like Rollins have, and in my opinion, the "average player used" in those calculations is not representative of what a team may have for a replacement.

I don't buy into the stat that is telling me what I'd get if I was replacing Albert Pujols with an average Triple A player. The one guy I think of in terms of WAR is a roving utilityman like Tony Phillips.

Tony Phillips would be a superstar today because of his power, speed, versatility and ability to walk; so let's say a team is using Phillips as an everyday player, but he's playing all over the field; let's say he's playing for the Yankees; all they're doing is periodically resting Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, etc. by sticking Phillips in the lineup; then let's say Robinson Cano gets hurt and Phillips is inserted into the lineup every day at one position. Would WAR be applicable with such a weapon at the manager's disposal? To me, the stat is about your bench more than the value of the player who has the high WAR.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

I'll be a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz tomorrow.

Also, Sal managed to get an interview with Len Berman about his new book. Check it out.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and 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.


She-Fan said...

I was watching the game on the MLB Network since it was on My9 and we don't get that in CA. So I missed Kay's latest mistake. I probably wouldn't have noticed anyway. I was too caught up in the game itself!

Jeff said...

Watch Drabek!

*Sidenote Story:

Before last year's Future's Game in St. Louis, I hung in the outfield chatting up Mat Latos and Kyle Drabek. Latos was being a dickhead, teasing kids by fake throwing balls in the stands then laughing at them. Drabek tried to distance himself from such sophomoric tomfoolery.

In doing so, he instantly gained my respect.