Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Lightning 10.31.2010

  • The Moneyball bodycount:

Like a disease whose true casualty rate is only known years after the fact when all the after-effects are calculated, the twisted narrative that is Moneyball is claiming an increasing number of victims---victims who were portrayed in a positive light. Like a flesh-eating virus that feasted on the objects of vitriol against whom the tome was intended, the book's reach has come to its logical conclusion and damaged the characters of anyone and everyone associated with it.

Retrospective regret is undoubtedly a prevailing feeling for those whose reputations have been soiled by the tale.

Run around in circles, manipulated and hoodwinked by the all-seeing, all-knowing genius Billy Beane, the "old-school" thinkers found themselves treated with outright contempt; it's only now, 7 1/2 years after the book's publication, that Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, Bill James, J.P. Ricciardi and Beane himself are taking the not-so-subtle tack of running far and fast from the book.

Oh, it seemed so wonderful at the time. A skilled writer, Michael Lewis, found a story with which he could express what Bill James and his sabermetric children had been trying so hard to bring out into the public consciousness as unassailable fact. Numbers and objective analysis were meant to transform the game of baseball from an old boys network of former players who were willing to continue to play the game in a different venue----that venue being the scouting rooms and front offices----by going along to get along; Moneyball sought to craft front offices to be permeated by young men who'd be more comfortable at a Star Trek convention rather than Old Timer's Day.

The Ivy League and impressive advanced degrees were taking the place of former players whose resume was an end unto itself----they were good at playing baseball, therefore they were good at finding baseball players; at least that was the professed myth.

But just as that is a fallacy, so too is the idea that a graduate of Harvard who understood how to calculate a certain player's OPS and UZR would automatically indicate he'd transform into a baseball expert based on that fact.

Knowing how to calculate statistics does not an expert make. There has to be some nuance and room for both sides of the spectrum to have their voices heard and come to a consensus. That's what the extreme sides----the radical wings of the stat zombies and old schoolers----never seemed to understand. It was a free-for-all while the Bill James and, by extension, Billy Beane acolytes were getting the first cracks at open GM jobs in the hopes that the success of the Athletics would be replicated by sheer force of math.

But it didn't work that way.

Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi were both hired as general managers. Both had little success; both had issues dealing with ancillary aspects of the job such as handling players and placating the media; both were fired.

Beane has seen his star fall to a level where there are those wondering what all the excitement was about to begin with.

Even Bill James has been quoted as saying that, with greater frequency, he's running into avid followers of his work that he doesn't even like.

All of this is due to the true snake-oil salesman in this----Michael Lewis.

Moneyball is well-written and skillfully told to bolster the Lewis hypothesis that Moneyball was the way of the future. But if you look at history and the aftermath, you see the likes of DePodesta, Ricciardi, Beane and Sandy Alderson contradicting the tone in which they were quoted and characterized in those pages.

I don't think people realize how easy it is for a writer with any semblance of ability to present a point-of-view based on what he wants people to see. What was written may not be an overt lie----in fact, it's often true----but that doesn't make it accurate, fair or fully developed for both sides.

As Alderson takes over the Mets, he is still doing what he can to blunt the way he appears in the book. The implication that he wants a "middle-manager" to implement front office ideals is following him around like a bad odor that won't go away no matter how much he scrubs. In his interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN after his introductory press conference, Alderson essentially ran from this assertion by saying he wants a manager who can command respect off the field and is able to use his instincts when dictating strategy. This isn't a small deviation from the way Moneyball made a fool of then-Athletics manager Art Howe. And Alderson was the one who hired Howe!

As Alderson was said to allow former manager Tony La Russa to run the team the way he wanted on the field, it wasn't due to any front office decision, but a simple matter of deferring to success.

Do you see how this could be judged as a dichotomy from what Alderson said on Friday? And how the book has cast a negative light on the above-mentioned people?

As time has passed, those who were on the "right" side in the full text of Moneyball----Beane, DePodesta, Ricciardi, Alderson, James, Jeremy Brown, Nick Swisher, Scott Hatteberg, Mark Teahen----have all seen the book become a bane to their existence.

Now they're filming a movie about it.

Naturally, said movie has gone through a multitude of directors, writers, studios and transformations and is currently being filmed.

So what happens when this movie----which, according to Jane Heller, who has experience in the arduous task of trying to turn a book into a movie----will look something similar to a "misfits make good" story a la the Bad News Bears rather than a true adaptation of book-to-screen?

Will the slow extraction that Beane and co. have tried to make from that book suddenly revert to the heady days of 2003 when it was all new and exciting and the attention was causing a revolution that has sputtered? Or will it cause more embarrassment?

DePodesta has already pulled his image and likeness from the film and I admire him for it. Beane would probably like to do the same especially if the waitress-bedding and corporate-slick/sleazy portrayal one of the scripts had crafted for Beane's on-screen counterpart, Brad Pitt, is still en vogue.

I'd want to crawl into a hole if I were made to look so silly. I can make an idiot out of myself on my own without Hollywood's help.

The book will become a best-seller again upon the movie's release. Then you can re-examine the way Howe, Steve Phillips, Kenny Williams, Omar Minaya and anyone who didn't drink the statistical Kool-Aid was trashed. But reality and after-the-fact adjustments to a creation for which the stars of the show benefited are running roughshod over Lewis's book. Anyone who knew anything about baseball to begin with added a truckload of salt to the recipe while reading the book; they quickly realized what Lewis was doing.

Moneyball is a continuing farce that simply will not go away for any of the participants; and all it's doing is putting more money in the pocket of Lewis as the residue soils everyone who's been caught in the crossfire...on both sides of the argument.

  • Joe Girardi signs a 3-year contract extension:

The Yankees could conceivably have played big league hardball with Joe Girardi.

Combine the fact that the Yankees lost in the ALCS (nothing to be ashamed of for most clubs, but a travesty in the Bronx); his strategic gaffes; and that he, bottom-line, had nowhere else to go to manage, and they could probably have gotten him to sign a 2-year deal for around $2.5 million a year.

They didn't do that. Instead, Girardi received a 3-year deal for $3 million annually with $500,000 bonuses for winning the World Series.

Fair enough. The money is relatively irrelevant to the Yankees; they didn't want to change managers now; and it wouldn't look good if they lowballed Girardi a year after he won the World Series.

What this can do however, is give Girardi some security to perhaps loosen up a bit and not rely so heavily on the safety-first aspect of using stats to determine what he does or doesn't do. Because he's so invested in his increasingly famous Blue Binder, Girardi is seen as less baseball guy and more stat zombie. Girardi is notoriously smart and he relaxed a great deal from his tight-lipped and paranoid first season as Yankees manager in 2008 after replacing Joe Torre. He evolved into the manager of the World Series winning team in 2009; but he still made glaring strategic errors that could've cost the team the ALCS last year; and he did make some questionable calls in this year's ALCS loss to the Rangers.

Truth be told, the Yankees probably weren't going to beat the Rangers no matter what Girardi did, but they'd have had a better chance had he done things differently.

Now, he's getting a new pitching coach after the firing of Dave Eiland. It's being revealed that Girardi and Eiland had a growing rift following Eiland's monthlong absence for personal reasons; perhaps a new pitching coach will share a better rapport with Girardi.

As for the bit about lightening up, that's up to the manager and it can't be forced. I can equate this to the football coach Marty Schottenheimer and his repeated playoff losses coaching teams that were among the top of the league during the regular season, but always seemed to run into a wall in the playoffs against vastly inferior squads. In his last run with the San Diego Chargers, Marty decided to be the "un"-Marty and do things that wouldn't have made sense to the most freewheeling (and somewhat unhinged) coaches, nor the most conservative practitioners of safety first.

They didn't work either and the Chargers lost again. Schottenheimer was fired.

Girardi needs to go by his instincts and eyes rather than some formula. That's what Jim Leyland does and he's probably the best manager in baseball at knowing exactly when to remove his pitcher; and he does it, at times, in the middle of a count!

It's not something that can be enacted just because; much like stats, there has to be a reason behind it to allow the manager to sleep at night. Many times, stats are used for the manager to have an answer for the media after the game and that's the last thing he should be worrying about. One would hope, for the Yankees sake, that Girardi will learn this as he works through this 3-year deal. He's clearly got the support of the upper management, and that's a good place to start in improving on the job.

  • When evil meets...

Although it's been denied, should anyone be surprised that the idea of the White Sox trading Ozzie Guillen would be considered? You're talking about the James Bond Villain himself, Kenny Williams and the front office of the Florida Marlins----who will literally do anything at anytime to get what they want.

Williams is saying that the initial reports of a trade sending Guillen to the Marlins for young outfielder Mike Stanton are not completely accurate; that's not a denial.

It doesn't sound like it's happening; Guillen and Williams simply fit together. Sometimes it's that way with what would normally be viewed at people who are at each other's throats constantly; occasionally those are the best relationships as long as they're not sabotaged by one or the other for some silly reason.

That doesn't mean it wasn't kicked around, and what can you expect from teams like these? That's why they're fun to watch on and off the field.

  • The organization of "Yeah? So?" :

One thing the Red Sox have done brilliantly over the John Henry/Theo Epstein regime is to ignore what the fans want (to a point) and, more importantly, the saber rattling of the players in the media in the interests of doing what's best for the team.

The Red Sox are the epitome of a club that won't hesitate to say "thanks for you contribution and the memories, and good luck" when allowing former stars to leave or possibly leave before crawling back.

You saw it with Pedro Martinez; you saw it with Jason Varitek; you saw it with Johnny Damon; and now you're seeing it with David Ortiz.

Ortiz is quoted as being "uncomfortable" with the Red Sox exercising his 2011 contract option and wants a multi-year extension----ESPN Story.

To quote Dick Cheney: "So?"

Martinez wanted a multi-year extension from the Red Sox and didn't get it; he left.

Varitek wanted a no-trade clause; he didn't get it and stayed with the anointing of the captaincy a cost-free consolation prize to allow him to save face.

Damon wanted a 4-year contract from the Red Sox and didn't get it; he left.

Given his age and the way the Red Sox appear to want to get younger, more versatile and have increasing flexibility with the payroll, Ortiz is going to have to live with the option being exercised and that's it.

He doesn't like it? Too bad.

  • Viewer Mail 10.31.2010:

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Sandy Alderson and the Mets:

I think it'd be pretty hard to live up to any of New York's expectations... then again, it's the Mets, so the bar shouldn't be set so high ;-)

By the way, Blogspot must know me well because the captcha word I'm getting to comment here is "shots".

I'm not kidding.

I was maintaining evenness with Alderson and still am, but he....was....impressive on Friday. He sent the message immediately to Mike Francesa that he's not going to back down from him and you heard Francesa's voice and tone change. It was terrific.

Blogspot appears to be like Facebook and know all. Facebook creeped me out when I tried to start a simple promotion account for my sites by asking me if I wanted to add all these people from my past; a professor from Hunter College; my niece; some Twitter-people. It stoked my paranoia.

Now, either blogspot knows about your after-hours activities with booze; or about your after-hours activities as Acting Boss. Either/or is fine with me as long as order is maintained.

Max Stevens writes RE the Mets and Sandy Alderson:

Amidst all the popping champagne corks and confetti in Queens, count me as a Met fan who is nonplussed by the Alderson hire. I will be open minded, and I understand that the real test of Alderson's capacity to build a winner probably won't come until 2012, but I can't shake the way he comes across in Howard Bryant's great book about the steroid era, Juicing the Game, where he's depicted as adictatorial tyrant who views the manager in the dugout as nothing more than an on-the-field functionary whose sole purpose is to implement a statistically-driven front office 'philosophy.' The idea that the players on my team will be reduced to variables in a bunch of regression equations depresses me, but I'll be less curmudgeonly if the team starts to win...

He backed off of that managerial philosophy with Francesa.

Max, click on the links I provided yesterday; maintain the even-keel, but he was very, very impressive; you know how sparse I am with praise.

I honestly have no problem with dictatorial tyrants----I have that tendency myself----someone has to lead, but it has to be done with an eye on the big picture and reality. He's off to a good start with me.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) writes RE the Mets and Sandy Alderson:

Now you've gone too far! With the hiring of Sandy Alderson, it's quite obvious Jeff Wilpon will have less to do with Baseball Ops and more to do with traditional C.O.O. responsibilities to include re-applying himself within the company books. If the Mets start asking for my credit score and SSN because you planted that seed into the mind of Jeff Wilpon as he suddenly finds himself with more time on his hands to read your blog to find good ideas will have to be muffled. (Anonymous Capo from NoWhere) ; /

This is the best decision the post-Doubleday Mets have made...Period. The "best" descriptive invites a different conversation.

History has proven that I

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Sandy Alderson:

I love that you got an email from "Sandy!" I see a budding friendship there. LOL. From everything I've read about his day yesterday, he was very impressive. Classy, well spoken, knowledgeable, hard working. Honestly, I don't know how the Mets could have done better.

Well, they could've listened to me and hired Josh Byrnes, or had a Halloween Zombie seance and raised Branch Rickey or Bob Howsam from the dead, but aside from that? I think you may be right.

I was a guest with Sal on the SportsFan Buzz on Monday talking about the World Series, the Mets, the Yankees and all sorts of other things. Click here to listen directly or here to download it from Sal's site on I-Tunes.

After last night's performance by Colby Lewis, I'm looking eerily prescient on the podcast. Again.


She-Fan said...

It would be nice if Girardi could relax a little now and not consult The Binder all the time. Well, he can consult it, but not make decisions based solely on it. Good managers go with their gut.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

Girardi is exactly who Brian Cashman wants him to be. Cashman made it very clear on the radio he has no use for anyone who manages with their guts. As a matter of fact he called it irresponsible. Cashman said he wants a manager making decisions based on all the accumulated information contained in said Blue Binder. The binder is co-authored by Cashman himself.
"LooseLeaf" Lives On. Me? You can't qualify everything with a number. It just doesn't work that way. Stats are nice, but they're not gospel.