Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Score One For The Old-School

  • Let the excuses begin:

Stat zombies don't just dislike Brian Sabean----they loathe him as the epitome of everything their supposed "revolution" is trying to extinguish.

He prefers scouting to stats; he lets his manager manage; he spends capriciously (even foolishly); he drafts and promotes the dreaded animal known as the high school pitcher; and he brings in players nobody wanted to get indispensable use from them.

I'm not turning this into another treatise for my position against pure stat-based team building; any and all valuation techniques have to be put into the proper perspective to determine their use, but the Giants are an interesting case study in a great venue for opposition to the Moneyball worshippers.

As easy as it is for those who are on the opposite end of party wings between stat people and old-schoolers and gloat or lament a team like the Giants winning the World Series----a team that was patched together with Scotch-tape and the equivalent of baseball's migrant workers----it's more constructive to examine the way this Giants group came together and won.

It's somehow apropos that the Giants biggest hit came from Edgar Renteria.

Renteria sits in the eye of the storm of whether or not clutch hitting exists, but has had two of the biggest post-season hits in the history of the game. It was early in his career, in 1997 for the Marlins, when Renteria singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning of the seventh game to win the World Series for the Marlins.

Even back then Renteria was known as the player his teammates wanted at the plate in a big situation. Like most of the less-renowned Giants who shined in this post-season----Cody Ross; Madison Bumgarner; Juan Uribe; Aubrey Huff----they're players who get things done. They find a way to get things done.

Renteria was also one of the Red Sox revolving door of shortstops who plainly and simply didn't work in Boston; there are horses for courses and Renteria and the American League didn't mix.

The natural reaction to the massive homer off Cliff Lee that broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning is to point to Renteria's reputation as cool under fire and say "clutch hitting exists" as if the argument is concluded based on a concept that has no face. In the same manner that the assertion in Moneyball (more stat zombie biblical references that won't be adhered to as we evolve----just like the real Bible(s)!!!) that clutch hitting didn't exist, there's allegorical evidence with certain players like Renteria; Lenny Dykstra; Dave Henderson; Jim Leyritz; Reggie Jackson, that something comes over them at playoff time which raises them to a higher level.

Is there an explanation? Concentration? Calmness? Desire to be the center of attention? Opposing teams using improper strategy? All of the above?

Who knows? But to immediately dismiss clutch hitting or profess it to be settled based on a few memorable instances of success puts both ends of the spectrum in the same cage of idiocy.

For two old-school baseball men like Sabean and Bruce Bochy, this win must've been especially sweet. Sabean has long been ridiculed for his scoffing at newfangled techniques in finding players; and while I disagree with the thought that pure old-time scouting is the way to go, you can't argue with the speed in which the Giants were rebuilt after the Barry Bonds years; and they were rebuilt the right way.

Although Sabean threw a lot of money at two players----Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand----who did absolutely nothing on the field to contribute to the Giants championship, the argument could be made, through accident of circumstance, that the money spent on those players forced the Giants to scour the bargain bins for the likes of Uribe, Ross, Huff and Pat Burrell----players without whom this championship would not have happened. You could say that Rowand's toughness did influence the team positively even if he didn't play well.

I've previously discussed my admiration for the way Sabean looked at the team he had with Bonds and made the conscious decision to bring in veterans to "build around Barry"; and even though the championship eluded the Giants in those years, they were a highly competitive and successful team without much help coming from their minor league system. The signing of Zito was done to bring in the biggest name in a weak market to essentially replace Bonds as the face of the franchise; obviously it hasn't worked out as the team had hoped, but they were able to draft wisely and develop Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Bumgarner, catcher Buster Posey and Brian Wilson to form the basis of the championship pitching staff.

Bochy found himself run out of San Diego as Padres manager after a long, respected run as their clubhouse boss. With his thick black mustache and grumbly way of talking, he jumps right out of the old time caricatures of what a baseball manager should look like. Because he was unwilling to give way to the new stat-based culture and "manager as conduit to the front office" ideal prevalent in San Diego when Sandy Alderson took over as club president, he didn't last long as they sought to bring in a more pliable----and cheap----manager. Bochy found a perfect landing spot for his resume and skills with the Giants.

It all fit.

Not on paper, but in practice.

The foundlings (Burrell; Uribe; Ross; Guillermo Mota; Javier Lopez; Santiago Casilla); the youth (Wilson; Cain, Lincecum----who teams were frightened of because of his size, motion and stage father); the cheap pickups (Huff); and everyone else (Freddy Sanchez; Jonathan Sanchez)----all formed a mishmash; a group that couldn't have been expected to beat the mighty Phillies or the Lee-carting Rangers.

But they did.

It worked.

It was a messy conglomeration.

A messy conglomeration that won the World Series.

It's too perfect that in the midst of the Moneyball movie being filmed (across the bridge in Oakland----ideal viewing distance!!!), that a team that is decidedly anti-Moneyball wins the championship that has eluded the "genius" Billy Beane for so long.

The irony is even more delicious as the narrative in Moneyball is transformed for the big screen from a pompous shilling for Ivy Leaguers to infest baseball like a self-proclaimed regime of experts telling the masses what's good for them without knowing much of anything themselves. Reality and salesmanship has altered the book into a none-too-subtle "misfits make good" tale and said tale has been inconveniently epitomized and usurped by the anti-stat, old-school Giants!

Not even I could make this up!

  • What's with the apology?

I'm not sure who even believes these crafted apologies that have been clearly written by a PR person to blunt the damage created by the original statement that was more than likely what the speaker actually meant to say.

Why apologize for speaking one's mind?

Texas Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg said some interesting stuff about Yankee fans during an radio interview on Monday----ESPN Story.

The beefiest quotes:

"I think our fans have been great," Greenberg said on The Ben and Skin Show on 103.3 KESN. "I think particularly in Game 3 of the World Series they just blew away anything I've seen in any venue during the postseason. I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I've seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment."

Greenberg later apologized to the Yankees front office and fans:

"Earlier today, in the course of praising the extraordinary support and enthusiasm of Texas Rangers fans, I unfairly and inaccurately disparaged fans of the New York Yankees," he said in a statement. "Those remarks were inappropriate. Yankees fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball.

"I have spoken directly to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to apologize for my intemperate comments."


Why apologize? What's the difference? Was Greenberg out of line? Did he mean what he said initially or in the apology? And who cares?

It's tiresome that everyone is so immersed in this culture of political correctness that they're not allowed to speak their minds and say what they feel when they feel it. So what if Greenberg felt the Yankee fans were rude? Don't you think it's rude to throw beer and cuss at the wives of the opposing team? Of course any "mixed bag" statement indicting each and every member of a particular group is stereotypical and ignorant, but at least Greenberg said something rather than utter the stale and canned cliches that permeate any and all public statements by people in a position of power.

Calling the Yankee fans apathetic was absurd----maybe they were disgusted with the way their team was playing; annoyed at their manager; aggravated overall; but apathetic? No.

Ripping on the whole group as an embarrassment was silly too.

But what's the difference? So he apologized to the Yankees hierarchy; do you think Hal Steinbrenner really cares what Chuck Greenberg says? Randy Levine, who came out of the Rudy Giuliani mayoral administration (Giuliani's William Shatner toned presidential campaign slogan---Tested. Ready. Now.----was Fragmented. Idiotic. Political. Slogan. Failure).

Levine certainly wasn't going to let pass this opportunity to use Greenberg's comments for his own ends, whatever ends they are.

If you react to this, you're playing their game; you're being used as a willing sheep in the verbal jousting of the power-brokers.

Before this, how many Yankee fans actually knew who Chuck Greenberg was? And many of them still don't; but they're raving like lunatics at something he said. Why?

I ask again: who cares?

I was a guest with Sal on the SportsFan Buzz 8 days ago talking about the World Series, the Mets, the Yankees and all sorts of other things. The World Series is over, but you can still bask in my wonderfulness as I got a load of stuff right...on....the....money. Or maybe you just like the sound of my voice.

Click here to listen directly or here to download it from Sal's site on I-Tunes.


Joe said...

I am pretty sure 'Moneyball' gave us the impression that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and that making the playoffs is good enough because of that. Both of these things seem to ring true with the Giants winning/ Now, I don't know that it is as much a "crapshoot" as some do, but I do believe "random variation" (luck) plays a part in a short series. Regardless, the Giants were a good team. I just don't believe they were the best team in baseball.

Joe said...

As for Renteria, he has hit .252/.327/.339 in the playoffs. That is not good. If he was so "clutch" shouldn't he have not made the last out in 2004? Shouldn't he have elevated his game and got on base somehow? He has played in 66 (!) postseason games. A decent player is bound to have some "huge" hits in those moments. And just for the record, his first "huge" hit was a bloop single. Seems like that could have happened to anyone. Just like in the regular season, Renteria has had a key hit at some time. Just like everyone else who starts on a regular basis.

Matt said...

I totally agree with your Greenberg bit. Last night I watched a feed of the game from Fox' Spanish language affiliate, and though I don't speak Spanish it was the best baseball broadcast I've experienced in a long time. Besides who I didn't have to listen to, I was so impressed with Ozzie Guillen's passion. In this age of apologies he really is the most interesting man in the game and I would love to see him in Florida. He could make baseball come to life in Miami.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

Greenberg ~ Classic example of not knowing how to comport yourself in his first visit to late October baseball. That's a statement born from lack of experience and organizational success. Practice makes perfect.

So now, according to Brian Cashman's thinking, Bruce Bochy the irresponsible and gut-thinking skipper, is now a Champion. Chalk one up for Old School! Stats have a place in the baseball world, but they can't qualify everything. Probability is defyingly unpredictable.

She-Fan said...

The problem with the Greenberg remarks was that he's the CEO of a team that was fighting for a championship. He's entitled to his opinion, but why become a distraction? That's what Selig's office objected to. The focus should have been on the games.

Gabriel said...

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on their championship and the Texas Rangers on their awesome season.

It is somewhat fitting that in The Year of the Pitcher, the best pitching staff in the National League claimed the championship.

Altough I agree a little bit with the Moneyball assertion that the best team in baseball isn't always the World Series winner because of the high variability of a single baseball game, I do think that even though in the playoffs they play a different game, the best team in baseball during the regular season should prepare for winning in the playoffs too. Thinking that making the playoffs is good enough is mediocre. There's no ring for having the best record, but in every executive, player, manager and coach, there exists a desire to win a championship ring, no matter what they think of the playoffs.

Jeff said...

Fuhgettabout all dat whiney touchy feely politically correct crap. I would've stuck with my comments (and guess what, I have!).

As for your analysis of Sabean and his moves, I found the paragraph about how spending on Zito and Rowand forced him to the bargain bins quite poetic.

Who said there's no beauty in baseball?

Anonymous said...

this was a pretty good review. very smart dude.

a couple points here.
1. lincecum is already a hall of famer, compares to drysdale, gooden, koufax, lolich, blyleven, palmer, hunter
2. bumgarner, cain, and sanchez are all potential hall of fame players.
3. bonilla, campaneris, wills, caminiti, larkin, stewart, morris, hershiser, saberhagen, joe carter, canseco, belle, manny ramirez, and about 50 more who have been excluded like maris and allie reynolds are hall of fame players with better performances than the majority NOW in the hall of fame