Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Wages of Sin: Part III

The Sabermetric Counter-Revolution: I know we've talked about this before, but the hits keep coming in the Theo Epstein quitting/not being re-signed saga. Since last we talked about it, there was a farewell press conference attended by Epstein and owner John Henry, but not by alleged meanie Larry Lucchino. Despite the fact that Epstein insisted that Lucchino was not pushing him out of Boston (although, semantically, he did leave room for people to conclude that Lucchino was one of the reasons he was leaving), counteroffensive articles abounded this week, giving Theo a rhetorical smackdown. It's ironic that Mike Lupica and Ian O'Connor would both profess such a concern for Theo's career--both were on a "You'll never have it this good again, kid," kick--while also saying that he isn't that important, would have been overpaid, and is basically a loser, World Series ring or no World Series ring.

An article in Sunday's Daily News by Bill Madden seems to boil the whole thing down. Part of the Theo-bashing is probably Lucchino trying to re-apply his teflon coating; but the other part of it is plain-old generational warfare. Around baseball, young, statistics-saavy, Ivy League-educated execs are the rage. This off-season has seen Theo's second-in-command in Boston, Josh Byrnes, hired in Arizona, and the even younger Jon Daniels hired to lead the Texas Rangers. Andrew Friedman, a 28 year old former Wall Street analyst, is now in charge in Tampa Bay. To some, this has caused worry that the annual GM Meetings will soon start to resemble Logan's Run.

Since guys like Madden aren't likely to renew on Carousel, they feel threatened by this prospect. Luckily, plenty of folks have come to the defense of the new school GMs--Jay Jaffe, over at Futility Infielder has a rundown of the best.

There are a couple of other things going on here, with the Sabermetric Revolution and the young GMs, beyond all the cries of "stat geek" and "Moneyball." Baseball owners of the past were often hobbyists who got a kick from hanging out with the ex-jocks and time-worn "baseball men" who ran their franchises. Today's owners tend more towards being successful businessmen, who treat their ballclubs like businesses rather than playthings. Such people are used to putting their confidence in like-minded individuals--folks with MBAs and Ivy League diplomas. The fact that Moneyball has popularized statistical analysis in baseball just makes their natural instinct (to surround themselves with JDs and MBAs from the Ivies) more socially acceptable.

The other thing--and this is speculation--is that it seems that these "boy genius" GMs work for bargain prices. There's nothing that baseball owners like more than keeping labor costs down--not even winning.

Hopefully I can end this discussion with the judicious use of bullet points:
  • For all the guys who are worried about Theo's career decisions--I'm pretty sure the guy can write his own ticket, either elsewhere in baseball or outside of the game. After all, the top line on his resume does read "General Manager, 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox." I doubt anyone's going to let him starve.
  • Every anti-Epstein article, and even some pro-Theo ones, all make a point of how many times more money Epstein would be making under the Red Sox alleged offers than he had been making before. What's the point? Epstein was about to become a free agent, as much because the Red Sox didn't bother to try to extend his contract earlier as for any other reason. What's relevant to his salary other than what the market will bear?
  • It's only in sports where we forget how creepy it is to have strangers discuss your compensation in public. I don't know how much some of my closest friends make, I certainly don't know how much Lupica, Madden, and O'Connor make, but I do know in great detail how much salary each New York Yankee earns.

Signing season: a quick comment here, with no links. We're in the prime free agent wooing period, which always brings reports with headlines like "Country Boy Wagner Impressed by Mets," where a free agent will say stuff like "I never thought about living there, but New York sure does interest me. My wife loves those Broadway musicals."

They're just being polite. The real title of these pieces should "Player X says he's interested in money." Which, come to think of it, wouldn't really be news.

New favorite nickname, from Jeff Angus's Management By Baseball Blog, we have Joe Kerrigan, The Bullpen Coach of Damocles. Used in a paragraph:
[The Yankees' hiring Kerrigan to back up Ron Guidry is] also sad in a way, because it allows Steinbrenner a classic XYY maneuver, which is holding the Bullpen Coach of Damocles over Guidry's head all the time. Guidry knows they have this completely qualified replacement standing off to the side, and Steinbrenner is perfectly capable of using that to torment Guidry whenever it gives the owner pleasure to do so.
You'll have to head on over to Jeff's blog to find out about his XYY Theory, but trust me, it's well worth the trip. Angus's work is reminiscent of Will Carroll's, in that both men have found fairly unique angles from which to approach the game of baseball: Carroll with his ground breaking injury analysis, Angus by looking at the lessons that baseball strategy holds for business management, and vice-versa.


Anonymous said...

Logan's Run, LOL. Jenny Agutter was a rare thing: A hot English woman.

I get the feeling that the on field tactical advancements by sabermetrics are more important than the scouting aspect.


DJ said...

Mmmm...Jenny Agutter.

Life was tough, however, if you were an impressionable someone who got the idea of how to pick up women from Logan 5 and Jessica 6:

"You're beautiful. Let's have sex"
"Then why are you wasting my time?"

As for the scouting/tactical merits of sabermetrics, I think it's a distinction without much of a difference. The biggest tactical decision a manager makes is who gets playing time--and that's as much the front office's responsibility as the manager's call.