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August 24, 2001

6-4-3

Reader Mail

by Gary Huckabay

We at Baseball Prospectus have a feature where we respond to selected e-mails from our readers. You can find this "From the Mailbag" feature on a recurring basis under the Features section of the BP main page.

But today, I want to take this opportunity to respond to a few of the e-mails I've received from readers recently. It didn't feel right to just dominate a mailbag column with one person's stuff. Next week, I'm doing a piece called "Heaven on Earth," which could interest upwards of a dozen people.

But now, let's open the mailbag...

Regarding the management overview and plan for the Kansas City Royals:

The chances of professional baseball people taking the advice of outsiders is next to nil. In fact, it may be less than nil, because insiders, particularly those who are generally recalcitrant anyway, would take the opposite approach just to try to succeed on their own terms and prove the outsiders wrong. (See Baylor, Don.) -- C.H.

I disagree, C. The main issue facing Major League Baseball and serious performance analysis is really one of technology transfer. In every industry, there are ideas that are developed outside of the mainstream, and if they're meritorious, have a risk-acceptant champion, and the stars are aligned right, these ideas work their way into the mainstream. I've done consulting work, and you can even find sports consulting practices with very good people inside the Big Five Professional Services Firms--not exactly early adopters, that bunch.

It won't happen overnight, but it's definitely happening, and as clubs like the A's have success with non-traditional methods, you'll see it more and more.

Funny you should mention Don Baylor--I worked with his son, Don Baylor, Jr., at KPMG Consulting. Good guy.

One of the many "easy slap at baseball management" e-mails:

I have a multiple choice question for you. If you owned a major-league ballclub, and were forced at gunpoint to hire one of these men as a general manager with complete authority over all aspects of Baseball Operations and Finance, which one would you choose?

[a] Jim Frey
[b] Allard Baird
[c] Dallas Green
[d] Barry Minkow
[e] Ted Turner

-- J.D.

Wow. For those of you who don't remember, Barry Minkow was a scam artist who formed a company called ZZZZ Best Carpets in the late 1980s. He grew it to $100 million+ by bilking investors, got caught, and got a divinity degree while in prison. I think he's running some local church and writing books somewhere now, which, if sincere, is a pretty nice turnaround.

But anyway. I'd probably go with [f], "anyone except Dallas Green." Green's place in baseball purgatory was cemented after he finished off the arm ligaments and cartilage of Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher, and Jason "Blown Save" Isringhausen with the Mets a few years back. This colossal lack of understanding of the game of baseball, combined with his willingness to blast his players in public, makes him the perfect candidate for a transfer to the South Chelyabinsk Gouty Ice Ferrets, where he can be the assistant water boy.

I like to give management in baseball every benefit of the doubt, but Green's lack of performance in the front office is really an impressive display. I don't remember the timeline exactly, but wasn't green also the driving force behind the Mets' disastrous signings of Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman, et al. in the early 1990s. Either way, I'd rather hire a reader at random to run my club. At least they wouldn't think they knew everything.

The most common column request:

Are you planning to write another series on defense this year? I loved that series last year, and was hoping to see it this year before the season ends.

--O.W.

Thanks for the kind words, O.W. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to some of the videotape goodies I need to do a good job of subjective evaluation. Maybe I'll do something strictly quantitative, but you can do that on your own if you're curious. CNNSI.com has range factor and zone rating available online--that's a good place to start.

On the ethics side:

I've seen mentioned more and more this year the idea of keeping a player in the minors a little longer to push back his arbitration clock. And while it seems to make some business sense, I was thinking that, coming from people who are almost always on the side of the player, this is sort of unethical.

I thought the parallel was sort of like that of a manager who benched a pitcher to keep a bonus from kicking in. In this situation, the player should be playing, but to save a little cash the team screws the player out of his opportunity to make that cash.

Now, with the minor leaguer this is less clear, granted--the "should be playing" is more ambiguous. But if the fair way to treat a player is to decide if their talent warrants their playing or not, then I think making that decision instead based on the arbitration clock is unfair to the player. Here's a guy who has a limited career span ahead of him, a limited time in which to make as much as he can, and now some of that time is denied him simply for the financial benefit of the team.

So, is this ethical? Would the Reds have been more in the right to stall bringing up Adam Dunn until September, than they would be to bench a starting pitcher whose inning total is about to invoke an option year?

Thanks for the good work.

--C.W.

This is an outstanding and important question, one which I did not address (due to space concerns) in last week's column.

I did consider the ethics of the situation when advocating that clubs hold young players in the minors a little longer to avoid losing them to arbitration or free agency. Wrong or right, I came to the conclusion that you need to follow one simple rule when it comes to keeping a player in the minors or bringing him up:

What is best for the team?

That's it. I would argue that in the vast majority of cases, it makes sense to go ahead and keep the young player in the minors rather than bringing him to the bigs. The Royals plan I put forth requires (by implication) that the club have almost no players in the expected decline phase of their career. These are the players with the lowest return on investment, and as such, they don't have a place on a team where resources are so tightly constrained.

Given that, it's unlikely that there will be many cases when a minor-league player represents a clear improvement over someone already on the club in terms of expected performance, if you're executing your personnel plan correctly. So if there's not a clear gain by bringing up the kid, leave him in the minors. Do I bring up Carlos Febles at age 23 if I have a 28-year old Frankie Menechino? Probably not. I ride Frankie's peak a bit longer, and let Carlos spend a year honing his skills in Triple-A.

Furthermore, the "best for the team" is somewhat nebulous. It can mean right now, five years down the road, in the win column, or on the balance sheet. If it sounds like I'm weaseling here, it's probably because I am.

On Baseball's Mumia (Keith Law thought that up. Keith rocks.):

I don't mean this to start a fight, I just want a legitimate answer to this question: Why do you hate Pete Rose so much? Yes, I am a Reds fan from Cincinnati, but I really mean the question seriously.

--K.C.

Well, K.C., the short answer is that I don't hate Pete Rose, but that would be a little disingenuous. No, I've never met him, but I can't honestly say that my objectivity towards Rose has survived his behavior. Here's the quick bullet point list of issues I have with Pete Rose:

  • He wants forgiveness without contrition.
  • He wants forgiveness for the unforgivable.
  • He's handled himself with a complete lack of decorum, demonstrating disrespect for the game greater than any number of Fox Marketing Managers could ever dream up.
  • He has manipulated the media, and by extension the public, for 40 years.
  • He gets very upset if people actually examine and verify (or refute) his claims.
  • He subjugated team goals to his own as a player/manager, putting himself in the lineup to the detriment of the club long after he was an effective player.

That's the start of it. I'm sure my ill will is based in part on the amount of good press that he gets. I don't claim to be entirely rational on the subject. I wish he'd just slowly fade away.

And on the day of positivity:

You spent a lot of time writing about overrated players. That's a loser's game. You end up making enemies, because overrated players are almost always beloved. So who are your heroes in sports?

--J.M.

Thanks for the softball. I don't get many. Here's a short and less-than-comprehensive list:

  • Muhammad Ali
  • Dwayne Murphy
  • Martina Navratilova
  • John Paye
  • Rickey Henderson
  • Daryle Lamonica

The reasons vary, and I don't claim to have any logic behind the selections. I think Ali and Navratilova are very similar, and I wish I had half the intestinal fortitude of either. John Paye played football and basketball at Stanford, was a golden boy in high school, blessed with great talent that he put to great use, passed on the perks and arrogance available to so many that have that kind of privilege, and is a genuinely good guy. Daryle Lamonica, a former quarterback for the Raiders, saved the life of a cousin of mine after a diving accident in the California wilderness. Dwayne Murphy is the touchstone for all center fielders, and took the time to help me improve my outfield play.

My real heroes are old friends and family, like my mom, my wife Kathy, friends like Joel Z., Joe D., Rod, Erik, etc. Let's keep things in perspective. People do great and amazing things every day off the baseball field. The average candy striper is doing a Hell of a lot more good than any baseball player anywhere, and certainly more than some guy writing a column about baseball.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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