boston red sox

Bold Predictions Revisited

In March, I made a few predictions about how the season would go.  Let’s see how I did:

Prediction #1:  The St. Louis Cardinals will win 100 games.

WRONG.  The Cards still won the NL Central, but they only won 90 games.  My prediction was based on the Cardinals’ impressive organizational depth, but what good is depth if it doesn’t yield any impact players?  Hot prospect Oscar Taveras failed to impress in his debut and Allen Craig fell flat and ended up in Boston along with Joe Kelly and his high 90’s heat that somehow doesn’t yield any strikeouts.  The seemingly deep rotation suffered heavier than anticipated losses, with Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia losing many games to injury and Shelby Miller experiencing severe growing pains.  But despite all that, the Cards were deep enough to weather a great deal of adversity and make the postseason for the fourth straight year.  So I was sort of right.  Okay, fine, I wasn’t right at all.

Prediction #2:  The Oakland A’s will win the most games in the AL.

WRONG.  This prediction looked great at the end of July.  The A’s had the best record in the majors, had just traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester and were gearing up for a deep playoff run.  I looked like a genius.  But then, as has been well documented, the A’s crashed hard to earth and barely snuck in to the playoffs as a wild card while it was the division rival Angels that captured the best record.  The A’s finished with the fifth best record in the AL, so I wasn’t even close…but it feels close to me.

Prediction #3:  The Toronto Blue Jays will contend for a playoff spot.

WRONG.  Again, this prediction looked really good earlier in the season, before the Orioles (!) pulled away from everyone in the division.  The Jays were flying high until their wings were clipped by injuries to Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion.  (I say their wings were clipped because Blue Jays are birds and have wings.  I have such a way with words.)  Anyways, the Jays weren’t officially eliminated until the final week of the season, but they weren’t a real contender at any point during the home stretch.

Prediction #4:  The Detroit Tigers will win less than 90 games.

WRONG.  Unlike the other predictions, I was actually close on this one.  The Tigers won exactly 90 games, and needed every single one because the Royals finished second in the AL Central with 89.  My concerns about the bullpen were exactly on point (except the part where I thought Joe Nathan would be any good) as were my worries about the depth of the rotation (Anibal Sanchez missed significant time and his replacements, such as Robbie Ray and Kyle Lobstein, weren’t very good).  The offense actually turned out to be better than I thought despite a down year from Miguel Cabrera, thanks to a career best season from Victor Martinez (32 homers) and a breakout performance from J.D. Martinez.  Anyways, I was close, but still 100% wrong…but I’m glad I was wrong.  Though it would be nice if I were even wronger, and the Tigers had won 100 games.

Prediction results:  0 for 4

Revised Postseason Predictions:

I predicted only two of five AL playoff teams correctly (Detroit and Oakland), but got four out of five NL playoff teams right (Washington, Los Angeles, St. Louis and San Francisco) plus all three division winners.  Though the teams I predicted to be in the League Championship Series are all still alive (Detroit, Oakland, St. Louis, Washington), I’m going to change my predictions because the Cardinals haven’t been as good as I thought they would be and because Clayton Kershaw is an animal.

AL Wild Card:  Oakland over Kansas City
NL Wild Card:  Pittsburgh over San Francisco

ALCS:  Detroit over Oakland
NLCS:  Los Angeles over Washington

World Series:  Detroit over Los Angeles

The Rules of Booing

jim-johnson-mlb-cleveland-indians-oakland-athletics-game-two1

Jim Johnson has sucked hard this year.  Really hard.  I’m talking Phil Coke level sucking.  (I simply don’t have the words or the energy to rant anymore about the disaster that is the Tigers bullpen.  Coke, for example, may have some utility remaining as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) who faces lefties exclusively.  But he should not be facing ANY right handers at any point of any game, not even switch hitters who hit worse right handed and are being “turned around” against Coke.  I don’t understand.  This has been true for years, and this year it’s even worse: righties have an OPS over 1.000 against Coke in 2014.  And yet, somehow, he’s faced more righties than lefties.  Why does Tigers management insist on continually running him out there against right handed hitters?  Are they hoping he’s going to figure it out or something?  My deepest fear is that Coke starts to get lucky later on this season and somehow gain more trust from Brad Ausmus, increasing the chances that Coke is in the game in a big situation during the stretch run or in the playoffs.  I’m actively rooting for Coke to suck more right now, even if it means the Tigers lose, because the sooner that the Tigers get it through their thick skulls that this guy is a walking turd and release him, the better.)

Wait.  What was I saying?  Oh, right.  Jim Johnson.  So, Johnson has been terrible ever since the moment he arrived in Oakland, and A’s fans have been booing him mercilessly since April.  Johnson’s new teammates have scurried to his defense, making public statements beseeching the fans to stop booing him.  The tone of these statements have ranged from reasoned (“It doesn’t make him pitch better when you boo”) to clichéd (“We don’t come boo you at your place of work”) to condemning (“You are terrible people if you boo”).  A’s fans have continued to boo anyways, because Johnson has continued to suck.  This culminated in an incident last week where Johnson’s wife was booed at a team charity event.  I think booing Mrs. Johnson was, while slightly hilarious, over the line.  But where, exactly, is that line?

Look, I believe firmly that we as fans should generally be free to boo who we want to boo.  We the fans are the reason that players get paid millions of dollars, so players shouldn’t whine about being booed; better to be booed than to have no one watching at all.  So yeah, the general rule should be that you can boo anyone you want, whether he’s on the opposing team or on your team.  But as with most general rules, there needs to be a few exceptions to preserve the rightness of the universe:

The Human Decency Exception:  Don’t boo or cheer if a player is lying on the field injured.  Don’t be a bigoted booer.  Don’t heckle opposing players with a stream of non-stop expletives when you’re sitting next to a bunch of kids (maybe a few scattered f-bombs are okay).  These are all, like, duh.

The Derek Jeter Exemption:  A few years ago, Jeter started the season in a horrific slump, and he started to get booed a little bit at home.  This is after he’d already won four championships and pretty much established himself as the greatest shortstop in Yankee history.  This was messed up.  If you’re a Yankee fan, you do NOT boo Derek Jeter because he’s in a freaking slump.  To make this a more general rule, you don’t boo a guy on your own team solely based on performance if that guy still has a significant net credit with your franchise.  So let’s take the A’s, for example, who’ve made two consecutive postseason appearances.  Should any of the guys who were fundamental pieces on the 2012 and 2013 teams (e.g. Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson) be booed if they were having a rough start to 2014?  No way; there’s no way that a few horrendous months can offset what they’ve done previously.  Obviously, the length of the exemption depends on the magnitude of the positive contribution.  Maybe you can start to boo Coco next year, but franchise-changing guys like Derek Jeter have lifetime exemptions.   This is why it’s completely okay to boo Jim Johnson; he has zero track record with the A’s.  The exemption only applies if the booing is based solely on performance; if the booing is based on off-the-field stuff (like if Miguel Cabrera started drinking again), the exemption would no longer apply and booing would be permitted.

The Jacoby Ellsbury Corollary:  This is an offshoot of the Derek Jeter Exemption.  What happens when a guy who has given a ton to your franchise, including a couple of World Series titles, leaves as a free agent to go to your arch rival?  This was the sticky situation with Jacoby Ellsbury this year.  When he returned to Boston for the first time, the response was very mixed.  Some people cheered and some people booed.  Both were right.  This is a gray area.  Go with your heart.  You are free to boo or cheer as you please, regardless of what that player has done for your team in the past, because that player no longer plays for your team.  The only exception to this is that booing is not permitted when (1) a player had previously earned a lifetime Derek Jeter Exemption and (2) did not completely burn his bridges with his old team.  So Albert Pujols, who earned a lifetime exemption in St. Louis and left as a free agent largely because the Cardinals wouldn’t pay him his market value, should never be booed in St. Louis.  But LeBron James, who came close to earning a lifetime exemption in Cleveland, left so acrimoniously that he deservedly was booed every time he returned.

The Women and Children Caveat:  When I went to the Detroit Lions’ only playoff game victory in their history in 1991, there was a presentation at halftime to the national winners of the Pass, Punt & Kick competition.  These were kids between the ages of 7 and 14.   The Lions were well on their way to winning the game and going on to face Washington in the NFC Championship.  Washington had obliterated Detroit earlier that season, but it was a game that Barry Sanders didn’t play and Lions fans were itching for a chance at a rematch.  So when it was announced that one of the Pass, Punt & Kick winners was from Washington, the entire stadium booed the poor kid.  I mean, it wasn’t a malicious or threatening kind of booing; it was more like a collective reaction by 70,000 people to the announcement of the word “Washington.”  It was kind of awesome.  Anyways, the point is this: the rules of conduct in a stadium aren’t quite the same as in real life.  It’s perfectly acceptable to boo a player from the stands, but if you met him in person on the street and started booing him, you’d look like a crazy person.  A sporting event is entertainment and the spectators are the audience; it’s okay to respond to the presentation, even if it’s not directly related to the game.  So if they showed Mrs. Jim Johnson’s face on the Oakland Jumbotron, I think it would be okay to boo her (not saying that I would personally do that, but I’m not condemning it either).  But it wouldn’t be okay to harass a player’s family at a game since that’s not a part of the presentation, and booing Mrs. Johnson at a charity event is probably not okay as well.  But I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure.   It’s all about context.  I mean, if it was really funny, maybe it was okay.

The Douchebag Catch-all:  None of these exceptions apply to Alex Rodriguez.  Boo him on the street.  Boo his family.  Boo him while he’s sleeping.  Boo him forever.  BOOOOOO.

Suspended Game Singularities

Last Thursday (May 22), the game between the Giants and the Rockies was suspended due to rain tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 6th.  Most likely, this game won’t be completed until the Giants return to Colorado during the first week of September.  That’s a long time to wait to finish a game.  The suspended game (as opposed to the postponement or shortening of a game due to weather) is a relatively rare occurrence, and brings with it a bevy of interesting hypothetical scenarios.  For example, let’s say between now and September, the Rockies trade Michael Cuddyer to the Giants.  When the game is completed, Cuddyer would be eligible to enter the game for the Giants, thus appearing in the same game for both teams.  This has never happened before in the history of baseball, but in this age of increased in-season trades, this is bound to occur sooner or later.

Hypothetically, it would also be possible for even stranger situations to occur when players switch teams prior to the completion of a suspended game.  Nick Masset completed the top of the 6th for the Rockies; if the Rockies were then to take the lead in the bottom of the 6th, Masset would be in line to get a win.  But what if Masset were traded to the Giants, then, when this suspended game is resumed, enters the game in the bottom of the 6th inning with the bases empty and gives up a tie-breaking run?  In theory, at least, Masset could get credit for BOTH the win and the loss in the SAME GAME.  While this can’t happen in this particular situation because a runner is currently on base with two outs (even if Masset entered the game immediately for the Giants, the go-ahead run couldn’t be charged to him), you can see how it’s at least a plausible scenario.  At the very least, this is yet another reason why wins and losses are super fun.

Finally, let’s look at one other possible (but even more unlikely) situation: as before, Masset pitches the top of the 6th for the Rockies, the game gets suspended, Masset gets traded to the Giants, the game resumes, then Masset enters the game for the Giants in the bottom of the 6th.  Upon entering, however, Masset ends up facing the pitcher’s spot in the order for the Rockies…which is of course currently occupied by Masset himself.  Of course, there’s no situation where Masset could actually walk up to the plate and face himself, unless, you know, he’s Multiple Man.  So in 99.99% of these situations, the Rockies would just put a pinch hitter in Rockies Masset’s spot to face Giant Masset (wait…is a single member of the Rockies team called a Rocky?  Or are the Rockies one of those team names that can’t be singularized like the Heat or the Red Sox?).  But let’s say Rockies management has a colossal brain fart (or just wants to make history) and somehow just skips Rockies Masset’s spot in the order.  According to MLB rules, if you skip a player in the order, that player would simply be called out.  Statistically, I’m not sure how that would be recorded (probably an 0 for 1 for Rockies Masset and 1/3 of an inning pitched for Giant Masset), but I would like to think that this would mean that Masset gets credit for an at bat…against himself.

The fact that it is possible (however unlikely) for two versions of the same person to appear in a single game proves that suspended games are far more insidious than they initially appear.  How can there be two Nick Massets?  Think of it this way: the unholy act of suspending a baseball game creates a tear in the space-time continuum , allowing Future Nick Masset to interact with Past Nick Masset.  In other words, a suspended game behaves like a black hole. Taking that reasonable analogy to its logical conclusion, the upside of suspended games is the possible creation of interestingly quirky box scores, while the downside is the potential destruction of the entire world.

The Tigers’ In-House Shortstop Solution

Tigers starting shortstop Andrew Romine is currently on pace to hit .179/.256/.192 (yes, that is a slugging percentage of .192 to accompany his career slugging percentage of .247) with 101 strikeouts in 316 ABs and 8 RBI. EIGHT. This is all after the incumbent  Jose Iglesias got hurt and Alex Gonzalez couldn’t hit OR play defense. Romine can pick it at short, I’ll give him that, but the Tigers are winning despite basically trotting out a National League lineup on a nightly basis (Romine being the equivalent of a pitcher). 

Can it really be that hard to upgrade on Romine?  (I didn’t think it was worth the resources to chase Stephen Drew, so I was relieved to hear he re-signed with the Red Sox today.  I’ve wanted to write about his contract situation and the fact that his own greed backfired in his face…but really it just looks like Drew’s agent Scott Boras severely underestimated the impact of the draft pick that any team signing Drew would have to sacrifice.  But who knows…maybe Boras warned Drew that this would happen and it really was his greed that did him in.)  Um…does Tigers management realize they have one of the best defensive shortstops of all time on the field every night? I’m talking about the Tigers’ first base coach, Omar Vizquel. Now, I think the Tigers joked about this possibility back in spring training, but now that we know how bad the alternatives look, could a 46-year-old Vizquel really be that bad of an option? While Vizquel at his age probably couldn’t match Romine’s range or arm, Omar could probably play at least a passable short even if he were 60. And I’m 100% certain Vizquel would be an offensive upgrade over Romine. And more importantly, this would be fun! He can be fantasy eligible at both SS and 1BC (1st Base Coach). And the Tigers are all about fun: 

Most importantly, Omar Vizquel just seems like such a nice guy.  He has such a nice smile.  I just want to be his friend.

Opening Day 2014: Bold Predictions

1.  The St. Louis Cardinals will win more than 100 games.

Let me just say first of all that I kind of hate the Cards.  I hate Ozzie Smith, who is one of the most overrated players of all time.  He’s in the Hall of Fame (on the first ballot, to boot) and Alan Trammell isn’t?  Seriously?  Dude contributed virtually  nothing with the bat for his entire career, I don’t care how good he was with the glove (and come on, is there really that much of a difference between Ozzie and Omar Vizquel?  For that matter, is there even much of a difference between Ozzie Smith and Ozzie Guillen?)  I hate Tony LaRussa, who is going into the Hall of Fame despite being a complete dick of a person and managing players who were some of the most egregious steroid abusers.  I hate the 2006 version of the Cardinals, who didn’t deserve to win a World Series over my beloved Tigers and are the worst World Series champion of all time based on winning percentage.  God I hate them.

But it’s been awhile since the franchise has really given me anything to hate, so my feelings are returning towards ambivalence, and with that comes objectivity.  Entering the 2014 season, the Cardinals are the only team that are an absolute lock for the playoffs.  If we fast forwarded to October and you told me that any other team (say the Red Sox or the Dodgers) missed the playoffs, I wouldn’t be too surprised.  But there isn’t any way in hell that St. Louis doesn’t make the postseason this year.  This team not only has a stacked rotation, bullpen, offense and defense, they have a loaded farm system and depth all around the diamond.  No other team is as prepared to handle the inevitable injuries that can pile up during the course of the long regular season.  Combine all that with their relatively weak division, and I think it’s completely reasonable that this team just runs away from everyone else in the National League.  No team has won 100+ games since Philly in 2011 and overall there might be even more parity this year, but the Cards, as much as I hate to say it, will be the exception.  I take no joy in this prediction whatsoever.

2.  The Oakland A’s will finish with the most wins in the American League (and get to the ALCS).

In 2012, no one picked the A’s to do much of anything, but they finished one game shy of the best record in the AL.  In 2013, very few people picked the A’s to repeat, but they again finished one game shy of the best record in the league.  I think most prognosticators have learned their lesson, so no one is picking the A’s for a complete collapse this year, but most are not picking the A’s to match their 96 wins from last year.  But I like their chances of not only winning their division, but having the best record in the league.

There’s still a lot of upside on this roster that wasn’t captured in 2013.  So while Josh Donaldson likely won’t match his MVP-caliber performance, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes are both primed to improve on poor 2013 season.  Coco Crisp won’t fall off as much as people think as long as he stays healthy (see previous post), and the A’s are getting close to perfecting the art of the platoon at both first base and at catcher (where I like both Derek Norris and John Jaso to have good seasons).  The real question with the A’s is with their rotation, after losing Jarrod Parker for the year and Bartolo Colon to free agency.  On top of that, A.J. Griffin is out for the first few weeks of the season.  But Sonny Gray looks like he could be a legitimate ace, something the A’s didn’t really have the last two seasons, and if they need another starter mid-season, I trust Billy Beane to go out and get one.  Moreover, I think any deficiencies in the rotation can be overcome by what looks like an even stronger bullpen than the 2012 and 2013 versions, which were both pretty damn good.

As for the postseason, the A’s deserved better than their two consecutive first-round exits at the hand of the Tigers.  So, I’ll say that they win the ALDS this year and exorcise some demons…but then lose in the ALCS in seven games to the Tigers, with Justin Verlander winning games 1, 4 and 7.  Sorry A’s fans, but hey, it’s one step further than last year.  I love Justin Verlander.

3.  The Toronto Blue Jays will contend for a playoff spot.

In the past two years, all four of the other teams in the AL East have made the playoffs.  It’s the Blue Jays’ turn!  Okay, well, baseball (and life) doesn’t exactly work like that, but I loved this team on paper last year and I like them even more this year.  The offense was fine last year and should be even better this season if Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes can stay somewhat healthy; I also like Melky Cabrera to come back and contribute, well, anything.  The bullpen, led by Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil, should be nails.  Like the A’s, the question marks are in the rotation. I’m a huge R.A. Dickey fan, so I think he has a good year, though maybe not quite Cy Young caliber.  Mark Buehrle is consistently mediocre, but at least he’s not going to kill you the way Josh Johnson did last year.  So really it comes down to Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan in the back half of the rotation.  That’s an injury-prone strikeout artist with control issues, a high-upside rookie, and one of my favorite breakout fantasy candidates…from 2008 (and who has pitched less than 100 innings total at all levels since then).  That’s a ton of question marks, but I like the upside potential from this group.  If the Jays can get even league average performance from their starters, I like their offense and bullpen enough to keep them in the mix for a wild-card slot all year.  I’m not saying they’ll definitely make the playoffs, but they’ll get close.

4.  The Detroit Tigers will win less than 90 games.

Ahh…my Tigers.  I don’t even know what to do with these guys right now.  After an offseason and spring training where it appears ownership and upper management have gone collectively insane (Fielder-Kinsler trade, Fister trade, trading for two garbage shortstops to cover for Iglesias injury, failure to re-sign Scherzer, WTF Cabrera contract), this team just has a really bad juju to it.  I’m now prepared for the worst, but of course still hoping for the best.  But there is a ton of downside to this team.

– Offense:  With Prince Fielder departing, it looks like Miguel Cabrera could lead the league in homers…and the Tigers could finish last in the AL in home runs.  Where’s the power coming from in this lineup?  Even if you disregard power, however you set this lineup, spots six through nine in the batting order just look like black holes to me.  I expect Nick Castellanos to struggle to make contact his rookie year and I don’t have much hope for Alex Avila to be anything more than okay.  Granted, as long as the Tigers have Miggy they’ll at least be average, but will average be good enough?

– Starting pitching:  Despite the horrendously bad Doug Fister trade, I still think this could be the best 1 through 5 rotation in baseball if everyone stays healthy, even accounting for declines from Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, but the Tigers have been pretty fortunate the last couple of years health-wise.  If even one of these guys goes down, there isn’t a single guy in the organization who can step in as a serviceable starter.  Jose Alvarez could have been that guy, but we just traded him for SS A. Romine (can’t remember whether he is Austin or Andrew) in a panic move.  One injury will be tough to recover from; two and the season’s over.

– Bullpen:  The Tigers’ achilles heel the last two postseasons has been the bullpen, though maybe more due to Jim Leyland’s mismanagement.  But as mediocre as last year’s bullpen was, this year’s is stacking up to be much worse.  The best three guys from the Tigers’ 2013 bullpen (Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras) are gone (or, in Smyly’s case, moved to the rotation) and have been replaced by Joe Nathan and a bunch of garbage.  Now, Joe Nathan is a pretty good closer, but there’s no way that one closer makes up for three solid bullpen arms.  Despite having the big names on their roster, the Tigers have underperformed during the regular season the last couple years, largely due to bullpen weaknesses.  This is only going to get worse this year.

The Tigers aren’t going to win 90 games.  Their only hope really is that 88 wins or so is enough to win the AL Central.  I think it just might be enough, but if the Royals or Indians get a little lucky this year, we could be looking at the end of the Tigers’ three-year postseason streak.

Postseason Predictions:

AL East: Boston
AL Central: Detroit
AL West: Oakland
Wildcards:  New York, Toronto

NL East:  Washington
NL Central:  St. Louis
NL West:  Los Angeles
Wildcards:  Honestly, I would not be surprised if it were any teams other than New York, Miami or Chicago.  Let’s just say Cincinnati and San Francisco.

ALCS: Detroit over Oakland
NLCS: St. Louis over Washington

World Series:  Detroit (88 wins) over St. Louis (101 wins).  Revenge for 2006!  Suck it St. Louis.

Brad Ausmus, Managerial Reform and the Great Spring Hope

For the second straight postseason, Jim Leyland completely botched the management of his bullpen.  But after no playoff appearances in 19 years, the Tigers have made the playoffs four times in eight seasons since Leyland took over.  Also, by all accounts, the players adored and respected him.  He wasn’t going to get fired, period.  So when Leyland announced his retirement this offseason, man, was I relieved.

But where’s the relief in getting rid of a strategically-challenged manager only to replace him with another one?  With candidates like Dusty Baker, Charlie Manuel and Lloyd McClendon being mentioned for the job, I have to say that I agree 100% with the choice to hire former catcher Brad Ausmus.  Because even though Ausmus has no managerial experience and we have no idea what to expect from him as a manager, the unknown is better than the known garbage.

The hope is that Ausmus turns out to be a superior in-game strategos while also commanding the same respect that Leyland enjoyed.  And that’s how I would break down the primary roles of a baseball manager:  Strategy and People.

  • Strategy: This includes all of the manager’s roles as the field captain (i.e. determination of lineups, substitutions and rotations; managing bullpens; making calls for pinch-hitting, pinch-running, defensive subs or double switches; defensive alignment).  Strategy gets the most scrutiny in the media, because it’s the most visible.  We see Grady Little decide to leave Pedro Martinez in the game in the 2003 ALCS and we all have an opinion as to whether or not it was the right decision.  (For the record, I think it was a justifiable decision.)
  • People:  This role regards the management of human capital.  This is where the term “manager” makes the most sense, because in this aspect the baseball manager’s role isn’t any different from the manager of any other kind of business.  The manager needs to be able to understand and connect with his personnel.  He needs to maximize the results of the team by understanding how to motivate his troops.  When the media refers to a manager that has “lost” his players or a clubhouse that is out of control, this usually reflects a perceived failure in the People portion of the job (e.g. Terry Francona with the 2011 Red Sox or Bobby Valentine with the 2012 Red Sox).

Both roles are crucial to the performance of a manager.  But few managers actually appear to be competent at both.  As most managers tend to be former players and/or older men who are, uh, perhaps, more set in their ways, they tend to make in-game decisions relying on either a.) not enough statistical data (i.e. rely on their guts) and/or b.) the wrong statistical data (e.g. small sample size batter vs. pitcher data).  With all of the information that is becoming available to us through more and more advanced statistics, it seems like we are getting closer to understanding the ideal choice in nearly any game situation.  But given the level of mathematical inclination required to truly understand advanced stats (much less develop newer and better models than your competition), it almost seems too much to ask for one man to be responsible for both Strategy and People.

So how about having co-managers, one for each role?  Alternatively, each team should employ a strategy guru that would be on the field and have discretion to make most on-field decisions, while ultimately reporting to the manager or the front office.  Look, I can tell you right now that I think I could handle the Strategy role for a major league baseball team; but from the People perspective, I don’t know if I could command the respect of a clubhouse with no baseball experience whatsoever.

But then again, maybe it doesn’t matter.  I do think the People role is important, but how much does it really matter?  Is there any way to quantify this in terms of wins and losses?  Most people would say that Leyland was good at the People part of his job, but I would say that his Tigers teams of the last few years have underperformed, despite the playoff appearances.  We have enshrined Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre into the Hall of Fame as managers, but we still don’t know definitively whether they were great leaders of men or just lucky enough to have been carried to championships by amazing players.

Do we even need field managers at all?  Honestly, they kind of look bored most of the time.  Can’t all of the Strategy decisions be handled by someone like the general manager, who can make those calls from a luxury box?  Can’t one of the players, like a team captain, handle the People portion of the role?  The demise of the player/manager role in baseball makes me slightly sad; I remember getting a Pete Rose baseball card when I was a kid and saw his position listed as “1B-MGR” and my mind was blown.  He’s a player…AND a manager???  How cool is that?!

Ultimately, stats have come a long way in determining the value of what players do on the field.  And it seems like we are getting closer, at least, to understanding the value of what managers do on the field (check out this paper from MIT Sloan’s Sports Analytics Conference).  But we’re still a long ways away from being able to quantify the effect of good managers on an organization off the field, much less figure out which managers are actually good and which are bad.  I mean, I have a pretty good idea, but it’s pretty hard to prove that because Joe Maddon brings magicians into the Tampa Bay clubhouse the Rays actually win more games.  Maybe these effects can’t be quantified.  And if that’s true, I guess that’s fine.  I’m okay with the mystery.  I’m okay with not knowing anything about how Brad Ausmus, the manager, will perform this season.  Because it’s spring, and because hope is the answer to every unanswered question in the spring.  Everything is going to be okay.

2008 Season Preview

I needed something fun and easy to read so I picked up “Now I Can Die in Peace” by Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN.com.  Now, I have always enjoyed Simmons’ columns, I’ll admit that.  I would describe him sort of as like the average joe fan who turns out to be an above average writer.  Not a great writer; it’s a bit harder to read in book form and he definitely pales in comparison to other some-time ESPN contributers like Klosterman and Easterbrook.  Those guys are on a whole different level.

Regardless, the focus of the book is about the journey of the 2004 Red Sox and all their long-suffering fans.  86 years between world championships for them, 1918 to 2004 (quickly followed by 2007, of course).  And though Simmons’ refuses to use the word “curse” to describe the plight of Red Sox fans, he incessantly harps about how “this always happens to us”, saying how they’re so unlucky or this is so terrible, or it’s so hard to root for this team, blah blah blah.

What a bunch of whiny crap.

Look, unless you’re actually like 86 years old, I don’t buy any of this garbage about how long you’ve been suffering.  This guy is like 10 years older than me, so I’ll give him like 10 more years of following his team, so that takes him to around 1976 or 1977.  That’s like 30 seasons of baseball, out of which the Red Sox have only posted 5 seasons with losing records.  The most they lost in a single season in that span was 89 games.  They went to the playoffs 7 times from 1976 to 2003.  So why are you crying so much you gigantic baby.

The Tigers last won a World Series in 1984.  I was 5 at the time and had lived in Michigan for all of two months at that point, so I had no idea what was going on.  I started to follow baseball in 1986 and was heartbroken when they lost in the playoffs in 1987.  Now.  Since 1986, the Tigers have posted 16 seasons with losing records, including four 100+ loss seasons.  I almost feel like that 119 loss monstrosity in 2003 should count double.  Even if a “Red Sox fan” could love their team as much as I love mine, you really think you’ve had it harder?  You think you’re that freaking important?  Just shut up.

In my lifetime, we’ve had two playoff appearances (1987 and 2006).  Both times we fielded excellent teams, and yet somehow ended up losing to, by any objective measure, the TWO WORST WORLD SERIES “CHAMPIONS” OF ALL TIME (’87 Twins, ’06 Cards).  You can’t know what this feels like.  It’s like having your girlfriend stolen from you by Screech from Saved By the Bell.  Twice.

And enough with the whole “Red Sox – Yankees is the best rivalry in sports” garbage.  It’s a great rivalry, no doubt, and for the time being, it’s the best rivalry in baseball.  But the best rivalry in the history of sports, past present or future, is Michigan – Ohio State.  End of story.

My team has been terrible for most of my life.  And if I were like a Red Sox fan, I would be crying and peeing all over myself, saying “Oh no….what if I grow old and die before my team wins a World Series?”  Such a fan would use that as an excuse to expect the worst, to bail on their team when times get rough.  Rough times?  Try living through a 119 loss season.  Seriously.

But even in 2003, I wasn’t bemoaning my fate of rooting for a doomed team.  Hell no.  I believed that things would be better.  Maybe not right away, but I didn’t jump ship, I loved them with all their faults, maybe even because of their faults.  And whether it was 1987, 2003 or 2006, I knew I would someday see the Tigers win the World Series.  And not later on, like on my death bed.  I knew I would see it in the foreseeable future.  I knew it then.  I know it now.  I will see it happen.

So listen.  I could give an exhaustive player-by-player breakdown about how I think the season will go.  I could do that.  I could give a Peter Gammons-esque list of things that need to break right for something to maybe happen, i.e. “if player X stays healthy, if player Y breaks out, then maybe Team Z has a shot at making noise in the playoffs.”  I did this last year.  I said, “if the Tigers stay healthy, they could win 90 to 105 games.”  But what good is that?  It’s useless.  It’s gutless.

What is objectivity?  What is factual truth?  Can we ever truly know if the “facts” we hold to be true really are true?  Is foresight any different from memory?  Perhaps; knowledge of past is more than mere scienter; it’s memory corroborated by extrinsic evidence.  Maybe knowledge of the future seems less substantial; belief corroborated by nothing more than hope.  But if that belief and that hope are strong and virtuous enough, maybe that foundation is no less shaky than that of the “facts” we take for granted.

Maybe that seems tangential, but the point is this:  THE DETROIT TIGERS WILL WIN THE 2008 WORLD SERIES.  And that’s a fact.

EDIT:  OK, I guess I was wrong.

No Honor + No Code = A-ROD

Game 6: Red Sox vs. Yankees

– A-Rod has no code.  He has no honor.  Why did A-Rod slap at the ball like a little girl?  Why did he whine about it after when they called him out?  Because he has no code.  He has no honor.  Who would want to win this way?  The announcer (Tim McCarver, of course) said that it was a good move by A-Rod because if he gets away with it, he’s safe, and if he doesn’t do it, he’s out anyways.  That’s garbage.  With a game on the line, what would have happened if the umpires didn’t reverse the call?  The Yankees might have gone on to win the game, not because of an error by the other team, but by an umpiring error.  The fact that A-Rod would force the umpires into such a position where they would have to decide the fate of the game by making a rare and controversial call shows that he has no code, he has no honor.  And his weasel-like move directly caused the incitement of the New York crowd (New Yorkers are insane) and the presence of the police on the field for a half inning.  No honor.  No code.  None.

– Bottom of the ninth.  Two out.  Yanks down by two, two men on, Tony Clark at the plate.  I have watched Tony Clark strike out about a gazillion times in clutch situations in his long career with the Detroit Tigers.  Over and over again, I would hope beyond hope he would do something, and he would strike out.  After all my years of torture, if he had hit one out tonight to win the game, I would forever be convinced that God is a Yankees fan.  So it’s a pretty good thing he struck out.  I don’t think I could worship a Yankee fan.