Monday, February 28, 2005

The Benefit

First off, I don't want to get into it, but the Post article from yesterday didn't please everyone. That's fine, and the criticisms I saw were hardly serious enough to warrant the term, but it was deeply heartening that people came to my defense. Thank you.

There was an intriguing exchange today at Batter's Box. Batter's Box is a very impressive site that I'd read every day if I cared even slightly about the Blue Jays. Jays G.M. J.P. Ricciardi is annoyed at some of criticisms leveled against him on the site, and lets them know about it. Ricciardi is in an interesting position. When hired, he was considered a disciple of Billy Beane, a Moneyball guy. But lately he's fallen out of favor with the stat-dork crowd, and this is reflected in the issues of contention. Rather than talk about the interview itself, I'm going to quote Basil of Nationals Inquirer, who goes even above his usual style, wit, and insight in discussing it, and go from there. Basil (long quotation, but read the whole thing):
The point Ricciardi's little dust-up with Batter's Box demonstrates, if I may be so bold as to attempt to glean one, is one that statheads themselves have acknowledged many times over the past decade at least but that still bears repeating: we (stat-oriented fans; internet forum posters; bloggers), by nature, operate in a world of "theory" (for lack of a better world). . . But when it comes down to brass tacks, we are not the ones making the decisions. What if Ricciardi really is, as he claims, "four steps ahead" of a mere internet blogger? What if the factors he cites really are inhibiting him from getting the guys he targets? (And what if his "stathead worldview" is more moderate than the Batter's Box guys, as it apparently is?) What does he do? He does what he can, and he pleases who he needs to please. . . .

This is obvious, I suppose, but I want to be sure that I do not miss the practical application: My observation is that statheads/bloggers/what-have-you sometimes demonstrate a bit of a haughty perspective, as if we know better. I am sure I am guilty of this. That's bad. . . .


So, I propose this idea, just for myself perhaps:
There exists a presumption that a general manager---such as, say, Jim Bowden---knows what he's doing, within the context of the factors in which he operates. Now, this doesn't mean that:


1) I, for instance, cannot disagree with certain moves; or
2) other bloggers, for example, cannot call certain rationalizations as bull-flop; or,
3) the presumption cannot plainly be removed (see, e.g., Cam Bonifay).

But I think this may assist in defining, for myself at least, exactly the scope of that which I criticize on occasion here.
This is something I've thought about for some time, but Basil put it better than I could have. I'm not going to wade through the archives to make sure of this, but I've never said that I could do a better job than Jim Bowden. An actual, real-life general manager deals with things I couldn't imagine, and if Bowden and I switched jobs tomorrow, two companies would find themselves much worse off.

I have, to a certain extent, learned my lesson about second-guessing G.M.s. Walt Jocketty runs the Cardinals, and he likes to make trades. I spent some years bitching about every trade he made. Fernando Tatis was my favorite player, and I was outraged when Jocketty shipped him. Well, since 2001, Tatis has totaled 208 games and 19 homers and hasn't hit for the league average even once. He got released by the Devil Rays. In return, Walt picked up Steve Kline, who not only provided provided effective relief for four years, but also struck out Darth Vader when it mattered. After that, the Jim Edmonds trade, the Woody Williams trade, the Scott Rolen trade, and the Larry Walker trade, I'd learned my lesson. Walt Jocketty may not be a Moneyball G.M., but he knows what he's doing and he's smarter than I am, so he gets the benefit of the doubt.

Jim Bowden has earned no such privelege. His resume may be a mystery to Thomas Boswell, but I know how Google and Baseball Reference work, so I'm acquainted with Bowden's futility. Jim Bowden is, by any reasonable measure, a failed G.M. In 10+ years, the Reds made the playoffs one-and-a-half times. I'm being generous here: Cincinnati took the division in 1995 with 85 wins, beat L.A. in the first round, and was swept by Atlanta in the LCS. In 1999, the Reds won 96 games, as you may have heard Bodes mention once or twice, but lost a one-game playoff with the Mets. So: ten years, one division title, one sort-of sub-wilcard almost-playoff thing, no pennants, no titles. The fact that Bowden is a failed general manager doesn't mean he's a bad general manager, but it does mean that he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt and does get second-guessed.

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