The Times, They Need A-Changin'
Bob Keisser of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram is perhaps the only writer in the Los Angeles market that understands and appreciates the Dodgers hiring Paul DePodesta as the team's new general manager. Keisser, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) for more than a decade, wrote a column (Dodgers figure on some changes) in Wednesday's newspaper.
Unlike Bill Plaschke and Larry Stewart of The Los Angeles Times, Keisser "gets it":
Where the fan on the street might say the important hitting numbers are average, runs and runs batted in, SABR people and (Bill) James would gently shake their head in disagreement.
Batting averages do not differentiate between the infield single and double in the corner, and runs and RBI depend on others. The guy on base can't drive himself in, and a batter can't hit an RBI double if the bases are empty.
In this world, the statistics that drive the bus are on-base percentage and extra-base hits. The former is the absolute essence of baseball--not only producing a runner but avoiding an out--and the latter is the most quantifiable stat when it comes to scoring runs.
Now that is highly refreshing in comparison to his counterparts at The L.A. Times.
Stewart, in DePodesta's Theories Aren't That Relative, writes:
Paul DePodesta is said to be a numbers guy. The Dodgers' new general manager has an economics degree from Harvard. But being good with numbers doesn't necessarily translate to baseball knowledge.
Stewart fails to mention that DePodesta actually has an extremely impressive resume. After playing football and baseball at Harvard (and graduating cum laude), DePodesta worked in the Canadian Football League and the American Hockey League. DePodesta then joined the Cleveland Indians as an intern in player development before becoming an advance scout for the major league team and eventually special assistant to the general manager.
DePodesta was hired by the Oakland A's as an assistant general manager in 1999. The team went on to experience its first winning season in seven years and has made the playoffs every year since, including three A.L. West Division titles. The A's, with a record of 479-339 during DePodesta's stay, won more games than every time in baseball except the Atlanta Braves (488) and the New York Yankees (484).
DePodesta was so well thought of that the Toronto Blue Jays offered him the franchise's GM job more than two years ago. He turned it down, and Toronto hired another Oakland A's assistant, J.P. Ricciardi (who led the Blue Jays to their second-highest win total in ten years last year).
Plaschke, in With Luck, The Dodgers Won't Crash, matches his fellow columnist by making a similarly ignorant comment:
And nothing against DePodesta, but it's hard to watch what was once baseball's most prestigious operation become an entry-level position.
Plaschke's column is full of jabs about DePodesta's age and inexperience, using such words as "nerd" and "kid" to describe the new GM of the Dodgers. Aaron Gleeman, another baseball writer who "gets it", wrote an outstanding critique of Plaschke's comments. I recommend that you read Gleeman's take on this subject as well as another article he uncovered searching the columnist's archives.
To Keisser's credit, he later adds:
DePodesta is a perfect choice for McCourt. He didn't cost McCourt a fortune and he's familiar with a small budget...
Plus, the Dodgers' old way of doing business fits the model DePodesta learned in Oakland. Branch Rickey created the concept of the farm system and wrote an article in the '50s saying on-base percentage was undervalued.
Rickey's article in Life magazine should be required reading for all baseball executives, analysts, commentators, and writers.
For those skeptics who don't think DePodesta is ready to take over the reins of the Dodgers, I suggest reading an insightful interview conducted by Rob Neyer last March.
"Dan O'Dowd told me -- when I was first working in Cleveland -- he said, 'One thing to be aware of, when you're a GM candidate, is that there are three different possibilities: you're not ready, or you're ready to survive, or you're ready to succeed.'
You have to be ready to survive, or your career can end almost immediately. Ultimately, what you want is to be ready to succeed, right from day one. When the Blue Jays offered me the job, I definitely felt like I was ready to survive. I felt like I was on the cusp of being ready to succeed, but I knew that if I waited another year -- now it's been a year-and-a-half -- then I could really hit the ground running.
And I did want to wait for the right job rather than the first job."
Whether the Dodgers GM position is the right job for DePodesta remains to be seen but by no means--are you listening Plaschke and Stewart?--is it his first job.