Baseball BeatJune 27, 2005
When All Else Fails, Blame The General Manager
By Rich Lederer

"It ain't my (bleeping) fault. Campanis is the (bleeping) guy!"

--Tommy Lasorda (radio outtake, circa 1980s, replayed incessantly by the legendary radio broadcaster Jim Healy)

Bob Keisser of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram wrote a column today, entitled "Tracy's future role: the fall guy." While defending Dodger manager Jim Tracy, Keisser rips into general manager Paul DePodesta:

Add it all up, and you have the perfect fall guy for the Dodgers' swoon of 2005. It's not (Tracy's) fault, but when did that ever matter?

Owner McCourt's not going to take any of the blame.


General manager Paul DePodesta isn't going to step up and take the heat, either, even if this is more his team than Tracy's.


DePodesta signaled how much he thought of Tracy in the offseason. He gave him just a two-year contract, a measly raise, and then put the same kind of financial squeeze on his coaches.

Tracy deserves better. He's not Tommy Lasorda one per planet is enough and he's not even Walter Alston, but then neither of those Hall of Famers were handed what has become an annual mess since Tracy was, um, fortunate to succeed Davey Johnson after the 2000 season.


So Tracy won in spite of DePodesta's moves. Now he's losing because of them.

The GM never replaced Lo Duca. Jason Phillips can't throw anyone out, and he's a hack at the plate.

The infield defense is predictably weaker with the departure of Beltre and Alex Cora, not a good thing when you also go out and acquire a big-dollar pitcher, Derek Lowe, who depends on ground-ball defense.

The two key players acquired in the Lo Duca trade are flawed. Hee-Seop Choi has played enough now to know he's average. Brad Penny averaged 6.5 strikeouts every nine innings through the injury he suffered three games into his Dodgers career. His 2005 strikeouts/per nine innings average is down to 4.8, along with some of his velocity.

I don't really know how many managers could have handled this kind of chaos as well as Tracy, other than Joe Torre. The bigger question may be how much longer he gets to handle it.

For whatever reason, Keisser obviously has an axe to grind here. I think this type of "analysis" is proof that (many of) the oldtimers are uncomfortable with the changing of the guard within the executive suites of major-league baseball. To say it is disappointing in the case of Keisser, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, is an understatement.

On occasion, Keisser has shown that he "gets it." But, more often than not, he reverts to criticizing DePodesta in a less than objective manner. He uses the cafeteria approach by picking and choosing his spots, pointing out the failures and ignoring successes.

First of all, to write that "Tracy won in spite of DePodesta's moves" last year is irresponsible. And then to go on and say that he's now "losing because of them" is pretty outrageous.

I mean, Keisser talks about the (poor) team Tracy inherited, especially as compared to Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda. But what did DePodesta inherit? A ballclub that was still reeling in some respects due to bloated contracts from the Kevin Malone era and moves (or lack thereof) from the pending sale of the team by FOX. Vladimir Guerrero, anyone?

DePodesta has been on the job 18 months. I'm not sure how much credit he should get for last year or how much blame he should get for this year. But to not give him credit for last year while blaming him for this year is unfair, to say the least. I'm not even trying to defend DePodesta per se. To be honest, I'm not convinced he has the shrewdness yet of Billy Beane, and he certainly doesn't have the luxury of a budget the size of Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox.

Keisser says "Phillips can't throw anyone out." Granted, Phillips has only thrown out 20% of base stealers this year, but LoDuca has thrown out just 29%. The difference between the two is about four or five stolen bases for the year. I'm sorry but that is not statistically significant.

Phillips is a "hack at the plate?" C'mon. He is about average for a catcher. Not good, not bad. Is he LoDuca? No, although I'm quite sure Keisser overvalues the latter's batting average. What I will say is that LoDuca (.298/.355/.399) isn't worth $4.2M more than Phillips (.246/.300/.365). Not surprisingly, Keisser fails to mention the difference in money. I guess it must be nice to have an unlimited budget to work with in this department, as Keisser most assuredly would have in putting together his "fantasy" team. He writes that McCourt is cheap but blames DePo for making cost-conscious moves. Talk about having it both ways?

I give Keisser credit for pointing out the decline in Brad Penny's strikeout rate, but he doesn't mention that the loss in Ks has been offset by a lower walk ratio while importantly increasing the number of groundballs vis-a-vis flyballs.

Let's face it, Phillips isn't the hack here. Keisser is.


Actually, I think Keisser is being too mild. DePodesta is a walking billboard for the hazards of linear thinking. DePodesta, like Beane, takes tools like OBP and worships them like gods.

Here's what I mean by linear thinking. Big $$ for Drew? Sure! look at his solid walk rate. One problem: the guy's a lock to not stay healthy. Trade prospects for Milton Bradley? Of Course! Look at his on base skills. Several problems here. The guys a psychotic, a club house cancer and somewhat fragile. None of this figures in on Beane-Ball. They've got statistics and science on their side!

"The guy's a psychotic ... and somewhat fragile."

Good thing you're willing to use a qualifying adjective when necessary.

Fugate is correct. I remember the stathead gloating when the Dodgers got out of the gate fast (small sample size and all).

Statistic oriented people absolutely take fragility into account. That's one of the reason's Beane kept Zito over Mulder and Hudson, becasue they were injury risks while Zito has never missed a start. Epstein also didn't keep Pedro because of fear of injury. Bradley is in anger management now and hasn't had outburts this year, so give him a break, at least unitl he does again.

Yeah if only DePo adhered to clubhouse chemistry and hunches, then he would have had the good sense to hang onto Steve Finley (hurt, .695 OPS), Adrian Beltre (.683 OPS, ridiculous contract) and Alex Cora (.546 OPS). I won't even address Sean Green or Jose Lima.

You know, not everything has an explanation, and I sure as hell don't have one for the Dodgers' ills. What you can be sure of though is that I will not embarass myself by putting forth some half-assed postulation that doesn't stand up for even a milisecond.

Sometimes the most accurate explanation is the simplest - shit happens.

"I will not embarass myself"

And yet, I embarass myself. Shawn Green, not Sean.

Being a SABR member is easy. All one needs to do is pay the annual membership fee. So, I'm not sure that being in SABR means one should know any better when it comes to statisical analysis. In my experience, the SABR meetings I have attended tend to be filled with the "back in my day" crowd. These people prefer to hear anecdotes about how wonderful life was when Ebbets Field stood at the corner of Sullivan and McKeever, and tune out when the serious baseball analysts start talking. I'm not trying to malign SABR, which is what it is. But it's far from being a progressive baseball thought factory.

Not to take anything away from Rich's point, which I think is valid. But he got me looking at the catcher stats -- and man, Phillips' are uglier than I realized. Granted the Dodger pitchers hurt him a lot, but only Kendall and Piazza have worse percentages among qualifying catchers. The gap between best and worst is what really catches my eye. Teams have stolen 46 bases when Jason is catching, compared to 9 on Yadier Molina and 18 on IRod in more innings. Of course, Rich's comparison to Lo Duca (42) is more apt.

I read his column and yours. I like your stance.

The first thing that jumps out is how Keisser bashes Perez by saying, "Hey, is it Antonio Perez's fault that he can't play third? He never said he could." Perez is not horrible, he is well above average in Range Factor and Zone Rating, even though he underperforms in fielding percentage. Although, his .953 fielding percentage is better than ARod, Glaus, Rolen and Chavez. Now I know that those guys hit like monsters, but I don't usually hear people talking about how they "can't play third." For $320K he is a bargain. He is also hitting better than the reasonable alternatives (Valentin, Beltre). We should all be thanking DePo for saving the team millions by letting Beltre go.

Keisser also seems to overvalue LoDuca's batting average, like you pointed out, but then undervalues Perez's. Where is the consistency?

And finally, we all knew that Drew would only play about 130 games it's not like its a surprise that he is sitting out a few games.

You must allow the "it isn't all in the numbers" people our schadenfreude. After all, we have to put up with the condescending arrogance of the statheads whenever something works out for them (and even when it doesn't). The irony is, for a school of baseball that's supposed to be so "objective" and rational, the Church of Moneyball really is kinda like a circle of faith, filled with true believers who deny all evidence in conflict with their theology and excoriate as stupid and evil anyone who doesn't buy into the deal wholesale. "In the end," the statheads say, "our way will be revealed as the one true way (by large sample sizes)."

Nice strawman, Howard. When you are interested in engaging in real debate, tell me where performance analysis starts to go off-track. Better still, show me evidence that Paul DePodesta doesn't value input from scouts. I am pretty sure Logan White still collects a check from the Dodgers, no?

Felt like pushing buttons today, huh, Rich?

"The irony is, for a school of baseball that's supposed to be so "objective" and rational, the Church of Moneyball really is kinda like a circle of faith, filled with true believers who deny all evidence in conflict with their theology and excoriate as stupid and evil anyone who doesn't buy into the deal wholesale. "In the end," the statheads say, "our way will be revealed as the one true way (by large sample sizes).""

While Moneyball certainly espoused sabermetrics, the underlying point was to acquire undervalued players. In the 1st 7 rounds this year, Oakland had 9 picks...and 6 of 9 were HS players...5 of the 6 RHPs. Same Billy Beane, different year.

At the end of Fassbinder's "Effi Briest," when Effi's parents are in their yard trying to figure out where it all went wrong with their daughter, her mother wonders if disaster came because her daughter was "perhaps ... too young." Effi's father's response to that remark is, "That's too vast a subject." [The End.]

I would never suggest ignoring all the wonderful quantifiable info that tells us something about a player's skills (oops, his "productivity"), and I'm intrigued about all the new technologies refining the collection of in-game data (the stuff Alan Schwarz talks about in one of the last chapters of his book). So give me numbers, but give me something more than Depo's laptop. The one thing some statheads will never admit in all their hubris about their ability to "really understand" baseball is, "That's too vast a subject."

A side note, while there was stuff in "Moneyball" about looking for players with undervalued skills, the uber-skill, mantra, and theme of the book was very definitely OBP --whether or not it was undervalued. (We are now told that, thanks in part to the book, OBP no longer is undervalued.) I think it's very smart to pay attention to OBP, but now that it's no longer undervalued, what are the undervalued skills (er, numbers) that correlate with winning? I.e., what are the A's currently going after that might give them an edge the way good OBP (and the Big Three) did in the past? After, all there are some things that are deemed to have little value because, indeed, they have little value.

"After, all there are some things that are deemed to have little value because, indeed, they have little value."

You're confusing the meaning of value... maybe intentionally, to seem clever.


I wonder if the first guy to talk about "average" was this crucified? While new ideas often get spat upon in politics and religion, I find it hilarious how this extends to baseball.

First of all, Keisser's article, my rebuttal, and the subsequent comments suggest there is a lot of emotional capital tied up when it comes to Paul DePodesta. I don't know if it is a right brain, left brain, or no brain issue here, but the lack of objectivity in many cases speaks volumes.

Going down the line, as it relates to Milton Bradley, why do you suppose the Dodgers won the NL West last year when he was a "psychotic" and "clubhouse cancer" and are under .500 this year when he has apparently been a good citizen and not in the lineup as much?

As to getting out of the gate fast, I don't recall anyone "gloating." If anything, I remember reading columns by those criticizing DePodesta today that were generally supportive of the Dodgers in a way that made me think these people were hedging themselves "just in case..." It wouldn't be the first time we've seen instances of flip flopping. I mean, it's fun to always be on the winning team or at least not on the losing side, don't ya think?

Re SABR, I agree that many members yearn for yesteryear and are not necessarily what we now call sabermetricians or even adherents to sabermetric principles. That said, Keisser has written several columns, educating his readership on the merits of OBP and the like. I think, more than anything, he likes to think of himself as a progressive baseball thinker when it supports his point of view.

With respect to Beltre, I agree with Jeff that Dodger fans "should be thanking DePo for saving the team millions by letting (him) go." Can you imagine the heat DePodesta would be getting if he had signed Beltre? My gosh, the naysayers would be trying to run the GM out of town, lambasting him for paying up for a one-year wonder.

The point of Moneyball was indeed about getting the most bang for your bucks. Lewis has a Wall Street background and understands the search for value. John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox, made his life fortune as an arbitrageur (which tries to exploit the differences in price vs. value).

I'm in over my head when it comes to "schadenfreude" and "Effi Briest" so I don't want to engage in a debate with someone with that level of sophistication (cough, cough). I know, Beane won because of the Big Three and is now losing because he traded them away, right? Riiiiiiight!

The gloating I referred to appeared in an article at Baseball Think Factory. I'm too lazy to provide the link, but you could look it up. (If you can't locate it, I will provide the link for you.)

"Schadenfreude" is the perfect term to describe how some people feel watching stat-ballers go through their struggles.

Sorry about the "Effi Briest" quote (cough, cough), but it's one of my favorites. I think it jibes, though, with Sully's remark that "shit happens" (though Sully uses it to explain the current lack of success of the Dodgers and their theological kin).

My question about what the A's will do to get an edge now that the OBP cat is out of the bag was sincere (at least as sincere as I'm capable of being). What's the new big undervalued stat that will provide a winning edge? If you say defense, for example, I think there are plenty of statheads who are on record as saying that defense means very little over the long haul.

The Big Three contributed very little, riiiiighhht?

What's the new big undervalued stat that will provide a winning edge?

That statement alone shows you are missing the point. There doesn't need to be a stat that is undervalued to "provide a winning edge." It is a misnomer to think that sabermetrics is about stats and stats alone. In fact, as far back as in the 1981 Baseball Abstract, Bill James said the following:

"Good sabermetrics respects the validity of all types of evidence, including that which is beyond the scope of statistical validation."

Unfortunately, that message has been lost not only on those who feel threatened by statistical analysis or who have a vested interest in the status quo (generally due to a lack of understanding or willingness to absorb new information and methodologies) but also some statheads who try to quantify everything.

What do I think is undervalued? Good, young pitching. Free agent starters are expensive. Ergo, quality starting pitchers in their pre-arbitration years are the best values out there and those between their arb and free agent years are the next best values, at least in my opinion.

The Big Three contributed very little, riiiiighhht?

Hudson, Mulder, and Zito contributed greatly to the success of the Oakland A's from 1999 (in the case of Hudson) or 2000 (Mulder and Zito) through 2004, a period in which the A's were the most successful franchise in baseball as measured by wins per payroll dollar. Beane succeeded Sandy Alderson as the GM in 1997 and was in charge of the ballclub when all three pitchers were drafted.

Beane benefited from Alderson's tutelage and within a year was on his way to directing a club that won 87, 91, 102, 103, 96, and 91 games despite the loss of McGwire, Giambi, Damon, Isringhausen, and Tejada (among others) during this period due to the constraints placed upon him by frugal ownership.

Here's what I find most interesting. There are several reference above that DePodesta did a good thing letting Beltre go. That's easy to say today, but what argument would you have made at the time? Beltre had developed into a pretty good Moneyball-style hitter. Lots of power, low strikeouts for a power hitter, and a solid BB/K rate (53/87). And it's not like this came out of nowhere; Beltre was considered the best prospect in baseball coming up.

And just a quick side note, this stathead as Joan of Arc schtik is tiresome. I say this as someone who has been ridiculed as one. Last year I took a lot of abuse in my little baseball world for dissing Danny Kolb. I looked at his strikeout rate, number of balls put in play and the percentage of those that became outs and it was obvious (to me) that the guy was an accident waiting to happen - and it has. Statistics are a tool. Use them as such and skip the hubris.

"Unfortunately, that message has been lost not only on those who feel threatened by statistical analysis or who have a vested interest in the status quo (generally due to a lack of understanding or willingness to absorb new information and methodologies)...."

Ah, yes, there it is (again): only cowards, scoundrels, or fools criticize statistical analysis or suggest it has some limitations. It's the old stathead refrain: "They just don't understand... and they're jealous, too." Funny how the caricature is always that critics (even mild critics) of stathead analysis "don't care about the important statistics" and have supposedly never read or understood any stathead analysis, while statheads know all about statistics (cough, cough) AND are experts at recognizing tools in prospects and veterans and understanding in-game decisions. Funny.

What is the new orthodoxy, and who really is interested in protecting the status quo here?

My "shit happens" remark was put forth to assert that I am acknowledging the limitations of any and all methods of projecting forth human performance. The team that absolutely perfects front office evaluation, be it 80/20 stat/tools, 50/50, or 20/80, will still have occasional down years. I don't think either Bill James or Gene Michael foresaw the respective seasons we are seeing from Brian Roberts and Todd Helton.

But let me ask you this, Howard. What exactly are you arguing? You seem quite good at smarm and wise-assery but not quite so hot at staying focused. If it is that some of the stathead torch bearers have been prone to arrogance, I agree. If it is that statistical analysis isn't without limitation, I agree. Where, exactly, do we diverge?

I don't see why stat/tools argument even came to be here when, as I stated above, Logan White and DePo have been said to have a tremendous working relationship.

If it is that some of the stathead torch bearers have been prone to arrogance, I agree. If it is that statistical analysis isn't without limitation, I agree. Where, exactly, do we diverge?

Well, maybe we don't diverge very much. I am very interested in the statistical approach myself. I've read Bill James, "The Numbers Game," and "Moneyball" and regularly check out several stat-oriented blogs. I also subscribe to "Baseball Prospectus" -- which may be where I get a skewed view about stathead attitude and may provoke my wise-assery (emphasis on the assery). I will try to cut out the smarm, because I hate smarm.

I just bristle at some of the caricatures I find (starting with "Moneyball") of "traditional" baseball people as turf-protecting dopes. I'm sure most of those old tobacco spitting yahoos recognize that this or that guy gets on base a lot, draws a lot of walks, strikes out a lot, swings early in the count, swings at bad pitches, has a good eye at the plate, lets a lot of strikes go by, hits with power, throws a lot strike outs, gets behind in the count, walks a lot of hitters, gives up a lot of fly balls or ground balls or homeruns, postitions himself well in the field, gets to hit balls well, fields balls cleanly, has a good arm, makes a lot of throwing errors. I mean, all that stuff is at least implicity appreciated by most so-called old-schoolers and is at least as important as VORP.

Speaking of Logan White, there's an article about the Dodgers' scouting system in the 6-19 edition of Baseball Digest Daily. I'm tempted to say the Dodgers scout they talk to sounds like an abused spouse telling the police officer who's responded to a domestic disturbance that, "Really, officer, everything is okay here." But that would be a cheap joke and is not fair on my part, because it is clear from the article (and elsewhere) that scouts do have an important role in the Dodgers system. So I will retract my DePodesta-a-the-laptop crack because it was a cheap shot and was buying into a caricature created by M. Lewis.

Re "shit happens": I agree that even the teams with the best systems will have down years, so, despite my superficial smugness, deep down, I don't really see the A's current slump as a repudiation of statistical analysis or the Dodgers' recent losing streak as an "I told you so" moment. (I just wish some people would concede that success can be a matter of a little luck, too.) The A's system worked well for them. The Braves, Twins, and Marlins have also had some success. I think I've just read one too many comment elsewhere declaring that the stathead view will leave other approaches in the dustbin of history.

This comments train is slightly hilarious. All winter there were articles by people like Rob Neyer, Alan Schwartz, Rich Lederer, Dayn Perry, etc. discussing the merits of scouting vs. performance analysis. And one after another these guys -- statheads, all -- declared, rather loudly, that it's not an either/or proposition, that neither statistics nor scouting provides the entire picture. And now we have Fugate and Howard L chiming in to inform us that there's more to baseball management than numbers. Uh, gee, thanks, guys. Nice to watch you shadowbox.

Uh, Brian, I think the point is that there are so many statheads who declare that there's this world of thick, defensive old schoolers out there who, unlike "sophisticated" stats people, insist upon looking at only one side of things. But thanks for the help, buddy.

Not everyone is as smart or well-read as you, Brian. Like the guys in my keeper league that read Moneyball and are wasting prospect roster space on Mark Teahan and Jeremy Brown (not that I'm complaining)

You're precisely right, Howard -- there ARE plenty of stathead types out there like the ones you describe. But Richard isn't one of them, nor (unless I'm overlooking anyone) are any of the above commenters. I know you're being sarcastic when you thanked me for the help, but evidently you need it.

And Fugate, Teahan and Brown are considered marginal prospects by both scouts AND performance analysts (check out the 2005 Baseball Prospectus if you don't believe me). If you're in a league with folks making keeper-league picks based on a three-year-old book, well, then, lucky you.