Monday, October 20, 2014

7 comments Bleacher Report Thinks Billy Beane Should Be On the Hot Seat, Even Though I'm Not Entirely Sure What the Hell That's Supposed to Mean

I'm not entirely what it means for a GM or head coach to be on the hot seat. Well, I know what it means, but when someone writes or says, "He should be on the hot seat" is there like an official checkmark on a board in a backroom somewhere that needs to be checked off for that GM or manager to be on the hot seat? So when a writer says "It's finally time for Billy Beane to be on the hot seat," what the hell does he/she/it expect to happen? Does A's management come out and indeed confirm that Billy Beane is on the hot seat? Anyway, this author thinks that Billy Beane should finally be on the hot seat. He doesn't get why Beane has been considered untouchable. After all, derp, there are no World Series rings on Beane's fingers. Yeah, the A's could certainly do better in the playoffs but so could Bobby Cox's Braves teams, yet he and John Schuerholz are considered legends inside baseball circles. It's just a matter of once officially placed on the hot seat, are the A's going to really find someone who can do better than Beane? Maybe, maybe not.

The fact the author thinks Billy Beane deserves more criticism is rich. Anytime the A's fail to win a playoff series there are snarky comments on Twitter and around the Interwebs about "Moneyball" and Billy Beane's failures to win a title. Criticism is fair, but Beane already gets criticized if a person is willing to pay attention.

"Every form of strength is also a form of weakness..."
- Michael Lewis, Moneyball, quoting Bill James

Because no discussion of Billy Beane would be complete without an immediate mention of "Moneyball." Also, nice way to start the column off with a quote that is never fully explained in the body of the column. At no point is this quote referred to again or elaborated upon.

In baseball, there is no such thing as an untouchable general manager.

In baseball, anyone can get fired. That's your knowledge for the day. Bleacher Report, out!

Just like the players and coaches, a GM must stand behind his results—and pay the price when the results aren't there.

For years, Billy Beane of the Oakland A's has challenged that notion.

By having success, he has challenged the notion that if he didn't get results then he would have to stand behind not having the results he does get? 11 winning seasons in 17 years as a GM. That's not shabby. 

But as his "Moneyball" legend grew and the successful seasons piled up, Beane became, well, something close to untouchable.

I would normally ask for a citation, but this is one of those Bleacher Report articles that is written using assumptions that may or may not have a factual backing. Has Beane been untouchable or has he not gotten fired because he's gotten results? Is Bill Belichick untouchable or has this question never had to be answered because he has always met the expectations for the Patriots with results that please Robert Kraft? Saying Billy Beane has become close to untouchable can't be proven. He could have been on the hot seat if the A's didn't make the playoffs three years ago. The author doesn't know, that's my point.

Nearly two decades later, he owns a sterling resume: 11 winning seasons and eight playoff appearances, all while working with a perennially undersized payroll.

The answer is in the question. Beane owns a sterling resume, yet the author wonders if he has become untouchable. He's gotten results, so that explains why he hasn't been on the hot seat in know, even though I'm still not sure how to know if Beane was ever on the hot seat or how to officially put him there.

In 2003, Michael Lewis wrote the book on Beane's innovative methods, spelling out how Beane and his team identified undervalued players through advanced statistical analysis and signed them on the cheap. Eight years later, Moneyball became an Oscar-nominated flick starring Brad Pitt.

Has Brad Pitt become, well, something close to untouchable? Does the fact his movies generally tend to make money mean that he should keep getting work in Hollywood? WHY IS BRAD PITT SO UNTOUCHABLE?

There are many measures of success; getting Brad Pitt to play you in a movie about how smart you are is pretty high on the list.

Also high on the list? Having a run of 11 winning seasons and 8 playoff appearances as the GM of a small market team. Yeah, I would include that.

Oakland has never advanced past the ALCS on Beane's watch, and it has been dropped in the division series six times.

This is a definite blemish. There's no doubt about that. There is also no doubt that the A's are probably not in a position to fire their GM for not advancing the team to the World Series. No offense to the A's, but if you look at other teams in the same situation as the A's in terms of payroll, there aren't a lot of World Series recent victories or appearances in there.

So maybe Beane is guilty of not helping the A's advance as far as his reputation states he should help the A's advance, but even not grading on a curve (in terms of how the A's are small market) the A's have been a pretty successful franchise over the last 17 years in terms of games they have won.

It's obviously impossible to know, but could another GM have done better for the A's during that 17 year time span? Based on the record of other teams with payrolls similar to the A's, I think there is an argument to be made that another GM could not have had the same type of sustained success Beane had.

This year, the A's didn't even make it that far, losing in the wild-card playoff to the upstart Kansas City Royals.

It was a one game playoff, where ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!

This was the year Beane declared, unequivocally, that it was time to "go for it," per Richard Justice of "It" was the ultimate prize, the brass ring that has eluded Beane: a Commissioner's Trophy.

The A's went for it and they didn't win the World Series. Trading for Jon Lester was a risk, but not something that Beane should lose his job over. It was a risk, not a terrible trade.

To hook Lester, Beane dangled Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes, a key cog in an Oakland offense that led MLB in scoring at the time.

Beane felt like it was important to have great starting pitching in the playoffs more than it was important to have Cespedes in the lineup. There is something to be said for having great starting pitching. Unfortunately, the A's didn't win their division and they ended up in the ridiculous one game Wild Card playoff, so their starting pitching depth didn't matter in that one game.

And Beane seemingly didn't need Lester; 

A team doesn't need more starting pitching until that team needs more starting pitching. It's funny how a team with a lot of starting pitching all of a sudden wouldn't mind having another ace in the playoffs. The Dodgers started Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest in the NLDS. Think they wouldn't mind having another starter they don't "need"?

he already had a stacked rotation, augmented by another 2014 acquisition, Jeff Samardzija, who came over from the Chicago Cubs for a bushel of top prospects.

So obviously Billy Beane should be fired for putting together too much of a great rotation. How dare he put together a great rotation for the purposes of winning the AL West! Unforgivable! If the A's had not traded Cespedes then they would have won the World Series this year. Obviously. Cespedes would have made a 10-11 game difference in the standings.

Clearly, Beane was betting the farm (quite literally)

No, not literally. If it were literally then Beane would be gambling away an actual farm. He's not literally gambling and there is no farm where livestock or food is sold in the transaction for Lester. So no, this is not literal, but still metaphorical. Lester was traded for an MLB player and a draft pick. Even metaphorically, he wasn't traded for "the farm" because no players from the A's farm system were traded. Samardzija was traded for prospects, but that trade was for the future as well as the present since he is not a free agent until 2016. The A's can trade him and get prospects for him or keep him and hope he contributes to another playoff run. So no, literally there was no gambling away the farm.

on the "you can never have too much pitching" axiom.

We are halfway through this column and it's still not clear why Billy Beane should be fired or on the hot seat other than "He didn't win the World Series this year" and "He tried to acquire too much pitching and it didn't work out."

And if the A's are going to put Beane on the not-real "hot seat" for not winning the World Series then they just may as well fire him. Putting him on the hot seat for not winning the World Series seems unrealistic to me given the circumstances in Oakland.

Then, Oakland started losing.

This is a lie. Oakland was losing before the Jon Lester trade and Beane made the trade in order to stop the losing and shake up a team he was hoping wasn't stagnating. He saw some of the A's hitters overperforming and thought he may need to improve the pitching staff to compensate. He probably thought it was easier to find impact pitching than an impact hitter. So "Then, Oakland started losing" is a statement that is a lie.

To be fair, the losing started before the Lester deal.

No, not to be fair, but to be honest. You are being dishonest by stating the A's started losing after they acquired Lester. It's called "lying." To indicate the A's started losing after the Lester deal is a lie, so there's no "being fair," there is "being honest."

After going 59-36 in the first half, the A's limped to a 29-38 finish.

The A's hitters regressed to scoring 3.9 runs per game in the second half from the 4.9 runs per game they were scoring in the first half. The pitching staff gave up 3.3 runs per game in the first half and 3.7 runs per game in the second half. So both pitching and hitting regressed for the A's. For the sake of argument, Cespedes hit .269/.296/.423 with 5 home runs and 33 RBI as a Red Sox player. He had an OPS+ of 100 and WAR of 1.3 with the Red Sox as well. So he would have helped the A's, but I'm not sure it would have been enough to make up 10-11 games in the standings.

Still, the Athletics headed to Kansas City with Lester, their ace in the hole, set to pitch. Here was the moment for Beane's all-in strategy to pay off, for all the second-half slumping and subsequent second-guessing to go up in a puff of playoff magic.

And it didn't work. Lester pitched 7.1 innings and gave up 6 runs. Interestingly, the A's did score 8 runs and the bullpen blew the lead the A's had. So I'm not sure where the criticism of Beane by the author should come into play. The author says the A's had enough pitching already, so they shouldn't have traded offense for Lester. Yet, the A's scored enough runs to win the Wild Card game, but it was the A's pitching and bullpen that lost the game for them...twice.

I won't excuse that Lester didn't pitch well, but the author seems to believe Beane should be on the hot seat for making a move for pitching that the A's didn't need to make, while giving up offense. Yet, the A's scored enough runs in the Wild Card game, it's just the bullpen that blew it for the A's in the end. Maybe Beane just should have traded for more bullpen help rather than starting pitching.

Or not. Lester failed to deliver on his big-game pedigree, surrendering six earned runs, and the A's lost a 12-inning heartbreaker, 9-8.

Yes and no. Lester did fail to deliver, but the A's were up 7-6 when he left the game and the got the lead in the 12th inning again before the bullpen blew the game...again. So chalking the A's loss up to Lester like he was the reason the A's lost the game isn't completely true. Lester didn't pitch well, but the A's also lost the game due to the bullpen giving up the lead twice.

Now, as the dust settles and Oakland watches the rest of the 2014 postseason from home, it's time to ask: Is Billy Beane finally due for a spin in the hot seat?

Yes, it's FINALLY time to ask. Thank God someone has the guts to ask the hard questions. Should Beane be on the hot seat, even though I'm not entirely sure what this means or how a GM is officially placed on the hot seat? SHOULD HE?

This isn't a question of whether he'll be fired. He won't be.

So what's the point of him being on the hot seat then? If he's not going to be fired, what the hell kind of use is calling a press conference and saying, "Billy Beane is on the hot seat"?

It's also not the first time Beane misfired on a midseason move.

I don't know if I would consider the Lester trade a misfire. Also, if the author is suggesting that Billy Beane should be on the hot seat for making a bad trade then there wouldn't be an employed GM working in any sport today. Every GM, especially one like Billy Beane that has been in the position for 17 years, is going to make a bad trade. It comes with the territory.

In 2008, he dealt closer Huston Street and a young outfielder named Carlos Gonzalez in a package that netted Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies. Holliday wound up playing a mediocre half-season in Oakland before the A's traded him to St. Louis.

This was not a very good trade for Beane. Yet, it happened six years ago and he has continued to put together A's teams that make the playoffs. Again, if every GM had one bad trade counted against them there would be no GM's that lasted beyond a couple of seasons in sports.

But after years of being treated mostly as an unassailable genius, does Mr. Moneyball deserve more scrutiny going forward?

He gets scrutiny every single season after the A's don't make the playoffs or are eliminated from the playoffs. Sportswriters take great joy in watching Beane fail. Given the situation, I think he gets scrutiny and I think the expectations for the A's team from management are being met.

The answer to that question relies on another question: Was Beane primarily responsible for Oakland's second-half collapse?

Probably not. If so, he should be credited with the A's great first half of the season as well.

Newsweek's John Walters thinks so:

If you click the link, then you will see the typical Beane bashing column where the author makes repeated references to "Moneyball" and admits he doesn't know what WAR is. It also includes this head-shaking paragraph:

It almost feels as if Beane is that investor who would rather die a poor man while constantly upgrading his stock portfolio than cash out at some point and enjoy the riches he had devoted so much energy to accruing. As if the never-ending game of team-building in a cost-effective way is more important than the actual game itself. It’s as if he has forgotten what the ultimate goal of this entire endeavor is: to win a World Series.

What exactly "cashing out at some point and enjoying the riches he had devoted so much energy to accruing" would mean, other than making zero moves at the trade deadline, is a mystery to me. Basically this idiotic author suggests that it was fallacy for Beane to try and improve his team as he began to see issues appearing. This "Newsweek" article works under the assumption the A's issues wouldn't have appeared without the trade for Lester.

One other note about that column. The author of the "Newsweek" column includes the following quote,

“Every form of strength is also a form of weakness.”

—Billy Beane, Moneyball

This is the same quote that was attributed to Bill James in the beginning of the column. It's interesting to see the Bleacher Report author cite a column and then use a quote from that column and use it in his own column. It's essentially an example of the shameless nicking and use of another writer's column to create a column idea that Bleacher Report writers are famous for (in my mind, at least). 

What's interesting is the "Newsweek" writer attributes this quote to Billy Beane, while the Bleacher Report writer attributes it to Michael Lewis, quoting Bill James. It seems someone didn't get their citation correct. The "Newsweek" writer attributed it to Billy Beane and that's not right. From my research, it seems Bill James is the one responsible for that quote. Not that a writer for "Newsweek" should take the time to make sure his citations are correct of course. He's way too important and ravenous to bash Billy Beane for his faults as a GM to ensure his citations are correct. 

Beane himself defended the Lester trade, even after Oakland's exit. "Simply put," he told The San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea, "if we don't have Jon Lester, I don't think we make the playoffs."

Yep, that's a potentially true statement. The A's made the playoffs by 1 game and Lester went 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts and 76.2 innings. Without him, is it possible the A's don't win two more games? It's entirely possible. His WAR for Oakland was 1.9. But of course, the author is too busy pointing out how the one game Wild Card didn't go the A's way and ignoring the responsibility of the A's bullpen to worry about little questions like, "Would the A's have made the playoffs if Beane had not made the Lester trade"? 

What's virtually certain is that the A's won't have Lester next year. The 30-year-old left-hander is set to hit the open market, and his price tag will almost surely be too rich for Oakland's small-market blood.

Cespedes would probably have been too rich for Oakland's blood if the A's had tried to keep him past the 2015 season. That's how it goes for the A's and the fact they won't have Lester after the 2014 season doesn't mean Beane should be on the hot seat for making the trade for Lester that may or may not have worked out. 

He was a rental. A gamble. And a gamble that ultimately didn't pay off.

It happens; no one bats 1.000, whether at the plate or behind a desk. 

But wrote this...this entire column. It was based on the idea Beane should be on the hot seat because the Lester trade didn't work out and the A's didn't win a playoff series. Now you are saying no one bats 1.000, as if Beane should be excused for the very trade you claim should put him on the hot seat.

Still, as the A's regroup from another once-promising, ultimately disappointing campaign, it's time to move their lauded GM out of "untouchable" territory.

I didn't even know he was in "untouchable" territory. I'm pretty sure the idea Beane is untouchable is an assumption that the author is working under in order to better argue his point of view in this article. I don't think any GM is untouchable, but the idea Beane should be on the not-real hot seat for daring to take his small market team to the playoffs for three straight years without a series victory is silly. He may have not literally bet the farm on Lester and it didn't work out for one reason or another, but it's not a reason to consider replacing him as the A's GM. Could his replacement do better? 


Chris said...

The idea that the A's shouldn't have traded for Lester simply because they supposedly "didn't need" starting pitching is laughable. That would be like saying the Tigers don't need Max Scherzer because they already have Justin Verlander. I thought it was a gamble but it was one worth taking. And at the time I thought it was partially a financial move. With the way Cespedes had been playing wasn't their a possibility that he would be paid a ton by some other team and Oakland wouldn't have been able to afford him?

HH said...

Has Brad Pitt become, well, something close to untouchable?

I touched him once. He got really mad.

Chris said...

It's also very funny how according to the sportswriters neither the Red Sox nor the A's won in this trade. You have Bleacher Report doing this article which blames this trade solely for the A's struggles, and of course master troll Dan Shaughnessy criticizing basically every move the Red Sox made including this one. I know it won't happen but I would love to see Shaughnessy have to eat his words when he sarcastically referred to the Sox as Kansas City on the Charles, considering how well the Royals have done.

Bengoodfella said...

Chris, one thing I have learned as a Braves fan (not that it's limited to the Braves, but that's my perspective) is you can never have enough pitching. In March, there was talk of trading pitching b/c of the logjam with Medlen, Beachy, Minor, Wood, Hale and others. By the end of the year the rotation is Wood, Aaron Harang, Erwin Santana, and Mike Minor. Too much pitching is not a possible thing.

HH, I would not have touched him, just asked him politely "What's in the box?"

Chris, I have a feeling he will eat those words even more soon. The Red Sox won't be down for long. Of course, I'm sure Dan will turn it around and say maybe it's a good thing the Red Sox are the Royals of the Charles.

Bengoodfella said...

Chris, one thing I have learned as a Braves fan (not that it's limited to the Braves, but that's my perspective) is you can never have enough pitching. In March, there was talk of trading pitching b/c of the logjam with Medlen, Beachy, Minor, Wood, Hale and others. By the end of the year the rotation is Wood, Aaron Harang, Erwin Santana, and Mike Minor. Too much pitching is not a possible thing.

HH, I would not have touched him, just asked him politely "What's in the box?"

Chris, I have a feeling he will eat those words even more soon. The Red Sox won't be down for long. Of course, I'm sure Dan will turn it around and say maybe it's a good thing the Red Sox are the Royals of the Charles.

Anonymous said...

How does an editor not insist that his author end the column after this third sentence?

Nearly two decades later, he owns a sterling resume: 11 winning seasons and eight playoff appearances, all while working with a perennially undersized payroll.

That's the conclusion, right? The dude is an absolutely fantastic GM, seemingly pulling off the impossible almost every season.

Bengoodfella said...

I tend to agree. Obviously he wants to win a World Series, but the fact he makes the A's competitive every year is a tribute to his ability as a GM. Every move doesn't work out. It's easy to look at him and say, "Well he should have won a World Series by now" but he's an easy target because of "Moneyball." Plenty of teams have big trades at the trade deadline not work out for them.