Monday, October 24, 2011

Less Than Perfect Is Perfectly Fine

They say that baseball is a game of failure. The best players head back to the bench empty-handed six times out of ten. Good baserunners get thrown out. Good defensive players make errors, and good pitchers give up hits to bad players or walk players they shouldn't. Umpires miss calls. Managers get caught up in personal attachments or get lost in the action and make bad decisions. Front offices take chances by trading one asset for another, and sometimes, they get the wrong end of the deal.

This should not come as news, given that we've all watched the best teams in baseball stumble and fail and flail away over the past three weeks. Stuff happens, but teams move on to win another day. Ideally, we as fans should be able to slough it off, move on and accept that the other guys got over on us today.

And yet, to our eyes and ears, it seems as though the anger and disdainful, snarky exasperation has been cranked up to eleven over the past few months. Fans seem to want to hang someone by their thumbs with every outcome than falls for the other team. Take, for instance, Mike Napoli's big blast in Game Four of the World Series: While we heard a lot of praise, there was also a fair bit of blame being cast towards Tony La Russa for overmanaging - essentially, doing the same thing for which he was praised earlier in the week - and Mitchell Boggs was run through the wringer for throwing a pitch way up in the strike zone. Fire La Russa! Boggs is a bum!

For Jays fans, one big swing of Napoli's bat was enough to bring the self-appointed arbiters of the trade market out of the woodwork to emphasize how fallible Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos is, given that he traded away Napoli for...what? Magic beans? 10 bonus airline miles? A $25 dollar credit coupon towards an oil change and wheel alignment, provided two other GM's also made the same trade?

In hindsight, it seems so blatantly obvious that the Jays should have kept Napoli, ate into J.P. Arencibia's playing time, made Adam Lind DH more often, released Edwin Encarnacion and looked elsewhere for a closer. (Well, to some it does.)

(The same hindsight also makes it completely obvious what a trainwreck the Boston Red Sox season was, and how lacking they were in moral fibre given their affinity for biscuits and beer...but that's probably a whole other series of posts.)

So what's happening here? Are we really all this angry? Is it the water supply? An airborne event? Is there no room for nuance? Can't we all just chill a bit?

Our best guess is that none of this is new, really. Rather, the Twitter feeds and comments and multitude of pundits - both new and old school - means that we're instantaneously plugged into the heated reactions of people which, in another age, would have been taken out on the couch cushions. Also, a lot of the comments are obviously designed to get a reaction, and nothing gets a laugh like put-down. (We don't really evolve much past our days on the playground. We just take on debt and put on weight and get hairier.)

Another thing that we see is how the vastly improved and accessible metrics have created a greater sense of understanding about game strategy. The downside to this is that there's a streak of absolutism that runs through baseball's chattering class, as fans feel as though they can speak with something close to certainty as to what was the right call in any given game situation. We're sure that we've indulged in such a thing here and there, but we're trying hard as of late to be a bit more accepting of managerial decisions with which we are not in agreement, because we sense that the game moves pretty fast when you have some actual responsibility for its outcome.

But don't mistake that last notion for some luddite pining for a simpler time, when men were men and geeks occupied themselves with rocket surgery or other boring stuff. It's stupid not to use the information at our disposal, or to misuse some dumber numbers. But there is a dimension of the game that we don't necessarily see - players' health, their confidence levels, a hitch in their mechanics, the cut of their jib - which we are a bit more willing to acknowledge as a factor in decisions.

It's a long season. Sometimes you're up. Sometimes, you're down. A little indignant rant here and there can be fun, but a high-pitched fit of pique for seven straight months is exhausting. To us, it is. But don't let us stop you from raging on.

Coming Up...Looking Back, Looking Forward
As delinquent as we've been in our blogging duties in recent weeks, we aim to make it up to you following the championship season with a series a pieces that look back on the 2011 campaigns of some of the most intriguing Jays, and look ahead at what we expect from them in 2012. (Not that we have any powers of clairvoyance. We're just making most of this junk up as we go along. But hopefully you find it entertaining.)

Feel free to drop us a line and let us know if there are players in particular that you'd like to see at the top of the pile.


Anonymous said...

Tao, love the blogs, and even better your twitter feeds!

I think that AA clearly has a goal in mind, and all the bums that look retrospectively at 'what could have been' if we made this trade, or not done another trade, fail to realize what a year 2011 really was, a true turning point in the organization. We have a new manager (suck it Boston) and a core of these new young players that are not only exciting, but developing into fine athletes. Look at lawrie and the excitement that he has, JP's development into an everyday player, and Ricky ro solidifying himself as a true ace. Can't wait to see what next year brings.

Some guys I would like to see you profile in the next Tao - Drabek, can he figure it out? Or is he a bullpen guy. Will we see adeiny make it to the big leagues? How about D'arnaud? Where does Molina fit in?

Thanks! Follow me on twitter at @trevr84

Tao of Stieb said...

Thanks trevr. Appreciate the love. I'll follow, if you promise to make a homebrew in my honour. I'm thinking a bitter. Bitter Tao!

Tao of Stieb said...

Okay, after watching tonight's game, I think this was the wrong day to write a column about accepting the foibles of outrageous managers.

dave_church said...

Wise words, Tao. The recent age of media means we're flooded with information and instant analysis- and while so much of that is good, we do need to have a filter every now and again. I love being able to talk ball with folks right away, but I occasionally feel like you- that the immediate, visceral reactions of folks can be too much.

When Snider was sent down the first time, I think my feed was an inferno of rage for an an evening- none of us are immune to it.

The reality of any situation is never as extreme as we make it, and it's easy to look back and say the Jays should have done this or that. But that's hindsight. It's fun to speculate with the story done, but in the moment, we don't have all that information.

La Russa isn't as smart as we used to think, nor is he as dumb as we might think now. The answer is somewhere in the middle.

Contrasoma said...

"Hall of Fame blogger Tao of Stieb now on the field pleading with the crowd for...for some kind of larger perspective."

"Uh-oh, and a barrage of Napoli-related tweets now knocking Tao unconscious."

"Wow. This is...this is a black day for baseball."

Dewey said...

Alright, I'm gonna throw out this, not so much a player, but a position... what do YOU think is the best thing to do with first base?

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

@Tao and dave_church

Except in regard to Napoli, some of us were vehemently against the deal from the time it was made, pointing out that it made little sense at all for the team:

I actually received some scorn last January for going against the grain and criticizing a GM who had been fantastic up to that point. Don't pigeonhole my position down to "hindsight" simply because it is convenient to do so and fits your narrative of reactive fans.

Tao of Stieb said...

Meh, whatevs.

I like Napoli. Would have liked him as a Jay, too.

I just don't think that the trade was that bad, and certainly not worth questioning the GM's judgment. I'm not sure that the value that Napoli would have brought would have been that much greater than the at bats he would have taken away from Lind, Arencibia and Encarnacion...and the Jays would have had to either find someone else to close for them or ride the season out with Dotel and Rauch.

And they wouldn't have the shot at a pick this year if Frankie turns down arbitration...

I don't think the trade merited vehement opposition. And if after one season it looks as though the Jays got the wrong end of it, so be it. They didn't get fleeced.

But honestly, you shouldn't care what I think...especially since this post had really nothing to do with you.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

Mike Napoli was a significantly better bat than all three of the players named there going into this season. You could have also kept him and have it not affect Arencibia's playing time at all. DH was filled by a mediocre bat (EE) and 1B was filled by a guy who couldn't hit lefties (Lind). There were more than enough ABs to go around, especially when you consider that Jayson Nix started for this team for three months.

They also had an excess of relievers before the trade and this was a .500 team anyway. Getting a "closer" wasn't going to make a bit of difference, nor should that have been a real goal for the team. And don't you regularly rail against those people that to sign/trade for the established/big-name closer types, anyway?

The only legitimate explanation for the deal is the draft pick they'll get out of it, but if you kept Napoli you could have conceivably gotten another pick next season or ended up trading him for more value than you did.

In any case, trading a very good bat for cents on the dollar (a mediocre reliever) a few days after you acquired him just made no sense. If that isn't a deal that merits opposition, I don't know what is.

Tao of Stieb said...

Mediocre is a bit of a weasel word, because it allows you to take anyone who wasn't great and make it seem as though they are terrible. EE had a 110 OPS+. It wasn't terrible, and he carried the offense for a big chunk of the season.

You'd probably made your point without it.

So, there, I guess. You win. And when the Jays fire Anthopoulos in two years or 32 years, you can say that you were the first to see through him, and you have the indisputable proof that you did.

My point is that even if this trade is a loss, I understand the rationale, even though I was on the other side and wanted Napoli over Francisco as well.

Tao of Stieb said...

What we said then about the Napoli trade:

"We actually would prefer Mike Napoli over Frank Francisco next year. And that's mostly to do with a salary/contract agnostic point of view, where we just think in terms of a playground pick and figure: "We'll take Napoli."

Moreover, given what Napoli could contribute to the team's offense, his contract status over the next couple of years and the abundance of right-handed arms in the Jays pen, it only makes sense to us that you'd rather go into the season with him over Frankie."

Jeff Carter said...

Knee-jerk reaction cuts both ways. We're probably one more World Series bullpen meltdown away from the end of hearing about how the Cards somehow won the Rasmus trade, at least.

I'd be most interested in seeing write-ups on a couple young guys who didn't develop the way they were expected this year--Snider and Drabek.

Beyond that, I'm with Dewey--more interested to see how the Jays fill specific positions this offseason. Top of my list would be 2B, then the back end (3-5) of the starting rotation.

The thing about discussing 1B is that I've already seen the whole Fielder/Pujols/signing elite free agents discussion several times in the last few months.

Tao of Stieb said...

I think I'll probably focus on the guys who were here this year and coming back next year for sure.

When the time comes to talk about new additions, I'm sure that there will be much discussion about those. I kinda think that there's going to be a big deal this winter. One that we're not even thinking...

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

No, mediocre is just Frank Francisco is. He's averaged about 1 fWAR per season in his career (though it was only 0.5 fWAR in 2011, probably a combination of having a horrible start + moving to the AL East). Mike Napoli, on the other hand, is a very good hitter (better than both Lind and EE going into last season), and he has been so for his entire career.

And while I don't think this needs to be stated, criticizing an AA move for its obvious flaw doesn't mean I want him fired.

Tao of Stieb said...

Well, thank god you're here to define what a "medicore" means when it comes to relief pitchers. I was plum stumped.

Of course, a 1 fWAR actually puts a relief pitcher in the top 50 amongst his peers most years, and considering that there are about 210 regular relievers in the majors, it's good to know broad the mediocre brush is.

And again, I don't know how much more you need for me to agree with you, considering that I wrote that I would have preferred Napoli over Francisco from the outset. My point was that I was willing to reserve judgment, and I still am to some extent.

Now, don't you have other blogs that you can go pester? Because honestly, I'm so tired of your comments that I'll probably just delete them from now on. Seriously, and I find that behaviour offensive, but I don't think that your constant trolling merits a home here.

Write your own blog if you want to demonstrate your moral superiority to the rest of us. Go ahead...No one is stopping you, and since you're clearly the smartest guy in the room, you should really share rather than just indulging in piss-takes of everyone else's work.

Brad Fullmer Fan said...

The point was that Frank Francisco wasn't anything special, he's not elite. He's the kind of reliever that you can sign in the offseason at little cost (as the Jays have done routinely with guys like Gregg, Dotel, Rauch, and others). If that's the case, why trade a very good (and potentially quite valuable) bat for one of them? There is no good answer to that question, as much as we all desperately tried to find one when the deal was made. I'm not sure why many are still not willing to admit this rather than blindly appealing to authority (see Mike Wilner).

It was also never about whether or not you agreed with the original trade. I took issue in how you (and others) have talked in broad strokes and ascribed pigeonholed positions to people like me (like now, for example, you're suggesting that I'm some kind of troll). Sure, there are many fans that just like to rant for the hell of it and find fault in everything that a team does. Listen to any JaysTalk, read any large message board/blog, and you'll find fans like that. But not all of us make our decisions based on hindsight. In fact, I personally hate judging anybody in hindsight. After all, you can make a good decision that turns out poorly and a bad decision that turns out good. It happens all the time, especially when you're running a professional sports organization. If Colby Rasmus doesn't pan out as a major leauge player, does that mean AA didn't make a great move earlier this summer? Certainly not, he took on very little risk for a potentially great reward. But that goes both ways, and it's exactly the reason why the Napoli trade didn't make any sense (little reward with FF, high risk of Napoli breaking out in a hitter's park). I can't speak for others that now say they didn't like that deal (or any others that the Jays have made), but none of my criticism has ever had anything to do with hindsight.

Nobody, by the way, is pestering anybody here. This is a discussion. Considering it's your blog, you can, of course, choose to end it at any time. I do feel it would be pretty weak of you to start deleting posts, but would I be surprised? Not at all, you've seemingly always thought of me as some kind of troll (and I'm guessing that's the real reason for the Twitter block). For whatever reason (egotism, perhaps?), you can't handle when somebody strongly disagrees with you. Instead of actually debating legitimately, you choose to misrepresent, disparage and reject different opinions from your own.

I would take your suggestion and write my own blog if I had the time. Perhaps I will some day, but for now, I'm content with simply reading and commenting (or in your deriding words, indulging in piss-takes of everyone else's work).

dave_church said...

BFF, it's not hindsight to say that the Napoli trade had most of us scratching our heads at least a little bit the time. He had power, the Jays needed that in spades, and we could probably find ABs for him at 1st, DH, and catcher in a semi-regular role (the kind of thing that usually works better in theory than in practice, but Texas somehow figured out, making him a regular once he got hot. Good for them).

It IS hindsight to say we knew Francisco would struggle as much as he did, or to assume that Napoli would had a career year like he did in Texas. That's where I get stuck, usually.

Griping about the trade is beating a dead horse at this point. Do we make as big a deal out of Napoli if Texas misses the playoffs? Or if he continues the season like he started, in a right-handed half of a catching/1B/DH platoon, and gets hurt or never gets hot? What then? There's so much in baseball that's random chance, and I continue to wonder if AA had planned to ship Napoli off right away as a pre-arranged deal with Texas. We can only speculate on that- much as we could only speculate on what Napoli would have done in Toronto.

Was the Napoli trade bad at the time? Probably. Does it look worse now? Absolutely. Is it worth continuing to whine about? Probably not. And that's mostly the point.