Monday, October 20, 2008

Rays: "That's How to Do It"

This is meant to be a sarcastic title:  because the Rays made the World Series, we will have a bunch of media pundits out there talking about how "that's how to do it."  Yeah, if by do it, it means coming in last in 9 out of the first 10 years of your existence, having the worse record in baseball 4 times out of the last 10 years, and alienating a portion of their fanbase who paid for them to be there in the first place.   [not sure, but also think that they threatened to leave the town too]  They also lucked out that the Mets gave them a great prospect all for the price of a beaten up and broken down veteran pitcher;  without Scott Kazmir, I don't think that they would be in the World Series today.

And it is not like I don't like the team - I do - nor is it that I don't think they deserve it - I do - but that the media like to focus on the final result but ignore the icky issue that festers beneath the surface, which is how exactly did they get to where they are today.  

Last 9 Years Out of 10 With No End in Sight

The Rays had been last in 9 years out of 10 plus had the worse record in baseball 4 times, netting them four #1 overall picks.   If you ask fans to support a team like that, knowing that is the end  result, you might get some hardy souls who could stand that, knowing that at the end of the rainbow, there is that pot o' gold.  But there was no guarantee, no light at the end of the tunnel, just the vague hope that somehow they will figure things out with all their young players. 

And they are not really that young.  Carlos Pena, their starting 1B is 30, at 2B is Akinori Iwamura who is 29, Jason Barlett is 28 and the starting SS, Gabe Gross is their regular RF and he is 28, and Cliff Floyd is their regular DH and is 35 years old, plus Eric Hinske was their first guy off the bench and he is 30 years old himself.  And their bullpen is mostly 30 and above, Troy Percival at 38, Trever Miller at 35, Dan Wheeler at 30, Grant Balfour at30, and only JP Howell and Jason Hammel at 25 is under 30.  

But they do have a nice young core.   Their starting rotation with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and Edwin Jackson (who finally was having an OK year; nothing like the hype he got as a D-ger, but at least he's doing OK, which is more than one could hope just a couple of years ago) was great.  In the lineup, they have Dioner Navarro at C (another nice steal, this one from D-gers for Mark Hendrickson), Evan Longoria at 3B, Carl Crawford at LF, and BJ Upton at CF, plus Willy Aybar (25) , Ben Zobrist (27), and Jonny Gomes (27) as strong bench players and spot starters, as well as the oft-injured Rocco Baldelli.

Their Draft Shows the Hit or Miss Nature

My draft study showed the hit and mainly miss nature of the draft and the Rays first round drafts echoes that nature.  Even for top 5 picks, of which they have had 8 in the past 10 years, my study showed that the odds of finding a good player was around 40-45%.  That means the Rays should find roughly 3-4 of them.

Obviously, the picks of the last couple of years haven't had enough time to show anything, but the others have.  Longoria and Upton, obviously are performing like good players.  They would need to do this long-term for this to be certain, but it looks good right now.  Obviously Josh Hamilton didn't amount to much until the Reds got ahold of him, but still he should count as a good pick.  Dewan Brazelton, however, does not and neither does Neimann, who is still in AAA and struggled in the majors, though he's only 25 and could still make it (but still, other could still not make it, so I call it a wash).  Delmon Young is still very young and likewise has struggled, so he is not good yet, though still looks destined for goodness (but more importantly, they were able to swap him for Matt Garza, still love that steal of a trade, plus they swapped shortstops, getting the better one there too; I'm happy to see the Twins get the short end of the stick in a trade).  

That is roughly 3 good players plus David Price and/or Tim Beckham might make it 4 or 5.  That is about as expected, with the hope of the young balanced by the risk that any of the already good become busts before they reach 6 years, much like how Baldelli (6th pick overall) blew out or Jonny Gomes went from good starter to bench player.   There is also Wade Townsend (8th pick overall) who is also struggling to make the majors. 

Good Overall

Still, they made some good picks in later rounds, like Carl Crawford (2nd round), James Shields (16th), and Andy Sonnanstine (13th), as well as astute trades, for Dioner Navarro, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Dan Wheeler, and good free agents signings like Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, Troy Percival.  Those are also good things.

The Price

Still, 9 years of last place out of 10 seasons, is that really what our Bay Area sportswriters really want the Giants and A's to do, attendance would be under 1 million for the season if that were to happen.  The Rays had under 1.4 million last season, and has been in the 1.0 to 1.3 million range for theit history there.  

Giants Rooting Interest

I normally go over the Giants fans guide to playoff rooting interest before the playoffs begin, so I'll just run through it here and lead up to the World Series.

Dodgers obviously topped the list of who not to root for.  But with the one game playoff, both the Twins and White Sox were teams to root against as well.  And, of course, the Angels.    Basically you as a Giants should not be rooting for any of these teams, no matter what.

Among the other teams, I would place them in this order to root for:
  • Chicago Cubs:  stole Pinella from us, as well as Baker than Eyre, but nothing to really get upset over them, I would have been rooting for them the most because they haven't won one in 100 years.
  • Brewers:  nothing really about them that affected the Giants much, but they are Bud Selig's former team and haven't gone as many years as Cubs without WS victory.
  • Red Sox:  As much as they have won in recent years, I don't mind them too much
  • Phillies:  They have Pedro Feliz as their biggest negatives but I'll be rooting for them.
  • Rays:  Their town almost stole the Giants from us, literally had bought the team already but the MLB wisely blocked that and finally Magowan was able to save the team in SF. Plus, as noted above, I don't want to hear it from the media that this is the way to do it because nobody was enjoying it while they were losing all those years saying that "it's OK, that's how to do it," and point at just their farm system.   There was no progress, they had the worse record again last season, the second year in a row, third year in a row that they had a top 3 worse record, 4 years out of five that they had a top 4 worse record, 7th year out of 8 that they had a top 4 worse record.  If that is the way to do it, the Pirates should really be applauded for their work then.  It was not just their farm system, but also a number of astute trades and key free agent signings.  But there is luck involved too, how often does a team offer their #1 legit top prospect for a washed up starter, how often do you pick up a 29 year old OK firstbaseman free agent who suddenly and finally blossoms into the monster masher he was slated to become 5 years previously, how often do you have two young stars-to-be implode (Baldelli and Gomes) and still recover from it with a super-utility bench player (Gabe Gross), aging and fragile but stellar hitter (Cliff Floyd), and a declining and disappointing corner infielder/outfielder (Eric Hinske), how often do you rely on an aged (38 year old Troy Perceival) closer who only two years before missed an entire season plus half of the previous one plus did not pitch like a closer (4.53 ERA) but still it worked, 28 saves, and lastly, how often do you win in a trade where you give up Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie?  While they did all the things they had to do right, they also had some things go their way in a significant way, and not in a way another team could duplicate.  And I do find it interesting that the team recently lost a stadium vote and require civic support to build a new stadium, particularly in this bad economic climate, and wouldn't a World Series win just fill the city full of civic pride and open up pockets and political win to build a new ballpark?
Thus for the World Series, I will be rooting for the Phillies versus the Rays, they have the history as well as the present against them from my perspective as a Giants fan.  
  

8 comments:

  1. >> This is meant to be a sarcastic title: because the Rays made the World Series, we will have a bunch of media pundits out there talking about how "that's how to do it." Yeah, if by do it, it means coming in last in 9 out of the first 10 years of your existence, having the worse record in baseball 4 times out of the last 10 years, and alienating a portion of their fanbase who paid for them to be there in the first place.

    I'm not sure how many pundits I've personally seen say: "That's how you do it" but I think Andrew Friedman deserves a bunch of the credit for his role as the GM.

    I hope you're not forgetting that the Rays had Chuck LaMar running the helm for 8 seasons and I think even the most die-hard Sabean haters would chose Sabes over Lamar every time. That's how bad Chuck was.

    It's hard to succeed if you're crippled from the top down. Though, LaMar did pick up some good players along the way as he bumbled through eight losing seasons, but he also made a lot of terrible moves that.

    I'll be rooting for the Rays if you can't tell.

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  2. I'm responding more to articles I'd seen soon after the season ended, particularly Ann Killion, so perhaps there might not have been a lot out there, just my anticipation that I will/would see this type of fawning, like I've seen so many times before, for the Rays, like for the Brewers and Tigers and other teams before who have lost for many many years before finally winning.

    It was not top of mind that Andrew Friedman had took over for Chuck LaMar, I did forget about that, but as poorly as he may have ran things, he did pick up Kazmir - for that Rays fans should thank him.

    And while things are great under Friedman right now, the Rays actually regressed to having the worse record in baseball two years in a row under him. I would think that some fans were pretty P.O.ed at him prior to this season.

    But as the cliche goes, sometimes it's darkest before the dawn. But the years losing did supply the Rays with a valuable resource: top draft picks, picks that they were able to find a couple - and counting - of major pieces who help make the team better today and will in the future.

    That is much like how Dombrowski did it in Detroit, having bad losing years while building up the core, and similar to what I've been calling the Phoenix Rebuilding Strategy for turning a team around, a combination of "burned ground" losing that gains you valuable draft picks up top while you pick up and build up a core set of players going forward (like Aaron Rowand), which might not fit together initially, but will as pieces are added going forward.

    And I do think Friedman deserves a bunch of credit, very good point, for all the good things I noted in my post that he did for the Rays in turning them around. However, the media pundits will then rave that this is the way to do things and there are things he did where luck played a factor.

    And just to be perfectly clear, I think he did a great job, but I feel that many World Series teams have a high level of luck involved in getting there.

    I don't feel that saying luck was involved demeans his accomplishment in any way because, to me, that is part and parcel with any team making the World Series, because luck is always there.

    However, there are also always the key operational things that are done that help the team take advantage of the luck that do come their way and help them get over that hump.

    So, for example, they focused on good pitching, having top pitchers who strike out a lot, Kazmir and James Shields. They also have impeccable command of their pitches, Shields has a 4.0 K/BB, Kazmir 2.4 K/BB, Sonnanstine 3.3, Garza 2.2. Their relievers also were high strikeout guys as well.

    Their infield defense was OK, slightly below average, but they have a superior outfield defense. And Navarro had a great reputation for defense when the D-gers traded for him.

    But mistakes have been made. Think how much better things would have been had they kept Josh Hamilton instead of losing him for $50K? What if they ended up with Edison Volquez?

    Still, that's quibbling, congrats to the Rays for their accomplishment.

    However, I cannot root for the city that briefly stole my team away from me and San Francisco, no matter how nice or feel good story they make. I will be rooting for the Phillies.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And I don't see how any San Francisco Giants fans can root for the city that stole our team away, however briefly. That's just me.

    Had the Giants moved, I most definitely wouldn't have been a Giants fan anymore, unlike the sad Raider fans who followed their team down south. I wouldn't become an A's fan, that's for sure, I've gone through too much fan abuse at their hands to want to do that. If I were to speculate, I might have become a Red Sox fan after Bill James joined them. But most probably I would just stay a general fan of major league baseball, as I am today anyhow, only the time spent on the Giants would be on baseball in general.

    But that wouldn't have been as much fun as being a Giants fan.

    ReplyDelete
  4. >> And I don't see how any San Francisco Giants fans can root for the city that stole our team away, however briefly. That's just me.

    Did Tampa really, actively, try to "steal" the Giants from San Francisco?

    Or did Giants ownership look to move a potentially struggling team and Tampa fit?

    I can't hate the Rays for that.

    ReplyDelete
  5. And if you dislike Tampa, then do you also dislike the Toronto Blue Jays? Since the Giants could have almost moved to Toronto in 1976.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "...having the worse record in baseball 4 times out of the last 10 years,..."

    The Rays didn't have the "worse" record in baseball, their record was the "worst." Proper usage of words is important, too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, thank you for the correction on my word usage. I normally try to catch all such instances but, alas, perfection is always elusive.

    Now, if I stuck to short sentences and responses, then I would not have as much of a problem catching one error among my long comment. But then that wouldn't be me :^)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Chris, yes, I do dislike Toronto as well, but didn't feel the need to list all my grievances with other cities, I just stuck to the playoff teams.

    And yes, I can categorically state that Tampa did actively try to STEAL the Giants from San Francisco.

    They were actively trying to steal ANY team from ANY city because they pre-built a facility in the hopes of luring a team to their city, despite the advice of the MLB not to do this. The piece of junk that the Rays are actively trying to get out of the lease now was voted on and approved by the voters of that city to lure a team to Tampa Bay.

    That, to me, meant that they specifically targeted each and every existing team in hopes of luring it to their city by the bay, including San Francisco. So, yes, they did try to steal the Giants from us.

    And the thing is, they did steal them. The Giants had been sold to Tampa Bay interests, the press conference was called, but, and I'm foggy on the details, somehow the MLB put the sale on hold until somebody could put together a bid to save the Giants in San Francisco. Between the time of that sale and until Magowan's group was able to buy the team, they were the Tampa Bay Giants.

    For that, I can never forgive them. If they had stole the Giants from us, the pain would have been incredible for me and I assume others.

    Now THAT I remember clearly. Toronto is long enough back now that I cannot remember all the details, and thus maybe why it doesn't hurt as bad. I remember it was the Labatt's family, but I don't think that they had a ballpark, though they did have an agreement that somehow the MLB was able to circumvent and allow Lurie to buy the team. As much as I didn't care for Lurie as an owner, I will always feel indebted to him for saving the Giants and wish him and his family well.

    Still, Toronto had their hands on the Giants for a while, and frankly, any buyer who tries to buy a team and move it another town, it is not just a one man job. He has already worked with local government officials and other public figures on figuring out which local parks could be used, figuring out where the new park would go, details like that.

    Thus the local government and local businesspeople were actively working to enable that buyer to move the Giants (or any other team) to that city. And those officials represent that city. Thus that city was trying to steal the baseball team.

    At least, that's the way I see it. I can't root for those teams.

    But now, thinking about it more, there are certain instances where I would root for them, and that would be when they play the D-gers and the Angels in the playoffs. And I also realized that my feelings apply mainly to the playoffs, I was rooting for the Rays to beat the Yankees for the AL East title (heck, I was rooting for anybody to beat the Yankees), though I wasn't really rooting for them as against the Yankees. I was mainly indifferent during the season.

    ReplyDelete

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