Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Crisis! Give me McGyver . . . McBain . . . somebody!

Resolved: it's time to sweep the leg

In today's news, there's a flurry of Nats/O's television-related (in)activity, right down to a second WaPo editorial in recent weeks on the madness. It reads like the editorial writer attended a Bill Ladson seminar on recycling material, but the remedy suggested this time sounds appropriately undiplomatic for the late (late, late) stage of the game. As always, District of Baseball and Yurasko are the fast-triggers here---almost as fast as the source material itself, remarkably.

By the way, the lead of
this Thom. Heath article from the Post would almost be funny . . .

Kevin Cohan has been getting two very unusual phone pitches every day for the past week. One call to the managing partner of the Jim Coleman chain of auto dealerships comes from Comcast SportsNet, telling Cohan his company should be prepared to advertise on its new regional sports network that will include Washington Nationals baseball games. The other phone call is from the Baltimore Orioles, telling Cohan that they are going to own the regional sports network that carries the Nationals' games and that Cohan needs to buy the commercials through them.
. . . if it weren't so sad.

Oh, and remember all those promises from Bob DuPuy that the opener would be televised locally in DC? Well, Bob's still promisin'; then again, Dayn Perry could make a promise to himself to become the wardrobe designer for the Laker Girls, but that doesn't mean it's happenin'. And, sure enough, the
Wash. Times tells us the opening might not be on local TV. But don't worry: Comcast Sports Net can televise things on short notice---assuming there's a deal in place before the opener. Or maybe MLB will finagle a DC outlet for the Philly broadcast; considering how incredibly Nats-centric the spring training games as a part of the O's CcSn deal have been, oh, I'm sure that'll satisfy Nats' fans---of course, the article informs us that it's not like the Philly rightsholder station has been contacted by MLB or anything.

I swear, the Seligulans running MLB is roughly equivalent to Paris Hilton running NASA.

The N.Y. Post chimed in with a happy profile of Jim Bowden yesterday. Give Kevin Kernan, the profile writer, credit, I guess: by my recollection, he's the first writer to compare Jim Bowden's status to that of a foster parent:

Bowden hopes the additions he has made, with the helpful guidance of special assistants Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo and Bob Boone, will turn the Nationals into his 1999 Reds. Bowden gambled that he could find success in players like Jose Guillen, Cristian Guzman, Vinny Castilla, Wil Cordero and ex-Yankee Esteban Loaiza.

In many ways this team is the baseball version of the Island of Misfit Toys — and Bowden is the club's foster parent, seeing it through. "Our '99 team in Cincinnati wasn't expected to do anything and they won 96 games," says Omar Minaya's replacement. "Why? Because [Mike] Cameron and Pokey
[Reese] and Sean Casey all came together at once. They made the adjustments. I've had other clubs with young players who don't make the adjustments, and those players get replaced."
It's probably too much to expect a sportswriter---much less a writer for the N.Y. Post---to display some internal consistency, but it's worth pointing out that we've got the a) sportswriter invoking comparisons to the '99 Reds, b) Bowden saying that team's success came from young players maturing quickly, and c) the sportswriter citing recent signings of, mainly, . . . older players.

Anyway, Bowden likes to invoke the 1999 Reds a lot, no doubt because they were a stellar, underbudgeted team; such a combination (rightly) makes a GM look good, and I think that season was the apex of Bowden's repuatation as a baseball executive; I can't recall if he won Executive of the Year for '99, but he would have had a good case.

Viewing history through a cold stats sheet is no doubt imperfect, but maybe it's preferable to the quick recollections of a guy who fires off the name "Pokey Reese" as one of three players cited for a team's success. Plus, 1999 isn't that far removed; I'd guess many of us remember the talking points for the Reds' success that year, primarily:

Jack McKeon's incredible use of the bullpen.

By Bowden's own assessment at the time, McKeon's "unconventional" bullpen usage was the key to the team's success:

The bullpen has been phenomenal,” Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said. “It's the reason we're where we are.”

Undoubtedly, if you follow baseball closely, you remember Cincinnati's bullpen in 1999. That old fart McKeon made them look like something out of the 1970s. Two pitchers, Scott Sullivan and nominal closer Danny Graves, topped 100 innings pitched. (And not only "topped," but "hurdled"; both tossed more than 110 IP.) Rookie of the Year and uber-set-up man (12 wins, 19 saves) Scott Williamson almost made it there, too; he finished with 93.1 IP. McKeon had two lefties, but neither Gabe White nor Dennys Reyes was used as a LaRussian LOOGY. (White averaged well over an inning per appearance, and Reyes---the purported LOOGY---was just below a 1:1 ratio.) And that was pretty much it, with the exception of Stan Belinda, who was torched over his 29 appearances but still averaged about an inning-and-a-half per outing. (Starters Brett Tomko and Ron Villone---second and third on the team in innings pitched, respectively---both appeared as relievers seven times, as well.)

What did Bowden have to do with this allocation-of-resources decision? By his own admission at the time, zippy:

Bowden gives the credit for the success of the bullpen to Reds manager Jack McKeon and pitching coach Don Gullett. “It's a reflection on (McKeon and Gullett),” he said. “One of the hardest things to do in baseball is to try to develop your bullpen at the big-league level.”

Charitably speaking, Bowden probably gets indirect credit, in the sense that he traded away incumbent closer Jeff Shaw in July of 1998. Bowden displayed some foresight here--- especially back then, when I recall the Proven Closer(tm) tag was more universally respected; nowadays, I think, more people recognize that if you take a dime-a-dozen middle man and give him the usually pat three-out opportunities, he can save 35-40 games faster than you can spell "Borowski." But, back then, I remember a lot of writers opining that Tommy Lasorda (remember when he was briefly LA's GM?) fleeced Bowden because the former picked up a reliable closer (in lieu of our very own Antonio Osuna) for "very little" (Konerko and Reyes, among others).

Anyway, there was a lot of press attention also given to the up-the-middle improvements represented by Reese and Cameron (acquired for Konerko), yes, but there was just as much given to the "veteran leadership" of Greg Vaughn, Barry Larkin, and Pete Harnisch---to say nothing of career half-seasons by Jeffrey Hammonds (speak of the Zephyr!) and Steve Parris. (Who?)

Well, this is getting long; my only point is that, aside from early happy feelings, I'm not sure how this Nationals team resembles that Reds team.

---Oh, and one more thing about this N.Y. Post article: It mentions that Johnson needs to get healthy, or else he'll just be "another overrated Yankee prospect."

Even acknowledging that the Yankees have overrated (and subsequently traded) just about every sentient to grace their farm system in the past decade, unless you believe that "health" is a "skill," Kernan is incredibly unfair to Johnson. The guy put up a 141 OPS+ in the big leagues at age 24, after all. I realize that it's dump-on-Johnson-time this offseason, and I'm with you when you think, "Sheesh, it's really disappointing that Nick can't stay healthy," but there's just no evidence---based on his minor and major league performance, when healthy---he was ever overrated.

Strangely enough, when I wrote that opus on Tony Blanco the other day, I was doing it between sims of the 1999 season on Diamond-Mind. I like redrafting teams, and I made sure to snatch up Sullivan and Graves, simply because the two of them were dominant that year.

You can get four innings out of the two of them each day, which isn't far from the way they were really used.

I don't think every relief pitcher can be used that way, but they were both extreme groundball pitchers, and with Pokey backing them up on the infield, they got a lot of easy outs.
True, Chris. And I guess McKeon could be blamed for effectively killing Williamson's career. Sullivan chugged along for a little while, racking up 400 IP over a 4 year period, and Graves has been good but nothing special in the meantime.

Then again, if you're a so-called small market team . . . when was the last time a team got 310 IP with a sub-3 ERA for essentially the league minimum? Seems a decent strategy to push young, live arms to the limit like that and then flip 'em after a couple years, when they're about to get expensive and hurt. Unethical, maybe, too.
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