Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Criticism-by-classification


What utility does a blogger provide? What is the purpose of blogging?

If you say, "None," then you might be right. Really. However, this post also might not be for you.

For the rest of you, I might suggest that a baseball blog serves as supplemental insight and commentary, generally in an amateur fashion and generally on topics that professional media outlets cannot or are inclined not to devote their resources. But let's strip it down to essentials: we're talking about criticism.

Criticism is generally defined as the art of commenting, usually adversely. It comes in various forms; depending on the context, a given form might be appropriate. Sometimes a sheer, guttural rant is appropriate. Sometimes, a heady statistical analysis is appropriate. Sometimes, a call for protest is appropriate. Sometimes, a haiku might even be appropriate.

And, sometimes, what I'll call criticism-by-classification can be appropriate and, hopefully, enlightening. You might recall that I tried this tactic back in June with a post ("dazzingly intelligent") that attempted to frame the Robinson-Ohka situation in terms of the "crime control" and "reasonableness" models of discipline. I wasn't trying to argue that one view was inherently better or worse; precisely, that is the point: your view of a situation depends on context. I don't know (glowing reviews aside!) whether I was successful, but that was much of the intent.

Which brings me to the piece on Frank Robinson today at Capitol Punishment. For those who read that blog, you should know by now that Chris doesn't think much of . . . well, here are Chris' words:


I think it's pretty obvious that I'm not Frank
Robinson's biggest fan. Helluva player; Stinkpot of a manager.

Think this is going to turn into a sheer, guttural rant? Think again. What follows is a good example of criticism-by-classification.

There exist various different kinds of baseball teams: young, veteran, pitching-reliant, pitching-poor, take-n-rake, speedy, etc. A given manager will mesh well with some types (hopefully; why else would the guy be a manager?!), but he could be incompatible with others. This is truth; it's not offered for the sake of being "critical" (popular defintion: "a jerk").

Chris makes the solid case---completely aside from his feelings of Frank Robinson "personally"---that Robinson is ill-suited to manage this club. He does so, essentially, by classifying Frank:


[1] Frank is indicating that he prefers to work with a veteran team. That's fine. Different managers have different skill sets. Frank
is, essentially, admitting publicly that this team isn't the right fit for him as a manager. [. . .]
[2] Frank demands respect, yet he infrequently gives it to his players -- especially his pitchers

Let's take the second classification first, that Frank "does not work well with pitchers" (my words for sake of classification, not Chris'). Or maybe "some pitchers," if you prefer. Considering a team carries only 11 or 12 pitchers usually, "some" is still a substantial amount. And considering that, by a conservative estimate, about five have expressed displeasure with him this season, it's probably not unfair to say that "working with pitchers" is not Frank's strong suit.

Guess what? Frank has to; the team has little-to-no offense. Now, I'm willing to castigate Jim Bowden for acting the wastrel with what used to be a bounty of back-end-of-the-rotation types, but let's be honest: he was a co-conspirator, not the lone gunman. During the first half, the team had one main strength: pitching. Without losing sight of the fact that the team ERA has dropped in the second half, let's note that this team, which is four games out of the playoffs, has now adopted the "kitchen sink" strategy four or five times. It worked last night, blessedly, but it hadn't previously.

Frank Robinson butted heads with pitchers this team could have used. I'm not judging whether he was correct or incorrect in those situations; however, I will note, as I did before, that what works initially might not work later. This team was pitching-reliant, and Robinson played a role in, well, diverting that strength. In September, we have seen the effects; starting pitching (at times inseparable from the relief pitching) is a weakness now.

Thus, one could reasonably note that Frank Robinson's strengths as a manager do not include pitching-reliant teams---at least at this stage of his managing career.

The other criticism-by-classification, though, is the really substantial one. This team must get young; many of its veterans, including some Robinson started last night, are assured of not being 2006 Washington Nationals. Yet, not only did Robinson play them, but he fiercely defends on principle his decision to play them. It is good to have principles, but it is quite clear Frank Robinson is suited (at this stage of his managing career) to head veteran teams. The Nats might not have much (or any) farm system to speak of, but one must believe that the team will focus on obtaining a younger nucleus, or else face years of stagnation and mediocrity.

No one wants that, least of whom will be the new ownership (whoever it is). Frank Robinson, even if we were to acknowledge his strengths, does not represent the appropriate classficiation of manager to serve as the skipper into the future.

Now, I've predicted that Robinson will be back in '06 and that chances are he would be fired toward the middle of the season, with the team's record a near-reflection next June of what is was this June. It's my prediction---and, as predictions go, might or might not be accurate. It might also be my position of what should happen to Robinson (i.e., Frank should be brought back for another go), though I haven't thought about it enough yet. Instead, I've usually thought of it as Bowden-or-Frank?, in which case Frank wins in my book.

Nevertheless, Chris lays out a good indictment against Robinson now. What's an indictment? It's an instrument reflecting a provable belief that one's actions did not meet certain elements of societally-accepted conduct (or, rather, that one's actions met elements of criminal conduct). The key is that it must spell out the elements of the offense. For the Washington Nationals, anticipating their needs next year, unacceptable elements of managing would be:

a) doesn't trust young players; and,
b) doesn't work well with pitchers.

I'm not saying the jury will convict, but I'm saying this is indictable.

And, like the way our justice system should operate, this indictment (when we separate it from personal sentiment, likes, and dislikes) has been returned dispassionately and according to objective elements.

In other words, criticism-by-classification.

Comments:
You write pretty good for a lawyer
 
Thanks. But it might be more accurate to say I navel-gaze pretty good for a blogger. ;-)
 
Really good post.
 
I can understand your frustration with F-Rob, but don't you have to look at the whole thing in context....I mean, the Nats can't hit their way out of a paper bag, but yet they were in the playoff hunt for almost the entire year......Right?
 
Yes and no, Tom.

50-31 is now a long time ago, and he doesn't seem like a great choice for the future of the franchise, now that it has a future.
 
I'm posting this with Chris as well. It's the same thing I said in my blog. Frank can take what's perceived as a disastrous team and take them above .500 - San Francisco 1982, Baltimore 1989, Washington 2005. But he's never made the playoffs and I don't think he's going to start with the Nats.
 
Oops. Anonymous up there was me.

-Brick
 
That's an interesting point, Brick. I can see his business card:

"Frank Robinson: makes bad teams okay, but can't make good teams better."

Or something like that.

Barry mentioned yesterday in his chat that Frank is---to be charitable---tough to pin down from day-to-day. I suppose the possibility exists that he's going through a "veteran phase" and, with a stronger and more intelligent man upstairs, he could snap out of it and return to his 1989 sensibilities with respect to inexperienced players.

Or maybe not . . .
 
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