A foundering MLB franchise is easy to recognize because the team’s management will invariably self-identify in the media. Beyond the obvious indicators of wins, losses, and player stats, certain words and phrases start appearing in the sports media indicating there is confusion, uncertainly, and lack of direction in the management of a specific baseball franchise.
For example, the San Francisco Giants 2010 media hyped catch-phrase, “It’s magic inside”, succinctly sums up the team’s approach to the serious business of baseball. If it doesn’t happen by magic, it’s probably not going to happen at all.
When you hear the phrase, “we’ve got to get at-bats for Juan Uribe (or Nate Schierholtz, or Andres Torres, etc.)”, it’s an expression of desperation and offensive crisis. “You have to” means you don’t really want to but you have no choice. It means you’ve run out of choices and are grabbing at something, anything, to jumpstart your ball club’s offense. “We’ve got to get at-bats for…” is not an endorsement of a good hitter, it’s code for “we have no good hitters”.
Has Yankee Manager Joe Girardi ever said, “Somehow, we’ve got to get at-bats for Robinson Cano”, or has Detroit’s Jim Leyland plaintively whined, “We need to find a way to get Brandon Inge into this line-up”? Either a player is producing, and is part of a team’s everyday line-up, or they aren’t producing and they’re out.
The real problem? There’s nothing to jumpstart in the San Francisco Giants everyday line-up; this is predominantly an assembly of fringe and older players who occasionally rise above offensive mediocrity. The 2010 version of the Giants has regressed into the offensely-challenged 2009, 2008, and 2007 versions of the Giants.
There is a variation on this that applies to the Giants super prospect Buster Posey. Here’s the often repeated party line we've heard about Posey the first two months of the 2010 season: "there’s no place to put Posey" in the current Giants line-up. In other words, the current line-up is so tight, so locked in, we just can’t find a spot for a batter hitting .327, with 28 runs scored, 28 RBIs, a .422 OBS and .929 OPS as of May 24, 2010.
In reality, there are at least six spots in the line-up Posey could be dropped into, but the team is locked into a number of very smelly contracts, and the idea of sitting underperforming players like Edgar Renteria ($9 million), Aaron Rowand ($12 million), or Bengie Molina ($4.5 million) would make the team’s front office look bad; $25.5 million bad.
An anecdotal reference to an individual player’s recent performance is another type of managerial comment that describes orange and black chaos. When it was suggested several weeks ago that Andres Torres should replace Aaron Rowand at the lead-off spot in the order, Manager Bruce Bochy told the media he was going in that direction until Rowand had a three hit game, so he held off. Which is like saying, despite this player’s overwhelming poor body of work, I’m betting that three hit game now means he is magically going to do well leading off.
After the Giants scored only one run in the first two games of a recent three games series with the Oakland As, Bochy finally moved Torres to the lead-off spot and batted Rowand 6th. After that final game, on Sunday May 23rd, in which the Giants were shut out for the second day in a row, Bochy continued the magic with this anecdotal-based remark: "Well, we didn't get a run today, so I can't say the lineup change worked."
About three weeks ago, Bochy told a beat writer he would not move Nat Schierholtz out of the #8 slot in the batting order because he was essentially afraid of jinxing Schierholtz, who was hitting .360 at the time. How did that bit of magic work out? Schierholtz never did get moved up to the 4th or 5th slot in the line-up to produce runs, and as of May 24th, he is batting .298 with 7 RBIs.
This kind of management-by-what-just-happened suggests the front office is operating a $483 million business based on the last shiny thing that happens to pass in front of their eyes. The more ancedotal-based decisions you make, the farther you get from being able to successfully deal with complex problems via thoughtful and creative solutions.
When the Giants replaced Aubrey Huff in the clean-up spot and made Bengie Molina the #4 batter in late April, Molina had a total of 8 RBIs. The magic here was the hope the new clean-up hitter would start driving in runs. As of May 24, 2010, Molina was out of the clean-up slot and had a total of 10 RBIs.
The team continues to run Todd Wellemeyer out as the fifth starter in the rotation, despite his 2-4 record, 5.71 ERA, and 60 walks+hits in 41 innings pitched. But Wellemeyer’s 2-1 record at AT&T Park persuaded the Giants to schedule a “cross-your-fingers” home start for Wellemeyer on Tuesday May 25th against the Washington Nationals, with little thought about what happens next. And, as an extra magical bonus, Wellemeyer’s start disrupts Tim Lincecum’s regular schedule, giving him six days rest instead of his usual five (which the team spins as “giving Timmy an extra day’s rest”).
Welcome to the 2010 San Francisco Giants— where the team’s media catch phrase rings appropriately true: there’s truly magic inside. Magic in lieu of having comprehensive goals, magic instead of long-term planning, and magic as opposed to rational, information-based decision-making.
Now let me reach into my hat and pull out a run for our next game…