Monday, February 25, 2013
This is why players are paid to play
By David Schoenfield
Cliff Lee on former Rangers teammate Michael Young, and now teammate on the Phillies, on how the Rangers handled him, from Jayson Stark's story:
"I think that baffled a lot of people who were around that organization. Like I said, he was the heart and soul of that team for a long time, and I can't understand their thinking on a few of the moves they made with him. He's a really good player. I don't know why you wouldn't just let him do his thing."
Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon on the team's 2012 season:
"It was an all-around leadership void from A to Z. From being a vocal leader to being an off-the-field leader to being an on-the-field leader to everything. You can't just point your finger at what type of leadership was missing. It was the whole part of the equation. Our team identity is formed by that leadership."
One of the issues detractors of sabermetrics originally had -- and still have, I suppose -- is that it treats players like a line of numbers on an actuary's report, that the game loses some (or all) of its soul when you start ignoring the heart and the makeup and the leadership qualities of individuals and as a team. The game can't boil down to numbers! Not when human beings are involved.
Thus, you get Lee saying the Rangers treated Young -- a well-respected veteran, a guy perceived as a leader in the clubhouse and grinder on the field, plus a perennial All-Star to boot -- poorly. First they moved him off shortstop. Then they tried to trade him. Then they moved him off third base. Then they did trade him.
The numbers said Young had no range at shortstop. The Rangers also had this kid named Elvin Andrus ready to play there. The numbers then said Young was also pretty bad at third base. They also had the opportunity to sign a better player in Adrian Beltre. The numbers said that Young hit .277 in 2012, but that his Wins Above Replacement was -2.4, not exactly the kind of production you expect from a player making $16 million a year.
You see, you're not supposed to do that to veterans, make them change positions, disrespect their place on the team, treat them like they're as disposable as a one-night stand in Cleveland. And there is some truth there: In a perfect world, of course, you want a symbiotic relationship between the front office, the field staff and the players. Perfect worlds don't exist; the front office is trying to build the best possible team. The Rangers were better off moving Young off shortstop, they were better off moving him off third base and they're probably better off not having him on their roster in 2013.
Yes, Young did a lot of good things for the Rangers in his career. For his services, the Rangers paid him the handsome total of nearly $75 million. I would suggest that gives the Rangers the right do what is in the best interest of the ballclub.
To his credit, Stark writes that Lee did later backtrack, acknowledging the Rangers' success in recent years -- World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 and a playoff trip in 2012. Hey, he should be happy the Phillies now have a leader for 2013, since they apparently lacked one in 2012.
As for Papelbon, I would suggest the "lack of leadership" clause is the poorest way possible to analyze a club's season. Certainly, the Phillies must have had enough "leadership" from 2007 to 2011, when they won five straight division titles. Did Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay suddenly stop leading in 2012? Or was the team's disappointing season more tied to the injuries of Utley, Howard and Halladay, not to mention the early season of failures of Papelbon and his bullpen mates?
This doesn't mean leadership doesn't exist in a clubhouse or on the field, especially from veteran players taking a youngster under their wing or the players -- like Michael Young -- who lead by example with all-out play on the field. The trouble with leadership is its prescribed after the fact: Good teams always have it and bad teams never do. Did the Phillies lose on May 7 due to a lack of leadership or because Papelbon served up a three-run homer in the ninth? Did the Phillies lose on July 5 due to a lack of leadership or because Papelbon gave up a double, walk, hit batter and two singles to blow a lead in the ninth? Did the Phillies lose other games because Charlie Manuel refused to use Papelbon in tie games, or heaven forbid for more than three outs, or due to a lack of leadership?
Baseball players are really, really good at playing baseball. They're fantastic at their jobs, better than most of us will ever be at ours. They're great at breaking down the nuances of the game, explaining how they throw a curveball or how to set up for a relay from the outfield or telling you what pitch a guy will throw in a certain count.
They're not necessarily skilled at explaining why some teams win and some teams don't.