Adrian Gonzalez

Your inaugural Power Rankings

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Based on my thoughts about Opening Day, you may not be surprised to learn that, like the hyped-up spectacle of Opening Day, I am less than enamored with other kinds of empty hype too.  Something that is usually empty hype: Power Rankings.

Indeed, any team’s peak power — at least before the playoffs start — is both fleeting and, on the whole, irrelevant. A club may very well break out of the gate starting today winning eight of ten and scoring runs like they’re the 1931 Yankees or something. We’ll all swoon and they’ll rocket to the top of the Power Rankings. And it will mean nothing come July when their number two starter has forearm stiffness, their top slugger is 4 for his last 39 and their left fielder has a restraining order against him.  In short, a little snapshot of how teams are doing at any one moment of the season is probably pointless and almost certainly misleading.

So why even bother with Power Rankings, you ask?  Eh, they’re fun. They’re conversation starters. Coming as they do here at HBT (usually) on Mondays they’re a nice way to recap the previous week after we’ve sort of lost the thread during weekend barbecues and stuff.

But one thing they are not is particularly meaningful. As such, keep your complaining to a minimum. Or at least keep your complaining humorous and light.  I’d much rather see some nice funny commenter snark about how far my head is up my butt for any given ranking I give than I would some sober yet obviously insulted comment about how, clearly, I have disrespected Team X for the following ten reasons. Save it.  I don’t care who you root for. I don’t care who I root for. If you take these rankings personally or particularly seriously, you’re not worth the keyboard clicks it took for you to register your disgust.  This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have some damn fun out here, OK?

With that out of the way, our first — and most likely worst — Power Rankings of the 2011 season:

1. Red Sox: Everyone complained yesterday afternoon when ESPN came out with their four dozen or so individual staff predictions and over half of the predictors chose Boston to win it all. East coast bias, it was alleged. How bloody typical!  But really: even if you have another horse winning this race, how is Boston an unreasonable choice? On what planet are they not one of the top two or three best looking teams heading into the season? And if they’re not, who is better?

2. Phillies: I will not fret about this team unless and until the names Halladay, Lee, Hamels or Oswalt appear on the DL.  Until then, it’s pretty silly to pick against the team that will have a better starter going than the opposition will nearly every single night of the year.

3. Yankees: Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got something to say, but nothin comes out when they move they lips, just a buncha gibberish, and motherf*****s act like they forgot about the fact that the Yankees scored more runs than anyone last year and actually look like they could score more this year.

4. Giants: The addition of Brandon Belt to the roster is encouraging and it’s hard not to love the rotation. But let us not forget that this was a team tailor made for playoff dominance last season, but which struggled through large parts of the regular season. They didn’t make the playoffs until the last day and wouldn’t have if the Padres hadn’t had an epic collapse. They’re better than that now, but not so substantially better that we should crown them as repeat champs already.

5. Braves: They were a trendy pick last year. They’re a trendy pick this year. And most of the people making trendy Braves picks haven’t lived through 25 years of teams that always — always — have one tremendous flaw or another. A flaw that they always come close to working through but which ultimately trumps whatever it was that started those trends in the first place. I don’t know what it is yet here. Could be the outfield again. Could be the back end of the pen. It’s a good team, but it’s a team that always seems more appealing on paper than it does once pitches start being thrown in anger.

6. Rangers: Can’t wait for everyone who thought it important that Neftali Feliz serve as The Established Closer starts screaming about how the rotation is in ruins, seemingly unaware that there might actually be a link between those two things.

7. White Sox: I love Adam Dunn in U.S. Cellular Field, but if there’s an under to bet on his home runs, I’d consider taking it. I haven’t consulted the hit tracker data, but it seems like Dunn’s bombs are always sure things. I don’t know that the smaller park will make as huge a difference in his home run totals as his presence will make a difference for the Sox’ lineup as a whole.

8. Athletics: There is no contending team with a smaller margin for error than the A’s. Everyone needs health to win, but the A’s are depending on young pitching, some of whom have fragile elbows.  This worries me more than a bit.

9. Rockies: What’s the hitter’s equivalent of “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain?”  Because it maybe could work for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. Though, no, I’m aware of no rule or contingency in baseball which would allow for two players to take multiple lineup slots in one game, so perhaps I should just give up this fanciful endeavor.

10. Cubs: Wainwright is out for the year and Cueto, Baily and Greinke are on the DL to start the season. And people think I’m nuts to be picking the Cubs in the NL Central. Whatever, dudes.

11. Twins: Their bullpen was just ripped to shreds in the offseason. They have reloaded on the fly and continued to contend before, but it’s a tall damn order this year.

12. Rays: Their bullpen was just ripped to shreds in the offseason. They have reloaded on the fly and continued to contend before, but it’s a tall damn order this year. No, this is not a copy-and-paste error.

13. Reds: The rotation is hurt or has mono or has looked shaky this spring. And the question must be asked: did they peak last year?

14. Cardinals: Every radio host I’ve spoken with this spring has asked me if the Pujols contract situation will hang over this team.  Question: after the first day of spring training, have you heard anything about it?  Nah, me neither.  I think everyone involved in this little dance is old and experienced enough to where it’s not going to be a problem until long after the Cardinals are out of the running. Or, if they’re in the race all year, until after the season.

15. Brewers: I think Brewers fans are tired of hearing people say that the team is “all-in” or “shooting the moon” this year or whatever. I agree, that’s getting tired. Thus I shall henceforth refer to the Brewers in terms of a group of roguish movie criminals coming together for that Last Big Score.  That always turns out well, doesn’t it?

16. Blue Jays: Like the A’s, young pitching, though young pitching without as high as an upside. As is usually the case, though, the Jays will probably be better than I figured and I’ll have, once again, missed the boat on why. I swear, it’s not a Canadian thing. They just sort of elude me.

17. Marlins: I was on a radio show this week and I started talking about how, at worst, even if he never figures anything else out, which I think is unlikely, Mike Stanton could be one of those really fun all-power guys I tend to like such as Rob Deer or Dave Kingman or whoever. The host was probably 25 and based on his response I’m quite sure he had no idea who I was talking about. I am old.

18. Tigers: Too many positions in that lineup where offense is being punted, I believe.

19. Angels: On days where Mike Scioscia decides to go defense-first at first base and start Howie Kendrick over Mark Tumbo, the Halos may well sport the worst offensive infield in the game.

20. Dodgers: People’s impressions of them are clouded by off-the-field problems, but if they get some offense to complement the rotation, they could be interesting.

21. Mets: People’s impressions of them are clouded by off-the-field problems, but if they get any starting pitching to complement the lineup, they could be interesting.

22. Orioles: This feels too low to me but I’m not sure who to demote. If things break right the O’s — were they not in the AL East — will be good enough to be interesting. Sadly, I can’t see them doing much better than fourth in the division they’re in, and for now I have them fifth.

23. Padres: Someone in the comments yesterday asked why everyone was disrespecting the Padres after what they did last year. I know. Totally unfair. I mean, just because you lose your best player and your number one starter is beginning the year on the shelf doesn’t mean you won’t still be good!  Oh, wait. Yes it does.

24. Nationals: I have traveled to the future and obtained a video of every Jayson Werth press conference that occurred between, oh, June 1st and the end of his current contract.

25. Astros: You know those ESPN “expert” predictions I mentioned above? Well, in those, ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume picked the Astros to win the NL Central. And with that, the season’s lone highlight is over.

26. Indians: The worst part about how this season is going to go will be when people — as they have done with the Cavs this year and as they have always done with Detroit — start to equate the team’s struggles with the city’s struggles and do so in a way that disparages Cleveland in some pretty unfair and misleading ways. No, the city isn’t in great shape, I’ll admit that. But it’s a place where, if you know someone who knows it well, you can have a great time. It’s a city with a lot of local pride. Lay off Cleveland, will ya?

27. Diamondbacks: Kirk Gibson started camp by talking about good defense, smart hitting approaches and playing the game “the right way.” I can’t wait, therefore, until the Dimondbacks’ best hitter is Russell Branyan. Between his iron glove and the fact that he is going to grip it and rip it like John Daly, Gibson is gonna have a coronary.

28. Mariners: Seattle’s first game is at 10:05 PM Eastern time tomorrow. You have until then to put your money down in the “what day will Milton Bradley flip the hell out” pool. I have May 19th.

29. Royals: I have this feeling that this is the year Jeff Francoeur really gets it together, figures out the strike zone and finally blossoms into the perennial All-Star that, by gosh, we all know he can be.

Did I keep a straight face there? What was my tell? This is important because I’m playing cards this weekend and I’m working on my bluff face.

30. Pirates: PNC Park is only three hours from my house. Nice place! It will be great that so many inexpensive tickets will be available for when I take impulsive road trips.

And with that, Gentlemen: start your whining.

Blame Baseball’s copycat behavior for its lack of diversity in the executive ranks

Rob Manfred
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Following on yesterday’s stuff about baseball’s marked lack of diversity in the executive ranks comes a Ken Rosenthal column which digs into it a bit.

I might observe that, while, Rosenthal is right on all of the facts, there is a whiff of pushback in the story. As if MLB folks were hearing the criticisms Murray Chass and others have leveled in recent days about the lack of women, minorities and other candidates who don’t fit the “30-something MBA from an Ivy League school” mold of so many of today’s top execs and wanted to get some points out there. The league’s search firm is examined and there is a bit of “well, here is an exception; and here are a few more . . .” to it. Which, hey, that’s fair. Like I said, Rosenthal has his facts right and treats the issue seriously.

I think Rosenthal’s best bit, however, is the point he hits on at the end, when he says “homogeneity is dangerous in any industry, particularly when bright people are excluded.” That’s probably the key word to think about when you think about baseball’s hiring practices. “Homegeneity.” Baseball has a distinct lack of women and minorities in key positions, but I don’t think it’s because baseball is maliciously racist or sexist. Rather, it’s because baseball is acutely prone to copycat behavior that breeds homogeneity.

Everything about baseball culture, from the first day of a player’s minor league career-on and from the first day an intern is hired to get coffee for an assistant general manager is about not being different. About not sticking out. About emulating successes. You may mess up or you may fail, but if you do it while going about your business the way other, successful people went about theirs, you’ll be way better off than if you did things differently or stuck out.

This is true of all industries to some degree, but it seems far more prevalent in baseball. It’s a smaller world with fewer opportunities than business at large. It’s a more conservative world in terms of temperament. It’s one where you’re far more likely to have a reporter ask you about why you did something than, say, the accounting industry. It makes people afraid to take chances and makes people far more likely to do what that last successful guy did than to go out on even the shortest of limbs.

Not that things don’t change. Indeed, today’s preference for 30-something MBAs is radically different than the old model of hiring some old “baseball man” to run baseball operations. But it only came to the fore after the sabermetric and analytical model forced its way into the conversation with success and/or efficiencies that were impossible for even the crustiest old baseball man to ignore. That said, it was a transformation that was so difficult and radical that it was literally turned into a book and a movie and led to a decade and a half of arguing. A philosophical change which may have been casually noted in another business and then quickly emulated played out like some sort of cultural civil war in baseball circles. Change came, yes, but it wasn’t easy.

But here we are again, with the old baseball men replaced by the “Moneyball” disciples, who have become the new normal. A normal which one deviates from at great risk in baseball’s conservative world. I don’t believe that baseball’s homogeneity in the executive ranks is a function of bad people who believe bad things making bad decisions. I think it’s about fear and conformity more than anything else. Now there is a fear that not hiring that Ivy League MBA is the radical and perilous move. And if that Ivy League MBA was one who worked under another Ivy League MBA with another, all the better. And the easier we can sell him to fans as “the next Theo Epstein,” well, the better. And it sure would be easier to do that if he looked like Theo Epstein! Comps are the lingua franca of old baseball scouts. They’re the lingua franca of baseball decision makers too.

Whatever the causes, the net effect of all of this is no different than if there were virulent racism and sexism in the hearts and minds of baseball’s decision makers. It’s the same rich white boys club that maliciousness and bigotry could’ve created, even if it was created via more benign means. If baseball’s leaders truly believe that diversity in their leadership ranks is important — and I believe them when they say they do — they need to attack the problem of its homogeneity in the same manner they would if there was something malicious afoot. They need to stop throwing up their hands and saying “well, that’s what clubs do” or “that’s what our search firm gave us” and make achieving diversity a goal with an action plan, not just a goal which is merely stated.

Chris Archer could lose his 20th game tonight

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10:  Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on from the mound after surrendering a home run in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 10, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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That’s a pretty negative way to put a headline, but the fact is, a starting pitcher losing 20 games is a rare and notable feat these days. But Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer could pull it off against the White Sox this evening. He’s 8-19 with a 4.02 ERA in 194.2 innings across 32 starts in 2016.

That’s a big fall from 2015, when he was considered one of the rising aces in the game. Archer was an All-Star last year, and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting, finishing fifth in pitcher WAR, sixth in ERA, second in strikeouts, second in strikeouts per nine innings, fourth in fielding independent pitching and allowing the fourth lowest number of hits per nine innings pitched among AL starters.

To be fair, he still should be considered one of the best pitchers in the game. Yes, it has been a bad year for Archer, but he still strikes out a lot of guys. Overall, it takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in the big leagues. You don’t get the opportunities to do such a dubious thing unless you’re healthy and you have the confidence of your manager to take the ball every fifth day. And to be fair to Archer, he’s had bad defense and awful run support this year. Make no mistake, he has pitched worse than he did a year ago, but not so much worse that he deserves to reach a milestone no one has reached since 2003.

The guy who did that in 2003: Mike Maroth of a 119-loss Tigers team. Maroth won nine games that year and now gets referenced every time someone approaches 20 losses. If Archer avoids his 20th loss, he might match Maroth’s 2003 win total himself tonight. If not, well, everyone will cite Archer’s name, and not Maroth’s, whenever someone get to 19 losses in a season.