Breaking news: good things actually happened in 2006 (and why you’re not likely to hear much about it in the media)

November 2nd, 2006 → 1:37 pm @ // No Comments

The Red Sox front office, in case you forgot, took a lot of beatings in the last 12 months; if a Martian came down and read the coverage of the team, he could reasonably be expected to conclude that Theo Epstein had personally taken a bat to Jason Varitek’s knee, Jed Hoyer had smashed Wily Mo’s hand in a door, and Ben Cherington had spent weeks hiding behind Papi’s car for the sole purpose of startling him to the point of his developing a heart murmur. (After all, if the disappointing season was entirely the front office’s fault, all of the primary causes would have to be laid at its feet.) The local media didn’t help in this regard; as I’ve said time (and time and time) again, the most frustrating (and, to my mind at least, reprehensible) aspect of this was when writers or commentators decried moves they had previously been in favor of…and failed to fully explain the confluence of factors that contributed to 2006*

Anyway, it turns out that at least some people think the Sox didn’t do such a bad job after all; in fact, in Baseball America’s recent ranking of the 2006 draft, the Sox ranked tops in all of baseball. It’s not surprising that it’s a national publication devoted in large part to amateur players that took the time and energy to point this out; in various local writers’ and commentators’ end-of-season rankings of the Sox’s front office, I didn’t see a single instance in which the team’s draft or player development program was included in any significant way.

Now, a worthwhile question to ask is why, if this team is so good at evaluating talent, it has struggled when transitioning these players to the big leagues (and/or seemingly made some missteps when it comes to trading away prospects). One factor — and this doesn’t totally explain things away, but has to be considered — is the reality that playing in Boston is different from playing in virtually every other market in the country. Some players react to the intensity and scrutiny differently than others; just as crucially, the fans and media throng put enormous pressure on the team to put up a team littered with big names and known quantities. Nick Cafardo’s Globe piece today hints at that — the piece begins, “If Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman tried to parade a roster like the Cardinals’ onto the field in Boston or New York, they’d probably be run out of town” — but then fails to explain how this affects what eventually happens on the field. (A corollary, and a valid point, is that if Brian Cashman or Theo put this team on the field in the AL East they’d likely end up with a losing record….but I digress.)

* Related to this is another David Leonhardt column that deals with former Treasury Secretary Robert Robin, a writer-subject combo I’ve brought up before in relation to how sportswriters and sports fans could better understand the game. In yesterday’s piece, Leonhardt addresses Rubin’s recent bet against the dollar…a bet that didn’t pay off. But that doesn’t mean it was an incorrect bet to make. Leonhardt explains Rubin’s philosophy:

“Throughout [Rubin’s] career — as an arbitrage trader at Goldman, as the Treasury secretary who led the 1995 bailout of Mexico — he has argued that decisions should not be judged solely on the outcome. Somebody could do a perfectly good job of weighing the relevant risks, make a call that maximizes the chances of success and still not succeed, because the world is a messy, unpredictable place.”

Unpredictability is hard for sports fans to swallow; I get that. What’s harder to choke down is when sportswriters — either because they’re lazy or because they’re pandering to their audience — don’t take the time to understand and explain this stark reality.

Post Categories: 2006 Wrap-ups and report cards & Red Sox front office & Sports Reporters

10 Comments → “Breaking news: good things actually happened in 2006 (and why you’re not likely to hear much about it in the media)”

  1. tomdisy

    17 years ago

    It’s interesting that so many don’t understand that a decision shouldn’t be judged by the outcome. The concept never really made sense to me until I took a strategic analysis course in my MBA program.

    I truly doubt in the RSN will ever embrace the concept and I’m not sure it would be a good thing if it did.


  2. miles44

    17 years ago

    We might’ve done better in 2006 if we had a shortstop who was as good defensively as that gold glover, Derek Jeter.



    17 years ago

    Theo sure did take a beating this year. Some of it was justified, because he undoubtedly made some damaging mistakes. But I’m hopeful that he learned from those mistakes and will be making a ‘comeback’ this offseason. I mean, the guy did not suddenly go from a genius to a dummy. No matter how lousy 2006 was, let’s not forget that this management helped assemble a team that averaged 96 wins between 2003 and 2005, reached the postseason 3 times and won a championship. The positive reviews of this year’s draft are certainly a good omen for what’s ahead. Thanks, Seth, for the positive attitude. Your book is on my Christmas list.


  4. lonborgski

    17 years ago

    Sorry, in advance, for the one-liners–

    Is the former Treasury Secretary related to Christoher Robin and Pooh?

    If you don’t want to be thought of as a schill (pun discovered and not changed) for management, shouldn’t you just keep your natural optimism to yourself? But, substantively, I agree with you, both that the Sox had very bad luck this season and that this front-office is doing a good job and is a credit to the organization.

    Don’t you know, you make your own luck! If Theo didn’t cause Papi’s heart problems by frightening him, it must have been because Theo was thinking negative thoughts, or casting a negative aura over Yawkey Way, or he failed to anticipate that Papi could have heart problems so he should have kept Roberto Petegine at Pawtucket another year.


  5. redsoxtimes

    17 years ago

    I totally agree with this….Decisions like letting Pedro go look good and bad at different points over time, but at the time of the decision, after weighing the relative likelihood and risks of each outcome, the decision that was made was the correct one…that doesn’t always mean that it was the right one…but it was the “best” one given all the information at hand.

    For a great book at strategic decision making…check out Essence of Decision.


  6. Ogie Oglethorpe

    17 years ago

    Well played Seth. I have to say that I disagree with HFXBOB’s take (or anybody else’s for that matter) that Theo made “damaging mistakes”. What are these mistakes? Arroyo? Beckett? Damon? Crisp? I don’t view any of those moves as mistakes.

    Arroyo – a point that has been beaten to death this season is the disparity between the AL and NL. When discussing Arroyo this seems to be ignored. The guy is a 4th or 5th starter in the AL and it seemed as if he was regressing in ’05. Basically he could not get lefties out. Look up the stats. Wily Mo is a work in progress but this is a gamble that I would take again given the chance. Sure this move came back to bite us due to injuries but it wouldn’t have saved the season.

    Beckett – Two of the most respected names in the Baseball (Bobby Cox & Peter Gammons) predicted that Beckett would win the AL Cy Young this past season. We all know how that worked out but I believe that we have seen the best of Beckett yet. On the flip side see the Arroyo comment. Does Anibel Sanchez experience as much success in the AL East? Does Hanley Ramirez have a ROY year in Boston with a horde of writers and talk show personalities dying to tag him with a name like “Rent-a-Wreck”? Baseball America itself pointed out that he has all of the tools but has yet to dominate in the minors.

    Damon – I guess some people are claiming Damon is a bargain now that the new economics are in place. He did have a really good year last year. But Pedro had a really good year in his first season in NY too. I think letting him go wasn’t as much based on his asking price but the length of his contract. I still think the Sox will be proven right on this one.

    Crisp – this is a tough one to defend because I don’t see him as a leadoff guy even when healthy. That being said, I think last year was a lost year for this guy. We haven’t seen his best yet. People can talk about Marte all they want but I’d like to see a full season before I start calling him a perennial All-Star.

    If somebody is going to claim that they made mistakes, I’d like to hear a list of REALISTIC alternative moves that they could have made last season that would have won them more than 85 games. Tony Maz gave Theo an “F” for the season because he did not make a deadline deal to keep the Sox in it. Tony, what was that deal that he could have made? The Andruw Jones/Oswalt rumor was a myth. The Braves wanted not only Crisp and Hansen but also Lester. Once they asked for Lester the Sox rightly pulled the plug.



    17 years ago

    I would agree that there are many moves Theo has been criticized for unfairly because they have not looked good in the short run. On the other hand I think there have been some moves since the end of 2004 that have clearly shown some bad judgment of personnel or lack of poise/diligence:

    1) Letting go Cabrera and picking up Renteria. In hindsight this move indicates a post-championship ‘hey we can do anything now’ euphoria. Cabrera had proven himself to be a solid player on defence and offence and even more, a guy with a lot of self-confidence who thrived on the energy of Boston. Of course we know how Renteria worked out.

    2) The Mirabelli to and from San Diego fiasco. Giving up Bard and Meredith to get him back in a moment of pure panic. I’m sure Theo would agree this was just an awful move.

    3) Letting Mike Myers go. They said we didn’t need a lefty one–or-two batter specialist. Then it’s oh oh, we do need a lefty and so trade David Riske for Javier Lopez. Meanwhile the Yankees have Myers to get out David Ortiz. That was all very weird.

    As for Arroyo…well this one is still yet to be proven one way or the other. But the fact is they gave up a young, relatively cheap pitcher who had won 14 games, pitched 205 innings and could start or relieve on notice. Why? Because we had ‘more than enough’ pitching. Curt Schilling pointed out the folly of this thinking later. And Wily Mo? Yes he’s a work in progress but I fear he may not have time to progress in Boston. He hit some balls incredibly hard, but in key situations he often looked like an easy strikeout. And his glove work is a little frightening. I hope it works out, believe me.

    I think the ‘National League sucks’ thing is a a cyclical blip. Sort of like how Baltimore gave us fits in 2004 and 2005 but we beat them silly in 2006 with a worse team. It’ll probably shift back the other way before you know it. St. Louis taking out Detroit in 5 might signal the start of that. Please let’s not kid ourselves, Arroyo can pitch.


  8. Ogie Oglethorpe

    17 years ago

    I don’t understand how people keep making Arroyo out to be more than a 4th (at best) or 5th starter in the AL. He did pitch some huge innings for the Sox in ’04 but he is what he is.

    Consider these numbers:

    2005 (AL) ERA 4.52
    HRA 22

    2005 (AL) vs. Left
    HRA 17
    AVE .288
    SLG .488
    OBP .343
    OPS .831

    2006 (NL) vs. Left
    HRA 22
    AVE .282
    SLG .498
    OBP .340
    OPS .838

    Overall in ’06 he let up 31 HR… the NL (World Series or no World Series it is an inferior league). Just to put that in perspective that is 5 HR less that Beckett let up this past season in the AL.

    Basically the guy was ineffective against lefties in ’05 and then went to a weaker hitting league and achieved similar results. It is not a leap of faith to say that he would have had worse numbers had he stayed. The Yankees have some fearsome left handed batters by the way (Giambi, Cano, Matsui, Abreu).

    Now I always liked Arroyo. He has guts and a rubber arm but if I have the opportunity to acquire a guy with 30-35 HR potential for a 4th or 5th starter, I’ll take it every time.

    He has become the poster boy in the effort to discredit Epstein. I just don’t think people look at the situation objectively.



    17 years ago

    Point taken on the troubles Arroyo has had with left-handed hitters. The 31 HR number though means next to nothing in itself. In 2001 Schilling was 22 and 6 with a 2.98 ERA though he gave up 37 HR.


  10. Abe Alvarez

    17 years ago

    Let’s not over analyze here.

    They finished in 3rd place — behind the Blue Jays for crying out loud.

    When it comes to sports, the outcome IS the only thing that matters, unless you’re dealing with your son’s Little League team.


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