The Nub

Strategic Choices: Swinging for the Fences or Playing It Safe

(Posted 12/6/14)

How to explain why Billy Beane traded his best player, best sale Josh Donaldson, sale sovaldi to Toronto for oft-injured Brett Lawrie and two prospects?   It’s a mystery because, even though he gave away a lot to rent Jon Lester and (presumably), Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last season, Beane had enough pitching and, with Donaldson, enough hitting, to be competitive again in 2015. Could it have been the humiliation of those failed 2014 deals that inspired the current shakeup? “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis may have hit upon the answer when he wrote this about Beane more than a decade ago:

“Neither his trad(es)…nor the other moves he made had the flavor of a careful lab experiment. It felt more as if the scientist, infuriated that the results of a careful lab experiment (had failed), waded into his lab and began busting test tubes.”

Our pinch-hitter Lewis made another decade-old clarifying point about the way Beane operates: “Billy worried that this year good enough might not be good enough. ‘We can in 90 games and have a nice little season. But sometimes you have to say ‘fuck it’ and swing for the fences’.”

The attitudinal contrast between Oakland’s skipper and ours, the White Sox’s most prominent fan, is striking. The first half of Skipper Obama’s second term has been as disastrous politically as Beane’s was in Baseball last season. Fans of the Skipper in the White House dugout thought they saw signs he would be swinging for the fences himself once the 2014 electoral playoffs were behind him. It seemed in his term’s late innings that he had nothing to lose by being more Beane-like, and going yard.

Obama’s response to both the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the choke-hold death of Eric Garner in New York City, showed he was still the familiar play-it-safe leader. Acknowledging in both cases the distrust between many police departments and black communities, he took a bunting stance. National Journal scorekeeper George Condon logged the Skipper’s initial tentative offerings at the plate this way: “He was cautious about the use of surplus military equipment by domestic police forces, promising (a study of the practice). He was cautious on police behavior, promising to work with Congress to pay for more body cameras to be worn by cops on the street. He was cautious about the Justice Department’s role, announcing that the outgoing attorney general will (address the challenge on a nationwide basis).   And he was cautious in falling back on that most familiar of Washington responses—a task force to further study the situation.”

The Skipper’s restrained pep-talk was a reminder of a similar one he made more than a year ago, pitching a need for “debate” on his national security policies, a debate that never took the field.

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Busy Bombers: The Yankees’ signing of Andrew Miller – $36 million for four years – smacks of the KC Royals’ influence: shorten the game to six innings with shutdown seven-eight-nine relievers. If they re-sign closer David Robertson – at least a 50-50 possibility – the Yanks will have Miller, Dellin Betances and Robertson to follow KC’s Word-Series –attaining formula. The almost simultaneous three-way deal which saw NYY send pitcher Shane Greene to Detroit and receive shortstop Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks – while Arizona gained pitcher Robbie Ray and a prospect from the Tigers – shores up their infield defense

Why the Big Bucks: SI’s Tom Verducci, on Nelson Cruz’s surprising (to some) four-year, $57 million deal with the Mariners: “The days are over when you can confidently project a minor league prospect to hit in the majors or a confidently expect an underachieving journeyman to fill an important spot in your lineup. It’s not that hitting has become so bad; it’s that pitching has become so good. We all know strikeouts keep going up — nine straight years now. And we all know how deeper, harder-throwing bullpens are shutting down offense late in games. But an overlooked aspect to this era of pitching dominance is that…bases on balls have decreased 16 percent just since 2009. The game has changed dramatically in a short period.”

The ‘Not-a-Disaster’ Deal: “In (Nick) Markakis, the Braves have signed a player who failed to outhit (Jason) Heyward in either of the last two seasons and is markedly inferior in the field. That’s a huge step backward even before you factor back in Markakis’ age. For a team that finished 29th in the majors in runs scored in 2014, which the Braves did, any step backwards on offense could be crippling. It may be unlikely that the 31-year-old Markakis will outproduce the 25-year-old Heyward in 2015, but Markakis will clearly have a negative impact on the team’s overall run differential relative to Heyward…As for the contract, $11 million per season is not big money in this market, and the contract only goes through Markakis’ age-34 season, so it’s not a disaster.” – Cliff Corocoran, SI

Double-Edged Weapon: “Billy (Beane) has a gift of making people like him. It’s a dangerous gift to have.” – Sandy Alderson (who hired Beane to be GM in Oakland)


(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)


About Richard Starkey

Dick Starkey handled media for former NY Governor Mario Cuomo, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and many other office-holders and candidates. He was sports editor of the Paris-based Herald Tribune. Perfect Pitch partner Robert Sullivan was the first to adapt focus groups to politics and has been called by Cuomo and others one of the "best" pollsters in the country.