2023 Mostly Belated Mathematical Eliminatory

cannonball 1729

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All right - running a little behind this year, but I figure I should at least start this. If history is any guide, I'll finish about 10-12 of these before getting distracted by work and other ventures, but in the meantime, we have some teams to bid farewell to. We begin, of course, with
71033
______________________________________
It was hell for me – or not Hell, something worse than Hell.”
What could be worse than Hell?” he said.
Purgatory,” I said.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

___________________________________

Let’s get this out of the way: even on its best days, the Mt. Davis-era Coliseum has always been a terrible place to play baseball. It’s cavernous, sterile, and run down; the location is in the middle of nowhere; the field still bears the scars of multi-purpose-dom….we all know the list. When the A’s re-upped with another ten year lease back in 2014, everyone knew that the lease would likely be the stadium’s last. Bud Selig had made his life’s mission to make every stadium a chapel, and Oakland was one of the few remaining holdouts from era of multi-sport, Soviet-style stadiums built of concrete and asceticism.

So where would this new stadium be built? Right on the site of the old one, of course. Or as Bud Selig put it back in 2014:

"I continue to believe that the Athletics need a new facility and am fully supportive of the club's view that the best site in Oakland is the Coliseum site."

And where would it not be built? Selig had something to say about that, too:

"Contrary to what some have suggested, the committee that has studied this issue did not determine that the Howard Terminal site was the best location for a new facility in Oakland."

Then, just for good measure, erstwhile owner Lew Wolff added his two cents:

"Howard Terminal as a potential ballpark site has been and is totally rejected by MLB and the A's."
__________________________________________________________________________________

Apparently much has changed for the A’s in the last ten years, and a big part of that change is that John Fisher took over as the sole owner of the team.

A's fans have always been a little distrustful of Fisher, and for good reason: he’s the cheapest owner in baseball. The A’s are currently last in the league in payroll, which is not a new position for them – they’ve had a bottom-ten payroll in each of the last fifteen seasons. The last homegrown star that the A’s re-signed was Eric Chavez, who inked a $66 million deal at a time when Friends was still releasing new episodes and “The Curse” was still a thing that made Dan Shaughnessy money. “Moneyball” has become a baseball cliché, but we’ve spent so long using it to mean “analytics-driven team building” that we forget that it originally meant “how to win at baseball without spending any money.”

So it was with some lingering bad feelings that the new stadium process began. Fisher brought in Dave Kaval, a man whose forte was, you guessed it, getting public financing for stadiums, to jump-start the process, and what occurred over the next several years could only be described as a disaster for all involved. Kaval narrowed the potential sites down to three: the Coliseum site, the Howard Terminal downtown, and the Laney College/Peralta District. In 2017, Kaval announced that Laney had been selected, which would likely have been a joyous occasion....if anyone had thought to talk to the trustees of the Peralta District first. Since they did not, the pushback from the board and the nearby citizens was swift and fierce, and the A’s were forced to regroup and pick again.

With Laney/Peralta off the table, the A’s examined the two remaining sites and...came to the exact opposite conclusion as Selig and Wolff. A stadium surrounded by parking lots, declared Kaval, was the outdated 1960’s model, whereas all teams nowadays were opening new stadiums downtown like Camden Yards. (We will ignore for now that the Braves just did the opposite.) Thus, the only option – the sole hope for keeping A’s baseball in the Bay Area - was the Howard Terminal site.

To say that the Howard project proposal was "complicated" is an understatement. In addition to local and state regulations – and the fact that the city wanted more out of the arrangement than just the opportunity to be a piggy bank for a rich owner – there was a.) the fact that the Howard Terminal is one of the busiest shipping ports in North America, and b.) the fact that when an owner says they want a “downtown stadium," they usually mean that they want to own a village downtown with restaurants and housing and such...and also a stadium. The ensuing several years of negotiations had to sort out nautical traffic and housing demands (including affordable housing requirements), as well as the more standard questions of who gets to control parking and gate receipts, what infrastructure needs to be upgraded, who is responsible for maintaining the various aspects of the stadium and the surrounding area, who controls which rights to the stadium, and of course how much money will be paid by each party.

Attempting to speed up the process in 2021, Kaval and Fisher launched a “Rooted in Oakland” campaign, tying A’s fandom to a new ballpark and imploring fans to contact their local representatives and put pressure on the Oakland city council. Surprisingly, the tactic worked – for a while – right up until Kaval turned his Instagram account into a “My Fun Vacation in Vegas!” page in late May. A series of pictures Kaval meeting various people of importance around Las Vegas, including a particularly galling picture of the team president at a Golden Knights playoff game on the same night as a big A’s-Mariners matchup, left Oakland fans disillusioned with the whole campaign and largely saw the city turn on the team. The A’s continued to negotiate with Oakland, but much of their leverage was now gone, and the process began to bog down significantly.

From there, everything fell apart. Fisher announced (through team officials) that there would be no free agent spending until there were “shovels in the ground.” The contending A's roster from 2021 was stripped down and sold off for prospects. The front office essentially gave up on fan relations, raising ticket and parking prices and slashing season-ticket-holder benefits. Negotiations stalled out with the city, with the A’s and Rob Manfred claiming (falsely) that Oakland had never even made a counteroffer (which the city disputed, with mayor Sheng Thao going so far as to personally fly to the All-Star game and hand the counteroffer to Manfred herself). In true A’s fashion, the franchise eventually signed an agreement for a plot of land in Las Vegas, then decided to “explore other sites in Vegas” before picking a completely different spot in Vegas for their team, then had to beg the Nevada legislature to hold a special legislative session to pass the funding for the stadium (since they submitted their requests too late for the regular session). Whatever the machinations, the deal now appears to be done - although it’s entirely possible that something might get screwed up yet again - with the A’s slated to move in 2028. The exciting news for A’s ownership is that they will now, finally, be in a market of their own where they can start spending lots of money, with the caveats being that a.) the Vegas market is tiny and saturated with sports teams and b.) the new stadium looks like it will only hold about 30,000-35,000 people. But other than that, everything looks great!

And in the meantime, while the clock ticks down on the move to Vegas….the Oakland Athletics now inhabit a bizarre, halfway form of existence. The stadium is empty and run-down, with the city largely disinterested in maintaining the facility; feral cats scurry the corridors and a “pooping possum” occasionally terrorizes the visiting TV booth. The fans have mostly abandoned the franchise, reappearing only for a "reverse boycott" at home and “sell the team” movements on the road. The team itself is a glorified Triple-A roster, with a lineup staffed by Brent Roker, Ryan Noda, and a bunch of people of questionable use to a major league club, a defense that has battled the Red Sox nine for worst-in-the-bigs honors all season, and a pitching staff so bad that they’ve single-handedly pulled the American League’s FIP up by six points. The A's don't even know where they’re playing after next season – the Vegas stadium won’t be ready until 2028, but Oakland won’t extend the Coliseum lease unless the A’s agree to a list of Mayor Shao’s demands, and the Triple-A stadium that’s available to them in Vegas is outdoors and scorching-hot in the summer. For now, the Oakland A’s are a team that exists somewhere between the present and the past, somewhere between real and remembered, somewhere between Oakland and Las Vegas, somewhere between the majors and minors – in short, they are in purgatory.

The A’s last made the playoffs in 2020. Their last title was in 1989.
 
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Humphrey

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Tampa Bay, Chicago, Milwaukee and Kansas City all with (perceived) ballpark issues. Only one matches Oakland in suckitude.
 

cannonball 1729

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Aw - thanks, y'all!

Tampa Bay, Chicago, Milwaukee and Kansas City all with (perceived) ballpark issues. Only one matches Oakland in suckitude.
In every sense of the world. I finally hit my 30th ballpark this summer, and it's definitely the case that Oakland's is worst - by far.

Actually, interesting random factoid I discovered when I was looking things up for the eliminatory: after a team tanks, it usually takes about three years of contending for fans to come back in full force. (We'll count contending as "being within three games of a playoff spot on Sept.1 or later.")

For example, some attendance figures and AL or NL attendance rankings, starting with the first year of contention after a rebuild:

KC
2013: 1,750,754 (12th)
2014: 1,956,482 (11th)
2015: 2,708,549 (6th)
2016: 2,557,712 (6th)

HOU
2015: 2,153,585 (12th)
2016: 2,306,623 (8th)
2017: 2,403,671 (6th)
2018: 2,980,549 (3rd)

PIT
2012: 2,091,918 (15th of 16)
2013: 2,256,862 (11th of 15)
2014: 2,442,564 (9th)
2015: 2,498,596 (9th)

That used to be true for Oakland, too.

1999: 1,434,610 (12th of 14)
2000: 1,603,744 (11th of 14)
2001: 2,133,277 (7th of 14)
2002: 2,169,811 (8th of 14)
2003: 2,216,596 (6th of 14)
2004: 2,201,516 (7th of 14)
2005: 2,109,118 (8th of 14)

And after 2004 they started Moneyballing it up and traded away two of the Big 3 (Mulder and Hudson), and then they had an absolute September collapse in 2005 (because, shockingly, their rotation fell apart)....and that was the beginning of the end of fandom in Oakland.

2006: 1,976,625 (12th of 14)
2007: 1,921,844 (12th of 14)
2008: 1,665,256 (13th of 14)
2009: 1,408,783 (14th of 14)

(And that's despite having a 2006 team that won 93 games and went to the ALCS!)

It turns out that, contrary to what Billy Beane thought, fans do root for the players and not just the team, and that selling off the stars on a championship-level club does indeed have an impact on fan interest.

They had a mini-run-up of attendance during their window from 2012-14:

2012: 1,679,013 (12th of 14)
2013: 1,809,302 (9th of 15)
2014: 2,003,628 (10th of 15)

and then traded off the whole roster, and they were back to their usual empty seats.

(It probably also didn't help that the A's most recent window went

2018
2019
Covid Year 1
Covid Year 2/flirtation with Vegas
Sell-off

Any chance of a third-year bounce kind of died in the middle there.)
 

cannonball 1729

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71156

It’s interesting to note that former GM Dayton Moore was perhaps the last successful “old-school” general manager in baseball. He prized scouting and intangibles, making all sorts of moves that seemed to be motivated only by nebulous, unquantifiable ideas like leadership and character (e.g. signing Jeff Francoeur or giving Salvador Perez an extension long into his decline phase) or by an intuitive, damn-the-advanced-metrics sense of what player might be good (e.g. his 2018 draft). It’s not that Moore was opposed to advanced metrics - he brought on the analytics-fluent J.J. Picollo as his #2, after all - he just didn’t seem to trust them as much as he did his own scout’s intuition, owing in large part to his decades of work in scouting and development in the Braves system.

New owner John Sherman, by contrast, very much wanted a team that used the best analytics models and the most cutting-edge technology, and that...wasn’t going to be a team run by Moore. The Royals’ struggles last year gave Sherman occasion to fire Moore and promote Picollo; thus began Kansas City’s analytics project, a full-on makeover that would turn Kansas City’s pitching labs into a clone of Cleveland’s successful pitching project. A more data-friendly managerial staff - headlined by new manager Matt Quatraro and new pitching coach Brian Sweeney - was installed, and the Royals got to work on the task of bringing the Spin Rate Revolution to Kansas City.

Year one of the project....did not go well.

The trouble this year seems to have begun, innocuously enough, with a new team-wide missive to throw more strikes. Picollo and Sweeney had identified an easy-to-understand problem with the Royals – the team was 30th in the majors in first-pitch strikes in 2022 – and thus proposed an easy-to-understand solution: throw strikes. “Raid the Zone!” became the new organization-wide mantra, complete with “Raid the Zone” t-shirts and – allegedly - organizational rewards for giving up first-pitch home runs (to keep pitchers from getting discouraged). Gone was the idea of control or aiming for the corners; Kansas City pitchers would now aim for the center of the plate and challenge opposing hitters to beat them.

The good news, meager though it may be, is that the Royals’ pitchers did indeed find the zone a bit more frequently; the team jumped all the way to 11th in the AL in first-pitch strikes and 12th in walks. The bad news is that in the major leagues, when a pitcher with mediocre stuff challenges hitters to beat him…hitters will happily oblige. Batters jumped on KC’s first-pitch strikes, hitting 46 homers on 0-0 counts (the most in the AL) and OPSing 1.080 on those same counts (also worst in the AL and roughly 120 points above league average). The rest of the count didn't go much better, as Royals pitchers found more barrels than all but two AL teams and missed fewer bats than any of their AL counterparts save the A’s. Add in a few injuries to key pitchers, and the first-year returns from the lab were pretty dismal: an 86 ERA+, and (yet again) the fewest strikeouts of any staff in the AL.

Perhaps nothing better encapsulated the 2023 Royals' experience than the strange saga of Jordan Lyles. Lyles is the most durable bad pitcher in baseball; he’s a walking contradiction, a pitcher who is somehow capable of eating lots of innings yet incapable of getting major league hitters out. Jordan led the AL in runs allowed in 2020 and 2021, and he might well have done so again in 2022 had he not played in front of the Orioles’ dominating defense. This year, though, he has out Lyles-ed himself, as he's somehow managed to post the league’s highest tallies in ERA, earned runs, home runs, losses….and complete games, of which he has three. (Fun fact: he’s 0-3 with a 4.32 ERA in those complete games). It's not that Jordan is particularly prone to throwing strikes, since he doesn't do that with any regularity; what he does do is refuse to walk batters, leading to some very loud contact in hitters' counts. In that sense, it seems only fitting that Lyles' should be the Royals' "ace" in the Year of the Zone Raider, especially as he held opponents to just 42 walks....and also allowed 38 home runs.

_______________________________________________

Oh – and then there’s the off-the-field stuff. Say what you will about Dayton Moore, but at least he genuinely seemed to care about being a “good guy.” Among other things, Moore advocated for investment in the community – especially the Royals’ Urban Youth Academy – and he fought to keep minor league players paid during the pandemic. After Moore’s departure, however, the Royals’ ownership group has abandoned all pretense of caring about anyone. They’ve feuded with the stadium workers, refusing to let them bring in outside water, walking back temporary agreements, negotiating in bad faith (according to union representatives), and scoffing at raises that would keep pace with inflation. (Said one worker, “When we asked for fair wages for ushers, a vice president at the Kansas City Royals looked us in the face and said, ‘Ushers get paid to watch the game.’”) They’ve even mismanaged the Urban Academy, prioritizing field access for the wealthy kids in the suburbs over the urban kids for whom the academy was ostensibly built. Oh, and the Royals’ major free agent acquisition this offseason? You guessed it: alleged domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman.

Now, if you read the last paragraph and thought, “That sounds like the sort of ownership group that would be angling for a new ballpark!”….congratulations, you’ve learned well from the A’s saga. John Sherman has (of course) publicly lamented that Kauffman Stadium is not a long-term solution for the Royals and that the best solution is – surprise! - a downtown stadium with “a new ballpark district and all that comes with it, one that is woven into the fabric of our city, can host events and concerts, and boosts our local economy.” The Royals appear to be trying to turn up the heat on the city by floating various deadlines – but they still haven’t picked a location or a plan, leading city officials to complain of being stuck in the lurch. There’s only one reason a team floats deadlines without a hint of a plan, of course, and it’s to try to convince the city to offer a blank check to the Royals for whatever new stadium they can dream up – and try to convince surrounding areas to offer blank checks as well in hopes of creating a bidding war. ("Raid the Zone," indeed.)

Jackson County officials have largely responded with a mix of frustration and disinterest. North Kansas City officials, on the other hand, have responded with a plan for the Royals to move into a new complex. Will the Royals move? Will they stay in Kansas City proper? Either way, for those who felt like they were going to miss the soap opera in Oakland/Las Vegas, it looks like now we have several more years of stadium drama to look forward to!

The Royals last made the playoffs in their 2015 championship season.
 
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Wallball Tingle

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Jul 16, 2005
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I look forward to this thread every year, and am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the teams wandering in the wilderness, including the Sox. Thanks, cannonball!
 

cannonball 1729

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I look forward to this thread every year, and am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the teams wandering in the wilderness, including the Sox. Thanks, cannonball!
Thanks! Funny that you say that, because while we wait for the Sox possible demise, I figured I'd post about the other Sox:

71234

Thus ends one of the more dysfunctional eras in the history of a dysfunctional franchise.

The arrangement of Kenny Williams as VP and Rick Hahn as GM was always an odd one. Hahn was Williams' assistant GM from 2002 to 2012; in that time, the White Sox made the playoffs exactly twice despite seemingly gunning for the playoffs every year. In 2012, with the White Sox treading water yet again and Hahn being the hottest GM prospect in the land, the White Sox promoted Hahn to the GM chair and tasked him with running the rebuild...but also promoted Williams to the VP position, thereby keeping the management structure largely intact (albeit slightly more expensive). Hahn would apparently have more responsibilities, but he would still report to the same boss, leaving it entirely unclear what had actually changed and what would stay the same.

For years, this new arrangement seemed good enough; Hahn tore down the team, good players were largely replaced with prospects who didn't pan out, and everyone waited. Issues started to arise, however, right around the time that the Sox started to contend. According to one Chicago reporter, Williams retained primary negotiating rights with certain teams since he had good rapport with them (apparently the Yankees were on that list), which meant that he was free to go around Hahn and make deals without Hahn’s knowledge or assent in those cases. Moreover, (according to similar sources) Hahn and Williams/Reinsdorf disagreed on spending philosophies, and when Hahn began to agitate for larger contracts, Williams and Reinsdorf balked at the idea. (Fun fact: the largest contract in the entire history of the White Sox…was 5 years and $75 million for one Mr. Benintendi.) Even before the 2022 collapse, the front office seemed to be living on borrowed time, as a business can only have two managers with differing visions for so long before things go awry.

What pushed everything to a breaking point, though, was a decision that neither Williams nor Hahn was allowed to make. After the successful 2020 season, Reinsdorf himself decided that manager Rick Renteria was not the man to take the White Sox to the promised land, and so he of course hired his old pal Tony La Russa. Whether La Russa and the management team agreed on the philosophies and direction of the White Sox was irrelevant; Reinsdorf was friends with Tony La Russa and apparently figured that the man who led them to the division crown in 1983 could certainly recapture that magic.

Amazingly, in 2021, most things seemed to go right...but in 2022, everything went wrong. The management structure was now a mess, with a GM and VP seemingly on different pages and a manager who appeared to report to neither one. Player accountability largely went out the window, as La Russa’s hands-off approach meant that players could skip meetings and practices without repercussions. Clubhouse culture fell apart, and the White Sox began to play sloppy and disinterested baseball. The White Sox were out of contention by the end of April, and they were an afterthought by midseason.

After La Russa stepped aside for health reasons, it was decided that Hahn could finally pick his own manager. Hahn took to the task like an intern at a newspaper being asked to write a column for the first time; he ran an exhaustive search with a list of 30 candidates before finally settling on one of the “hot” managerial prospects: Pedro Grifol.

It’s hard to say whether Grifol is a good manager or a bad one. What is clear is that he wasn’t the right manager for the 2023 White Sox. Grifol’s coaching experience is pretty sparse; he’d been the bench coach of the Royals since 2020, and he’d had some odds-and-ends coaching positions (quality control, catching coach, assistant hitting coach) prior to that. If the White Sox had needed a better tactician, Grifol might have been the guy. What they likely needed, though, was someone with instant credibility to remake the clubhouse culture…and that wasn’t going to be the guy who’d only been the #2 on an awful Royals’ team for three years.

Instead, the culture issues continued, and with it, the Sox losses. Most of the lineup besides Luis Robert, Jr. continued to struggle, resulting in a league-worst 84 OPS+. Perpetual lightning rod Tim Anderson stopped hitting baseballs altogether, posting a negative WAR on the field to match his negative WAR off of it. (Although he did create one of the greatest “that aged badly” moments of all time this year: in late July, GQ ran a sympathetic feature on Anderson calling him “the most misunderstood man in baseball”...which hit newsstands just one week before Tim provoked Jose Ramirez to launch his fist into Anderson's face.). The pitchers posted an ERA of almost 6 in April, then sort-of-righted the ship, then blew up again in July before finally being traded away and replaced with younger, worse pitchers. Currently, the White Sox stand a good chance of finishing with more than 100 losses; if they do that, they will finish with their worst mark since 1971. Most executives can’t survive a season like that in a year where they’re expected to contend; add in the testimony of White Sox refugees like Keynan Middleton and Lucas Giolito about the broken culture, and it was clear that Reinsdorf needed to clean house.

The good news for incoming GM Chris Getz is that he can set up the front office his own way; no meddling from the owner, and no former GM to serve above him at VP. The better news is that the bar for the White Sox is very low, both presently and historically. It’s amazing to think about, but despite the fact that the franchise has been around since 1901, they’ve only been to the postseason eleven times, and they’ve only been to the postseason in back-to-back years once – in 2020 and 2021. Worse, they’ve only won five postseason series; three of those series wins were in 2005, and the other two were before the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Even their magical run to a World Series title in ‘05 was kind of an orphan; the team hadn’t made the playoffs in the four seasons before that and wouldn’t make the playoffs again for another three. For the White Sox, there are no “good old days,” no bygone era for which fans pine. The greatest player in history (by total WAR) is the largely-overlooked Luke Appling, and the most famous people to don the White Sox colors were West Coast rappers. In short, the White Sox franchise is basically a blank canvas upon which Getz can paint whatever he wants to see. For an incoming GM, that must be incredibly freeing.

(The bad news for Getz is…everything else.)
 
Last edited:

Kliq

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Mar 31, 2013
23,159
Thanks! Funny that you say that, because while we wait for the Sox possible demise, I figured I'd post about the other Sox:

View attachment 71234

Thus ends one of the more dysfunctional eras in the history of a dysfunctional franchise.

The arrangement of Kenny Williams as VP and Rick Hahn as GM was always an odd one. Hahn was Williams' assistant GM from 2002 to 2012; in that time, the White Sox made the playoffs exactly twice despite seemingly gunning for the playoffs every year. In 2012, with the White Sox treading water yet again and Hahn being the hottest GM prospect in the land, the White Sox promoted Hahn to the GM chair and tasked him with running the rebuild...but also promoted Williams to the VP position, thereby keeping the management structure largely intact (albeit slightly more expensive). Hahn would apparently have more responsibilities, but he would still report to the same boss, leaving it entirely unclear what had actually changed and what would stay the same.

For years, this new arrangement seemed good enough; Hahn tore down the team, good players were largely replaced with prospects who didn't pan out, and everyone waited. Issues started to arise, however, right around the time that the Sox started to contend. According to one Chicago reporter, Williams retained primary negotiating rights with certain teams since he had good rapport with them (apparently the Yankees were on that list), which meant that he was free to go around Hahn and make deals without Hahn’s knowledge or assent in those cases. Moreover, (according to similar sources) Hahn and Williams/Reinsdorf disagreed on spending philosophies, and when Hahn began to agitate for larger contracts, Williams and Reinsdorf balked at the idea. (Fun fact: the largest contract in the entire history of the White Sox…was 5 years and $75 million for one Mr. Benintendi.) Even before the 2022 collapse, the front office seemed to be living on borrowed time, as a business can only have two managers with differing visions for so long before things go awry.

What pushed everything to a breaking point, though, was a decision that neither Williams nor Hahn was allowed to make. After the successful 2020 season, Reinsdorf himself decided that manager Rick Renteria was not the man to take the White Sox to the promised land, and so he of course hired his old pal Tony La Russa. Whether La Russa and the management team agreed on the philosophies and direction of the White Sox was irrelevant; Reinsdorf was friends with Tony La Russa and apparently figured that the man who led them to the division crown in 1983 could certainly recapture that magic.

Amazingly, in 2021, most things seemed to go right...but in 2022, everything went wrong. The management structure was now a mess, with a GM and VP seemingly on different pages and a manager who appeared to report to neither one. Player accountability largely went out the window, as La Russa’s hands-off approach meant that players could skip meetings and practices without repercussions. Clubhouse culture fell apart, and the White Sox began to play sloppy and disinterested baseball. The White Sox were out of contention by the end of April, and they were an afterthought by midseason.

After La Russa stepped aside for health reasons, it was decided that Hahn could finally pick his own manager. Hahn took to the task like an intern at a newspaper being asked to write a column for the first time; he ran an exhaustive search with a list of 30 candidates before finally settling on one of the “hot” managerial prospects: Pedro Grifol.

It’s hard to say whether Grifol is a good manager or a bad one. What is clear is that he wasn’t the right manager for the 2023 White Sox. Grifol’s coaching experience is pretty sparse; he’d been the bench coach of the Royals since 2020, and he’d had some odds-and-ends coaching positions (quality control, catching coach, assistant hitting coach) prior to that. If the White Sox had needed a better tactician, Grifol might have been the guy. What they likely needed, though, was someone with instant credibility to remake the clubhouse culture…and that wasn’t going to be the guy who’d only been the #2 on an awful Royals’ team for three years.

Instead, the culture issues continued, and with it, the Sox losses. Most of the lineup besides Luis Robert, Jr. continued to struggle, resulting in a league-worst 84 OPS+. Perpetual lightning rod Tim Anderson stopped hitting baseballs altogether, posting a negative WAR on the field to match his negative WAR off of it. (Although he did create one of the greatest “that aged badly” moments of all time this year: in late July, GQ ran a sympathetic feature on Anderson calling him “the most misunderstood man in baseball”...which hit newsstands just one week before Tim provoked Jose Ramirez to launch his fist into Anderson's face.). The pitchers posted an ERA of almost 6 in April, then sort-of-righted the ship, then blew up again in July before finally being traded away and replaced with younger, worse pitchers. Currently, the White Sox stand a good chance of finishing with more than 100 losses; if they do that, they will finish with their worst mark since 1971. Most executives can’t survive a season like that in a year where they’re expected to contend; add in the testimony of White Sox refugees like Keynan Middleton and Lucas Giolito about the broken culture, and it was clear that Reinsdorf needed to clean house.

The good news for incoming GM Chris Getz is that he can set up the front office his own way; no meddling from the owner, and no former GM to serve above him at VP. The better news is that the bar for the White Sox is very low, both presently and historically. It’s amazing to think about, but despite the fact that the franchise has been around since 1901, they’ve only been to the postseason eleven times, and they’ve only been to the postseason in back-to-back years once – in 2020 and 2021. Worse, they’ve only won five postseason series; three of those series wins were in 2005, and the other two were before the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Even their magical run to a World Series title in ‘05 was kind of an orphan; the team hadn’t made the playoffs in the four seasons before that and wouldn’t make the playoffs again for another three. For the White Sox, there are no “good old days,” no bygone era for which fans pine. The greatest player in history (by total WAR) is the largely-overlooked Luke Appling, and the most famous people to don the White Sox colors were West Coast rappers. In short, the White Sox franchise is basically a blank canvas upon which Getz can paint whatever he wants to see. For an incoming GM, that must be incredibly freeing.

(The bad news for Getz is…everything else.)
The White Sox five postseason series wins stat is crazy.
 

cannonball 1729

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Sep 8, 2005
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Onward! We'll continue our way through the AL:

71589

Fact 1: In 2022, Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout were worth a combined 17 wins above replacement level.

Fact 2: “Replacement-level” is chosen in such a way that a team full of replacement-level players should win about 52 games. This means that Ohtani and Trout and 24 replacement-level players should win about 69 games.

Fact 3: The 2022 Angels won 73 games.

With all due disrespect to teams like the 1899 Cleveland Spiders or 1962 Mets, there might be no greater example of roster-building futility than the Angels in the 2020’s. The Angels had perhaps the greatest head-start in the history of roster construction; they had two of the greatest players in the sport, and one of them even saved the Angels a roster spot by being both a great pitcher and a great hitter. This 17-win head-start meant that in order to make the playoffs, the Angels only needed to find about 20 more wins above replacement among the 24 other players on their roster. And yet, not only did they fail...they didn’t come close. The Angels last had a winning season in 2015, and they’ve been an afterthought annually since Ohtani came to the states.

The reasons for their failure aren’t hard to understand. For one thing they’ve whiffed on nearly every major free-agent transaction in the last decade. Remember CJ Wilson? Josh Hamilton? Justin Upton? Albert Pujols? Each of those players had a five-year or more deal with the Angels, and each one was a significant waste of money. The Angels have had a top-9 payroll every year of Mike Trout’s career, as well as the seven years before it, and yet they’ve never managed to spend that money in a way that actually helped the team.

For another thing, the farm system has been pretty unproductive over that same period. It’s probably unfair to hold the Angels’ low farm rankings against them too much, since they’ve turned unheralded prospects like Luis Rengifo and Jared Walsh into productive major leaguers; nevertheless, the numbers don’t lie….and the Angels’ system has been number 30 or close to it for most of the last decade. It’s hard to win without cheap talent or depth or trade fodder, and the farm has been woefully inadequate in providing any of the three.

The 2023 season, then, was a painful display of both of those problems, plus another newly-discovered problem with widespread injuries. On the payroll side, the high-priced free agents the Angels signed continued to collect prodigious paychecks while providing little help to the club. Anthony Rendon is in the fourth year of a seven-year, $245 million contract; in the three non-Covid years of that stretch, he’s played in a total of 148 games and hit .235 with 13 home runs. The Angels were seduced by Tyler Anderson’s career year last season with the Dodgers at age 32 and signed him to a 3-year deal for $40 million; his ERA this season currently sits at 5.43. On the injuries side, the Angels currently have more than $145 million of payroll on the IL; for reference, that number is greater than the payroll of 13 other teams, including several contending mid-payroll teams like the Mariners and Brewers. Freak injuries ended the season for many of the Angels' best or most promising players, including Luis Rengifo (torn bicep), Taylor Ward (fastball to the face), Gio Urshella (broken pelvis)...and, of course, Mike Trout (broken hamate bone). With a weak farm, the Angels had little depth to mitigate the effects of those injuries, and what little depth they had was sacrificed at the deadline in a quixotic "go-for-it-now" push. August and September have been an absolute nightmare for the Halos; since August 1, the Angels have gone a league worst 14-36, and the deadline acquisitions failed so spectacularly that those same players were unceremoniously dumped on the Guardians by the end of August.

And now, the Angels are forced to contemplate the “after,” like a hangover for a party that never actually happened. Ohtani is already gone for the season, having been shelved with another Tommy John surgery, and he may be gone forever. Trout seems to be spending more and more time on the IL, and while hamate fractures can fully heal, there’s still the fact that he’s 32 years old and hasn’t played 120 games in a season since before the pandemic. They still have almost $120 million on the books for 2024 and roughly $95 million for 2025. The future of the team’s finances is still up in the air after Bally Sports’ bankruptcy scuppered the Angels' TV deal, and of course there’s the obligatory battle for a new stadium with the current stadium lease ending in 2029. The post-K-Rod Angels have occasionally managed to surprise everyone by pulling a superstar out of thin air (as they did with Trout, Ohtani, and Andrelton Simmons)….they may need to do that again soon or else 2024 might be very bleak.

The Angels last made the playoffs in 2014. Their only World Series title was in 2002.
 
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cannonball 1729

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The White Sox five postseason series wins stat is crazy.
I always learn something from every one of these writeups (which are excellent by the way, I'll add my thanks to Cannonball) and that 5 series wins fact absolutely floored me.
Right? I was reading the thread about rappers and the White Sox gear and was trying to figure out why the White Sox were so otherwise non-descript, and then it hit me - they've never, ever, ever won...except that one time 2005, which summarily killed any sort of "curse" mythologizing.
 
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John Marzano Olympic Hero

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Right? I was reading the thread about rappers and the White Sox gear and was trying to figure out why the White Sox were so otherwise non-descript, and then it hit me - they've never, ever, ever won...except that one time 2005, which summarily killed any sort of "curse" mythologizing.
Did the White Sox have a "curse" like the Red Sox or Cubs curse? I mean even the Guardians and Cleveland have had more of a "curse" story than the White Sox. They're just a forgettable team.
 

cannonball 1729

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Third level curse, behind Bambino and Goat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_the_Black_Sox
That's the one.

I always figured that the Curse of the Black Sox was overlooked because it just didn't fit the rubric. The "Curse of the _____" paradigm was popularized in (American) baseball by Shaughnessy's book in 1990, and every fanbase of a team that hadn't won in a while eventually tried to find an aggrieved party in their past for their own version of Ruth's Curse. The Curse of the Billy Goat was an obvious one, since it had already been kicking around as a story since the 1960's. Terry Pluto wrote The Curse of Rocky Colavito in 1994. The curse of Coogan's Bluff was an easy choice for the Giants.

For the White Sox "curse," though, the whole thing required more gymnastics...and it also didn't make sense. Why was the team cursed because some of the players committed misdeeds? Who cast the hex over the team? Is every team that has misbehaving players cursed? Why weren't the Reds cursed because of Pete Rose? Or if the White Sox players were themselves the ones doing the cursing, why would cast their hex on the White Sox instead of, say, the commissioner who banned them for life? I think most people felt like the "Curse of the Black Sox" was a ham-handed attempt to recreate the Curse of the Bambino that just didn't quite work.
 

John Marzano Olympic Hero

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That's the one.

I always figured that the Curse of the Black Sox was overlooked because it just didn't fit the rubric. The "Curse of the _____" paradigm was popularized in (American) baseball by Shaughnessy's book in 1990, and every fanbase of a team that hadn't won in a while eventually tried to find an aggrieved party in their past for their own version of Ruth's Curse. The Curse of the Billy Goat was an obvious one, since it had already been kicking around as a story since the 1960's. Terry Pluto wrote The Curse of Rocky Colavito in 1994. The curse of Coogan's Bluff was an easy choice for the Giants.

For the White Sox "curse," though, the whole thing required more gymnastics...and it also didn't make sense. Why was the team cursed because some of the players committed misdeeds? Who cast the hex over the team? Is every team that has misbehaving players cursed? Why weren't the Reds cursed because of Pete Rose? Or if the White Sox players were themselves the ones doing the cursing, why would cast their hex on the White Sox instead of, say, the commissioner who banned them for life? I think most people felt like the "Curse of the Black Sox" was a ham-handed attempt to recreate the Curse of the Bambino that just didn't quite work.
The way that I understood it was that the thing or person or entity that "cursed" the White Sox was baseball itself. And that was because the team (or at least eight members of the team) participated in the worst sin of throwing the World Series, so baseball "punished" the White Sox by never letting them be good.
 

cannonball 1729

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The way that I understood it was that the thing or person or entity that "cursed" the White Sox was baseball itself. And that was because the team (or at least eight members of the team) participated in the worst sin of throwing the World Series, so baseball "punished" the White Sox by never letting them be good.
Right - I guess that was where it ended up. And I think the reason that didn't resonate was that it lacked the storyline appeal of the team hexed by a single tormentor. Sox fans could leave offerings at Ruth's grave (or whatever they did), the Cubs could have Billy Goat Day where everyone could bring their goat to the park, Hanshin Tigers' fans could beg the Ghost of Colonel Sanders for forgiveness, and the Giants could put up a new plaque to replace the lost one. White Sox fans were just like Job in the Bible - everything sucked and there was nothing they could do to change that.
 

cannonball 1729

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Continuing with the AL, I believe the Tigers were next out of the wildcard (even though they were eliminated in the division a bit later), so let's talk about them next:

71757

Of all the problems that the 2022 Tigers encountered, none was more glaring than the hitting. Sure, the starting rotation all went down with injuries, and the closer inexplicably collected 11 losses, but the centerpiece of the 2022 disappointment was definitely the awful batters. The Tigers were last in the AL in OPS+, runs, home runs, and walks, and first in strikeouts; worse, the lineup featured very few hitters under the age of 28, which didn’t bode well for the future.

So it was more than a little concerning for Detroit fans that the Tigers made no attempt to address the hitting in the offseason. Instead, the Tigers rolled out largely the same lineup as last year, apparently hoping that the few young hitters might take steps forward and that Miguel Cabrera might find a way to build a time machine over the winter.

Unsurprisingly, this plan of not improving a bad lineup didn’t really work out. The Tigers did leap up 14th in OPS+, and they vaulted up 13th in runs and home runs and up to 9th in walks. Unfortunately, these “leaps” only lifted the Tigers from “historically bad” to “run-of-the-mill bad.” The Tigers had below-average production from every position except one, with right fielder Kerry Carpenter providing a lone beacon of league-averageness in a sea of dreck. The entire infield hit .219, easily the worst such mark in the junior circuit. Pinch-hitters hit .211 for the season, and while that’s better than the .169 mark that substitute batters posted last year, it still leaves unanswered the question of whether it was worth pinch-hitting in the first place. The Tigers are still waiting on Spencer Torkelson’s breakout, as he now hits the ball hard but doesn’t make contact very often; Spencer is currently 28th in the majors in average exit velocity (right between Mike Trout and Fernando Tatis, Jr.) but has also struck out 167 times this season. Meanwhile, Javy Baez has stopped making contact of any kind; his OPS is currently an execrable .587, which is concerning for a Tigers franchise that still owes him $100 million over the next four years. The big team-wide problem seems to be that they absolutely cannot hit a fastball, with Fangraphs declaring them to be far-and-away the worst fasball-hitting team in the bigs. All told, there was little to be encouraged about on the offensive side of the ball; the rankings may have improved, but an 86 OPS+ is still a bad lineup, and a team that can’t hit fastballs is going to have a hard time winning baseball games.

Although….I suppose that if the team had hit well enough for the games to actually matter, we would have been robbed of the Miguel Cabrera Farewell Tour, which was likely the highlight of the Tigers’ miserable season. Miggy is obviously a legend, and it was certainly fun to see the adulation and gifts showered on the slugger in his last trip around the league. (Except for his trip to Oakland, when the A’s somehow managed to be both cheap and insensitive when they gave Cabrera a $90 bottle of wine – Cabrera, of course, has been very public with his struggles with alcoholism.) Having to watch Cabrera actually play, however, was a bit less fun; he hasn’t been a useful DH since the Obama administration, and he’s hit a grand total of three home runs in 352 plate appearances this season. Fortunately, the Cabrera contract comes off the books at the end of the season, so the Tigers will finally - finally – be able to stop writing $30 million checks to the 2013 AL MVP.

(A moment of perspective for Sox fans: sure, the Chris Sale contract was bad, but it could have been so much worse....the Tigers are still paying off Dombrowski's Cabrera commitment, and DD hasn't been with the Tigers in almost a decade.)

Going into 2024, the Tigers are in a weird spot. The prospects who were supposed to turn the Tigers into contenders haven’t, either because they just haven’t broken out yet (like Torkelson), just aren’t good (Spencer Turnbull) or have been injured (Tarik Skrubal, Casey Mize, Matt Manning). The Tigers farm system is right around the middle of the league, neither fallow enough to throw in the towel nor seemingly strong enough to support a window. So….is there still enough juice left for a run at contention, or does the new front office declare Rebuild One a failure and begin Rebuild Two? Team president Scott Harris took over a year ago, but he held off on hiring a general manager until just this week, so it’s still not entirely clear how the front office will run from here on out. Regardless, the last two years have marked a stunning turn for the Tigers; going into the 2022 season, everything seemed so promising for the Detroiters...and yet just two seasons later, the Tigers teeter on the edge of another teardown.

Detroit last made the playoffs in 2014. Their last title was in 1984.
 

Garfinvold

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Right - I guess that was where it ended up. And I think the reason that didn't resonate was that it lacked the storyline appeal of the team hexed by a single tormentor. Sox fans could leave offerings at Ruth's grave (or whatever they did), the Cubs could have Billy Goat Day where everyone could bring their goat to the park, Hanshin Tigers' fans could beg the Ghost of Colonel Sanders for forgiveness, and the Giants could put up a new plaque to replace the lost one. White Sox fans were just like Job in the Bible - everything sucked and there was nothing they could do to change that.
Wasn't the Curse of The Billy Goat just made up in 2003? Never heard of it before then.
 

Sad Sam Jones

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The Curse of Rocky Colavito is a great book about the ineptitude of a franchise over the course of several decades and Pluto's coming of age as a fan and then a professional covering the team during that time, but it's also just a book title. I haven't read it in a while, but I don't recall him making any attempt to argue the Cleveland franchise was cursed beyond the awful people who had been running it.
 

jon abbey

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Yeah, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a thing before 2003.
From that article:

"In 1969, Tribune columnist David Condon wrote a couple of articles about a billy-goat curse. That was the year the Cubs looked like a sure thing. They were 74-43 and enjoyed a nine-game lead in the National League Eastern Division on August 13. But, Condon had warned in April, the curse was still in effect. Sianis had not lifted it; instead, he had placed “an eternal hex” on the North Siders."
 

Garfinvold

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From that article:

"In 1969, Tribune columnist David Condon wrote a couple of articles about a billy-goat curse. That was the year the Cubs looked like a sure thing. They were 74-43 and enjoyed a nine-game lead in the National League Eastern Division on August 13. But, Condon had warned in April, the curse was still in effect. Sianis had not lifted it; instead, he had placed “an eternal hex” on the North Siders."
Assuming that's right, it certainly wasn't nationally known until 2003.
 

cannonball 1729

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The Curse of Rocky Colavito is a great book about the ineptitude of a franchise over the course of several decades and Pluto's coming of age as a fan and then a professional covering the team during that time, but it's also just a book title. I haven't read it in a while, but I don't recall him making any attempt to argue the Cleveland franchise was cursed beyond the awful people who had been running it.
Yeah - I remember that being accurate. He was actually very optimistic at the end, talking about how the current assemblage of talent was likely to end the futility. If I recall correctly, there were even some pictures in the middle of Jim Thome and friends with captions about how they might end the drought.

(Of course, I haven't read it in almost 30 years, so I make no promises that my recollection is correct.)

I mention it here only as an example of the proliferation of "the Curse of" stories in the early 90's - they were a convenient bow that one could use to tie all of a franchise's failures together into a single story, and so writers and media members began to use that framework whenever possible. I don't think the Rocky Colavito Curse has gotten as much attention as the other ones did because it doesn't really have an antagonist (nor did Mr. Pluto intend it to) - I can't imagine Colavito held a permanent grudge against the franchise, given that he came back to Cleveland in all sorts of capacities after he retired.
 

cannonball 1729

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Plowing forward - we'll keep going with the AL. This will be the first time that this logo has ever appeared in an elimination thread, since they had a different name the last time they missed the playoffs:

72080

It seems like the new trend in baseball is that every team needs to have a “system.” It’s no longer enough to simply pick the best players and prospects; in today’s MLB, a team is required to have a “lab” or a “method” or some general organization-wide philosophy for developing players or turning retreads into gold. Perhaps it’s a holdover of the Moneyball craze that sent each team scrambling to find some sort of edge; whatever the reason, “what’s the system” is now a key consideration in telling the story of a team.

Left unanswered, though, is the question of how many successful organizations have actually found a winning system and how many have just found players and/or managers that make the system look good. Obviously, a good system does make a difference – baseball history is replete with players who found a second life because they changed their delivery or swing or approach. But a great player or manager can make any system work, and a good system can’t compensate for a bad team.

Perhaps the most salient example of this phenomenon – and the struggles that it can cause – would be that of the Kansas City Royals. Recall that Dayton Moore wanted to put together a team using scouting instincts and intangibles, while owner John Sherman wanted to re-create the Guardians’ pitching lab. Obviously, owner trumps GM, and hence Moore was summarily dispatched last season; 2023 thus saw the unveiling of The Lab, as JJ Picollo and friends turned Royals’ hurlers into devourers of information and analytics. As we saw upthread, though, the Cleveland South system failed rather spectacularly this year, and the prognosis for its future is now unclear. There are many possible explanations for its failure, of course (e.g. injuries), and it's still possible that the system might work in the future. However, an obvious point of concern is that the Kansas City facsimile lacks a vital part of the original Cleveland version:

The Royals don’t have Terry Francona.
________________________________________________________

If one looks back to the 2012 Manny Acta-led Indians, the year before Francona took over, one finds a team that went 68-94. But that record is a bit deceptive. They weren’t your typical untalented 68-win team; they were a disappointing assemblage of players who simply should have been better – and were better, right up until a 5-28 tailspin in July and August sent them careening out of contention.

I bring this up because one of the great accomplishments of Terry Francona is that over his tenure as the manager in Cleveland, he very rarely presided over a “lost” season where a few bad weeks during the summer basically buried the team. For whatever reason – be it strategic acumen, leadership instincts, or perhaps just the putrid rest of the division – Tito always seemed to have his teams in the hunt, and he often seemed to do so with a skeleton crew of players who somehow played above their heads. His batting lineups generally went about two players deep. His pitching rotation was always young and often injured because the Guardians are apparently too poor to re-sign good players. And yet, none of it seemed to matter; if Terry had nine guys and a baseball, the team was going to compete. In fact, before the current season, there were only two Tito-led seasons in Cleveland that featured a midsummer swoon – 2015 and 2021 – and in the latter, Francona wasn’t even around for the last two months of the season due to various medical ailments.

Which is why this year’s swan song was tough to watch. As has often been the case, the lineup featured holes in key places such as the entire outfield (.654 outfield OPS, worst outfield OPS in the AL). The pitching staff featured surprising performances by rookies (Logan Allen, Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee) mitigated by injuries to key hurlers (Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, and pre-trade Aaron Civale...and eventually also Tanner Bibee). The key acquisitions were of the budget variety; Josh Bell and Mike Zunino were the biggest offseason signings, and the major in-season additions largely came out of the Angels’ dumpster. Despite all of that, the Guardians contended, as they always do; Cleveland even led the division at the All-Star break, and they were only a game out at the end of July. But then, an un-Tito-esque 11-16 August, followed by an equally atypical 12-17 in September/October, spelled the end of the 2023 season, and with it, the end of the Tito era. It’s hard to believe, but the Guards’ 76-86 record was only the second time that Cleveland has finished with a losing record in Tito’s Cleveland tenure. What’s more, in the only other such season – the lost season of 2021 - the then-Indians actually had a winning record in the games where Tito was at the helm (and a losing record after he stepped away for his medical issues). In other words, one could say that this is actually the first time since his Phillies’ days that Tito has presided over a losing season.

And now, Cleveland is left to ask the multi-million dollar question: how well does the Cleveland Pitching Lab work when it’s not handing off its handiwork to a Hall-of-Fame manager? The Guardians’ bullpen has let fewer than 30% of its inherited runners score in every Tito-led season except 2021 (with league average usually around 32%); is that because of the arms it’s churning out or because of the person choosing how to deploy them? They’ve gotten incredible production out of rookies who walked into the league and simply dominated – is that because of the pitches they’ve developed or the guy who helped them get acclimated to the bigs? On the flip side, are the myriad pitching injuries an artifact of the system, a result of Tito’s usage, or just bad luck? (Well, apart from fluke injuries like the Zack Plesac one where he bashed his thumb by “taking off his shirt too aggressively” – I think we can safely chalk those up as bad luck.)

In this sense, 2024 will be a very interesting year in Cleveland. As always, the roster is young and has many question marks. Will Bo Naylor be as good over a full season as he was in limited action? Which Steven Kwan is the real one – the dominating force of 2022 or the solid citizen of 2023? Can the rookie pitchers continue to impress? Can anyone on the pitching staff stay healthy? All of these questions are important, but none is bigger than the question of whom the next manager will be and how well he will fill Tito’s shoes.

The Guardians last made the playoffs in 2022. Their last World Series title was in 1948.
 
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GruberTaggedHim

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Nothing ruins a system faster than a player taking off his shirt too aggressively. (Seriously - I feel baseball has a much larger %age of bizarre injuries than any other sport.)
 

Sad Sam Jones

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How quickly people forget that Plesac also once broke his hand punching the mound after he allowed a home run. My favorite day of the 2023 season was Plesac getting demoted... one if those "I remember where I was" moments in time.
 

GruberTaggedHim

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Not like I'll be singing that song that I thought I had expunged from my brain 30 years ago for a couple of weeks now, thanks a lot.
 

Sad Sam Jones

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I do think Tito was usually really good at handling a bullpen and that's what I missed when Sandy Alomar was managing the team in his absence for the 2020 season, but I don't think Francona's really a pitching guru. Bieber and Bibee cleaned up their mechanics and added a few miles per hour to their fastballs in the minors. Civale already had high spin rates across the board before he reached Cleveland. Francona didn't teach Kluber and others the cutter. I think they've proven that their pitching development machine is more than can be credited to one person (the media used to say it was Mickey Callaway, but he's been gone for years) and begins upon entry in the system... or more accurately, with their amateur scouting of the right types of pitchers for the system.

I don't believe there's any reason to expect their pitching to take a step backward if they can get through a season with Bieber, McKenzie, Bibee, Williams, Allen and Quantrill. Their bullpen largely underperformed this season – Stephan and Clase were erratic (Clase also had terrible BABIP luck this year), Karinchak pitched his way back to the minors for most of the season, Sandlin's home run rate rose over 350% this year and Hentges missed a lot of time and then needed a month or two to settle in. All of these guys are still pretty young, so there should be some bounce-backs next year.

The offense is a different story, Miles Straw and Will Brennan cannot constitute 2/3's of a starting outfield... especially when your other outfielder isn't a big run producer either. Straw/Brennan should be a center field platoon at most. They need to finally pull the trigger on a trade for a corner outfielder this winter. The only in-house improvement the lineup can reasonably rely on is a full season of Bo Naylor.
 

cannonball 1729

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I do think Tito was usually really good at handling a bullpen and that's what I missed when Sandy Alomar was managing the team in his absence for the 2020 season, but I don't think Francona's really a pitching guru. Bieber and Bibee cleaned up their mechanics and added a few miles per hour to their fastballs in the minors. Civale already had high spin rates across the board before he reached Cleveland. Francona didn't teach Kluber and others the cutter. I think they've proven that their pitching development machine is more than can be credited to one person (the media used to say it was Mickey Callaway, but he's been gone for years) and begins upon entry in the system... or more accurately, with their amateur scouting of the right types of pitchers for the system.

I don't believe there's any reason to expect their pitching to take a step backward if they can get through a season with Bieber, McKenzie, Bibee, Williams, Allen and Quantrill. Their bullpen largely underperformed this season – Stephan and Clase were erratic (Clase also had terrible BABIP luck this year), Karinchak pitched his way back to the minors for most of the season, Sandlin's home run rate rose over 350% this year and Hentges missed a lot of time and then needed a month or two to settle in. All of these guys are still pretty young, so there should be some bounce-backs next year.

The offense is a different story, Miles Straw and Will Brennan cannot constitute 2/3's of a starting outfield... especially when your other outfielder isn't a big run producer either. Straw/Brennan should be a center field platoon at most. They need to finally pull the trigger on a trade for a corner outfielder this winter. The only in-house improvement the lineup can reasonably rely on is a full season of Bo Naylor.
I think this is a fair take. I will say that:

1.) To my recollection, Tito has been good about pacing himself over the season and not having to pitch burned-out pitchers in September. I think that's part of the reason we didn't see many August collapses - there were pitchers whose arms just broke (because that happens in baseball), but there weren't many John Schreibers who just looked like a shell of themselves after being abused in July. Whether that's because the lab keeps cranking out good players or because Tito handles them well, I don't know.

2.) The skill (if it exists) of handling rookies is a thing that's tough to get a handle on. One of focuses I've seen in recent years has been on managers "slowing the game down" for rookies. This was one of Joe Maddon's big things when he was on the Rays; he would send out the catcher or the pitching coach or whoever to make the game slower for a rookie and allow the rookie to process what's happening. There's also the task of helping a rookie stay focused when he starts to struggle, especially since for many of them, this may be the first time they've ever struggled. The Guardians have had a lot of rookies walk into the rotation and pitch well. Obviously, that's in large part because they've developed a repertoire that plays at a major league level, but it seems plausible that the manager's ability to handle said rookie helps as well.

I think those are the big questions for the staff - how much does the manager impact these specific things, and how much of it is just having pitchers with devastating pitches and a smart plan of attack? I honestly don't know
 

cannonball 1729

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All right, the big one:


72310


Ask a psychologist and they'll tell you: one of the most corrosive things that a person can do in their everyday life is to ruminate on previous instances of being wronged. It’s a very human, very common tendency to do this – in an instance where we’re feeling down about ourselves or about the world, rumination about a previous wrong is an easy way to transfer that disappointment/anger onto a single other person. How self-righteous we get to feel! How justified in our anger! How dare that other person do what they did! Of course, this rumination is short-term boon that compounds a long-term problem; fuming at a person who isn’t there won’t change the past, it doesn’t help us work through our problems in the present, and it makes us more likely to grab for this crutch in the future in lieu of actually dealing with an issue. (A wise person once compared this process to “drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to feel ill.”)

Sports, though, are the one place where rumination isn’t just allowed – it’s encouraged. Boston fans spent decades reliving the horrors of Bucky or Buckner, of course. England has complained about the Hand of God for years. Heck, even on this board, one has to go only as far as the BBtL forum to find Jerome Bettis complaining about a non-Super Bowl game 20 years ago – and Bettis is a man with a Super Bowl ring. For the most part, sports rumination is a harmless way to bond over shared struggle; sure, Sox fans were more than a little tired of hearing about The Curse at all occasions, but there’s no family being broken, no marital problems being created (I assume), no personal issues caused by this rumination. After all, there’s little that one can do to “work through” a sports ill other than hope that your team wins – the players play, and we’re just along for the ride.

Where sports rumination goes off the rails, however, is when a single point or narrative becomes a focal point of all discussion around that team, a cudgel with which to beat up on a fanbase, or a team, or a person. Obviously, there are the extreme examples like Steve Bartman fleeing the upper midwest or Bill Buckner retreating to Montana, but there are more minor versions of this, too. Spygate and Deflategate thrown around every time someone mentions the Patriots’ rings. The Astros will forever be the team with the banging trash cans, even if they win another ten titles. Barry Bonds, the man who was so good that he broke baseball, is “the steroid guy.” These narratives aren’t entirely wrong, mind you; they’re just overly dismissive. They take something incredible or interesting or nuanced and turn it into a one-point dismissal with a single, identifiable “bad guy” – and in the process, they rob sports of the magic and fun that they can otherwise provide.

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The writers of The Athletic have claimed, repeatedly, that the Mookie trade doomed Chaim Bloom from the start. But I think that’s a bit of stretch. For one thing, the idea seems unnecessarily reductive; the Sox have played over 500 games since Mookie’s departure, and Bloom has made many, many moves in that time. The cliché of “winning cures all ills” also applies here; few people were talking about Mookie in October of 2021, and I suspect that Mookie would have only warranted passing Bob Lobel comments of “why can’t we get guys like that” if the Sox had amassed a juggernaut by 2023. It’s worth noting that the trade was certainly a defensible one; Dave Dombrowski had basically spent the team into salary hell, making them the #1 payroll in baseball even before considering a Mookie extension. The return wasn’t even horrible – Verdugo has been a useful player and Wong might be as well, and besides, it’s really, really hard to get equal value for a franchise-level player on a one-year deal.

What that trade did do, though, was shorten Bloom's leash by giving the fanbase a cudgel with which to beat up on Chaim when things went bad. Tough loss to the Blue Jays? “Hey, what's Jeter Downs up to these days?” Jarren Duran misplays a fly ball in center? “Hey, didn’t we used to have a center fielder who could catch those?” Another pitcher goes down with an injury? "Hey, anyone checked out the NL MVP race this week?" It was an easy encapsulation of all of the Sox problems, and a focal point for the angst of the last two seasons: the guy who traded away Mookie was identified as problem 1, with the Sox, with the owners who didn’t want to enter salary hell as 1A. As frustrations mounted – a lost season in 2022, another one in 2023, with bad baserunning and injured pitchers and little league fielding all the while - the Mookie rumination grew more intense, and it eventually came to consume all discussion of the Chaim Bloom era. Whatever the merits of the trade, subsequent events transformed the Mookie deal from an unfortunate but necessary circumstance into a scarlet M to hang on Bloom’s chest.

In other words, Chaim’s downfall wasn’t that he created the cudgel. It’s that he gave Sox fans too many opportunities to use it.
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Returning to the present: the biggest problem with the 2023 season wasn’t just that it was bad – it’s that “bad” seemed like the most likely outcome. The team went into spring training with a series of questions about key positions on the team, and the only answers seemed to involve the word “if.” What would the rotation look like, and who was the ace? Well, that would depend if Sale or Paxton were healthy, if Kluber still had something left in the tank, if Whitlock or Houck could make the transition from reliever, if Bello could make the leap. The middle of the infield? That depended on if Story could come back quickly, if Chang could hit, or if Mondesi would be healthy. Center field? That would be good if Duvall could stay healthy, or if Kike could return to form. The lineup around Devers? That could be good if Yoshida were as advertised, if Verdugo or Casas could take a step forward, or if Turner could still produce at age 36.

Now to be fair, some of those if’s panned out. But, as is usually the case with an if-laden team, many did not. And for a team that needed most of the “ifs” to go right for a chance at the playoffs, this proved to be a disaster.

The jarring part for Boston fans was that the Sox haven’t been a part of the “if” brigade for decades. Sure, every team has questions going into spring training, and of course every fanbase in the spring is wishcasting about something. That said, there’s a big difference between questions like “Can the bottom of the lineup generate any offense?” and questions like “Who's even in our rotation this year?”, and if your wishcasting involves things like “I hope at least one of our starters spends the whole year being healthy,” well, your team might not be very good. In the current century, Boston fans have always known the Sox to have some ballast on the roster - a Pedro or Beckett at the top of the rotation, an Ortiz or Manny in the middle of the lineup, a Pedroia to anchor the infield defense. So this idea of having to squint to even see a decent team.....well, that just doesn't fly in Boston.

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The main culprit in the 2023 disappointment, of course, was the rotation’s inability to stay healthy and/or pitch effectively. The problems began with the Opening Day starter, who pitched so badly that he was out of the rotation by summer. The other two tricenarians on the staff, Sale and Paxton, were good at times but injured at others. The youngsters (aside from Bello) generally showed effectiveness for the first eighteen batters but then collapsed thereafter. All told, the Sox had one of the least durable rotations in the bigs - their 774 IP by starters was worse than every AL team except for the pitiful A’s.

Unsurprisingly, then, the overworked bullpen eventually blew up. Alex Cora spent all of July and August using relievers to cover for the starters’ shortcomings, and eventually there were few people left in the bullpen whose arms were not completely cooked. August in particular was a disaster for the bullpen, with relievers posting a 6.14 ERA while Cora searched frantically for anyone who could pitch the fifth inning.

That problem came to a head in a late-August Houston series when the Red Sox, still at the fringes of contention, were forced to deploy something called a Barraclough, which is apparently a white flag that one raises while still leading by a run. With a bullpen consisting of two available pitchers – a closer and a mop-up guy – Alex Cora was forced to bring in Mr. Barraclough when Chris Sale failed to get out of the fifth inning; after Kyle inevitably gave up the lead, Cora was forced to continue to throw the mop-up man as the Astros piled on run after run. If one can define a season-ending loss in August, that was it; from that game forward, the Sox went 9-22, tied for the worst record in baseball, and any discussion of the Sox playoff hopes basically ended that night.

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Was too much asked of Bloom? In the 2020’s, is it unfair to ask someone to rebuild a farm system and compete? Did the Mookie cudgel unnecessarily shorten the leash given to Chaim by the fans? It’s hard to say; these are all fair questions, and obviously both sides of these debates have been clearly stated on the main board. What is not hard to say is that when you spend $200 million of a billionaire’s money and finish with 78 wins, and then you spend another $200 million of their money and finish with 78 wins again, that billionaire will probably stop letting you spend their money. There’s plenty of work to be done by the next president and GM, and we all await word on whom those people will be. Obviously, there’s money to be spent – given that the Sox have generally had a top-five payroll throughout the John Henry era, the idea that they’re content to be 13th seems somewhat ahistorical. There’s also a decent farm system to work with, as players like Mayer and Teel give hope to the future. If there’s one positive to take into this offseason, however, it’s this: with Bloom gone, we can finally, FINALLY stop relitigating the Mookie trade.

The Sox last made the playoffs in 2021. Their last title was in 2018.