“Moneyball” endures

When Dodger owner Frank McCourt fired Paul DePodesta as general manager in October, the move came as a shock to baseball beat reporters and columnists, but the firing was almost univerally welcomed. DePodesta was seen as the exponent of controversial, unproven, statistics-based theories of player evaluation, and a threat to the baseball establishment.

DePodesta started with, er, two strikes against him. He appeared in Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” which covered a year with the Oakland A’s when DePodesta was assistant general manager. In one scene, DePodesta seconds Oakland GM Billy Beane’s scathing assessment of baseball scouts.  scout.jpg  Scouts are the lyric troubadors of baseball, men who spend their lives on the road, traveling from one cheap motel to the next, looking for the next star player on the sandlots of the blue highways. How dare a Harvard man who never played the game professionally mock scouts? 

Univac.jpgWhen he arrived in Los Angeles in 2003, the Times’ columnists Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers seemed obsessed with the idea that “Google Boy” DePodesta used a computer.  It was bizarre. All baseball teams number-crunch statistics on computers, and have done so for 20 years. It would’ve made about as much sense to criticize DePodesta for driving a car instead of riding a horse.

After suffering through weeks of embarrassing rejected overtures to GM candidates, McCourt finally hired Ned Colletti as DePodesta’s replacement, and the baseball establishment cheered.  Colletti, an official with the San Francisco Giants and before that the Chicago Cubs, was said to be an old-school guy, who would restore the traditional ways of baseball to Chavez Ravine.

In a new post on my favorite blog, Dodger Thoughts, Jon Weisman points out that, after a couple of months on the job, Colletti seems not to have broken from DePodesta’s philosophy much at all:

One of the arguments I’ve been making this offseason is that the biggest difference between former Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta and his successor, Ned Colletti, is not in philosophy, but how the media has covered them. Despite the perception that Colletti is a 180-degree reversal from DePodesta, my belief has been that in reality, the two are much closer in approach than we’ve been led to believe. Both prize the Dodger farm system. Both relied on veterans from other organizations – including veterans with considerable injury histories – to carry the Dodgers until the farm system matured.

I’m getting worried about the injuries.  Fans don’t want to see a repeat of last season’s dismal performance, which was mostly due to the amount of time good players like J.D. Drew, Milton Bradley and Eric Gagne spent on the disabled list. But a lot of Dodger players seem to be having operations this off-season, including Rafael Furcal, the new $39 million shortstop that Colletti signed as a free agent.

Colletti is a former PR man, and it shows. He calls Furcal’s knee surgery only a “clean up.”  A few days ago, the Dodgers announced that star second baseman Jeff Kent also is having surgery, but it’s only “precautionary.” In November, Drew had “clean up” surgery on his right wrist and a separate operation to repair a tear in his right shoulder muscle.  I’ve never had “clean up surgery.”  The Dodgers are making it sound elective, like getting a nose job. 

Update 1/10: Dodger Thoughts regular “D4P” offers this explanation:

McCourt wasn’t looking for a GM who differed from Depo with respect to “philosophy”, but rather a GM who differed from Depo with respect to personality and extroversion. McCourt wanted a guy that was fun for he and his wife to hang out with, and a guy with “people skills” who could schmooze with the press. If you recall McCourt’s rationale for firing Depo, none of it (that I read) had anything to do with the players that Depo brought in or Depo’s philosophy on player evaluation.

Dodger Thoughts has developed some enjoyable nicknames.  Ned Colletti is either “Flanders” (for Ned Flanders of the Simpsons), or “Mr. Ned,” (which is what Furcal called Colletti at a press conference when he couldn’t remember the name of the man who had just handed him $39 million.)  DePodesta is, affectionally, “Depo.” The former manager, Jim Tracy, was “Buntermaker” because he seemed to prize bunting as a sign of character, even when it didn’t help win games. Nothing yet for new manager Grady Little, but I’m sure something will catch on early this season.  

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