Tony La Russa and John Mozeliak Expose Jon Daniels and Sabermetrics

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Tony La Russa and John Mozeliak Expose Jon Daniels and Sabermetrics

The Texas Rangers led the major leagues with a .283 batting average. They averaged 5.28 runs per game, topped by only the Boston Red Sox (5.40) and New York Yankees (5.35). The Yankees led the majors with 222 home runs. The Rangers were second with 210.

The Rangers pitchers finished fifth in the American League with a 4.18 ERA, second with a 118 ERA+ and second with a 1.241 WHIP.

So what went wrong?

St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak built a team the old-fashioned way. He was influenced by manager Tony La Russa, who has eschewed sabermetrics.

Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels put together a team the modern way, emphasizing the sabermetric approach.

Say, Jon, how did that work the last two World Series?

Mozeliak built a team that cared about winning. La Russa wanted players who hustled, scuffled and tore their uniforms sliding into a base or running into a wall.  In Jan. 2011, Bernie Miklasz  wrote that La Russa "...wants a team of no-retreat, no-surrender players."

Jon Daniels emphasizes defense and run prevention. So do Mozeliak and La Russa. Shades of John McGraw and Connie Mack. How did they win without Bill James and Billy Beane?

The difference is that Daniels, Theo Epstein and Billy Beane use statistics to acquire players that fit their model. Mozeliak and La Russa prove that the only numbers that are meaningful are in the win column.

Last season, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman obtained Lance Berkman, who didn't fare too well in a New York uniform. The consensus was that Berkman was washed up.

The Cardinals signed Berkman this past December to play right field. The last time Berkman played right field was in 2007, when he played there for 31 games.

Berkman is smart, tough, desperately wants to win and wanted to show that he still had a lot left even more desperately.  His 2010 numbers and his age eliminated him from being signed by a Jon Daniels or a Billy Beane.

La Russa got rid of Brendan Ryan, the star of "The Fielding Bible" method of evaluating defense, because he didn't fit the model. La Russa wanted a more serious competitor who would push himself and his teammates and who would be sickened by losing.

La Russa was confident that Berkman would succeed, citing Berkman's love for the game, his pride, his dogged determination and his heart.

Daniels claims that he is a centrist.

"Computers can get you only so far. You don't buy a house without a walk-through or without a spec sheet, do you? I respect Bill James and what he has done for the game, the doors he has opened. But that's only one side of it."

The problem is that Daniels has built a team that is good, but not good enough. Analyzing is important, but too much analysis can be a negative. The sixth game of the World Series illustrates that graphically.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cardinals needed an Albert Pujols double and a David Freese triple off Neftali Feliz on a drive that a good defender would have caught.

In the 10th, they needed singles from Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay against a left-hander, followed by a Kyle Lohse bunt, a single from Lance Berkman and David Freese's fifth home run and 19th RBI of the post season.

Jon Daniels built a team of Wilsons, Harrisons, Ogandos and Felizes, and a manager who wouldn't start Derek Holland in the seventh game. No wonder they've lost two consecutive World Series.


Reference:

Cartwright, Gary. "The rookie: for 34 years, the Texas Rangers have struck out in their guest for a World Series title. Can they be saved by a 28-year-old general manager from New York whose only experience comes from the fantasy leagues? At this point, I'm willing to try just about anything." Texas Monthly May 2006: 118+. General OneFile. Web. 29 Oct. 2011.

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