Tony's Team and Why "Going Rogue" Isn't the Answer

I'd recommend everyone to read Bernie's Bytes from yesterday. There's one section in particular that intrigued me but, upon completion, irritated me.  The pertinent section begins with the second bullet point and continues through the sixth but I'll excerpt a bit here:

This is exactly the team that La Russa wanted, down to the last dirt stain, down to the last act of scrappiness. And Theriot is a big part of the collective team personality that La Russa sought to cultivate. TLR went rogue, and so far it's working.

The team looks quite good right now. It looks good because, well, it is a good team. This has nothing to do with Theriot's desire to roll around in the infield and not catch balls. It has little to do with the idea that Descalso is a "grinder" -- whatever the hell that is.

TLR never went rogue. It's a different team than 2010 but it's not one that patently ignores the tenants of sabermetrics at all. It's just a team that's more oriented toward offense than defense. It's a team that has Matt Holliday with an OBP > .500, with Lance Berkman over .450 and with both Colby Rasmus and Allen Craig on base more than .375.  How is that a team that offends anyone who wants a high on base percentage team?

Bernie also seems to indicate that there's some rebellion against run prevention:

At a time when so many organizations are putting a special emphasis on defense and stressing "run prevention" - as if that's some newfangled thing - La Russa is going rogue. He's rebelling against the revolution.

This doesn't feel right either. The Cardinals expected to enter the season with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia all three of whom have the ability to strike guys out consistently. While they lost Adam Wainwright, and their bullpen has changed somewhat, let's look at team seasonal strikeout rates for a moment.

Year K/9
2011 6.73
2010 6.77
2009 6.55
2008 5.92
2007 5.92
2006 6.11


It's possible that this is happenstance, but I see a clear trend, including the emergence of Adam Wainwright, towards a team filled with pitchers that are less reliant on their defense.  This isn't a club that is rebelling against the idea of "run prevention"; it's a club that's getting it's run prevention from another source -- it's pitchers.

So yeah, the rest of us can take our Wins Above Replacement and Equivalent Average and come up with formulas. But just give La Russa 25 players with a sharpened competitive edge who want to win more than the 25 on the other side. And he'll happily go into 162 games with that.

This seems disingenuous. Every year we read articles about how Tony La Russa wants to, above all else, win. The context of his return to managing each season isn't "Will TLR have a scrappy enough team?" but rather "Does TLR think he has the drive to continue to win?"

The quote above creates a false choice separating scrappy players from good players and ignoring the fact that you need good players to win, which is what Tony really likes. TLR isn't shy about saying when his team needs reinforcements -- Matt Holliday trade, anyone? -- and the idea that he'd be content with a team full of David Eckstein's and Miguel Batista's because they're scrappy and competitive is misguided.

At the end of the article, I just think that Bernie has it all wrong. He's stuck on one-dimensional characterizations. TLR wants scrappy players. Jeff Luhnow's "fancy product" of statistical analysis.  TLR campaigned for players that while they may be scrappy (Theriot) or good club house guys (Lance Berkman) are quantifiably GOOD players on the field.  Jeff Luhnow's fancy product is currently closing out games and comprises a significant part of the bullpen -- doesn't seem very shelved to me.

TLR may value certain personality traits more than Jeff Luhnow but Bernie's article does little to offer the shades of either person's personality not to mention the lack of any discussion of what role John Mozeliak plays in, you know, actually acquiring the players. As a frequent TLR critic, I'm reminded that these one-dimensional characterizations are misguided and that's something I've been guilty of myself.

What I'm driving at isn't that TLR doesn't want scrappy players. Or that Jeff Luhnow doesn't believe in a statistical model. Instead, I think that those are oversimplifications and in 2011, John Mozeliak seems to have found a way for everyone to have their cake and eat it too. Scrappy players who are genuinely good at playing baseball -- amazing that those guys aren't torn apart by their own mutually exclusive properties, no?

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