06 June 2009

The Philosophy of Organizational Aggrandizement

Before AJ Hinch ever coached a game, Diamondhacks distilled what his auspicious arrival primarily portended. Quite apart from driving tangible improvement, his head scratching hire was wordsmithed and painstakingly timed, to position and ultimately seize organizational credit for generally expected short term performance regressions, following an injury plagued and uniformly disappointing April.

Not a month into Hinch's 12-14 reign (versus weaker foes than Melvin faced), the front office Dream Team unveiled Phase II of its campaign to assume and assign credit for their hand picked Success Agent. Amidst an 8-0 rout of the hapless Padres (projected by many to lose 100 games), play-by-play toadie Daron Sutton dutifuly chimed in that the club is hitting "almost a hundred points higher" with runners in scoring position (RISP) than they did "in their first twenty nine games". This is true (well, seventy-six points [.262 v .186] when he said it, so true "enough"), but this was no impromptu trivia, blurted in the booth to kill time in a laugher.

The less than cryptic "twenty nine games" is a measure of Bob Melvin (12-17), the 2007 NL Manager of the Year-turned-scapegoat, who predated Josh Byrnes and CEO Derrick Hall, and who was Ken Kendrick's reluctant second choice following the West Virginian's self-inflicted Wally Backman debacle. These high class movers and fakers are too classy, it appears, for mouthpiece Daron to actually name the skipper they aimed to implicitly malign last night.

Sutton couldnt simply observe, for example, the team's hitting better "in May than in April", which reflects an even clearer statistical distinction for the public. No, the ponderous '29 games' spiel is their rather purposeful cue that Melvin couldnt manage an offense (and Hinch can) - although it bears mentioning (because Sutton assuredly didnt) that Rick Schu (another Josh Byrnes hire) was hitting coach during this entire inoffensive stretch. Schu, we recall with limited amusement, was this GM's 'answer' to replace Kevin Seitzer, Byrnes' earlier, outside the box, personnel "failure".

If that's all Sutton said, it wouldnt be a big deal, of course. Announcers say stuff like that all the time. In SedonaRedland, however, Daron's riff set up a pre-edited video segment with Jack Howell, this month's hitting guru. Howell emphasized working on batters' weaknesses and, unlike Seitzer, didnt say anything too aggrandizing. That came after, when Sutton proclaimed causality between recent BA/RISP gains and the efforts of Howell and Hinch.

It's not just happening, folks. It's the direct result of a philosophy.

There are substantive and political problems with this tone of declaration. Substantively, the samples are too small to draw that conclusion. The player samples (and circumstances) are also inconsistent. Is Schu culpable for trotting out his most consistent hitter (from 2008) with an undiagnosed case of valley fever? Or savaged for playing Augie and Josh Wilson, when Drew went on the DL? When it suited his agenda, Derrick Hall chirped about how TEP puts the whole team at an April disadvantage - now, the poor April hitting is on Melvin and Schu? How much credit does Howell deserve for a AA callup (Parra) hitting .667 (12/18) with RISP? I dont really know, but the point is, neither does Daron Sutton or anybody else.

The team is undoubtedly hitting better since Melvin left, but it's also a fact the three guys who hit for him (Upton, Lopez and Reynolds) have continued to hit under Hinch, and with the exception of a surging Snyder and reserve Ryan Roberts, the culprits who didnt hit for Bob in April (CY, Byrnes, Whitesell, Montero, even Drew for pity's sake), havent hit much since either. The biggest boost, so far and by far, has been Parra, who never played for Melvin, and Roberts, a 28 year old with a career .074 BA, who's been ethereally raking .400 for Howell. A month of this is being touted as a triumph of coaching philosophy? Seriously?

The more galling component of this quick and very dirty presumption is that Melvin and Schu are somehow responsible for the .186 BA in any meaningful sense; the idea that this young, ascendant offense might somehow be resigned to hit .186 w RiSP under Melvin going forward. Last night, Sutton praised Howell and Hinch for briefly overseeing a .262 RISP at Melvin's expense, despite the fact Melvin's 2008 squad, the one tirelessly lampooned for a lack of clutchness, hit .257 w RISP over an entire season. Talk about a disingenous, statistically insignificant comparison.

Is Daron unaware of such context? A big innocent earnestly trying to educate us, even if he doesnt "get" all the statistical implications?


Sutton himself is intensively 'coached', tutored, by statistical wonks - wizards if you must. Wizards well aware of data's limitations - and no doubt hip to Daron's contrived declaration and the disinformation campaign to come. That's the self-serving political aspect that's to be expected from a Dream Team with a long history of glossing over, and indeed blaming others for, their strategic and tactical missteps. The next time we're subjected to this sort of organizational blather, and I promise it wont be long, understand these sorts of things dont just just happen, folks - it's the direct result of a philosophy.

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