Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How sportswriters create myths

How the Washington Nationals became baseball's sleeping giant - Ben Reiter - SI.com:

'via Blog this'

If you are interested in a handy easy to follow narrative, I point you toward this.

Why oh why do we point to Strasburg and Harper and call it a "focus on development?"  Those guys have absolutely nothing to do with development.  They are a product of two 59 win seasons. Period.  Zimmerman isn't really a product of scouting either he was the 4th pick in a loaded draft.  They can be applauded for at least not missing here. We can quibble about whether Bruan or Tulo or Jay Bruce or Andrew McCutchen or oh man so sorry Mariners fans!

But oh that was the Plan (trademark Stan K) We didn't want to go out an sign free agents to make us somewhat better.  OK so you are telling me that the whole Texeria thing was just a pile of Boras bullshit?  I can understand that but I can't wrap my head around how you can say we meant to suck that's why we didn't sign anyone and also claim we tried to sign Mark Texeria to an albatross contract.  Those are mutually exclusive but as you will note they are presented in two different contexts by the writer. Each piece in the place it needs to be to support the narrative.  Clever but mendacious.

I certainly enjoyed the part about scouting and development being the focus of the organization and how the billionaire owners starting putting tremendous resources into it.  Kudos to them for building up what was to be generous a skeleton crew of scouts.  But let's also remember that this focus of development is wayyyyyyyy more recent than this writer lets on.  Cast your eyes back to the draft of 2009.  The Nats spend more in that draft then anyone ever before in history!!!! Development. Scouting! The Plan in action!  No.  Just one one in a generation pitching prospect who had the foresight to hire Scott Boras.  Check the rest of that draft. Slot or below for THE REST OF THE ENTIRE DRAFT!  Didn't see any of those guys in the Gio loot pile did ya?

Of the four guys in that loot pile only AJ Cole stands out as part of the development and scouting plan.  Clearly they had no desire for Tommy Milone based on the outcome of the Lannan v Detweiler competition. This is not the place for soft tossers (Danny Rosenbaum keep your bags packed in late July)  Norris was excess in the wake of the Ramos robbery and Peacock -- they filled that slot for $11 million.  A much better outcome than I thought at the time. Gio's relative lack of wildness being the main reason this deal looks so good right now.

Don't get me wrong.  I for one applaud the scouting and development plan.  Would have been nicer had they started it a few years earlier but hey who am I to argue now.  A more accurate narrative would say the Nationals and their billionaire owners hoped a new ball park along with the most affluent metro area in the country would be enough to fill the seats.  When they realized that this is a frontrunning town (sometime in 2009 would be my guess) they changed course and opened the wallets to at least appear to give a flying F.

Thanks to having what I have no problem calling a Top 10 GM they've been successful in building a pretty good team for now and better still for the next few years.  

Of course I am still waiting for the first impact international signing.  Carlos Alvarez doesn't count.


  1. Your criticisms about Harper & Strasburg are correct, but what about Storen? Holding the line on Crow? ZimmermanN? Espinosa? There's evidently been a lot of smart drafting in the later rounds that's given the team a whole lot more "this guy could work out" players than in the past. Someone has to be given credit for that.

  2. Storen while being a very good pitcher, was still a slot signing. I don't mention it because that pick was unprotected thanks to Aaron Crow's greed so taking a guy they knew they could sign was a necessity. That doesn't absolve them from the slot signings they made in the rest of the 2009 draft.

    They have drafted better recently. That's relative to the drafting they had done in the previous decade which was comically bad. MLB's ownership along with TWGMIBB (A title retired by Omar) meant there was nothing in the development pipeline.

    Mainly I take issue with the writer's narrative, supplied by sources with the Nats organization I assume, that the back to back 100 loss seasons were part of the plan and it was only when the Lerner's generously began spending the right way did the fortunes turn around. They stank because they as an organization had drafted poorly and they had not invested at all in either the major or minor leagues for years. That didn't change until 2010. Why didn't it change day 1 of the Lerner's ownership?

    Perhaps they needed time to understand the baseball business. But wasn't that what Stan Kasten was for? I suspect they were far more focused on the new stadium then they were on the on the field product. Which come to think of it is really the best business strategy. As a fan I hate having to watch terrible baseball but the strategy of building the building then building the team seems sound. Although why multi-billionaires couldn't multi-task is another question entirely.