Alderson’s Greatest Acquisition This Off-Season

An article by posted on December 13, 2010

Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I flipped on the television to find Poker on ESPN2. My first thought was, if ESPN gave Hockey as much airtime as they give poker players, Sidney Crosby would be on everybody’s fathead Christmas wish list! 

Before I flipped to the Eagles/Cowboys game (okay yes, I was going to bed around half time. Guilty.) I watched the final hand of what appeared to be a pretty big poker tournament. I admit, I didn’t do much research about this “match” because, a) I didn’t really care, and b) when I saw the ages of the two players vying for millions of dollars, I grew a little jealous.

The gentleman who lost came away with $1.75million dollars. He was pretty mad about it. I myself would be doing the Birthday Dance on live television. 

So as I got ready to call it a night, I realized something.

The popularity of poker, could be a very good analogy for the battle we face today with saber metrics.

I, like many of warm-blooded Americans got into poker (specifically Texas Hold Em) between 2002 and 2003. I remember watching Chris Moneymaker take the World Series of Poker, and the shockwave it sent through the apparent poker world.

Players like Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth Jr., Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negrenau, Annie Duke, Johnny Chan, and of course, Amarillo Slim. These are players who defined the poker circuit for years.

Players who had an old school methodology. Rounders if you will, players who didn’t study the art of playing poker, they wrote the book on it.

Then around 2001, and 2002, a new breed of poker player was created. One that allowed you or me to learn a game that we had never experienced before.

We didn’t grow up playing cards in shady backroom clubs like they did. We sat at home, and joined online communities and studied. We tried to learn more about the cards, then the players opposing us. 

If you ask any of the named players above, I’d bet you most would say that you’re playing poker against the person sitting across from you. If you ask a new-school, online player, there’s no way to study your opponent. You study the odds, and the data in front of you. 

Players like Greg Raymer, Noah Boeken, Humberto Brenes; these are names that prior to 2002, nobody within this exclusive club probably cared about. Until they began to prove that there was more than 1 way to be an elite poker player.

Boeken is a great example of the new-school method of becoming a poker player. All you need to know about the 29 year old millionaire is that he began his poker career after a successful career in playing Magic: The Gathering.

I am certain that when players like Boeken first came on the scene, there was a level of resentment by the old-school players like Doyle Brunson. After all, Brunson had been playing poker for over 50 years. However, at some point, the game has to change.

I’d have to venture to guess that despite a resentment towards these players, the old-school players gained respect for them, as their bankrolls increased. When Greg Raymer won the World Series of Poker, he legitimized the online community. 

So enough about poker. Let’s talk baseball.

Without doing research, I’d have to guess that the New York Mets have an “older” fan base on average. After all, it’s hard to attract newer and younger fans to a team that hasn’t won in 24 years, while the team across town has won 5 times since then. It’s kind of a tough sell. 

Where we are at now, is where I feel like the poker world was probably at in say 1999 or 2000. Everything was fine the way it was. There was no need to change the way the game had been played, but with new ideas come new opportunities.

Baseball is about tradition, and old school ways of thinking. In some ways a hypocritical way of thinking, but old school nonetheless.

Example of the old school hypocrisy: Why does MLB wish to keep instant replay away from the game when it comes to making sure calls on the field are correct, but when it comes to the official scorekeeper looking at a replay, they encourage it?

Just because somebody comes along with brand new ideas, doesn’t make them wrong. It doesn’t make them right either, but if they’ve proven to be successful, maybe they are worth paying attention to?

Say whatever you want about Billy Beane. The bottom line is, he was working with a limited salary cap, and needed to find ways to get players on his team at an affordable rate while remaining competitive. Baseball was different 5 years ago then it is today. Many of the philosophies in “Moneyball” do not apply to the way Oakland is operated today.

From 1999 to 2006, Beane’s A’s which DePodesta and Ricciardi became a part of, averaged a payroll under $50 million dollars and in that *eight* year span won 58% of their regular season games. 

You may not like it, but that is ridiculously impressive when you consider the payroll. You can call a team that wins a division one year out of eight a fluke, but a team that wins an average of 94 games over an 8 year period, that’s no fluke.

To put that number in perspective, the NY Yankees from 1999 to 2006, won an average of 97 games a season, and spent over $100 million dollars on their payroll.

There was plenty of old-school minded GM’s questioning Billy Beane’s way of evaluating talent. The problem is, they were doing it while watching the A’s on television in October. Some ways work better for others.

Sure, Beane didn’t win a World Series. It’s a fair knock I suppose. However, it’s much more difficult to be as successful as they were in 1,296 games then it is to win 3 games in a 5 game series. After all, Beane’s Athletics went to Game 5 of the LDS for 4 straight years, 3 of them against NYY or Boston.

Nobody here would consider the Braves of the 1990’s a failure had they never won that single World Series would we? Of course not, we recognize the difference in being successful for 162 games, as opposed to winning 3 out of 5 games.

When Theo Epstein became the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, he became the poster boy for fusing together Beane’s way of thinking, but with a Yankee budget. Epstein recognizes undervalued talent, he drafts very well, he develops talent in the farm system, and he uses advanced statistics to get a better sense of a player’s value, but when a player comes along, he opens up the company checkbook which wasn’t available in Oakland.

When Epstein took over the Red Sox, they were in a much better place than the Mets are today. Epstein was hired as General Manager after the 2002 season, when the Sox won 93 games and missed the playoffs. Patience was not needed in Boston; they expected results because they had a team that proved they could win enough regular season games to get to the post-season.

Some critics of the Mets new front office like to pick on the Assistant General Managers. What’s funny about that is DePodesta & Ricciardi technically aren’t even Assistant General Managers.

However, sticking with that theory I believe they know that picking a fight against Sandy Alderson’s resume is really an uphill battle. After all, how do you tell a guy who is as well respected in the game as anybody that he’s not qualified? 

So, they set their sights on DePodesta and Ricciardi.

This strikes me as odd. I have a lot of friends who follow a lot of different teams.

No Reds fan I know talks about Bob Miller. Do you even know who Jean Alterman is? The Assistant GM of the New York Yankees? Is Randy Bush in Chicago getting the brunt of his Cubs faithful’s complaints about the future of the franchise? 

Here’s a list for you to compare apples to apples:
Mike Hazen & David Finley
Jake Ciarrachi & Gary Hughes
Chuck LaMarr & Charley Kerfeld
Mike Rojas & David Chadd
Buddy Bell & Dave Yoakam
Abe Flores & Gary Sutherland
De Jon Watson & Toney Howell

Other than former players like Buddy Bell, whose name is the most recognizable on that list?

Chuck LaMarr’s of course. 

That list is the names of the personnel assigned to the same job titles as Paul DePodesta & J.P. Ricciardi for Boston, the Cubs, Philadelphia, Detroit, the White Sox, the Angels and the Dodgers. 

So when you’re looking for an answer as to why somebody like me is happy with the potential of our front office, consider that the only team with a comparable budget to ours that has a former General Manager working in the same role as either of these men, is the Philadelphia Phillies. How’s that working out for them?

The game changes, just like poker. An old school way of thinking proves to not be the only way of thinking. 

DePodesta and Ricciardi bring experience of running a franchise, and a new way of thinking to New York that we desperately needed. There’s no better way to put it. 

Theo Epstein and Walt Jocketty may have different ideas of how to run a franchise. Just because in the 1980’s Jocketty would never hire a Director of Software Development in Baseball Operations to help him run his franchise, doesn’t mean Epstein’s wrong for doing it. It just means he has a different way of operating his team than Jocketty.

People attack what they don’t understand or new ideas because it’s tough to change your way of thinking after years of doing something the same way over and over. Bill Plaschke of the LA Times, has been credited with helping run Paul DePodesta out of town in Los Angeles. Terms like “Google Boy,” were coined by Plaschke. Proving that when a bully feels threatened by somebody different, they resort to bully tactics. 

DePodesta was such a poor hire by the Dodgers that the San Diego Padres hired him in June of 2006 and later promoted him to Executive Vice President in 2008, a title he’d hold until Alderson brought him to New York.

I wonder if Plaschke can google the 2010 MLB Standings to see where the Dodgers finished in comparison to San Diego?

So before we look to stand outside Citi Field with torches lit simply because Alderson’s regime doesn’t build a team like Frank Cashen would, let’s give them a chance to show us what they know. Give them a chance to do what they came here to do.

To change and heal the franchise, not just in terms of the 2011 standings, but in making the New York Mets a credible threat year after year and a place that free agents want to come and play. It’s going to take time. You can’t erase history at the Winter Meetings in Orlando.  

Like poker, baseball evolves. New ways of thinking, and new ways to be successful pop up as new tools are created.

Sure, some people get carried away with all the technology available. No reasonable person who believes that saber metrics have value really believes they are fool proof. Nobody has ever said that running statistics on a computer is the only way to operate a franchise. After all, if that were the case, there’d be no need for scouts in Oakland. 

The greatest acquisition Alderson can acquire this off-season is patience from the fan base, and an open mind to new ways of operating this franchise.

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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