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Baseball Teams Are Maybe Not Idiots

The truth is, the guys making the decisions in baseball probably aren’t as numb-skulled as they appear.
Κείμενο Lou Doggs

On Tuesday, the Angels fired their hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher. This isn’t surprising. As of Monday, Albert Pujols, the club’s quarter-billion dollar sweepstakes hitter, has not hit a home run since April. Pujols, who before arriving in Anaheim may have been the best right-handed hitter since World War II, has been beyond abhorrent in his new home—he is the league’s least productive player by salary, and the biggest lineup drain in baseball among players who are generally not lineup drains. Something had to be done, and since you can’t fire a player who’s six weeks into a ten-year contract, the coach was the one to go. Meanwhile, closers around the league keep messing up. Mariano Rivera, the Yankees great, fucked his knee up so his team switched between some capable in-house options, some of whom looked mildly less capable in certain situations. Across town, the Mets paraded a closer flotilla that alternated between incompetence and triumph. Basically, a handful of numbskulls were now closing games, and the baseball commentariat was wondering whether different guys on the same team taking turns closing games wasn’t a good idea.


Reaction to Hatcher’s firing painted it as a classic scapegoating move. What was the difference, anyway? Some would say that the Angels’ offense—a punchless, injury-rattled crew—should and will remain north of crud, whoever’s coaching it. Thatcher’s firing, it seemed, was just another example of idiotic groupthink from an antiquated front office, an example of dinosaur baseball at its most stegosaurus (that’s Canadian slang for “bogus”).

Reaction to the closing circus went both ways, with teams being lambasted for clinging desperately to the antiquated, silly notion of a dude who comes out only for ninth innings when his team is ahead, and other teams lambasted for going with a “closer by committee.” Committees are a fun idea, but rankles the baseball establishment, since a committee garnishes established closers’ save chances—and salary—and overlooks the strange/elite competitive fire which only closers have, apparently. Players are a lot like Josh Beckett: they have goatees—but they also are prickly and sensitive. Were it not for some of these guys’ salaries, you’d think we were dealing with corporal punishment in public schools. These guys just can’t handle it!

According to the internet, everyone working in baseball is wrong. A team like the Angels, which cans a coach whose charges are underperforming is callous; a club that patches over a hole in the roster with two lesser-skilled players is avant-garde. When talking to baseball beat writers and 20-year columnists—not the moron ones, but the good ones—we get a decidedly different answer.

“Teams,” we’re often told, “probably know what they’re doing.” And that’s probably closer to the truth than you’ll get reading disjointed rants on message boards. As fans, our information is imperfect, and it’s tough to analyze a roster move without, say, opinions from scouts who see the guy, the stat-nerd who spent a workweek studying his production, and the proximity whoever is making the decision has to the game.

It’s hard to tell from here why Hatcher was really shit-canned—his miscommunication with Pujols probably didn’t do him any favors—or why the Yankees didn’t stick Insert Goateed Dude Here at closer to begin with, since he has the better peripherals and so on, but the guys making the decisions at least have more to go on.

Not that the guys making decisions are always right. Pujols, before he was deemed worthy of $240 million, was passed on by every team in the draft. Sometimes people are just wrong.