Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Anatomy of a train wreck (SparkNotes version)

Re: our 2-part magnum opus on why it was not, as Bowden's defenders argue, impossible for a small-budget Bowden to have built a winner by now, a friend of mine said, "Jesus, you don't expect me to read all that, do you?"

Point well taken. (And here it is 5:00 am and the baby's keeping me up so I may as well do this.) Here's the short-version:

If you wanna know why we're not making progress rebuilding as fast as other teams have, go back and look at what Bowden did from November, 2004 to 2006. Virtually every single move was young for old, cheap for expensive, more guys for fewer back, improving for declining. It's not cherry-picking a move here or there--it's a pattern, almost unbroken.

The first thing JimBo did when he got here was to gift away the 32nd overall pick for 37YO VINNY CASTILLA. The money was bad enough--that's essentially a late first round pick for a guy everyone knew was done. Guzman not only cost us $16m over 4 years, but worse, another draft pick. What on Earth is a team as barren in the minors as the Expos circa 2004 doing giving away high draft picks for expensive vets??

Some of those moves in 20/20 hindsight clearly bit us in the butt (Guzman, Castilla, releasing Scott Downs, now one of the top LHRPs in MLB to make room for old, bad, pointless Gary Bennett), some you could argue gave us some fun in the short-term but in the long run hurt (Soriano), some were just inconsequential (P. Wilson for Zach Day), and at least one probably worked out ok for the short and long (Loaiza, pitched good in 05, turned into a compensatory pick).

If we had we committed to rebuilding from the start, we clearly would be much further along now, and if we got a little good luck and drafted as well as the best drafting teams in the league do, we could conceivably be looking at at true title run as soon as next year. (Which is not to say that he should be fired for not drafting as well as the Red Sox and the D'Backs did from 03-05, but just to establish that those who say Bowden had NO CHANCE are wrong.)

But the course Bowden chose was to sprint in the opposite direction, to run the team as if we were piecing together a the final parts of a championship run. We were not. He miscalculated.
We inherited a barren talentless desert of a franchise begging for rebuilding, and Bowden spent 2 years moving us BACKWARD by making us an older, more expensive, declining team. For that, he gave us the dubious prize of an 81-win last place team in '05 and a flashy but awful team in 06. We're still paying the price.

ow, for the last year or so, Kasten has forced Bowden into rebuilding, but his past track record shows no aptitude or even interest in this. A notoriously impatient, hyperactive GM and a terrible drafter, he is the wrong guy for this job, and he continues to slip from the plan by doing things like signing LoDuca and Estrada to block Flores to "win now."

Fire Bowden.
  • Chris Needham vote of approval for the SparkNotes version: "See. That's shorter, more intellectually honest, and accurate. Works for me!"


Anonymous said...

It seems like the blog is 80% hindsight-is-20-20, talking about all these great deals Bowden missed out on, what-ifs about drafts three years ago, and berating moves that never panned out but were seen as steals at the time. Don't get me wrong, I want Bowden gone, but bash a guy over the deals he's made, not the deals he didn't make. It's hard to look back and say the Nats shouldn't pick Zimmerman when it was seen as the universally-correct move at the time.

I cannot think of many things more difficult than predicting the future impact of an 18-year-old kid based on high school. Hindsight is much less applicable in sports than in most industries. It's hard to catch every rising star without the benefit of hindsight, and the blog seems to imply that Bowden missed out on dozens of "sure things" in his time, that he was to know that all these trades deemed steals at the time would in fact be busts.

Long story short, I just found the blog to be a long-winded explanation of what could have been if Bowden knew the future; if only it was that easy. There's enough other things you could fire Jimbo for that I didn't feel a long "what-if" was required.

Nats in 08 said...

(addition to above)

Side note, I'd also stick to his performance since the Lerners came on board. We don't know what he was being asked to do during the MLB time. For example, the blog takes a lot of space to berate that Bowden should've focused on all youth in 2004-2005 and not grabbed Castilla, Guzman, Loaiza, Guillen, etc. Whereas I agree we could've used a few more draft picks in 05, it's very realistic that Jimbo was under pressure from ownership (MLB), to dump salary into the MLB club and not the farm. The MLB ownership wasn't interested in building the team long-term and boosting the farm; they wanted to maximize the sales value of the team, and that meant they needed some wins and some excitement. That and Jimbo was essentially auditioning for his job, and a 30-win season would not have accomplished much.

Hence, before the Lerners, it was Jimbo's job NOT to stockpile youth, but to generate excitement and some wins. And at least in 2005, he did so very well.

Should he be fired for his performance in later years? Absolutely. But I can't blame the guy for the follies while under MLB ownership.

Nationals Fan said...

Thanks for your feedback.

Just a reminder for you and everyone, the core argument on why Bowden should go is on the right-hand side of the blog. That stands for itself, but it's always a good touchstone to come back to when/if we get bogged down in a debate about this or that particular deal.

As I've said, the "anatomy of a train wreck" was intended to answer the assertion by the Bowden-backers that it would have been IMPOSSIBLE for Bowden to do any better than he has with the salary. So I say, no embrace and execute well a strategy of rebuilding, and if you draft even decently well, you'd be way ahead of where we are now. If you draft BRILLIANTLY, a la the Sox and Rays from 03-05, you could even be knocking on the door right now. Most of the differences in my alternate reality and Bowden's real record were just simple applications of a disciplined commitment to youth.

On your second point though, I totally disagree. He had total freedom under MLB ownership--he said so, and so did everyone else. And you have to assume if ANYONE was checking his homework AT ALL the Castilla move would have been stopped. If you have some evidence to show that he was given orders to spend stupid money to mortgage the future for an 81-win last place finish, I'd like to see it--it would change my perspective possibly.

I would like to think that if he committed to a smart strategy of rebuilding that this would have made him a MORE desirable choice to implement Kasten's plan, but if he did that and they fired him for it, then that would be on Stan.

And if really you're just saying that he was sacrificing the long-term interests of the team for his own short-term self-interest, then I have no sympathy for him and he should be fired like crazy.

Anonymous said...

He may have said he had total freedom under MLB ownership, but it's quite a reach to assume that true considering Bud Selig and MLB's past dealings with the Expos and then the Nats.

MLB controlled the payroll way too tight in the Expos last seasons, and they gave Jimbo more money to deal with when the Nats came about. They didn't give him surplus cash to build the farm system. I don't think you'll find a smoking gun or marching orders, but it's pretty apparent there was a complete shift once the Nats hit DC to spending money on 1-year rentals and old guys in 2005.

They weren't mortgaging the future for 81-81 and last place; they were doing it to attempt to contend for a year. And after the first half the season, it was hard to see fault in that. Unfortunately, age and luck caught up w/ them in the second half.

Unfortunately, it's obvious no one, surely not MLB, was checking Jimbo's homework.

We agree on the fact that Jimbo needs to be fired, just for different reasons.

Anonymous said...

How many backers are there really that keep asserting that there is no way Bowden could have done better given the payroll of the Nats? The majority of things I read in the blog world seem to want him gone as much as you do.

I'll agree with what was written above that we have no way of knowing what Bowden's marching orders were from MLB. When he says that he had total freedom, I think he's intimating that he wasn't being hamstrung financially by MLB. It's not a stretch at all to assume that with the team moving into a new market that they wanted him to bring in a few veterans to fill holes. I wholeheartedly agree that giving multi-year deals to Castilla and Guzman were not the right moves.

Anonymous said...

One other thing...

You say on the front page that you have no ill will towards Bowden, but then you include a mug shot of him with some other photos with snarky comments. I think you'd be better off going one way or another.

Think about it this way. You reacted a wee bit sensitively to some of the comments on BTF, yet you've dedicated a whole blog to having another guy fired. If you're really trying to convert the people that you say are his defenders, it might be better to try a different tact. The people that would find this stuff funny most likely would already agree with you that he should be gone.

Nationals Fan said...

"We agree on the fact that Jimbo needs to be fired, just for different reasons."

I can live with that. I'm not giving him a pass for his whole first 2 years on the job.

"How many backers are there really that keep asserting that there is no way Bowden could have done better given the payroll of the Nats?"

Barry Svurluga for one, who even in his farewell chat made the outrageously uninformed comment that Bowden needs to be "given a chance" cuz "he's never had a competitive payroll, not here or in Cincinnati." Most of the commenters on the WaPo blog. Lots of people around Nationals Park who for all good reasons just want to be good fans and support the hometown 9, and they feel like that means they have to be absurd homers.

On your last thing--yeah I got snippy for a post or 2 there on BTF. But shoot it was 5 am and my 8-month old had me up all freaking night and it WAS a frustrating convo with people saying I'd said things I didn't. But I apologized, and hopefully we can all still be friends.

On the tone of the blog. I'm trying to make it fun, interesting, interactive, and grounded in a fair critique. That doesn't mean we won't mock the guy some (ok, a lot). Mostly I expect to preach to the choir, maybe convert a few (but I assume people who don't already agree won't come here), make some friends, learn about the Nationals, share some of what I've learned with people who might think it's interesting.... I certainly have no real aspiration of actually affecting Stan's hiring decisions. If I do, that's even scarier!

Anonymous said...

Right, as far as I can make out, the gist of this argument is that Bowden was more interested in avoiding 100 loss seasons than trading talent in the Nats/Expos organisation for can't miss farm prospects.

Which is correct in retrospect, but who knew at the time?

However, he wore out his welcome last year and would be out on his ass this season, where it's fairly obvious his signings MUST play regardless of their form (Pena, Lopez and ohmigosh LoDuca in LF) over some of our prospects (Bernandina, Daniel)and $22m over the next three years at Kearns is and was just embarassingly demonstrative of a slavish devotion to the ex-Reds.

Kearns is not getting that contract on the 2007 market, no-one would've been that stupid to offer that contract on potential alone.

Nationals Fan said...

"Which is correct in retrospect, but who knew at the time?"

I think just about anyone who had any familiarity at all with the Nat-spos knew at the time that the team was pretty barren of talent from top to bottom.

Nationals Fan said...

There’s been a big response to my posts walking step by step through the Bowden regime. Over 40 comments on the site, and a whole separate chat and *really* lively chat on the BBTF site.

Certainly I’ve gotten a lot of criticism, much of which I think is fair. The most common feedback, the Chris Needham position (if I can articulate it fairly), is that the basic gist of my argument, stated by the SparkNotes version, is pretty fair and compelling, but that once I press the argument to the micro-level by saying we would have had X guy or Y guy, that undermines the credibility of the overall case because you can never account for all the variables and moving parts. I think that’s fair criticism, and you’re never going to hear me say, “we should fire Bowden because he should have gotten Ankiel and Lincecum.” (Not that I ever said that in the first place.)

Some people however said they thought it was a great post, that the hypothetical thought experiment was fun and illuminating. One guy on BBTF said he’d be interested in a similar analysis on other GMs.

For me, the process was illuminating. I didn’t know till I put this post together that we threw away a draft pick to get Castilla. And the fact that the posts generated as much commentary as they did, even critical commentary, is cool. I never really thought I’d get as much attention as I have, so I’m having fun.

If I went back, I don’t think I’d change too much about these posts. I’d leave out the hypothetical Ankiel signing, because although it was theoretically possible, it was pretty baldly unrealistic and was just a lightening rod for criticism. There wasn’t really a reason to say that we should have signed Braun over Zimmy. Braun is better, but Zimmy isn’t our problem. I was just getting carried away at that point. I would assume a more “middle of the road” draft performance. I think I would add more caveats throughout reminding people what I was (and wasn’t) trying to do. I wouldn’t mention some of the least consequential deals—Wilson, Spivey.

But overall, these posts were worth doing for me. They were what they were—a hypothetical thought experiment that never aspired to being all that realistic—just a fun examination of what might have happened if the PLAN had been put in place on day 1, instead of 2 years in.

Anonymous said...

"On the tone of the blog. I'm trying to make it fun, interesting, interactive, and grounded in a fair critique."

It comes across as smarmy. I'm not saying this to pick on you, btw. I'm just giving you my honest observation. On BTF you said something about being persuasive, so I'm assuming that you mean people similar to the people on the WaPo blog, no? I don't think you're going to convert those types by being snarky, which is why I said I think you'd be better served going one way or the other with it.

Nationals Fan said...

Good feedback. I appreciate it. Part of the problem is that I didn't really think anyone would read it other than me, so I didn't give the overall package all THAT much thought.

But the fact that so many people are coming, seeming interested, and giving feedback I take as a really pleasant surprise.

SO THANKS! Keep coming back, and keep calling me on mistakes.

Nationals Fan said...

Come back tomorrow to get the scoop on the mismanagement of the Zimmerman situation.