FIRE JOE MORGAN: One Season, Jose Mota Had An OPS+ of -100


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Tuesday, June 10, 2008


One Season, Jose Mota Had An OPS+ of -100

He only had 2 at bats, and they have no bearing on his merits as a sports columnist, but still: -100!

Guess what: the man with a career 35 OPS+ in 38 major league at bats has some opinions on baseball. Namely --

Aggressive offense is good baseball

Now, if you were a man who had a career .211 slugging percentage, then yes, I would assume you would have tirelessly learned all of the "fundamentals" and "little things" and "aggressive baseball actions" and "scrappitabulous bunty sacrifice hit-em-ups," because frankly, that's the only way you're going to ingratiate yourself to the manager enough to get any playing time whatsoever.

But that doesn't mean you're right when you throw out unsupported claims in an Internet column some 13 years later. That is why I'm calling you on this, Jose Mota, even though you seem like a nice man when you're on my TV.

National League-style baseball: “Wow. So exciting.”

Subjective opinion -- I got no complaints with this.

Several A.L. teams have adopted the so-called N.L. approach. The Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays are at the top of the list.

The Rays lead the AL in steals and the Angels are third. So far, so accurate. (The Boston Red Sox are 2nd! In the AL! In steals! (Insert shocked-face emoticon))

“It’s just downright a more alert way of playing the game from the offensive side: Execution to the max,” Rays manager Joe Maddon told me, and I couldn’t agree more.

Do you think Rays manager Joe Maddon put up an inspirational poster of like Yosemite's Half Dome in the clubhouse with the inspirational phrase "EXECUTION TO THE MAX" written in an inspirational font?

I do.

It’s no coincidence that the Rays have been near the top of the A.L. East all season. Look at how they play, moving runners along, flying around the bases aggressively and focusing on fundamentally sound defense.

This is where I deplane from Mota Airlines Flight -100. The defense -- sure. Good on you for mentioning that. The offense? Well, last year the Rays had a .407 winning percentage (terrible) and they finished 8th in the AL in runs scored (not great). This year, they've got a .587 winning percentage (very good) and they are...8th in the AL in runs scored (the very same as last year, if you've been paying attention and read the first half of this sentence).

** EDIT **

I wrote this yesterday -- then, to sabotage me, the Rays scored 13 runs against the Angels (a smallball conspiracy??). They now rank 4th in runs scored, with the 4th through 7th place teams scoring between 293 and 296 runs. Guess what, though -- the Rays hit four giant, evil, AL-style home runs, including three in the first inning.

** END EDIT **

The difference? The same culprit that always seems to rear its head whenever someone starts praising a team's offensive aggressiveness to the high heavens (see: 2005 Chicago White Sox). Pitching. With a 3.82 team ERA, the Rays are currently the fourth-best pitching team in the AL, as compared to last year, when they had a 5.53 team ERA, dadgum dead-last in the league.

And yes, part of that is improved defense, but exactly zero percent of it is about "flying around the bases aggressively."

Traditional National League style means a manager not sitting with arms crossed and waiting on the homer to win ballgames.

It means a manager wildly flailing his arms around and loudly shouting at his team to "STOP FUCKING HOMERING ALL THE GODDAMN TIME," and then having Adam Dunn attempt to bunt repeatedly.

It’s a strategy that means constantly having players, no matter their speed, looking to take the extra base,

A strategy that involves Bengie Molina stealing home, "percentages" and "probabilities" and "sanity" be damned --

figuring out a pitcher’s delivery to steal a base, charging from first to third on singles, and bunting for base hits to pull infielders out of their comfort zone.

Bunt, Pujols, bunt!

I also know that it is a thrilling way of playing the game,

We got that. You think it's aesthetically preferable to majestic home run balls piercing the blackness of the night sky. Do you have any evidence that it's actually effective? You know, baseball-wise?

of gaining a mental edge by forcing defenders to think more and make plays. Defending against a team that goes station-to-station is much easier. As a former middle infielder, trust me, it is not an easy task to defend against a team that puts runners in motion and keeps them that way.

Okay, well done. That's at least an argument. But to be fair:

Aggressive, motion-heavy, NL-style teams:

Tampa Bay: 1st in steals, 4th in runs scored
L.A.A.A.A.: 3rd in steals, 10th in runs scored

Passive, station-to-station, home run-hitting AL-style teams:

Chi. Sox: 1st in home runs, 3rd in runs scored
Texas: 2nd in home runs, 1st in runs scored

So -- results at best inconclusive?

Aggressiveness is not a style, but the right way to play the game, and it is the right way to teach the game.

Oh. It's black and white. Home runs are wrong. Walking is wrong. Clogging the basepaths is wrong. We should accept this wisdom because...why again?

We can go back to our Little League days when our best coaches encouraged us to be aggressive and to have fun on the basepaths, to move a buddy over with a bunt so he can get closer to scoring that big run, to be unafraid of taking a chance on a wild pitch, to choke up on the bat with two strikes and make contact. Most of us can remember the coach who said, “I won’t be upset if you get thrown out as long as you are being aggressive and smart.”

It's funny, because so many of these well-worn baseball ostensible truisms are diametrically opposed to say, Bill James' 10 Commandments of Sabermetrics, which include:

1) Thou Shalt not Bunt.

2) Thou Shalt Have no Low On Base Percentages Before the Cleanup Hitter.

3) Honor the three-run homer and the leadoff walk.

4) Thou shalt not steal at anything less than a 70% success rate.

5) Thou shalt make no idol of the light-hitting middle infielder.

But then again, I have no idea if Bill James ever coached Little League, and he certainly never accumulated 36 at bats for the 1991 San Diego Padres, so you can probably throw his opinions out the window. That's all they are, right? Opinions, from some nerd who's only pored over reams and reams of data and carefully used statistical analysis to determine what baseball plays actually contribute most to scoring baseball runs.

Who needs that kind of opinion?

What changes in the professional game? Personnel, and organizational philosophies. Personnel is a key element, obviously, since a manager must play the cards he is dealt. A manager loaded with a bunch of sluggers cannot afford to employ a fast-paced offense; just like a manager loaded with a bunch of speedsters can’t be asking them to go hit home runs.

Yes. Yes. This is so right. Why is the rest of your article so dogmatic? This part makes so much sense.

I played with seven organizations during my 12-year career, including big league stints with the Padres and Royals, and I can tell you that every one of them emphasized what they thought were the key components to winning. During spring training, we spent countless hours not talking about hitting three-run homers, but on how to maximize opportunities when it was our turn to hit.

Argh. Back to the craziness. Those Padres and those Royals OPS+ed 94 and 87, respectively. Maybe you should've chatted more about power hitting, yeah?

Many lessons had to do with playing the game with a high level of awareness. Every morning during spring training the routines were similar when talking about creating runs: bunt runners over, execute the hit-and-run, move the runner over from second to third with nobody out by hitting the ball to the right side. And when baserunning, recognize where the outfielders are positioned and know their arm strength. Tag the bases and slide properly. The ways to gain an edge are endless.

Other ways to gain an edge:

1. Get on base more than the other guys.
2. Make the other guys throw more pitches than your guys.
3. Don't bunt (except for the rarest of circumstances).
4. Don't give away outs.
5. Have more powerful dudes.
6. Force Edwin Encarnacion to bunt, making him so angry he hits a gargantuan home run.
7. Repeat with Adam Dunn.
8. Hit nine 3-run home runs every game.
9. Fold your arms in the dugout and smile.

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posted by Junior  # 1:52 PM
From a man who claims to be named "Cork":

The Rays rank last in ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL in sac bunts with 9, tied with the White Sox. The Angels have the next fewest, 11.
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