Monday, May 7, 2007

Guest Shyster: Mark Noel Rants on About Kearns, Lenin, and Andy Griffith

A bunch of people took me to task last week for the piece on the Kearns trade. Mostly fair task-taking in that I made a lot of sloppy mistakes, the sort of which are inevitable when one tries to blog clandestinely while pretending to do real work. But you'll have that, I suppose.

Most of the vitriol, predictably, came from Reds fans who claimed that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. That's probably true too, but so much of it seemed to come from that special slice of fandom who will simply not tolerate someone writing anything kind about their team's management. These folks long-ago decided that Krivsky was the anti-Christ, and far be it from some dumb blogger to tell them otherwise. They too are entitled to their opinion, so I took it all with the grain of salt I hope they intended and went on to other things.

My friend Mark Noel, however -- the man who inspired me to write about the trade in the first place -- is not willing to go so gentle into that goodnight, and so he wrote down a few hundred measured but intense words on the subject. I don't want to detract from the grandeur of his post by crudely excerpting it, so I'm going to post his whole rant below. Enjoy.

If anyone wants to tell Mark he's full of it, go register your objections to him directly at the RedsZone forums (go here -- registration required to get into this thread), where he is taking on all comers. I'll also freely pass on to Mark anything you have to say to him. Note: Mark is a real person, not some blogger's construct designed to distance myself from the argument. I'm not a Reds fan, and I'm done with the Kearns trade. Mark is just getting started.

A word of warning, however: like me, Mark is himself a shyster. Unlike me, however, Mark is not so burned out on the litigation business that he's above suing you until Hell won't have it if you piss him off, so watch your step. Also, contrary to what Mark says, I'm almost certain that he does believe that the cancellation of the Andy Griffith Show caused the assassinations and social unrest of 1968, and is merely pretending that he doesn't for rhetorical purposes. Doesn't change the point, but I thought that you should know what you're dealing with.

-- Shyster


"A lie told often enough becomes the truth" - V.I. Lenin

As the Reds fan who inspired Shyster's latest column, "Reassessing The Kearns Trade," I feel a good deal of responsibility for some of the critical remarks Shyster has taken on and The article has generated over 100 posts at Generally speaking, those who still disagree with the trade will admit that the Reds have since improved with Hamilton and Gonzalez but raise two arguments on why the trade was nevertheless a mistake: (1) the Reds should have gotten more value for those players; and (2) the trade failed to achieve its stated purpose, which was to make the team better in 2006.

As to the first argument, it can only be debated with conjecture. The Reds gave up an average hitting NL right fielder with good defensive skills. They gave up an error-prone shortstop with a decent bat. It is clear that both players, arbitration eligible with free agency on the horizon, were getting expensive relative to their production. It is also clear that Wayne Krivsky wanted to go in a different long-term direction. Who knows what type of return Krivsky was offered for these players. My sense is that it was much less than Reds fans expect. Teams can go out and get players with similar production for perhaps a bit more money in free agency and not have to give up any players in return, even if those players are unproven prospects or major league rookies. It's very similar to my mentality when I am trading in a car, holding a garage sale, or selling my junk on eBay - I am consistently disappointed in the selling price. Human beings tend to over-value their own property relative to what is offered on the free and open market. I think that goes for fans of sports teams as well.

While the first argument may be worthy of debate, the second argument is where I was most concerned. I read posts pointing out that the Reds were 45-44 before the trade and 35-38 after it. As one poster on put it: "Pre-trade: A winning ballclub. Post-trade: A losing ballclub. That makes a trade whose stated purpose was to push the team into the playoffs, a failure." Another poster pointed out how the Reds team batting average and runs per game dropped after the trade.

I began to worry. Had I been wrong? Had I let Shyster down? Had the loss of Kearns' and Lopez's bats really caused my Reds to miss out on that playoff spot for which they fell 3.5 games short. I decided to investigate by checking the stats. My conclusion is that many Reds fans have fallen for (or purposefully refused to see through) the fallacy that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. The Andy Griffith Show went off the air on April 1, 1968. Within the next couple months, great Americans Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. I suppose one could argue that without the Andy Griffith Show, Americans lost their sense of civility and family values and that was the cause of these senseless tragedies. However, my gut tells me that there were other causal factors in play and the Andy Griffith Show-1968 assassinations was merely a spurious correlation.

Like the above example, after looking at the statistics, I became convinced that while there was a drop in run production and wins during the post-trade 2006 Reds season, that decline had very little to do with the absence of Kearns and Lopez. Rather, it is almost exclusively attributable to the horrendous September slumps of the other six starters in the Reds lineup.

Trade bashers ignore that the Reds improved their record from 45-44 at the trade on July 14th to 67-61 by August 24th. In so doing, they gained five games on their pre-trade record and were in a virtual first place deadlock with the Cardinals (who were 66-60 on August 24th). After August 24th, the wheels fell off. The Reds went 13-21 and finished 3.5 games behind the Cardinals for the NL Central title. The reasons for this decline can almost exclusively be explained by the September batting averages of the Reds' other six position players:

Adam Dunn: .157
Ken Griffy, Jr.: .071
Edwin Encarnacion: .214
Brandon Phillips: .149
Scott Hatteburg: .206
David Ross: .185

Given that team-wide futility, Alex Rodriquez and Alphonso Soriano could not have made the Reds winners in September, 2006, much less Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. Royce Clayton was bench for most of September (going .206 in only 34 at bats). Meanwhile, Rich Aurillia, who ended up replacing Clayton at short for most of the games in September, hit a tidy .344 in September with 90 at bats. Austin Kearns was replaced by a platoon of Ryan Freel and Chris Denorfia. While Freel struggled along with the rest of the team (a .206 September batting average with 53 at bats), Chris Denorfia hit .352 in September in 54 at bats. The Reds got equal or better offensive production during their decline in September 2006 from the Kearns and Lopez replacements. The problem was everyone else.

I wasn't the biggest trade supporter at the time. But I've come to realize that it probably resulted in a net benefit for the Reds organization and did not cost the Reds a 2006 run at glory. I think that some were so vehemently against the trade that, in an attempt to prove they were right, they have endorsed bogus arguments such as the trade cost the 2006 Reds a playoff spot. That sentiment has been echoed so many times that even though clearly wrong, it has been generally accepted as the truth.

I don't think every move Wayne Krivsky has made has been correct. I'm still scratching my head at the Rheal Cormier acquisition. I am frustrated that the Reds have not gone out and gotten a legitimate closer. However, from the top down, the Reds organization was one of the poorest run MLB systems in the 21st Century prior to Krivsky's arrival. If one looks realistically at the Reds roster prior to spring training 2006 (when Krivsky took over), I don't see how one can contend that the Reds have not improved in starting pitching, defense, and offense. Arroyo is pitching brilliantly, Lohse has started the season well, Gonzalez is an upgrade at short, Phillips is an upgrade at second, and Hamilton has been an upgrade from the beloved Austin Kearns. The bullpen is a disaster, but Rome was not built in a day. I'm excited about the long term signings of Arroyo and Harang, the prospect of Homer Bailey being in the rotation, and the nucleus of young players in who could shine in the next 3-4 seasons (Hamilton, Phillips, Encarnacion, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce). Reds fans should give Wayne Krivsky a little patience in turning around the train wreck he inherited.

In the meantime, debate whether Krivsky got enough in return for Lopez and Kearns. However, don't fall victim to the notions that the Reds have downgraded at those positions long-term or that the trade cost the Reds a playoff spot in 2006. The numbers say otherwise and, unlike popular perception, the numbers don't lie.

-- Mark Noel