In our first discussion about a potential Paul DePodesta/J.P. Ricciardi reunion in Flushing, the conversation predictably veered toward "Yay DePodesta!", "Boo Ricciardi!", and of course, "Hooray Beer!" Ricciardi's poor reputation and d3p0's devotion are no surprise. As much as DePodesta seems earnest and fan-friendly, Ricciardi comes across as arrogant and self-serving.
Nobody likes a loser; nobody tolerates a loud loser. Ricciardi lead the Blue Jays to no postseason berths, made excuses, called Keith Law an idiot, and said Adam Dunn hated baseball. The last two offenses left him in especially poor standing with true SABR-fans, whose perfect Saturday night generally involves a riveting Keith Law ESPN chat, an Adam Dunn walk, 20 unnecessary fangraphs updates, and a nice long bath.
Yet, I empathized with the guy. In particular, I loved the 2008 Blue Jays, a team Jay Jaffe called, "the strongest fourth-place team in Wild Card-era history." Though Ricciardi's constant whining about the Yankees and Red Sox was at best grating in light of the Rays' success, the 2008 Blue Jays seemed unfairly obscured by their division.
Before the A's and Rays made it trendy, Ricciardi built teams with an extreme emphasis on pitching and defense. That 2008 season, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett combined for an incredible 467 innings, while pitching at career-high levels. Those two, along with unheralded youngsters Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum, and Dustin McGowan created a formidable staff that lead the American League in Innings Pitched, ERA, FIP, and GB%.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had swapped Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen at third base, completing a defense-first infield that included SS Marco Scutaro, 2B Aaron Hill, 1B Lyle Overbay, and utility-man John McDonald. Not even the gradual unraveling of Vernon Wells' career in center field could undermine an outfield defense made great by Alex Rios' incredible range. They easily lead the American League in Dewan's +/- , doubling the total of the next best AL team (Oakland).
In Moneyball, Ricciardi left the Athletics after promising Blue Jays' president Paul Godfrey, "These people are all replaceable by people you've never heard of." He nearly proved himself right. Perhaps even more so than the more successful 2008 Rays, Ricciard's Jays typified a new "Moneyball" that glorified players antithetical to those in Moneyball.
Former A's analyst Eric Walker talked about this shift in an interview with Adam Rubin about Sandy Alderson:
"Moneyball" as the A's practice it now seems to be focused on getting good defensive players -- speedy little guys, really almost a small-ball philosophy in some ways. It certainly isn't the kind of analysis that we were doing when I was there because you can look and see that basically they have a lot of low on-base percentage guys. And it doesn't look to me like they've been all that successful with it. Run prevention is the phrase you hear a great deal these days. And look how well it worked for the Mariners. I mean, the Mariners hired Tom Tango, who is probably the foremost analyst of modern times, and look where it got them. Granted, they had some tough luck in ways. But, still, there's the good-old way in my opinion -- and I think that's what Sandy still believes in, although I haven't talked to him in a long time.
Burn. Or as the kids say, #6org.
For what it's worth, I hope Sandy Alderson does as predicted here and creates a team typical of his Athletics, not today's. After dealing with fielding metrics for over two year and watching their continued study from a distance, I've become, for lack of a better word, a little cynical. I still usually trust UZR over even my own observational opinion of a player's defense. I just wouldn't argue that, say, Adam Dunn=Nyjer Morgan, because one player registered a wonky +30 fielding runs in a single season.
On Base Percentage isn't a market inefficiency anymore, though. Asked at his introductory press conference about the drop in league home runs since his days with the A's, Alderson replied simply, "Just because there's less gold, doesn't make it less valuable." It was a clever response, but skirted the real issue: whether cheaper silver gets the job done just as well.
Sandy Alderson's front office will be challenged by how far they can push classic ideas in a modern setting. Comments like "The infield size doesn't change," talking about Citi's dimensions, suggest a certain pragmatism from Alderson. He alluded to his days in San Diego, where they tucked power away in the Padre's infield, allowing for fielding-first outfielders to cover PETCO's expanses. At least initially, Alderson will need to find a similar balance, seeking an admittedly valuable commodity in a scarce market with few resources.
Ricciardi, though, is more immersed in this new market, familiar with its intricacies. A Special Assistant to the General Manager basically waits for the GM to get an idea and then gives feedback. When Alderson presents an idea to Ricciardi, it will be evaluated with the tendencies of today's GMs and today's trends in mind. And maybe before Alderson completes his vision for the Mets, some slick fielders Ricciardi knows can fill in admirably.