Jeff Luhnow Newsbeat
Friday, August 29, 2014
A great way to clarify your organizational chain of command: Give Nolan Ryan some vague “executive” job. History proves it!
General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter are at odds, according to multiple major-league sources.
Porter expressed his frustration with Luhnow to owner Jim Crane in a conversation earlier this month, sources said…
Porter’s frustration stems from a lack of input and from his belief that Luhnow engages in excessive second-guessing of his in-game management, sources said… Those critical of Luhnow say that he keeps a small circle, communicating mostly with director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal and others while rarely consulting the team’s on-field staff, executive advisor Nolan Ryan and special assistant to the GM Craig Biggio…
Crane could attempt to broker a peace between Luhnow and Porter, and Ryan’s son—Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan—also could play a role in such discussions, sources said…
An unannounced visit by [2013 #1 overall pick Mark] Appel to Houston prior to his promotion contributed to the friction between Luhnow and Porter, sources said; Luhnow initially did not make Porter aware that Appel would throw a bullpen session for pitching coach Brent Strom. Porter then had to explain the situation to his players, a number of whom were seething, believing that Appel did not warrant his promotion and was receiving special treatment… Rival executives say it is not unusual for a team to summon a prospect for a session with a major-league coach. Porter, though, grew upset because Luhnow did not inform him in advance that Appel would work with Strom.
The disagreement over Appel was just one flashpoint between Porter and Luhnow, sources said. The question now is whether their relationship can be salvaged – and whether Crane will want to replace one or both.
Crane might resist any change, not wanting to admit that he made a mistake with either hiring. But it’s difficult to imagine the Astros starting the 2015 season with the same management team.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
We were selling jeans here!
when [current Astros GM] Jeff Luhnow showed up for his first day of work as the St. Louis Cardinals’ vice president for baseball development, he already had two strikes against him: He was a former management consultant at McKinsey, brought in to shake up the organization. And the sum total of his baseball experience was the McKinsey fantasy league and a business school paper he’d written on how the Chicago Cubs could win the World Series…
Luhnow’s appreciation of the predictive power of data grew out of his experience selling designer jeans. In the early 2000s, with a former president of Levi Strauss, he co-founded an online custom apparel company that made jeans for Lands’ End (LE) shoppers… if wishful thinking led customers to order jeans that didn’t fit, they would send them back. Over time the company amassed enough data to anticipate and correct for these tendencies…
Astros’ analysts noticed that [Collin] McHugh had a world-class curveball. Most curves spin at about 1,500 times per minute; McHugh’s spins 2,000 times… Houston snapped him up… After consulting with the analytics staff, pitching coach Brent Strom altered McHugh’s repertoire. Gone was the sinker… here again, advanced data yielded a useful insight: Major league hitters had become so adept at hitting low pitches that they were vulnerable to high ones. [Billy] Beane had discovered a particularly clever countermove. “Beane stayed ahead of the curve,” says Strom, “by finding hitters with a steep upward swing path to counter the sinking action of pitchers trying to induce ground balls.” It worked: The A’s hit the fewest ground balls and into the fewest double plays in the league. So the Astros began teaching their pitchers how to adapt… McHugh won a spot in the Astros’ starting rotation and has gone on to lead the team in strikeouts and deliver a sterling 3.03 ERA…
The attacks on Luhnow and the Astros highlight a big difference between his old job and his new one: Turnarounds at McKinsey didn’t play out on as public a stage as baseball’s… Nevertheless, Luhnow insists the Astros’ project remains on track. “I learned at McKinsey how to have a thick skin,” he says, “and that’s carried over into baseball.”
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