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Monday, March 24, 2008

Richard Dansky: Five for Writing: Keith Law

As Grover Lowdermilk Cleveland once quiped…“No man has ever yet been hanged for breaking the spirit of a Law.”

5-What are you going to do to the next person who asks you in a chat why the Jays didn’t draft Troy Tulowitzki while you were there? {Ed. - The Blue Jays famously picked pitcher Ricky Romero over their expected - and Keith-Law-recommended - choice, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the 2005 amateur baseball draft. Last year, Tulowitzki helped lead the Colorado Rockies to the World Series; Romero struggled in the minor leagues.)

Oh, that never gets old. It’s a textbook example of a managerial failure. The consensus of the people who were hired to evaluate players was to take Tulowitzki over Romero. (It wasn’t unanimous, but it was the majority opinion.) The GM substituted his own evaluations, based on one observation for each player and a flawed one at that for Tulowitzki, who was just coming off of a wrist injury. Several of us made the case for Tulowitzki over Romero, myself included, but Ricciardi is not one to change his mind, and I always thought he rather enjoyed digging in his heels when anyone questioned a decision. There had to be a million dollars in salaries sitting in that draft room, and the GM overruled them. If you’re going to hire talented people and pay them all that money, let them do their jobs. The fact that the decision has backfired so spectacularly just justifies that point - if the Jays had Tulowitzki at short, they’d probably be one of the top four teams in the AL.

It would probably be tacky of me to thank J.P. Ricciardi on behalf of my long-running N.L.-only fantasy baseball team, which is now built largerly around Troy Tulowitzki. That being said, it is entirely appropriate to thank Keith Law for taking the time to answer these questions.

Repoz Posted: March 24, 2008 at 02:38 AM | 45 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: blue jays, hall of fame, scouting

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   1. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 24, 2008 at 03:47 AM (#2718176)
I'm a fan of Keith's writing and I think his analysis is more often than not correct. But I find the blow-by-blow accounts of what happened up there in Toronto a bit offputting - if I were Riccardi, I'd be stupendously unhappy to see this information out there in the press.
   2. Robert S. Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:05 AM (#2718181)
I was surprised by that, too. Was Law's departure from Toronto acrimonious?
   3. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:13 AM (#2718183)
if I were Riccardi, I'd be stupendously unhappy to see this information out there in the press.
If I were a Jays fan, I'd be thrilled to see this information out there in the press - yet stupendously unhappy Riccardi still has a job.
   4. Xander Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:22 AM (#2718187)
I was surprised by that, too. Was Law's departure from Toronto acrimonious?
That's the story. Law drops a not-so-subtle hint every now and then in his chats.
   5. Justin T., Director of Somethin Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:24 AM (#2718188)
Ricciardi might find it offputting, but I don't see why I should. It's unusual and I took notice of it, but I'm glad to have this kind of info available.

Hopefully Keith is already of the mind that he does not want to work in MLB again.
   6. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:24 AM (#2718190)
I was surprised by that, too. Was Law's departure from Toronto acrimonious?

I don't know the whole story, but I've seen Law write about this kind of thing before, though not in this sort of detail.

And to be clear, I take no position, either pro- or anti-Ricciardi. I would just speculate that from an employment perspective, I'd be really unhappy that someone who was in the "war room" helping to make decisions calls me out like this in public.

And further, if I were Keith's boss now, I'd be a bit nervous about what happens when our relationship ends.
   7. 1k5v3L Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:25 AM (#2718191)
I was surprised by that, too. Was Law's departure from Toronto acrimonious?
I'm gonna take a wild guess here and lean toward "yes".
   8. 1k5v3L Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:26 AM (#2718194)
Btw, as a fan of the Dbacks, I'm going to side with KLaw et al. on the Tulowitzki vs. Romero debate and declare that JP Ricciardi is a blithering fool.
   9. Robert S. Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:31 AM (#2718198)
No link to an official adventure-filled story of heartbreak and betrayal and robots, then? Oh, well. :(
   10. ...and Toronto selects: Troy Tulowitzki Posted: March 24, 2008 at 05:05 AM (#2718207)
I didn't realize when I switched up my monicker two months ago, it was going to cause this much blood spilling.
   11. Arva Posted: March 24, 2008 at 12:40 PM (#2718266)
I think it likely that, with MLB being nothing more than a good ol' boys network, that when Law had his acrimonious depature, JP slandered him behind the scenes. That would be agood explanation for why Law has been so open about JP's flaws, he has nothing to lose. No inside information here, just experience with a good ol' boys network. Challenge one of them, and they don't take it very well.
   12. Toolsy McClutch Posted: March 24, 2008 at 03:02 PM (#2718382)
I think it's pretty sad that #11 actually came up with that and is presenting it as a "plausible" explanation. Hopefully, and I think KL is a decent guy (who is nice to puppies and old ladies), he's decided to be as upfront and transparent as he feels he can be. He pushed for Troy, JP and others disagreed, and in the end, the person who is in charge made the final call. So far, he has been wrong, but I think it's clearly defensible.

Though I am a JP apologist.
   13. base ball chick Posted: March 24, 2008 at 03:47 PM (#2718434)
me i look at it like this

keith law is not young and he is not stupid and he wasn't asked that question with a mike in a live interview so he said something before his brain had a chance to catch up with his testicles.

therefore

IF his departure from the jays hadn't been, um, extremely unpleasant and ML bridges completely and permanently destroyed by himself/JP or both, i SERIOUSLY doubt he would have written that paragraph. in fact i won't believe JP didn't bite keith in the ass on his way out the door unless keith himself says that the departured was good natured, pleasant without, um, hard feelings on either side.

to this day, gerry hunsicker and tim purpura, BOTH of them have got very good reasons to say negative things about the astros owner/management, have refused to comment at ALL. you see, both of them had, um, unpleasant departures from the stros, BUT drayton mclane didn't make sure neither of them would ever work in MLB again. so there is no (well deserved) rebuttal from either guy about the astros

which is why i think that jp REALLY did a number on keith and that is why keith didn't hesitate writing that very, um, exposing paragraph about the romero over tulo decision.
   14. Bourbon Samurai Posted: March 24, 2008 at 03:51 PM (#2718436)
They're just outnumbered by people who still think RBI are the measure of a hitter and W-L record is the measure of a pitcher. Those ideas are analogous to the idea that each human sperm contains a homonculus.


That's an interesting quote.
   15. Padraic Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:11 PM (#2718459)
If you’re going to hire talented people and pay them all that money, let them do their jobs.


I don't understand this. Their "job" is to offer advice on whom to draft, and it's Riccardi's job to make the final decision. How in any way did Riccardi not let them do their jobs?
   16. Keith Law Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:19 PM (#2718469)
it's Riccardi's job to make the final decision.


In most, if not all, other organizations, it's the scouting director's job to make the final decision.
   17. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:23 PM (#2718474)
I'm a fan of Keith's writing and I think his analysis is more often than not correct. But I find the blow-by-blow accounts of what happened up there in Toronto a bit offputting - if I were Riccardi, I'd be stupendously unhappy to see this information out there in the press.


So what? As long as Keith doesn't plan on working in MLB anymore, and it appears as if he can make a good career in media, I want to hear more stories about the innerworkings of a baseball management team. I wish there were more stories like this leaked. I'd like to know what actually happened in making personnel decisions.
   18. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:25 PM (#2718476)
So what? As long as Keith doesn't plan on working in MLB anymore, and it appears as if he can make a good career in media, I want to hear more stories about the innerworkings of a baseball management team. I wish there were more stories like this leaked. I'd like to know what actually happened in making personnel decisions.

Me, too and three. Inside stories are good stuff.
   19. base ball chick Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:27 PM (#2718478)
keith

unless you work for the astros. then it's the owner who makes the final decision. (unless he's FINALLY come to his senses)

- grinning

and i notice you made no comment on my comment...

- and really, it SHOULD be the decision of the scouting director. heck, it's what you are paying him for.
   20. JJ1986 Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:31 PM (#2718483)
I think the whole jumping on the Blue Jays for not picking Tulowitzki thing is one of the odder bits of modern baseball analysis. Tulowitzki looks to have been a great draft pick, Romero looks to be a failure. That happens a lot. Most first round draft picks even don't become great players. On draft day, it wasn't a certainty which way things would turn out. Maybe the odds favored Tulo a little, but this wasn't a terrible draft pick. Romero was a consensus top ten player. It's not like he drafted Matt Bush or Daniel Moskos.
   21. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:38 PM (#2718492)
- and really, it SHOULD be the decision of the scouting director. heck, it's what you are paying him for.

I don't think this has to be true. However, if the gm is going to overrule his scouting department, he better have a damn good reason. I wouldn't want my gm so divorced from the process, though, that he completely delegated the first couple of picks in the draft.
   22. base ball chick Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:39 PM (#2718493)
what would REALLY be interesting to see is if keith would list EVERY draft choice of the scouting director that was overruled by JP and seeing how many JP was right and wrong about

as for tulo, well, there have been a WHOLE lot of first rounders that went nowheres and a whole lot of later rounders who were not thought much of and ended up being very good to star ballplayers.
   23. bibigon Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:41 PM (#2718495)
JJ1986, I think, per Keith's quote there, that it's the method via which Romero was chosen that was the problem. Keith gives the impression there that Ricciardi went with Romero against the consensus of his scouting people, perhaps just out of stubbornness. The specifics of Tulowitzki vs. Romero are far less interesting than how they got to Romero. If JP is really ignoring the advice of his staff, and if that was indicative of how the organization was run, then that's pretty telling.

The story isn't "The Klaw was right, and JP was wrong" - it's "Look at the methodology used by JP to reach a bad decision."
   24. Smiling Joe Hesketh Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:50 PM (#2718506)
This is awesome: Richard Dansky is a buddy of mine. Nice grab of the interview for him.
   25. Shibal Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:52 PM (#2718509)
If I remember right, didn't Riccardi throw Keith under the bus after he left? I think I recall some quote attacking him in ESPN or Sports Illustrated but not sure of the details.
   26. JJ1986 Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:53 PM (#2718510)
JJ1986, I think, per Keith's quote there, that it's the method via which Romero was chosen that was the problem. Keith gives the impression there that Ricciardi went with Romero against the consensus of his scouting people, perhaps just out of stubbornness. The specifics of Tulowitzki vs. Romero are far less interesting than how they got to Romero. If JP is really ignoring the advice of his staff, and if that was indicative of how the organization was run, then that's pretty telling.

The story isn't "The Klaw was right, and JP was wrong" - it's "Look at the methodology used by JP to reach a bad decision."


I actually do think this piece is interesting, but this is the first time I've read the specifics of what went on in the war room and I've read complaints about the choice, here and in columns and around the web, since Tulo hit it big last year. I also wonder how common an occurrence it is for a GM to make the pick based of his own ideas instead of those of the scouting department. Riccardi's job is on the line and he's in the public eye. He might rather risk himself with something he personally feels better about.
   27. Nasty Nate Posted: March 24, 2008 at 04:55 PM (#2718514)
am i the only one who's not ready to anoint Tulo a star? he has 1 good year with a coors-inflated .480 slugging and then is a black hole in the colorado lineup during the postseason. I wouldnt' kick him off my roster for eating crackers, but its a little too early to say how bad the Jays' decision was.
   28. JJ1986 Posted: March 24, 2008 at 05:01 PM (#2718519)
am i the only one who's not ready to anoint Tulo a star? he has 1 good year with a coors-inflated .480 slugging and then is a black hole in the colorado lineup during the postseason. I wouldnt' kick him off my roster for eating crackers, but its a little too early to say how bad the Jays' decision was.

There's this too. I think Tulo will probably be a very good player, but in a few years, Maybin, Bruce or Rasmus might be the real star that Toronto missed. If Riccardi simply dismissed high school position players (Possible, but he did take one in Snider in 2006) or if he ignored these guys for some other reason, that should also be a part of the story.
   29. MSI Posted: March 24, 2008 at 05:06 PM (#2718526)
I think the story goes that Snider was taken at the advice of Tony Lacava. Some GM's, such as JP, get involved on the first overall pick, and leave the rest up to the scouting director. THe Jays were hot and heavy for Tulo, and he was a conesus higher pick than Romero, who probably should have been a supplemental round pick, way back there, and he went with his own opinion and overdrafted for a lower ceiling college guy, which is a huge mistake with the SIXTH overall pick. Not picking Maybin was more a purely financial bonus issue, that many teams make mistakes on that - and that's a whole other issue.

As a Blue Jays fan, I find this information refreshing - I had always pretty much known JP was mostly responsible for the Romero pick, but this just confirms it. It's hard to admit that the GM of your favourite team is sub-par, and on the surface JP has done an average job. But when you consider his big mistakes, ie: Romero and probably the Wells contract (it's too early to call it a mistake, but it's at least a massive overpayment), then the truth starts to set in.

Also, isn't it weird that out of 3 first round lefthanders drafted in David Purcey, Zach Jackson, and Ricky Romero, now in 2008 we have a rotation with all right handers?
   30. ...and Toronto selects: Troy Tulowitzki Posted: March 24, 2008 at 05:09 PM (#2718529)
From the Toronto Sun October 23, 2007

"Two Jays scouts visited my house," Tulowitzki, the Colorado Rockies shortstop, said in the Coors Field clubhouse the other day. "On draft day it was apparent they wanted pitching."

Romero went sixth overall to the Jays and Tulowitzki went seventh to the Rockies. Romero was 3-6 with a 4.89 earned run average in 18 starts at double-A New Hampshire.

"The larger part of our group wanted Tulowitzki over Romero," said one former Jays scout. "The GM was adamant. Russ Adams could play short. We didn't need a shortstop."


Ricciardi's a strong personality, interesting guy, good for quotes, etc. But the Tulo/Romero draft incident reveals again how his hubris (especially in regard to his first #1 draft pick, Russ Adams) seems detrimental at times to him being able to build a highly competitive organization that which can rival the Red Sox and Yankees going forward.
   31. DFA Posted: March 24, 2008 at 07:28 PM (#2718728)
I really enjoy reading KLaw's stuff, but I found the quote a little unnecessary. Mistakes get made a thousand times over on draft day, though it's unfortunate for the Jays at this juncture, for sure. But lord knows I say things I shouldn't everyday. Thanks internets!
   32. BeanoCook Posted: March 24, 2008 at 07:40 PM (#2718743)
In most, if not all, other organizations, it's the scouting director's job to make the final decision.


There is nothing wrong with meddling, if you are going to get it right. Obviously meddling and getting it wrong makes a fool of everyone.
   33. Arva Posted: March 24, 2008 at 07:42 PM (#2718747)
Toolsy McClutch: How is anything I said implausible? Have you ever dealt with a good ol' boy network? Or do you not think this describes the MLB (and if you don't, Prospectus interviewed a couple of execs, and the way they described it made it sound a helluva lot like a good ol' boy network.) JP's just as much a part of it as any GM.
   34. FrankM Posted: March 24, 2008 at 07:43 PM (#2718749)
If I remember right, didn't Riccardi throw Keith under the bus after he left? I think I recall some quote attacking him in ESPN or Sports Illustrated but not sure of the details.

Law broke the story that Vernon Wells had informed the Blue Jays that he would not be re-signing with the team, at which point Ricciardi referred to Law as an idiot. Wells signed a long-term deal a few months later.
   35. villageidiom Posted: March 24, 2008 at 08:02 PM (#2718785)
Prospectus interviewed a couple of execs, and the way they described it made it sound a helluva lot like a good ol' boy network.

They made it sound like in order to get an entry-level position you need to know someone who works there. They didn't make it sound like those who speak ill of any team employee will be slandered behind the scenes. While sometimes you might find those two facets together, we shouldn't presume that they're commonly found together.

I've seen both facets, but never in the same place other than Hollywood caricatures of either high school cliques or college fraternities.
   36. Arva Posted: March 24, 2008 at 08:14 PM (#2718802)
Villageidiom: Try local politics, and not the elected positions. The elected people tend to have their buds, and they get first shot at the jobs. For this act, they play good troopers and don't break the line. Break the line (whether you're actually still working there), gets you blacklisted, even for innoccous circumstances. I've seen police officers who disagreed with the sheriff, not slandered the sheriff, but disagreed, drummed out of the force. MLB is probably not that extreme, but I think its likely that people kicked out of the front office have an extremely hard time ever getting another job in the system before their established in the network. It also appears that Keith upset people on the inside with his reporting.

Slander doesn't have to be "So and so is a dip****" it can be "So and so doesn't really fit in with the Blue Jay way, and probably won't be a good fit for you." Nothing official, no memorandums, just a simple, maybe this guy doesn't belong here. Maybe he's not cut out for the front office. Maybe (insert company) he just doesn't fit in. In a standard system, it carries some weight, but doesn't prevention from trying again. In the good ol' boy network, its a death sentence. And if JP really did not like Keith and the parting was acrimonious, it probably rose above the level of subtle suggestion. Just my experience, but far from implausible.
   37. ...and Toronto selects: Troy Tulowitzki Posted: March 24, 2008 at 08:29 PM (#2718824)
From the Tampa Bay Rays blog which interviewed Keith Law this past weekend which was posted here at Primer:

JL: If an owner of a baseball team called you up and offered you a GMing job or a senior advisor job, would you be interested in doing that again? Would it depend on the job or has the time away from being in the front offices make it harder?

KL: I don't like to rule anything out, since my last two job moves have been substantial changes for me, but I haven't pursued any front-office jobs since joining ESPN, nor do I expect to. If something comes to me, I'll explore it, and it will come down to the specific responsibilities of the role and, more importantly given my experience in Toronto, the people for whom I'd be working.
   38. PerroX Posted: March 24, 2008 at 10:41 PM (#2718896)
Keith has always been bluntly honest in offering his opinion -- in his articles, in the workplace, in personal correspondence.

He's no respecter of persons.

I respect that.
   39. Keith Law Posted: March 24, 2008 at 11:04 PM (#2718914)
If I held back my opinions or altered them because I was angling to get back into MLB, I'd be wasting everyone's time and ESPN's money, wouldn't I?

And baseballchick, I can't think of a way to answer that question without creating ten new ones. Some day, when I can't hurt anyone still working in baseball, I will reveal more.
   40. ronh Posted: March 25, 2008 at 03:37 AM (#2719073)
Keith, I appreciate the honesty.
   41. 1k5v3L Posted: March 25, 2008 at 04:46 AM (#2719096)
Apropos, nice words and funny words from Nick Piecoro's blog entry today:

*I’ve been impressed this spring with the work a couple of colleagues have been doing at ESPN.com. Keith Law and Jason Grey have been providing a pretty unique perspective in baseball journalism: first-person scouting combined with a good feel for sabermetrics.

Law, a former numbers guy for the Blue Jays, has been giving us detailed scouting reports, not just on major leaguers he has seen in big league games but also on minor leaguers and amateur players.

Grey has been focusing on what kind of effect players might have on fantasy teams, but he has been doing it from a scout’s perspective (he actually attended MLB’s scout school last fall).

Their stuff strikes me as somewhat revolutionary because for years we’ve been reading Baseball America-esque stuff that comes from anonymous scout’s opinions, not the opinions of the reporters themselves. (Though it should be mentioned that two BA reporters, Chris Kline and Alan Matthews, left the publication recently to become scouts, so obviously those guys know what they’re doing over there.)

I really value scout’s opinions -- they are the game’s insiders and what they think gives you an idea of what the industry in general thinks -- but Law and Grey have given us informed, unfiltered first-hand accounts. Their stuff is worth checking out.

*Side note: Law’s blog always reminds me of Arrested Development. They had a character on that show who was a lawyer named Bob Loblaw – say it fast – and he had a blog that he called the Bob Loblaw Law Blog. Ah, what a great show that was. Moment of silence for AD. ….. Thank you.
   42. BeanoCook Posted: March 25, 2008 at 06:09 AM (#2719108)
Law, a former numbers guy for the Blue Jays, has been giving us detailed scouting reports, not just on major leaguers he has seen in big league games but also on minor leaguers and amateur players.


I always got the impression that Keith carried himself as a baseball person that could scout that was also familiar with, and able to interpret the numbers.

I can imagine by looks he gives the numbers/bookish vibe (some may prefer suave dork--which I can bet rubbed people the wrong way in baseball), but I have to say I have never heard or read Keith talk/write about numbers like real numbers dorks do. To me he sounds like a scout first.
   43. Keith Law Posted: March 25, 2008 at 06:47 AM (#2719111)
I started with Toronto as the numbers guy, and I never gave up that responsibility, so it's a fair characterization. My job with ESPN is to analyze the game from a scouting perspective, so I try not to write from a "numbers dorks" perspective.
   44. Tuque Posted: March 25, 2008 at 08:58 AM (#2719117)
hey Keith lookit me lookit me!!! respond to my comment!!! acknowledge my presence!!!
   45. Toolsy McClutch Posted: March 26, 2008 at 07:19 PM (#2721012)
Late coming back to this thread, but I don't think it's any secret KL and JP aren't the best of friends. I think it's refreshing for Keith to show some of the back room stuff, and as he points out, it is his job. I still don't want to believe it's because JP has basically barred him from working for another MLB team. I also don' want to believe that KL is giving this information to take a kick at JP.

That said, I don't think KL will ever be able to write about that era of the Jays without people expecint cloak and dagger stuff.

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