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Friday, August 29, 2014

Robothal: Tension growing between Astros’ manager, GM

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.

The District Attorney Posted: August 29, 2014 at 01:20 PM | 43 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: astros, bo porter, jeff luhnow, mark appel

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   1. McCoy Posted: August 29, 2014 at 01:34 PM (#4781807)
Unless you're tony larussa upper management usually wins these things. Bvtching about your superiors to the ones that brought them in is generally not the best of ideas. To them make it public it's just about the dumbest thing to do if your goal is to keep your job.
   2. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: August 29, 2014 at 01:49 PM (#4781828)
Porter is a dumb ####. Fire him and move on.
   3. JRVJ Posted: August 29, 2014 at 01:57 PM (#4781836)
I seem to recall some complaining from Art Howe way back when with the A's about the front office about 15 years ago (+/-).

In this case, if Porter doesn't understand that at this point in the picture, he's an absolutely dispensable part, he's lost.
   4. madvillain Posted: August 29, 2014 at 02:16 PM (#4781855)
In this case, if Porter doesn't understand that at this point in the picture, he's an absolutely dispensable part, he's lost.


Oh I'm sure he realizes it. He's probably got half a foot out the door anyways. It's not the best idea in such a small industry to badmouth your bosses but for all we know he's opinions on the Astros' upper management are shared by others in Baseball.
   5. ReggieThomasLives Posted: August 29, 2014 at 02:17 PM (#4781856)
The first three posts got it, but let me also point out how dumb Porter is to coddle his lousy team's whining, instead of pointing out how lousy they are and how they should be worrying about their own performance than what some minor leaguer is doing.
   6. Charles S. will not yield to this monkey court Posted: August 29, 2014 at 02:26 PM (#4781870)
If only there were someone in the Astros front office from Iowa who might be able to help smooth things over with the former Hawkeye, Porter.
   7. Astroenteritis Posted: August 29, 2014 at 02:32 PM (#4781874)
I generally like Porter, but I agree with #5. Porter should have told the players complaining about Appel's session to give it a rest. There have been a few too many players in the organization complaining about promotions and the like, and they all need to shut up and play better baseball. Cosart complained about how long it took to call him up at various stages, Hader complained when Appel was promoted to AA before him, and so on. I wonder if Porter feels like he's in the middle of what has been described as players in the organization being unhappy with management's approach and methods.
   8. Bitter Mouse Posted: August 29, 2014 at 02:39 PM (#4781886)
I don't know that it is directly to blame, but I admit this sort of thing from an organization purposefully tanking doesn't really surprise me. To my mind once you tank the present, stop trying to really compete, that poisons the organization in multiple ways that are not accounted for in the logic behind "Just tear it down and collect resources for the future."

I don't know how to quantify it but I think that sort of organization direction can easily wreck the chemistry of the organization and cause real and long lasting damage.
   9. cardsfanboy Posted: August 29, 2014 at 05:52 PM (#4782015)
The thing about the Appel move, points to a flaw that many of the "analytic" gms make, and that is not a realization that the people/the rubble/players are humans and will react to something no matter how innocent it might appear to the person not remotely on the ground level. It should be apparent to every CEO or GM or Upper management, that before they do anything that is going to potentially bother the employees, that they should go through the management that deals with them everyday.
   10. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 29, 2014 at 05:57 PM (#4782018)
I believe in the Astros management, but they've had a rough couple months off-the-field.
   11. JJ1986 Posted: August 29, 2014 at 06:06 PM (#4782020)
It seems like leaking front office discord has followed Nolan Ryan from the Rangers to Houston.
   12. Hans Van Slooten Posted: August 29, 2014 at 06:09 PM (#4782021)
On the one hand, it looks like Luhnow could use a lesson in communication. It's amazing how much pain can be avoided by just letting people know what's going on (in any business).

On the other hand, Porter needs to man the hell up and control his players. The players shouldn't be worrying about how the organization is managing a top prospect with a lot invested in him, especially when most of them are playing like crap. Oh, and going to your boss's boss to complain? Astoundingly bad decision in any business. Obviously, Porter understands less about management than Luhnow.
   13. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: August 29, 2014 at 06:34 PM (#4782031)
Was Porter the one who didn't know about the 'pitcher must face at least one batter' rule?

Edit: It appears he was. I'm going to say he's expendable if he's going to be a pain in the ass.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: August 29, 2014 at 06:46 PM (#4782037)
Yeah, Luhnow seems to have a bit of MGL in him. Really, he should have informed Porter that Appel would be working with the coach, not that it's a big deal.

It's got to be weird for Porter and most of the players. The team stinks, rather on purpose. That's got to be hard for a manager who wants to win and be in a position to win. Most of the players recognize that they are only there as placeholders until some kid is ready -- in a regular business, that sort of thing is always a recipe for resentment and mouthing off and questioning the promotion of others.
   15. McCoy Posted: August 29, 2014 at 07:26 PM (#4782054)
I had a post that I wrote and thought I posted but apparently it got eaten up. It had to do with being dispensable. Most people don't view themselves as being dispensable and while it is true that almost all of us are part of the job of the management above you is to keep up the illusion that you are not dispensable. Nobody likes to think their superiors view them as dispensable. So if Porter and company are feeling frustrated enough to go to the owner and to the public that is an indicator that upper management has failed in part of their job. The failure could be that they fail to make their employees feel valued or it could mean that they failed to get rid of people who are not and will not be of the solution.
   16. AROM Posted: August 29, 2014 at 07:39 PM (#4782062)
Yeah, Luhnow seems to have a bit of MGL in him. Really, he should have informed Porter that Appel would be working with the coach, not that it's a big deal.


Funny you should say that, as JL and MGL have worked together with the Cards. I would love it, for comedy value, if he hired MGL to manage the team.
   17. Spahn Insane Posted: August 29, 2014 at 08:17 PM (#4782096)
16: That would be the greatest thing ever, in the history of everything.
   18. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: August 29, 2014 at 08:29 PM (#4782105)
Was Porter the one who didn't know about the 'pitcher must face at least one batter' rule?

Porter and the umpiring crew working the game, yes.
   19. PreservedFish Posted: August 29, 2014 at 08:35 PM (#4782109)
Funny you should say that, as JL and MGL have worked together with the Cards. I would love it, for comedy value, if he hired MGL to manage the team.

This article was linked here recently.

Luhnow recounted a meeting early in his Cardinals career when he and sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman (who was then consulting for St. Louis) tried to explain the relationship between leverage and reliever usage to Tony La Russa, who responded with a litany of objections (relievers are conditioned to pitch at predetermined times; closers know the market pays for saves) that Luhnow and Lichtman weren’t prepared to address.


   20. Spahn Insane Posted: August 29, 2014 at 08:59 PM (#4782116)
I'm shocked--shocked, I tell you-- that MGL and Luhnow weren't prepared to address those concerns (whatever one thinks about the validity of such concerns).
   21. God Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:01 PM (#4782118)
It's funny, I was totally expecting that anecdote to end in some sort of utterly inappropriate behavior on La Russa's part, something like "La Russa responded by unleashing a litany of obscenities, calling Lichtman a 'pantywaist,' drinking a bottle of wine and then passing out."
   22. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:19 PM (#4782126)
Those objections aren't really that hard to address:

1. Quit treating pitchers like children, and they'll learn to pitch at different times in the game. This was done for a hundred years and nobody's butt was hurt.

2. Good, they'll be cheaper.
   23. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:33 PM (#4782136)
Exactly right, Voxter. MGL and Luhnow should simply have said "Stop treating pitchers like children, La Russa. They deserve better than that. Also, tell them we know saves are worth money and that's why we don't want any one pitcher to have too many, because we know they are interchangeable cogs and none of them deserve a lot of money."
   24. SOLockwood Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:35 PM (#4782137)
Say, "The pitcher's 'role' is to get batters out." "The team will pay them according to how well they accomplish that task." "The manager's job is to put the pitchers in the position in which they have the best chance of success so as to help the team win."
   25. God Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:40 PM (#4782139)
Nothing personal against Voxter, but 22 is a good example of what a complete idiot would say. (Not that La Russa's questions don't have plausible answers -- they do.)
   26. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:45 PM (#4782142)
I would go with "Yes, I think that's true, but we can assign the predetermined times more wisely" and "the market's getting smarter and more and more is paying for that sweet K:BB ratio", respectively.
   27. The District Attorney Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:52 PM (#4782146)
I'm shocked--shocked, I tell you-- that MGL and Luhnow weren't prepared to address those concerns (whatever one thinks about the validity of such concerns).
I honestly would be shocked; I can't believe that's accurate. I mean, obviously they didn't come up with answers to the concerns that La Russa agreed with. But to not even anticipate that the objections would be "pitchers prefer a specific role" and "the market rewards saves"? Of course those are the objections! You don't have to have any people skills to be aware that those are the claims people make. You just have to follow baseball. I'm not buying that.

The Business Week article in #19 makes it sound like Crane is fully on the data analytics train. It's not unheard of, though, for an owner to come in thinking he'll be a maverick innovator, and then bail out and become a conformist. Once you have to actually run the team, you're in the good ol' boy environment (and Crane himself was a baseball player), you've got Nolan Ryan telling you you're doing everything wrong, you've got sports talk radio and newspapers saying the same thing to the entire city every single day, you've got 0.0 ratings on TV and about the same attendance... it's harder to do it than to say it. Bo Porter is a nobody, so I don't think he can force Luhnow out, but firing Porter won't necessarily signify that it's ride or die with Luhnow either.
   28. God Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:53 PM (#4782147)
Here are what the answers should have been:


relievers are conditioned to pitch at predetermined times


Fine, we'll pitch them at predetermined times. Those predeterminted times are: "Ace closer goes in the ninth when the score is tied, we're down by 1, or up by 1. The 'setup guy,' or the second-best reliever, will pitch in those same situations in the eighth, and will also pitch the ninth when there's a two or three-run lead. The other roles will be filled in accordingly."

You can play around with the specifics of the above, but as long as you come up with something that lets guys know when they're coming into the game and allows them to prepare accordingly, things should work OK.

closers know the market pays for saves


So you institute this change at the same time you're breaking in a new closer. Do not try to teach an old dog new tricks. But if you're the Yankees with David Robertson a year ago, or the Dodgers with Kenley Jansen a few years ago, you sit the guy down and explain to him why this nontraditional usage pattern results in more wins for the team, but fewer saves for the individual. Then explain to him that he's got a choice between being a nontraditional closer on a good team, or a traditional middle reliever on a crappy team (i.e. we'll trade you). Promise him you won't use his lower saves totals against him in arbitration. It should be fairly easy to get the guy to buy in, particularly if you're dealing with a young pitcher who hasn't been a closer before and hasn't had time to become immovably set in his ways (and probably doesn't have enough clout to gripe anyway).
   29. God Posted: August 29, 2014 at 09:57 PM (#4782148)
The Business Week article in #19 made it sound like Crane was on the data analytics train. It's not unheard of, though, for an owner to come in thinking he'll be a maverick innovator, and then bail out and become a conformist.


"Paging Mr. McCourt, Paul DePodesta is on line 1..."
   30. greenback calls it soccer Posted: August 29, 2014 at 10:20 PM (#4782150)
"Paging Mr. McCourt, Paul DePodesta is on line 1..."

Yes, I was about to say that this sounds familiar:
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…


I assume at some point that enough front offices will come around (and maybe they already have), that pitchers will stop worrying about who gets the W and who gets the S. We're reaching a point where precious few pay for that kind of nonsense any more. Players should eventually recognize this.
   31. cardsfanboy Posted: August 29, 2014 at 10:30 PM (#4782157)

I assume at some point that enough front offices will come around (and maybe they already have), that pitchers will stop worrying about who gets the W and who gets the S. We're reaching a point where precious few pay for that kind of nonsense any more. Players should eventually recognize this.


If you can get old school analyst to stop demeaning the quality start, this would happen a lot quicker. A quality start is a much better indicator of the quality of the pitcher in this day and age than the win stat ever could imagine being. Saves are accepted by the mainstream even though you can get a save by pitching one inning in a three run game.(even allowing two runs) but heaven forbid if you allow more than 3 runs over 6 innings....
   32. McCoy Posted: August 29, 2014 at 11:05 PM (#4782169)
Tango a couple of weeks back referenced the anecdote and basically told it the same way. That they couldn't get through to Tony.
   33. ReggieThomasLives Posted: August 29, 2014 at 11:11 PM (#4782171)
I don't expect Luhnow to talk about what a jerk LaRussa was in the meeting. it may have been a reference to the fact they were surprised how vehement Tony was and that he wished he tried a less direct/honest approach.
   34. greenback calls it soccer Posted: August 29, 2014 at 11:18 PM (#4782173)
I always get Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis confused, but one of them has a famous quote about the difficulty of getting somebody to understand something when his salary depends on that misunderstanding.

I've come around to the idea that part of middle management's job is shielding upper management from whining. It doesn't really affect the bottom line, but upper management wants to believe their PowerPomt slides stating how great their organization is.
   35. billyshears Posted: August 29, 2014 at 11:35 PM (#4782177)
#8 makes a great point. If you treat the major league team as irrelevant, eventually the major league team is going to get pissed off about that, and they have a pretty big platform to ##### and moan and create problems. But the Appel thing is ####### ridiculous. Any toddler should have been able to understand why the team might want a struggling #1 overall draft pick to get the best instruction the organization has to offer. Also, the pitching coach belongs to the organization - not the manager. This isn't the ####### army.
   36. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: August 29, 2014 at 11:40 PM (#4782181)
Saves are accepted by the mainstream even though you can get a save by pitching one inning in a three run game.(even allowing two runs)


Let us not forget that you can also get a save by pitching three innings in a 27 run game!
   37. PreservedFish Posted: August 30, 2014 at 12:05 AM (#4782190)
I'm shocked--shocked, I tell you-- that MGL and Luhnow weren't prepared to address those concerns (whatever one thinks about the validity of such concerns).


MGL, I mean, yeah.

Luhnow, however, actually did this for a living - he would get his totally unexperienced self all up in some dude's business for a month and then tell him (via Powerpoint) what he was doing wrong and how much money he could save by following these simple new steps. At least I think that's what management consultants do.
   38. Norcan Posted: August 30, 2014 at 01:01 AM (#4782211)
Porter really got on my nerves last season when he started buying his relievers more time to warm up by going to the mound, talking long enough for the umpire to make his way to the mound and only then making a pitching change. Not only was it bad sportsmanship but it just seemed like he thought he was so clever. He didn't do it all the time and may have stopped last season after a stretch but it just kind of showed me the guy he is. And then he took it up a notch this season by going ballistic when the A's bunted in the first inning when they had a big lead. I can't imagine he's going to be the manager when all their top prospects start settling into the majors.
   39. cardsfanboy Posted: August 30, 2014 at 02:59 AM (#4782233)
Tango a couple of weeks back referenced the anecdote and basically told it the same way. That they couldn't get through to Tony.


I have more respect for Tango and Tony than MGL... the simple fact of the matter is that MGL just doesn't realize that people are not bits in a computer. TLR and most managers of personnel accept that people are...well people. and work within those confines to maximize the middle and reduce the margins.

   40. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: August 30, 2014 at 03:11 AM (#4782239)
Nothing personal against Voxter, but 22 is a good example of what a complete idiot would say. (Not that La Russa's questions don't have plausible answers -- they do.)


Well, obviously you don't be that blunt with a prima donna like La Russa. But they're the correct answers. There is absolutely no reason that pitchers, who are grown men, none of whom were "conditioned" to expect to be pitched in exactly the same situation in the same inning until they reached the major leagues, have to be babied in this manner. The fact that they are is largely La Russa's doing, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing.

If Luhnow & MGL were so short-sighted that such simplistic retorts defeated them, I guess that's an indicator that they're not smart enough to be arguing about how pitchers should be used.
   41. McCoy Posted: August 30, 2014 at 07:50 AM (#4782250)
La Russa's doing got him to 6 WS, 3 championships, and 4 manager of the year awards. Going up to a successful guy like that and telling him that according to their number crunching his trailblazing methods aren't the best possible solution is kind of stupid. I definitely don't think you try to sell him this view with a former consultant and MGL.
   42. The Duke Posted: August 30, 2014 at 09:46 AM (#4782300)
21. Was thinking more that it was amazing that LaRussa would sit and listen long enough to this kind of stuff to be able to raise objections. They must have omitted the part that indicated that they had to chain TLR to his desk in order to have the conversation. If you had told me TLR and Luhnow never talked, I wouldn't have been a bit surprised.
   43. Zach Posted: September 02, 2014 at 07:31 PM (#4784161)
I can see the players' beef about the Appel situation, actually. Every time somebody gets called up, somebody else gets sent down. If my best buddy got sent down just so some struggling first rounder could throw a bullpen session, I'd be pissed, too.

What I can't see is why the Manager would make that fight his own. It seems to me a manager's job is to prevent everyday griping from turning into a full scale clash, not to egg one side on.

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