Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Post-mortem on the bloggers' round table

Here are some highlights from the bloggers' round table that Dejan Kovacevic initiated and Charlie hosted over at Bucs Dugout for the purpose of discussing the news on SEALgate. The following block quotes are Dejan's answers to a variety of questions asked about the sorts of issues that we've harped on with regard to the Pirates front office. I'm going to skip over the Gregory Polanco injury timeline stuff because I don't think it's pertinent to the overarching point. The full discussion can be found here.

DK on the militaristic culture of the Pirates development system:

The difference is not just in the practice but also in the preaching. These guys Kyle Stark employs, almost without exception, are these buzzcut military types who behave like drill sergeants year-round. In many cases, they’re underqualified for their posts but were hired more because they can be good-soldier types.
Let me put it another way: It’s weird...and it’s needlessly dangerous. And potentially demoralizing, too.
A team can get a bang out of stuff like this if they treat it like one fun weekend. But when it’s all year round, it can make people bitter and resentful.
...And rather than focusing on what damage comes from it, I choose to focus on what’s the benefit here. I’m not seeing a more disciplined group of players coming up the ladder, so that’s out. I’m not seeing more productivity. And I’m not seeing — this is huge given the nature of drafts — results from ALL THAT PITCHING they drafted.
I’m not sure why. I can’t be sure. Only a true person on the inside would know. But I hear from THOSE people, and they’re VERY down on the way pitchers are handled.
It’s an oversimplification to just count up sports teams that do this and say why not the Pirates? This team isn’t nearly good enough in its system at the things it MUST be good at to be trying stuff like this.
And it most definitely isn’t good enough to be doing this stuff just so some grown men can get their jollies at youngsters’ expense.
Every team is going to do this stuff differently. From what I’ve found — and feel free to prove me wrong — the overwhelming majority of these practices are one weekend and the exercises aren’t stupid things like the hand-to-hand combat that hurt Taillon or the logs or the hose or whatever.
The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Ryan Whitney both described an exhausting round of jumping jacks as the most strenuous activity at West Point in 2007.
Jumping jacks.
The Pirates are all military all the time in the minors. If you don’t believe me on this, ask them. They’ll gleefully acknowledge it. 
Kyle Stark seems egotistical and slightly insane.
That happens a lot in baseball. People get power-hungry. They control people’s lives on a daily basis. I’ve seen a little bit of that in nearly everyone I’ve covered in the sport, except maybe Neal Huntington, who’s a genuinely good man and always down to earth.
Stark, without question, has gone too far.
This “Hoka Hey” garbage is sensational and absurd and all, but why isn’t there more attention being paid to the fact that Kyle Stark has nothing resembling a baseball background? He goes from playing college volleyball to somehow being a college pitching coach, then working for the Indians. He has an MBA. This guy seems qualified to do so many things that aren’t run a baseball farm system. How does this guy have this job? At least Broadway has a baseball background. He’s a failed prospect himself. But Kyle Stark? I can’t find any evidence that this guy has any background in or knowledge of baseball at all.
I am honestly stunned that the paragraph about Larry Broadway had as little impact as what I gathered today. Almost all of the focus was on the sand, trash cans and Polanco.
But think about this for a moment: Stark had two years as a pitching coach at St. Bonaventure — yeah, that St. Bonaventure — before joining the Indians’ staff. He was never a coach or instructor. Broadway was a player through 2009, then spent two years as area scout, then was placed IN CHARGE OF THE SYSTEM.
I’m sorry, but that’s nuts. And trust me when people talk about the system being a joke, they’re talking a lot more about this than they are Hoka Hey. The latter just adds whipped cream on top.
Are Stark’s development methods really the problem, or is it drafting?
We can’t answer that definitively, other than to say it’s pretty clear the Latin American end has held up. That’s it. And Huntington himself invariably describes all this in the collective. Even in terms of trades and fre agents — a lot of people don’t know this, but I’ll blurt it out here — Stark has been his right-hand man, even before the promotion.
If the whole thing has gone sour, the answer is to change the whole thing.
Frankly, other than sustaining Latin America, as was done after Littlefield, I don’t see how this could be done piecemeal.

To what extent do you think that the discussion of the Pirates’ player development is being driven by issues of style, rather than substance?
The best way to answer is to go back to what I wrote above, not just about how it’s weird but also about how a lot of people — inside and outside — view the guys running this team. They think these guys largely don’t know anything about baseball, not even in the sabremetric/analytical sense, so they see this military stuff as more of a defense mechanism, a way of hiding that.
Go back to 2007-08, and recall that Stark pretty much cleared out the entire system of coaches. In one case, you diehards might recall, he replaced an established pitching coach at a low level with someone (name slips my mind) … oh, wait, Brian Tracy … who was 23 and just stepped off the mound.
I called Tracy a clipboard-holder then, based on what I’ve heard, and that ended up becoming all too common.
They want to be tough guys, revolutionary guys. And I don’t care about that. I want to see baseball results.
Did you say that Kyle Stark actually functions as Neal Huntington’s right-hand man? As in, chief adviser? Go-to guy on baseball decisions?
And could you clarify this?
They think these guys largely don’t know anything about baseball, not even in the sabremetric/analytical sense
Answer to the first question is yes. For years now.
Answer to second is that I’m describing a general — not universal — mindset. It’s one that quieted when the team was doing well this summer, but even then not much.
Say whatever you will about Keith Law, but he’s one of the VERY few who openly, boldly predicted the collapse. I didn’t. Most didn’t. But he nailed it. His position on the management and operations was among the few that didn’t waver.
What’s Dan Fox doing? Do they just not listen to anything he says? Clint Hurdle definitely doesn't listen to Dan Fox.
This is true, actually. Not sure if you’re being hypothetical there, but you’re right either way.
From what you can discern who sets the tone (evidently a negative one) in the Pirates organization? Coonelly?
You guys will hate this answer, but it starts with the GM in this case. No boldness, no goals set, no confidence exuded, no real presence around the team.Rolly your eyes if you want, but you’re asking about tone. That’s an intangible.
If you can keep a straight face in explaining to people in September that this team SHOULD have been only eight games over at its peak … there’s a time for that, when you’re sipping coffee with Dan Fox, and there’s a team to lead the team.

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