This has been a very odd week.
On Sunday night, about, eh, six hours before our interview with Andrew Friedman went up, Bill Belichick stole the hearts and minds (okay, some of the minds) of the sporting culture by deciding against punting. Whether you agree with the decision or not, the move was a mark of innovation in a league stricken with homogenous talents, payrolls, schemes, and thought processes. The move was outlandish and unconventional and absolutely beautiful because of it.
In some ways I fancy myself a masochist, so Monday night I chose to watch Sportscenter and the Monday Night Countdown programming by my own desire to see the reaction of the two dozen ESPN personalities. Most wrote the move off as moronic and foolish, others called out Belichick's ego, Teddy Bruschi said the defense would suffer from this decision, and so on. Ron Jaworski seemed to be the only person who dug beyond clichés or unquantifiable hyperbole in his explanation.
I promise this is related to the Rays, just give me a moment.
Monday was a fantastic battle between the guys who preach results based analysis and the process based analysts. The latter entered swinging machetes of paper -- well, mostly hyperlinked chains -- at the ignorant tree's trunk to no avail because their bark is stronger than their bark. Fingers were jammed in ears, exclamation points and shift keys were abused, and some people discovered how to do simple probabilities for the first time since statistics class.
All of this got me to thinking about conventional wisdom and how silly some are to rely solely upon it. Not to beat this Belichick thing to death, and this is an admittedly unoriginal point to raise, but if they do convert, aren't all of these guys slamming him now suddenly praising him for having brass ones and the confidence in the best quarterback ever? Such is results based analysis. Decisions aren't pass or fail - or at least shouldn't be evaluated as such if you want your analysis taken seriously. Yeah, the play failed, but was the idea behind the play good? People who know more about football, down conversions, and field position think so.
Not every move has to be made with the hopes of raging against the machine or being a raisin in the sun. That's another level of extremity that few should hope for. But a little bit of creativity never hurt anyone - the NFL should keep this in mind. Really.
That leads me to Friedman and the Rays front office in general. Whether you thought he was preaching gospel or withholding trade secrets in the interview is irrelevant. He doesn't have to come out and say "Take your RBI and shove ‘em" in a Theo Epstein manner because the moves he signs on with say this for him. He doesn't have to divulge anything, and as fans, we shouldn't want him to. Jonah Keri is a great guy and a spectacular writer, but if he puts something in his Rays book (releasing sometime in 2011 - what? I'm about to threaten his health, the least I can do is pub him) that hurts the Rays' future pursuits of talent then, well, I can't print what I hope happens to him because of legal prosecution and such.
The Rays take unconventional to entirely new levels. Public opinion seems to matter not in the least on any move they make. Whether the move turns out great or not so great, this unit sticks to their guns because they are confident in their processes. Look at the Scott Kazmir trade. They were a bit lucky that most became disillusioned with Kazmir after some questionable starts and comments on the fan base, but still most saw it as a salary dump and a sickening waving of the white flag.
Did the Rays care? Doesn't look like it.
Keri and I have held some random rosterbation sessions where some pretty outlandish stuff was proposed and the end result is always "Well, if any team would do that ..." and it's true. Okay, maybe the Rays won't be trading [Player X] for [Player Y] anytime soon, but I doubt there's a more open-minded and creative front office in baseball.
Tommy wrote about moving Carlos Pena earlier and with most teams you would laugh at it. Oh, they're going to trade the league leader in home runs, a fan favorite, the leader in :)%, and a great clubhouse presence? Sure. With the Rays, I can almost guarantee they've talked about potential scenarios. Buster Olney supposedly reported the Rays had internal discussions (buzzword!) about moving Ben Zobrist to the outfield and signing Orlando Hudson. Sounds insane. If Hudson is offered arbitration it would probably be insane. Yet, how many teams say "Zobrist is coming off one of the best seasons in baseball at second base and maybe we're better off by using his flexibility and signing a new second baseman instead of signing a new right fielder"?
When the same people who bleed convention criticized the Rays for hiring a bunch of Wall Street kids I would never have imagined saying they were right about something. But here we sit and they were absolutely correct when they said these guys aren't "baseball guys". They aren't tied to conventional wisdom or tradition. I can go for that like fourth and two.