07 July 2015

Reviewing The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season

Barry Svrluga's The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season helps broaden a spectator's appreciation of the game by shining light on what happens outside of view for a team to be able to operate.  The subject of the book is the Washington Nationals' 2014 season, which was fairly successful though mixed in with some struggles.  Svrluga adeptly covers a variety of individuals including Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond's family, Mike Rizzo, a scout, and an equipment manager among others.  His subjects reveal the many facets of an organization and the challenges they each face in being successful.

The chapter that will probably stick with me years from now will be the one titled "General Manager".  It focuses on the well-thought-of Mike Rizzo.  To me, Rizzo is like a John Shuerholz.  He is a vastly talented executive who is a boon to any club.  However, you listen to him talk and he has some major obstacles in his thinking that he should try to overcome.  His talent though appears to be so incredible that perhaps he does not really need to work on the weak parts of his analysis.  Mind you, this thought is directed at him from long distance and I may be misreading him.

Anyway, the part that sticks out concerns Rizzo finding himself all of a sudden in a great need to replace Ryan Zimmerman on the roster after he suffers a season ending injury.  The names mentioned were Daniel Murphy, Aaron Hill, DiDi Gregorious, and Martin Prado.  Rizzo is then credited with throwing a curveball to his staff and suggesting to make a deal for Asdrubal Cabrera, switching him to second base, and pushing Anthony Rendon to third base.  He explains his reasoning for focusing on Cabrera:
"As the sabermetrics was saying no, in my mind, he's getting more attractive to me," Rizzo said. "I am thinking to myself, 'Hey Mike. That's a pretty good idea."
Cabrera then performed with a bWAR of -0.2, a below replacement level performance.  Martin Prado put up a 2.1 bWAR after being traded to the Yankees.  Of course, it should also be mentioned that Rizzo was able to get the Indians to pay off Cabrera's contract and that he refused to deal any meaningful prospect which may have prevented a Prado deal.  It could also be said that there was little indication that Prado would perform so well.  However, Prado certainly looked like a better pickup for them because his bat is a higher profile than Cabrera's and it would have kept Rendon at second.  Rizzo has a great deal of strength with assessing, collecting, and retaining promising young talent, but that ability is less helpful, perhaps, with his assessment and perspective towards older players.

The disappointing thing though is that the quote from above indicates an adversarial relationship with more modern analytics.  It is likely not a good situation when someone who is supposed to be the final arbiter overseeing various kinds of information that he has an invested bias against certain types of information that may not be founded with sound reason.  However, his track record, like Shuerholz's, speaks for itself.  Both men might say profoundly curious things at times, but they do so many other things so well that you really just have to take the good with the bad because that good is very, very good.

That all said, Rizzo is just one character in this work.  Other also play prominently and those chapters are also rather interesting.

The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season
by Barry Svrluga
Blue Rider Press, 192 pp.

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