Lugnuts Notes: Series at home against Beloit Snappers

June 7 thru 10

  • Snappers 4 games, Lugnuts 0 games
  • Lugnuts are 27-37 (.422)
  • Still in the cellar, eleven games behind the Whitecaps and one behind the Battle Cats.
  • Roster changes: Infielder Ricardo Montas up from extended spring; pitcher Craig Sanders down to Spokane.
  • DL: Still Beltran, Blosser, and Schaffer.

Four losses: Not good. Only Saturday’s game was really awful, though Monday’s certainly didn’t show either team’s pitching to advantage.

New Lugnut Montas is a 19-year-old Dominican who batted 28 times in 21 games in the Rookie Gulf Coast League last summer. I don’t know what to make of those numbers. He seems to have some power and a strong arm; plays all infield positions.

I guess we didn’t get a new KC draftee after all.

Brian Poldberg’s been writing lineups around the DL, minor injuries, and illnesses; there are some real difficulties and it’s certainly affecting the team’s performance. The players who’ve remained healthy have also played virtually every day, which has real costs. I’m not conceding everything, though; I think the lineups I’ve been watching have been as good as the teams they’ve been playing. The players obviously don’t think that, and so belief becomes truth.

It’s a clean slate after the All-Star break. This team can win in this league.

Now’s the season of the scouts. College and high school seasons are about done, as is the player draft, so they come watch each others’ prospects. Look for them in the handicapper seats behind home, in the regular seats in that vicinity, and wandering around the park. They’ve got radar guns, they’ve got clipboards, they consult stopwatches, they take notes–and they’re quite a bit older than the Lugnut and opposition pitchers doing the same things.

I entertained myself this weekend by watching Luis Salazar run the Snappers. He manages his team like a big-league manager, always playing for today’s win. He pinch hits, he makes defensive changes, he pads the lead. This is different from most MWL managers, who rarely pinch hit and mainly make defensive changes if someone pulls a muscle.

This is partly Salazar. But it reflects something I know about the Brewers organization: they believe in fielding championship teams at all levels in their farm system. This is an organizational strategy based on the assumption that winning breeds winning.

There’s a more common player-development strategy in use in our league. It assumes that a crisis on the field is a teaching opportunity, and that all the players can profit by them. It’s clearly not better to cope with a dangerous hitter (Mike Kinkade? Mario Valdez?) by relieving Jeff Wallace if the result is that Wallace never works under pressure. Jose Cepeda’s not going to learn to make reliable throws to first if we convert him to a right fielder. Tony Longueira needs to learn to hit with runners at first and third quite as much as Mark Quinn. There’s a reason for this strategic approach. The farm directors want the teams to win, but they want other things as well; there’s a risk and a cost in every strategic decision.

Brian Poldberg’s not working in a vacuum, and he’s not the only person making decisions about which players play or how Brian plays them. I presume–I stress that I have no inside information–I presume he’s got instructions to play some players virtually every day, however well or poorly they perform. I presume that the patterns I see in the use of pitchers reflect decisions made in Kansas City more than they reflect game situations; in fact, I hope that’s the case, because some of the other explanations are absurd.

Brian obviously enjoys his job, and since the Royals keep assigning him to teams in the low minors I have to believe they’re satisfied with his work, even though he’s never posted a winning season. I do know that Brian typically passes his players to John Mizerock (now the manager in Wilmington, but previously in our league) and that Mizerock finds ways to make those players win. I expect that’s a testimony to things learned from both managers; it’s obviously not a failure for the organization.

I still sputter about the team. I want to see them improve, and I want to have fun at the ballpark. Both are easier with a winning team.

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1 Response to Lugnuts Notes: Series at home against Beloit Snappers

  1. joel says:

    This is one of my favorite LugNotes. There’s a brief portrait of Ricardo Montas, another step back from my criticisms of the team’s play, a mention of the scouts, and a nice little essay contrasting the player development practices of the Brewers (in the person of Luis Salazar) and the Royals (Brian Poldberg).

    Let’s complicate that comparison a bit more. Brian Poldberg’s been part of the Royals’ player development team since 1987, and it’s fair at this point to suppose he’s been part of the brain trust determining the organization’s player development strategy for most of that time. So he likely had more influence with his bosses than I’m giving him credit for here. But that doesn’t really change my point, which is that some of the apparently stupid tactical decisions Midwest League managers make are actually strategic, and that winning MWL games is not the strategic objective.

    In 1998 the Royals would fire Darrell Evans, then managing at Wilmington, apparently because he was emphasizing winning at the expense of player development. Brian would replace him at the Blue Rocks’ helm. The team won the league championship. And Darrell’s worked mostly in the independent minor leagues, since, where winning’s more important than player development.

    Brian was part of the Royals’ major league coaching staff from 2004 to 2007. Since returning to player development, he’s been mostly posting winning records at Northwest Arkansas.

    It’s fair to characterize the 1990s Brewers player development strategy as a failure, by the way. The team won Baseball America’s system-of-the-year award several times (sorry; don’t have the precise information at my fingertips), but it never paid off at the major league level. Eventually they adopted a more conventional strategy. Of course, being conventional for all these years hasn’t really worked well for the Royals. But that’s a different story.

    It’s entirely sane to argue that the captivity of official minor league baseball to organizational strategy has weakened the sport, and that it’s one of the reasons many Midwest League games seem as much carnival as athletic contest. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but I have considerable sympathy for the viewpoint.

    In the event you’ve just stumbled onto this entry, here’s an explanation of what I’m up to. With an index!

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