Thursday, August 9, 2007

Feeding The Monster & Epstein's Importance

I just recently finished reading Feeding the Monster, by Seth Mnookin, which covers the time from when the Red Sox were sold to Henry/Werner/Lucchino, until April of the the 2006 season, and the book was pretty insightful into the inner workings of the team during that time. I think the most important thing that it shows is the importance of Theo Epstein to the success of the organization. I mean even in the Introduction, the author quotes liberally from one of the last meetings before Theo's hiatus from the team in the 2005 off season. What he says has an eerie ring to it:

"In general, we've had a lot of success in player development," Epstein said, starting off with an unqualified positive. After years of being known as an organization that traded away its best up-and-coming players in dubious -- or just plain stupid -- deals, the Red Sox, under Epstein's leadership, had hoarded draft picks and jealously guarded the team's minor league prospects. One of the brightest spots of the second half of the 2005 season was the emergence of Jonathan Papelbon, a flame-throwing right-hander whom Epstein envisioned as the type of hard-working, no-nonsense player the Red Sox would be defined by in the years to come. In 2005, Epstein told everyone at the table, the Red Sox had been able to integrate some of the team's most promising young pitchers into the bullpen. Still, he felt compelled to warn his colleagues of what the future would likely bring: "We're going to need a lot of patience, because there's going to be a lot of failure." He reminded the group that most young hitters will look lost at the plate for their first half-season or so, and most young pitchers will struggle with their confidence and command before settling into a groove.

"It could get rough," he said. "Right now, there's a lot of hope [about the team's young talent]. But remember, the most popular player on the football team is always the backup quarterback. When [second base prospect Dustin] Pedroia gets up here and he hits a buck-fifty, discovers he can't reach the wall and can't find his stroke because it's freezing out -- well, that will happen. The rest of the organization really needs to realize this."

Epstein, who can appear reserved in public, began to speak more quickly. "We sat here in April and talked about building an ├╝ber-team. That's dangerous. That's very dangerous. We need to be aware of the potential that the bubble could burst. Yes, it's a pro that, on the business side, we continued to grow. But on the con side is the amount of hype as we move toward superpower status. Yes, we won 95 games this year, but this approach isn't really sustainable over the long run. Sooner or later we might need to take half a step backward in return for a step forward. . . . I warned about this in April. What if we win 85 games [in 2006]? We're bringing up some young players that are going to be better in '07 than they will be next year. And they'll probably be even better than that in '08."


Hmmmm
. . . Creepy predictions. For starter, the Red Sox went 86-76 in 2006, which was exactly one game off of the pace that Theo predicted in this meeting before the season. and barring a catastrophic collapse, adding some of those homegrown talents to the '07 team (Youkilis, who plays every day now, Pedroia, Papelbon, Delcarmen all have bigger roles than in the '05 season, never mind Jon Lester) has improved them over that '06 team. To Top it all off, while a year later, his prediction regarding Pedroia was creepily accurate: When given the full time job in April 2007 he hit .182/0HR/2RBI/.544 OPS in April, but because they followed his advice to be patient, they have a possible rookie of the year candidate.



So all I have to say after that, is the rest of the book is as informative as those two paragraphs, and I thoroughly suggest it.

TomC

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