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Sox Drawer: Hawk & Stone rip Beane, Moneyball

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Sox Drawer: Hawk & Stone rip Beane, Moneyball

Monday, Sept. 26, 2011
Posted: 3:20 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com
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The reviews are in for the movie Moneyball. Safe to say, its a smashing success.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 4 stars. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called it the best sports movie in a long time, period.

In its first weekend, the movie took in 20.6 million, the second highest grossing film in America.

But while moviegoers are flocking to theaters to watch Brad Pitt change the game of baseball as we once knew it, there are two men in Chicago who wont spend a dime, nickel, or penny on it.

Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone.

The two White Sox announcers are former players and longtime baseball purists. They both use computers and recognize the need for them in the modern game. But mention Moneyball, sabermetrics, or the achievements of Oakland As general manager Billy Beane, and they are not afraid to express their complete and utter disdain for all three of them.

I think its one of the biggest farces Ive ever seen in baseball, Harrelson said about Beanes computerized baseball strategy. I said at the time its going to get a lot of managers fired, and it has.

Hold onto your seats. The firing from Hawk and Steve has only just begun.

Stone, your thoughts?

When I take a look at all the attention that Billy happens to be getting now, I think the way he has gone about sabermetrics, number one, he didnt invent it. Number two, he didnt refine it. And number three, I like my winners to actually have won something.

Its true, Beanes Athletics have never won anything, except for a few division titles (in a four-team division), with the last one coming in 2006. For all of the praise that has been heaped on Beane over the last decade, his team has only won one playoff series, a fact Stone took great delight in expressing in fine, sarcastic detail.

Take Brad Pitt out of the movie, and then tell me about the success that Billys had. And then you make a movie about what? Of him not taking the Boston (general manager) job? How about the wins? Oh, there arent any wins? Dont worry about it.

The As did have a memorable 20-game winning streak in 2002, which is documented in the film. Stone is not impressed.

I understand that, he said. And Im sure there are other teams that have won 20, but how did that season work out for them? Did they win anything. See because they dont give trophies to teams with 20-game winning streaks. What they do is they give you a World Series trophy if you win the World Series. They even give you a smaller ring if you get in the World Series, but dont win it. Billy? Thats right, he never did that.

What was Harrelsons reaction when he heard they were making a Moneyball movie?

I laughed, Harrelson said. I said good for Billy. Ive known Billy a long time. I knew him when he had his head on straight so to speak. I think he got carried away a little bit. I know a lot of his own people hated it, what his concept was.

So I take it you havent read the book?

I wouldnt waste the money, Harrelson said. Ive heard some guys whove read it. Ive talked to some guys who liked it, and Ive talked to a majority of guys who thought it was a bunch of bull----, which if I read it, Im sure thats what I think it will be.

He continued.

Its bull----, and hes proven its bull---- by the moves that hes made and the deals hes made, and the games that hes lost. How long has he been there?

Harrelson and Stone did not exactly hold back.

So why such outrage?
"I think he's the most overrated general manager in the history of the game. In my history, 52 years.-- Harrelson on Billy Beane.

For one, Harrelson believes that Beanes sabermetric concept has taken over the game, not just in the front office, but on the actual field of play. He says that a healthy balance of computers and old-fashioned scouting (a long-time backbone of the sport), is good for the game. However, he thinks that the Billy Beane School of Baseball tipped the scales to such a point that in the last decade players are behaving less like human beings, and more like robots.

When you start inundating players with numbers and information, you lose something, Harrelson explained. I think baseball has lost a lot of its childlike qualities, and its a kids game. You take Mark Buehrle, he has never lost his childlike qualities. Thats one reason he can go out there and throw an 86 miles-per-hour fastball and still compete and win. A lot of players have lost it. So if a lot of players lose it, the individual game loses it.

Computers can measure hits, runs, on-base percentage, and just about every statistical possibility the human brain can create. But one figure a computer cannot read is the beating heart and complicated mind that lives in all of us. Maybe our eyes can see it, but computers cant.

I think computers have a place in the game of baseball, Stone said. To use that as a tool is good. But its still a game played by human beings that you have to have some sort of feel for, because there are certain limitations that computers have. One of them is, if a guy has never been in a pennant race, and youre trying to evaluate how hes going to do in the middle of August and September in a pennant race. How does a computer spit that out exactly? It doesnt.

Americans like to cheer for the underdog, and Moneyball dramatizes the rags to riches story of the As, who despite their small market status were able to manipulate the game through sabermetrics, finding overlooked players like Scott Hatteberg, who helped carry the franchise to great heights.

Its a plot that Hawk and Steve say is nonsense.

A lot of the guys that this whole sabermetric philosophy was built upon were guys like Miguel Tejada. He was a young kid out of the Dominican Republic. Sabermetrics? I dont think so, Stone explained. Eric Chavez was the best high school hitter in the country. Thats not sabermetrics. Thats not a value pick. He was simply the best hitter in the country.

The As also had the best young trio of starting pitchers in the game.

When you have (Barry) Zito, (Mark) Mulder, and (Tim) Hudson, youre going to get in the playoffs, Harrelson said. You can write any book you want to write and its going to sell. But when those guys leave, and they left, look at them now.

Stone says he has no plans to see the movie, but was curious if it included some behind-the-scenes details.

Do they have Billy running through all those managers he ran through when he fired them and hired them? Does it end with him hiring his best man at his wedding (Bob Geren) and then having to fire him because none of his players listen to him anymore?

I have yet to see the movie. Something tells me these scenes were left on the cutting room floor.

Harrelson knows what its like to be a major league general manager. He held the job with the White Sox in 1985-86, and took many arrows to the chest for the firing of Tony LaRussa, who ironically went on to win the 1989 World Series with the As. That team happened to have a little-used outfielder that season by the name of Billy Beane.

We know what Harrelson thinks of sabermetrics, what about Beane as a GM?

I think hes the most overrated general manager in the history of the game. In my history. 52 years.

You wont see that written on the Moneyball movie poster.

Across town, the Cubs are currently looking for a general manager. Beane has been rumored to be a candidate, likely because chairman Tom Ricketts has expressed a desire to hire someone with a background in sabermetrics.

Mr. Ricketts, if you want some friendly advice from Mr. Harrelson, here it is:

I couldnt believe what Ricketts said about the Cubs, that whoever is going to be the new general manager is going to have to be well-versed in sabermetrics, Harrelson said. If thats got to be a criteria for hiring a good general manager, hes making a big mistake, or hes bought into the wrong game. He should hire a good baseball man to be the general manager.

There is fact and fiction. Baseball and Hollywood.
The truth behind Moneyball lies somewhere in between.

So far, audiences have spoken. Theyve given the movie a thumbs-up, going to see it in droves.

Stone?

I think that if they didnt have Brad Pitt playing the lead, there would be about eight people whod go to see it.

Harrelson?

Overall, I think the general public has been sold a bill of goods by this. And the recipient of it has been Billy Beane. More power to him. Thats like selling a deep freeze to the eskimos.

It was Al Michaels who coined the phrase, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Do you believe in Moneyball? That's for you to decide.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

What White Sox fans wanted to know from Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria at SoxFest

What White Sox fans wanted to know from Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria at SoxFest

SoxFest brings the opportunity for fans to question team brass. And sometimes things can get a bit fiery.

This year, however, it was more of a victory lap for Rick Hahn after he loaded up the roster with an incredible amount of offseason acquisitions. Rick Renteria, too, got plenty of adulation after he came out and said the White Sox have their sights on reaching the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.

But there were still questions. Fans stepped up to the microphone and got some answers out of Hahn and Renteria during a pair of panels Friday and Saturday.

Here are some of the more interesting and pertinent questions and answers from the two sessions.

Extensions for Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito?

The White Sox have made headlines in each of the last two offseasons by handing out big-money extensions to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert before they played a game in the major leagues. But Saturday brought a fan question about whether the team was planning more extensions, specifically ones for Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, two guys who broke out in a big way in 2019 and established themselves as the team's best all-around hitter and the ace of the starting staff, respectively.

These are not terribly pressing matters, obviously, as both guys are under team control for another four seasons. But the longer they go on their current deals and the longer they're allowed to keep improving, the more expensive they'll become to retain.

Hahn said that it's a White Sox priority to keep all of their talented young players together for as long as possible. He also mentioned that it has long been a part of the plan during the rebuilding process to be aggressive on extensions, as the team has shown with the deals for Jimenez and Robert. Players earn the right to reach free agency and explore the open market, but the White Sox do have a pretty good track record of retaining their own players, often on deals that have allowed them to keep some financial flexibility.

Tim Anderson in right field?

Whether it was a legitimate strategy proposal or a makeshift way to get Yolmer Sanchez back to the South Side, one fan suggested moving Tim Anderson to right field, pointing out Anderson's large number of errors at shortstop and that moving Anderson off the position would open room for Sanchez to work his defensive wonders on a daily basis.

Well, that suggestion didn't get much consideration from Renteria, who said rather definitively he will not be playing Anderson in right field.

The question might not have been the most realistic suggestion, but it allowed Renteria to express his belief in Anderson's defense. Though Anderson has made a ton of errors at shortstop — 88 of them in his four big league seasons — he continues to receive rave reviews from White Sox brass. Renteria said Saturday he believes Anderson will be "an elite shortstop in the big leagues," and Hahn said this weekend he believes Anderson will be a Gold Glove finalist one day.

As for Sanchez, he's still on the free-agent market despite winning a Gold Glove in 2019. And while the White Sox have shortstop spoken for with Anderson and second base spoken for with Nick Madrigal, eventually, Hahn was asked about the likelihood of a Sanchez return Friday night and basically reminded everyone to never say never.

More starting pitching?

Hahn said Thursday that while there likely won't be any more big-ticket additions, the White Sox busy winter might not be completely over just yet, with minor moves still being discussed by the front office. More starting pitching would seem to make plenty of sense considering there's not a ton of depth behind the five guys slated to make up the Opening Day rotation: Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez. Considering the plan for Michael Kopech has yet to be finalized and Dylan Covey is no longer with the organization, some small additions like the Ervin Santana deal last spring would be logical.

One fan asked why not add a slightly bigger ticket item, specifically bringing up free-agent pitcher Taijuan Walker, to further bolster the starting staff. Hahn wouldn't close the door on adding more starting pitchers but pointed out that because of the depth the White Sox have on the way — with Kopech factoring into things somehow and Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all working their way back from Tommy John surgery — the White Sox might not be the most attractive destination for a mid- or bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher, who could see his opportunity to pitch vanish once all those arms return to full strength.

A return for Dane Dunning?

Speaking of starting-pitching depth on the way, Hahn did offer up some sort of timeline for one of those guys, saying that Dunning could be pitching for a minor league affiliate come "June-ish." That's a made-up month on the same level as "Smarch," but it's also a good sign for the White Sox, who saw Dunning flying through the system before his injury.

Hahn said at last year's SoxFest that if not for the arm injury he suffered in 2018, Dunning could have factored into the Opening Day rotation for the 2019 season. Considering that level of potential readiness — a level most likely altered in some fashion by the surgery and long layoff — Dunning might be someone who could play a role in the 2020 season.

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White Sox boast four top-40 prospects in MLB Pipeline's newest list

White Sox boast four top-40 prospects in MLB Pipeline's newest list

The transition from rebuilding to contending figures to come soon on the South Side. But the White Sox are still about that top-prospect life.

MLB Pipeline unveiled its updated list of the top 100 prospects in baseball Saturday, and the White Sox landed four guys in the top 40, including three in the top 20: Luis Robert was ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the game, with Andrew Vaughn at No. 16, Michael Kopech at No. 20 and Nick Madrigal at No. 40. 

White Sox fans, thanks to an offseason full of free-agent signings, have shifted the bulk of their attention to the major league level. Rick Renteria is talking playoffs or bust, and it seems the team's long-awaited contention window could open as soon as Opening Day. And these youngsters are a big part of the reason why.

Three of the four — Robert, Kopech and Madrigal — are expected to make significant contributions to the 2020 team, and they'll likely all be off this list the next time it's updated, as they'll be full-fledged big leaguers and no longer prospects.

Robert, who tore up the minor leagues last season, is likely ticketed to be the White Sox starting center fielder on Opening Day, thanks to the big-money contract extension that wiped away any lingering service-time discussion. He became the second consecutive White Sox prospect to get such a contract before playing a single game in the majors, following Eloy Jimenez, who received his own big-money deal last spring.

Kopech has already reached the big leagues, though he was limited to just four appearances prior to requiring Tommy John surgery in September 2018. His recovery wiped out his entire 2019 season, so even though it seems like he jettisoned his prospect status a long time ago, he's still considered one with so little playing time under his belt. The White Sox might slow play his return to the major league mound, and it's possible he might not be on the Opening Day roster. But the team is waiting until spring training to finalize a plan for the 2020 season.

Regardless, the White Sox brass continues to describe Kopech as someone who will feature prominently in the starting rotation.

Madrigal is also expected to reach the big leagues in 2020 after making it all the way to Triple-A Charlotte last season. His ability to make consistent contact remains the most impressive part of his game, and he struck out just 16 times in 2019. But he also has a reputation as an elite defender at second base, and that's where he should be taking over on an everyday basis once he reaches the South Side. When that will be remains to be seen; it doesn't sound like Madrigal will be expected to make the Opening Day roster after he played in only 29 games at Charlotte last season. But Rick Hahn said it's possible Madrigal could impress enough in spring training to force the issue.

As for Vaughn, the 2019 first-round first baseman is a little further behind the other three players discussed here. But thanks to his powerful bat, he's caught the eye of plenty of evaluators, as evidenced by his high placement on MLB Pipeline's list. Jose Abreu isn't going anywhere for the next three seasons, though Edwin Encarnacion's claim to the White Sox everyday DH role could last as little as one year.

If Vaughn follows a similar path as Robert and Madrigal — who both rose from Class A to Triple-A during the 2019 season — perhaps he'll be discussed as being close to major league ready for the 2021 season. Heck, if the White Sox find themselves in a pennant race in 2020, perhaps Vaughn is considered as a September addition. But that will obviously depend on how he fares in the minors.

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