CHIPALATTA

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The Luhnow Legacy: Rapscallion, genius or neither?


So the gloves are off, the truth is out, and now we’re finally getting somewhere.

Jeff Luhnow is a sleazeball, an underhanded scoundrel, a veritable rapscallion. Finally, after months and months of speculation and conjecture, the rumors, muttering and grapevine hearsay has finally been documented in the end-all Evan Drellich piece last week.

Look, I’m not here to defend or sanction Luhnow. Virtually everyone agrees that the Astros have taken a road less traveled (okay, much less traveled) to rebuild one of the worst organizations in baseball from top to bottom. Drastic action was necessary. A radical blueprint was imperative. Hard decisions were unavoidable.

From the outset, not everyone was going to be happy. Clearly, everyone isn’t. But, then again, we haven’t heard from anyone significant yet. No, an anonymous source, a pitcher who was disgruntled while he was in Houston and a former Astros’ shortstop who really didn’t slam the methodology don’t count for much.

What matters is results. If the team is winning, all of this stuff is secondary and perhaps even goes away.

In fact, radical ideas have come and gone. But some have changed the game. Consider:

  • Branch Rickey, who formed what we now know as the minor leagues. Then commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis thought it would ruin the game and sought to put a stop to it.
  • Everyone knows the story of Money Ball. Billy Beane focused on sabermetrics to find undervalued players in an effort to build a low-cost, high-reward team. Sound familiar?
  • About a decade ago, Lou Piniella became upset with the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays because they were focusing too much on the future (minor leagues) and not spending enough on the major league product. At one point, you may recall, there were rumblings that MLB should do something about the Rays. The Rays stuck with their plan and, it seemed to work out okay.
  • Luhnow isn’t the first to try to tie up young players. Remember John Hart with the early 90s’ Indians? Seemed to work well then.

In football, many derided the West Coast Offense when it was introduced. Now, it’s the foundation of the the game. In many of our lifetimes, there was an ABA and an AFL. Eventually, they were swallowed up by the NBA and NFL, but they changed the way we played pro basketball and football.

The fact of the matter is that Luhnow may be out on his keister in a year or two. But it won’t be because his ideas failed. It will be because he refused to adapt and adjust along the way. It will be because he couldn’t communicate the “why” to the “what”. Why is the tandem pitching so important? What are the goals? Where are the success stories? What’s the basis for the premise?

Is the tandem pitching format something that will be copied in other organizations in five years? Will it be tweaked and become hugely successful? In 10 years, will Luhnow be looked at as an innovator and trail blazer or as a failure who couldn’t get his plan from paper to fruition?

Every successful idea goes through transition and some transformation. The key is for the genius behind the idea to adapt and adjust, taking the best parts of the idea, losing the stuff that doesn’t work and mixing the old ideas that work with the new innovations.

He is a fool who believes he can completely blow up hundreds of years of tried and true methods, implement an entirely new system…and still be successful. Those who succeed adapt and adjust, combining new tools with old practices and time-honored traditions. They recognize the necessary foundations to build on and know when to turn to the left or to the right to improve.

To be sure, the jury is still very out on Luhnow. But the test of his success won’t fall on his tandem pitching system, his efforts to lock up young players or his unusual defensive shifts.

Luhnow will rise or fall on his ability to build relationships and explain the “why” of the “what”. From Day 1, the Astros have dissed media and fans. And, apparently, players.

Rules without relationship breeds rebellion. To say that Luhnow is only concerned with the business of baseball is somewhat ludicrous. Every general manager makes decisions based on the dollars and sense of the deal. In fact, isn’t it all about the money for players? Aren’t players themselves encouraged — strongly encouraged — to take the best deal they can get?

Some of the best and most innovative doctors in the country have horrible bedside manner. But, if I was in a critical medical situation, forget the bedside manner, I’d rather have the best and most innovative working on me.

Has Luhnow clearly communicated the goal of the tandem pitching format? To players? To coaches? To fans? Have we heard all sides to the story of trying to lock up George Springer? Is he really keeping Jon Singleton on the farm just to keep him from becoming a Super Two?

And, he’s right in the sense that when the team starts to play better and win, complaints and murmuring will diminish.

Still, Luhnow’s success will rise and fall on a few things other than his blueprint, tandem pitching or managing a payroll. To succeed long term, he will need to:

  • Communicate the “why” behind the “what”.
  • Adapt and adjust. Be willing to tweak, modify or even discard ideas and methods that don’t work.
  • Surround himself with people who “complete” him. That’s what makes a successful team.
  • Admit and correct mistakes.

Frankly, there were no real revelations in last week’s article. Most of the things listed as “breaking” have been discussed here and elsewhere for over a year now. But what it has done is draw the line in the sand. It’s somewhat of a wake-up call that should cause Luhnow to reevaluate the direction of the team.

Reevaluate doesn’t necessarily mean change, but it should bring introspection and and openness to counsel. The next six months may tell the tale of the Luhnow Legacy. If he and the Astros can not and do not adapt and adjust, the organization may be staring at 5-6 consecutive 100-loss seasons.

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About Chip Bailey

Chip Bailey lives in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO, and wakes up each morning to the tallest spot in the region, Pikes Peak. He is an author and former sports editor and sportswriter who has followed the Astros for more than 50 years. A native of another picturesque city, Natchitoches, La., Chip enjoys watching baseball at most any level, especially pro and college. Several years ago, he worked as an associate of Pastor John Bosman, who enjoyed giving nick names to his staff. Pastor Bosman came up with Chipalatta, and it has stuck.

29 comments on “The Luhnow Legacy: Rapscallion, genius or neither?

  1. 1oldpro
    May 26, 2014

    Ok, I read the article and you make a lot of good points. I still say it is pure hogwash to say that Norris’s comments are just the product of a bitter former player and I also vehemently disagreed with TCB about them knowing much more about the Astros organization than he did and I got deleted and warned for my comments about their assessment of journalists being horrible and uninformed and bloggers being so honorable and all knowing and their total selling out on any wrongdoing by the Astros front office But I wish to make a small comment about the Astros treatment of their OF prospect:
    SRINGER ROCKS, BABY!!!
    What a night!
    Praying for Tanner tonight.
    Check the MILB scores and then I am hitting the sack.
    Thanks for the blog, Chip.

    Like

    • tedf1948
      May 27, 2014

      I agree with you OldPro. I read TCB but keep my mouth shut as that sight brooks few anti-Luhnow comments. I hope that Luhnow’s plan succeeds but the bloggers that met with Luhnow certainly got only his side of the story and they liked it. We all just need to remember that this is Luhnow’s first crack at being the guy in charge, too and it’s a whole lot easier to convince people to follow than force them. After all, once the initial contract period is over with the Astros, the players will go where they feel they are wanted if the money is even.

      Like

  2. BrianT
    May 27, 2014

    In 2013, the Astros did not win their 20th game until Game No. 57. This year, it only took to Game No. 52. At the rate the Astros were going by the 20th win, they were on pace to win 56 games. That’d probably have happened too if they didn’t lose the last 15.

    This year, by win No. 20, the Astros are on pace to win 62 games. Well, that’d be 100 losses.

    But this is a team that’s getting better. The offense is better than it was in April. The pitching is better and likely to get better still. Houston’s team ERA in April was 4.87. Thus far in May, after Monday night, the team ERA is 3.81.

    And it’s not just the pitching. The team OPS in May is .753, a big jump up from April’s .639.

    Of course, this can all be seen in the record. At the end of April, the Astros were 9-19. Thus far in May, Houston is 11-13 with five games left. Say they just keep up the pace for May, and the team ends the month 13-16. Add another 12 wins in June – seems reasonable – and Houston hits the halfway point with 34 wins. Now we’re looking at less than 100 loses.

    I know that’s a lot – A LOT – of supposition on my part, especially when it comes to June and beyond. But this team is improving.

    Why? Well, when Luhnow took over three years ago, the team was full of middling players and guys on their last legs. Complain all you want about trading Jed Lowrie or Bud Norris, but then you need to understand we don’t have Matt Stassi or Brad Peacock or Josh Hader or that extra pick in the draft. And it’s not just those two trades. It’s Carlos Lee for Matt Dominguez. It’s Jose Veras for Danry Vasquez. It’s J.A. Happ and a couple of pieces to get Asher Wojciechowski and a bunch of pieces.

    And, yeah, I’d have liked a little more money spent maybe getting another good starter or even more bullpen pieces or, Lord forbid, a real designated hitter.

    But this is the plan. The Plan. And it’s working. We have a farm system so stacked with talent, that I sometimes feel bloated on middle infielders. We have more quality outfield prospects who’ll be ready for prime time within the next two years than we have outfield spots to put them. If I had any complaints, it’d be that our bullpen depth in the minors isn’t impressive enough for my tastes. That said, a rotation has five starters, and we have (Folty, Wojalphabet, Appel, Keuchel, Cosart, Feldman, Obie, McCullers, Velasquez, Rodon?, etc.) more guys to fill those slots up through 2016 than we have space for them.

    So call me a fan of The Plan. And of Luhnow. A couple of years ago, our farm system was ranked 30th out of 30. Luhnow has built the foundation. Now it’s time to start getting this house in order.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      May 27, 2014

      Brian, the difference for me is that all last year and for the first month of this season, I saw the Astros as the worst team and moving backwards. Now I see them as finally moving forward. Springer and Altuve and Dominguez and Villar’s play at SS, combined with the surprising strength of McHugh and Keuchel have set a different mood for me lately. I think it would have started sooner if Springer had been brought up last September. Springer, the last two weeks, has reminded me of Bagwell in his big years, just amazing me with the way he carried the Astros on his back and always coming up to the plate with Biggio on base.

      Like

      • BrianT
        May 27, 2014

        Oh, Oldpro, I have been as frustrated as the next person. I see no point in keeping Jesus Guzman on this team. Krauss has been on a roll (well, kind of) the last few weeks, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as a DH/1B/OF-in-a-pinch guy.

        But I’m ready for Singleton now. Right now. And either Wates or Santana (or both) not long thereafter. And I was a big believer in Corporan, but I now believe his clock is tick-tick-ticking.

        So, don’t give up being frustrated. And maybe — and I’m not just talking to you, Oldpro — maybe don’t “believe” in The Plan, but demand results from it.

        Like

      • daveb
        May 27, 2014

        Krauss is on such a roll that he’s hitting .178. Heck, it’s almost June. How long do you stay with the guy?

        Like

  3. Becky
    May 27, 2014

    I doubt the guys playing for the Astros are worrying too much about that article.
    They are on a roll, and it all starts with a kid named Altuve. Every single guy on the roster is starting to put it together, and they are doing it for EACH OTHER. I simply can not WAIT to see Singelton get brought up to join in on the fun! THEN…..we can sit back and watch (some can, I can’t) some dang good baseball !! I want the other clubs to start looking at Springer like we used to at Albert Pujols!
    Tonights entertainment was brought to you by an “average pitcher”, and George Springer!

    Like

    • Dan P
      May 27, 2014

      Prayed for Tanner on the bus in this morning.

      Like

  4. LemonGello Shooter
    May 27, 2014

    Wow! I was in Kansas city tonight and saw the SHOW that Springer put on. He is even more impressive in person than on MLB highlights. What a great offensive night from this wunderkind!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan P
    May 27, 2014

    I guess I don’t care if players like Luhnow if his plan works. We are finally seeing a team that looks like it belongs in the majors. When they had that 4 game losing streak earlier in this long road trip – last year they might have gone on another 15 game spiral.
    This season they got Springer back from his minor injury and the offense rolled. Add Singleton in and this will be even a bit more fun to watch.
    Luhnow is breaking eggs – we will see if he makes an omelette or a mess.

    Like

  6. Devin
    May 27, 2014

    There are two sides to every story. We don’t know which moves Luhnow was prohibited or forced to make. We don’t know which players declined his advances.

    Springer is doing exactly what many predicted. Get another bat or two in the lineup and we can talk about losing fewer than 100 per year.

    Like

  7. kevin
    May 27, 2014

    Just for today is this fun or what??? Springer last night, crazy good! Haven’t seen a game like that from an Astro since the hay days of the Killer B’s. Seeing Springer and Altuve forming a bond, having fun, reminded of a couple guys year ago, that turned out pretty well. I’m trying to learn that Springer-Villar dugout dance.

    The article wasn’t flattering, but it almost came across as some hidden agenda’s in there by the writer. I have never been much of Lowrie fan, not sure he is really that good of a dude. Bud Norris who cares what he says, whiny, under achieving ,head case. IMHO

    Like

  8. Tim
    May 27, 2014

    The jury is still definitely out on Luhnow. The young players performing for the Astros and in AAA were mostly acquired during the Wade era (Cosart, Springer, Keuchel, Singleton, Santana etal). I am not saying the plan isn’t working, but I am not ready to crown Luhnow as the greatest GM since Hunsicker either. Let’s see what happens with the players acquired by Luhnow at the higher levels of the minor leagues and into the majors before we decide whether the plan is working.

    Like

  9. Sandy
    May 27, 2014

    The only problem I have with the Luhnow plan is not promoting the kids when they are ready. Maybe it’s not Luhnow, could be orders from Crane & co. Not promoting Springer last fall made me think it’s all about the money. Not crazy about his managerial choice either, but everyone knows how I feel about that.
    Thinking of Tanner and his family today. Praying he’s on the mend.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. drbill14
    May 27, 2014

    Luhnow has demonstrated that he can build a dynamic farm system and I think he has a good eye for minor league prospects. But the only prospect he has acquired who is fitting in on the MLB level is Dominguez and I think he is doing pretty well. Of some others like Hoes, Grossman, Krauss, Zeid et al I’m pretty underwhelmed. His trades overall have not been all that great but not horrible either. I loved the trade to get Lowrie and did not like the one that sent him away although I am reserving judgment pending Stassi. I don’t think we got all that much with Carter and even Peacock but I can see them as easily replaced in the near future. I think the Lyles/Barnes for Fowler trade is probably going to be a win win so I like it. His waiver wire pickups have for the most part been worn out retreads who have probably been negative influences overall. I did not like his choice of Porter as manager when it happened and still don’t. This team still needs good instructors, not cheerleaders and sourpusses.

    I think Luhnow does want to build a winner and that we will get there eventually. There is just too much talent in the pipeline. I do think he forgets or discounts that he is also in the entertainment business and his customers want to see a better product or at least one that has the reasonable potential to be one. Bringing up kids like Singleton and Wates and even Santana would give the team and the fans a much needed spark that we are not going to get from the likes of Presley, Williams and Guzman.

    Like

  11. daveb
    May 27, 2014

    Our MLB team could be in a better place right now if Luhnow made use of his minor league system. We all knew Springer was ready last year. How long are we going to have to wait on other guys to get the call? How frustrated are these kids getting? How long to we have to watch Robbie Grossman before we give another outfielder a shot? If the method of building this club still does not include putting the best team on the field possible, today, then I no longer fully buy into “The Luhnow way”. We’ve waited long enough.

    My long term concern is that we’ll watch guys like Springer and others become some of the best players in the game only too see them leave as soon as they can get out of town. From what I’ve seen to date, this club is not growing relationships, relationships that might help get a bit of a hometown discount, but more importantly, build trust and create an atmosphere that makes our players want to play here and stay here.

    Like

  12. drbill14
    May 27, 2014

    To add to what I said earlier about being in the entertainment business, Luhnow could help the TV situation indirectly by putting a more entertaining team on the field. If I’m a cable provider I want a good product to market and so far the Astros aren’t.

    Like

  13. Becky
    May 27, 2014

    I have good news…..Tanner was able to come home today. He is still on antibiotics and pain meds, but he’s HOME! I can’t thank you enough for your prayers, I am humbled by your concern. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chip Bailey
      May 27, 2014

      Becky, that’s not “good” news, it’s GREAT news! Wonderful, mahvelous! What a testimony in years to come he’ll have! You can let him know his “baseball” friends were with him all the way!

      Like

      • kevin
        May 27, 2014

        DITTO

        Like

      • BrianT
        May 27, 2014

        Give him a hug — gently — from all of us.

        Like

    • 1oldpro
      May 27, 2014

      We say the prayers, but He does the healing. So grateful that Tanner is doing better.

      Like

    • Billy Castillo
      May 27, 2014

      So glad to hear this news!

      Like

  14. Becky
    May 27, 2014

    Same line up tonight as last night! Why mess with success?!!

    Like

  15. daveb
    May 27, 2014

    Very good news Becky!

    Like

  16. Sandy
    May 27, 2014

    I’m so happy for Tanner and his family.

    Like

  17. Dan P
    May 27, 2014

    Great news Becky and in lesser news the Astros win again. Good day.

    Like

  18. BrianT
    May 27, 2014

    Why are the Astros winning? Well, there are the amorphous reasons like good hitting and great pitching. But one quick stat I’d like to point out: In the two games against the Royals, one free pass to Royals hitters. One. Uno.

    That’s a big ingredient toward winning. It’s like the butter in a good cookie recipe.

    Like

  19. Becky
    May 27, 2014

    You guys (and Sandy) made me cry………thank you for all the kind words.
    It’s a good thing I’ve had the Astros to keep me from a total breakdown! ‘I told Tanner you were praying for him, and he said “FOR REAL”?? He knows how much
    I love this team, and he asked me to thank you from HIM. He even has an Astros calendar in his room! Again thank you, you are the BEST!!
    Now…….how ’bout that Collin McHugh???? WOW!! We just found a diamond, that everyone else thought was cut glass!! WHEN was the last time these guys won *4*
    games in a row!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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