The Fanboy Problem

added 8/26/2013 by Scott Barzilla

For those of us in the writing business, the whole idea of a living, breathing dictionary is a fascinating topic. Webster's dictionary (and others) officially add and delete words every year. According to the dictionary application on my phone, the term "fanboy" doesn't exist, but I expect that to be remedied in the next few years. I suppose one could look at it as evolution, but when I see "crunk" in the dictionary, I'm not so sure it should be labeled evolution.

The concept of "fanboyism" could trace its roots almost anywhere, but I like to look back at the debate between Microsoft and Apple. Those that are technologically inclined (and even those that aren't) have taken one side or another as if they are casting the ballot between Democrats and Republicans. Apple supporters like to call Microsoft an evil corporation that's just in it for the profit. I suppose that makes Apple a communal non-profit. Obviously, this is not the case but, in a black-and-white, evil-or-good world, you would think there was some sort of difference.

In baseball, the debate is between what might be called "old school" and "new school" baseball executives. Admittedly, the numbers of truly old school executives are shrinking by the year. Virtually every club that has hired a new general manager recently has selected one that embraces sabermetrics. Make no mistake, the fanboy revolution has hit the baseball world as well. Those that don't concern themselves with other such divides may not understand what's at work here.

To put it simply, there is a thought process that says that if you aren't for us then you are against us. If you levy a criticism of one camp then you are assumed to be in the other camp. Ostensibly, one must pick one side or the other and there definitely isn't room for anyone to straddle the fence. I suppose the biggest tragedy in this development is the absence of critical thought within each camp. A subpar old school general manager becomes an indictment of the entire movement. The same is true for new age general managers.

Moreover, each side likes to sweep its failures under the rug. Anyone remember Paul DePodesta? Perhaps, a better example exists north of the border in Toronto. Alex Anthopolous was the darling of seamheads everywhere when he was unloading Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and Roy Halladay. Given a stack of cash to spend, he has gotten no closer to a pennant than his predecessor. Does this mean that sabermetrics failed? No, it means that Anthopolous has failed so far.

When we look at the Astros in this prism, we see a couple of different fronts where fans have been forced to choose one side or another. Jeff Luhnow is a very bright guy and is on the forefront of the sabermetric revolution. Additionally, the organization has thrown caution to the wind and embarked on a scorched earth policy that would make Stalin blush.

His five year plan was excruciating for dedicated Astros fans. Assuming the club returns to contention in 2014 (that's assuming a ton), they will have lost a combined 495 games in the last five years if they continue on their current 54-108 pace. For the math impaired, that equals an average of 63-99. That means they will average more defeats a season over five seasons than they had in any individual season before the stretch began. That's pain.

Fans are forced to choose between supporting the race to the bottom or to reject it as being overly cheap. On the positive end, it has netted prospects like Delino DeShields, Michael Foltyniewicz, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Mark Appel and George Springer.

That's just mentioning first-rounders. That doesn't mention all the players acquired by trade or any of the lower-round picks that will also reach the majors. On the negative end, the team is currently operating on an effective 13 million dollar budget and is on pace to become the first team in the amateur draft era (1965 - present) to finish with the worst record in baseball three years running.

The problem with the fanboy revolution is that it becomes difficult for those on board to turn around and criticize individual decisions. However, that is beginning to happen as Springer's promotion to the majors has been delayed. The outfielder is a shoe-in for Minor League Player of the Year. As of this writing, he has produced a combined 37 homers, more than 100 runs and RBIs, and more than 40 steals. Juxtapose that with a major league roster where no full-time player will likely reach 30 home runs, a .300 average, or anywhere close to 100 runs or RBIs. Springer will do all of these things with a paltry 80+ walks thrown in for good measure.

I like Jeff Luhnow. I've been privileged enough to meet him and there has been no more impressive general manager I've had the opportunity to meet. That being said, I'm not on board with the stated reasoning for this delay. He wants Springer to win.

I have faced that dilemma as a varsity coach a few times. I had to choose between an underclassmen sitting on varsity or playing on the junior varsity squad. Every decision was made in what was in the best interest of the player. I didn't get credit for how often the junior varsity or freshman squad won. If a player could help my team and I knew they were good enough to play over an upperclassman, then they played.

If there was any question of whether George Springer is better than Brandon Barnes, I'd support leaving him down on the farm. There is no such debate in any baseball circle. If anyone honestly is wrestling with the idea in their mind then they are truly an idiot. So, we Astros fans are deprived of likely the best position player in the entire organization because they want to win a AAA championship? Seems fishy to me and this coming from one of those so-called new age fanboys.