Monday, September 17, 2007

Will he keep his job: Brian Graham

Kevin McClatchy has stepped down. Dave Littlefield has been fired. Clearly, changes are taking place at the top of the Pirates organization. For the next few days, I'm going to look at some other prominent members of the Pirates' organization and whether or not I think they'll get to keep their jobs in 2008. The first post was about the current head of scouting, Ed Creech. Then we took on manager Jim Tracy. Today, director of player development, Brian Graham.

Graham is definitely the toughest person to write this post for. If we take as fact that Ed Creech is a terrible evaluator of talent, then we also have to assume that Creech makes Graham's job incredibly difficult. On top of that, from what I can see, it's very hard to know how much of the things that hurt our prospects, like the very slow promotions that held guys like Steven Pearce back, are Dave Littlefield's fault and how much of them are Graham's fault.

Admittedly, on the day DL was fired, I would've immediately lumped Graham into the "not long for this world" category with Creech and probably Tracy. Then, Nutting elevated him to interim GM and said a ton of flattering things about Graham. That made me reconsider Graham a bit. I know that sounds crazy, but hear my reasoning out here. First off, Nutting didn't pick an assistant GM to fill the role, which is pretty customary in this situation, I think. If I had to guess, I would say he wants to distance himself from the DL regime and wanted to promote someone that would immediately start that process. On top of that, as I said when DL was fired, Coonelly was probably already in position when DL was fired, so this is probably who Coonelly wanted in the job. That means that it's not so cut and dried with Graham. Nutting doesn't know much about baseball and he's been talking to baseball people about his CEO position and how to run his team probably since January when he took over. That's why he said he fired DL; that the people he's talked to indicated to him that it had to happen for the team to move on. He also said that the people he talked to indicated Graham was an asset to the franchise.

Now I don't know who Bob Nutting has talked to since January and I'm not ready to hand him the "best owner on the planet" award after ten months. I'm not going to implicitly trust what he says. At the same time, a lot of good things have happened since he took over as primary owner in January and it's pretty clear that whoever he's been talking to has been giving him good advice. Thus, Nutting's endorsement of Graham has to mean something. The question is what, exactly that something is.

We can look at the flaws in the Pirates system first and try and decide if they're Graham's fault. You can say that a high number of pitchers get injured, but that's honestly probably not true. The high profile pitching prospects get injured, but they actually make up a small percentage of
total pitchers in the system and not many pitchers besides the high profile ones get hurt. Given that Creech and Littlefield had a tendency for drafting a certain type of pitcher with their first round pick, is it Graham's fault they got hurt? What about the slow promotions? Pearce started in Lynchburg this year despite a good half year there last year and his age (24).
But we know that it's been more or less Littlefield's MO to overstock the minors with players too old for their level to build up the record of the system and make it seem like there's hope. Or is it Graham that does that? It sure seems like more of the organizational philosophy than something the director of player development would focus on.

Still, Graham can't be blameless. Don't forget this story from earlier in the summer when JVB basically said that no one in the minors coached him. That's Graham's territory. And the fact that every single hitter that comes through the minors seems to have no plate discipline? Well, some of that's Creech's fault for drafting, but if you're going to teach people stuff like that, it happens in the minors. I don't see any evidence Graham is trying. Still, there are some success stories in Graham's tenure. Guys like Snell, Gorzelanny, and Pearce have grown a lot in the minors and succeeded expectations (at least I think they are, I've tried to dig up when he started on the job but I can't find it, so I'm assuming it approximately coincides with when DL took over).

Thus, the Graham situation is one colored with shades of gray. There must be a good reason that Coonelly and Nutting trust him, but even if we don't blame him for the things we can pass off on Littlefield and Creech (two guys we can mostly prove were incompetent), there's things that make him pretty hard to like. If it were up to me, I'd be starting all over from scratch with everyone. As bad as Creech and Littlefield were at evaluating talent, I think it's impossible to find Graham blameless. It's not up to me though, and I would say that early indications are that if anyone in the org is keeping their job when Coonelly's done remaking the front office, it's going to be Brian Graham.