Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Card #22: Jim Beattie

Who Can It Be Now?
James Louis Beattie was born in Hampton, Virginia, but attended South Portland High School in South Portland, Maine and, later, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. So, he is not the "wild man" from the English band Primal Scream, nor is he the James Beattie who currently serves as the Player-Manager for Accrington Stanley in League 2 in England.

This Jim Beattie was a fourth-round pick of the New York Yankees in the 1975 June Amateur Draft.  As seemed typical in the 1970s, players tended to get moved along relatively quickly, and Beattie was pushed to AAA Syracuse in 1975 at the age of 20.  By age 23, Beattie was in the majors with New York -- starting and winning a game in both the ALCS against the Royals and in the World Series against the Dodgers in 1978.  

His 1978 season was not free of histrionics, though.  On June 21, 1978, Beattie started a game against the hated Boston Red Sox.  He pitched poorly -- giving up five runs on five hits and three walks in just over two innings at Fenway Park.  By the time the sixth inning came, Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner already had sent Beattie back to Triple-A Tacoma -- calling Beattie "gutless."  

Beattie struggled a bit in 1979 -- a 5.21 ERA and a 3-6 record.  It was not that bad of a showing according to more advanced metrics, however, as his Fielding Independent Pitching stats indicate that his ERA should have been nearly a run lower.  But the Yankees were not ones for patience -- shocking, I know -- and decided instead to ship Beattie to the Mariners after the 1979 season so that they could obtain outfielder Ruppert Jones. 

Beattie spent the rest of his playing career in Seattle.  He struggled in 1980, but seemed to turn a corner after that year.  In an interview with a Baltimore sports website, Beattie blamed the fact that his shoulder was not feeling right in 1980.  As he put it, "[i]n 1980 my shoulder did not allow me to throw easily and hard although I kept going out to pitch and tried to battle through it."

In 1981, he split the season between AAA Spokane and Seattle.  He was just 26 years old, and his numbers indicated a pitcher who had figured out that he needed to focus on not walking hitters.  He also got healthy, as Beattie himself said: "When I got healthy during the 1981 season (pitching in the minor leagues during the strike) I came back a different pitcher."

His BB/9 went from 4.7 per 9 innings to 2.4/9 in 1981 and 3.4 in 1982.  These ratios allowed Beattie to finish 8th in the league in 1982 in K/BB with a 2.154 ratio.  Getting to those levels is a good way to have a successful season, and Beattie did exactly that in 1982.  Outside of the surface stat of W-L record -- just 8-12 -- Beattie put up his most successful season as a pro.  He struck out 7.3 batters per nine innings, pitched 172-1/3 innings in 26 starts, and had a WHIP of 1.242.  These days, he would have been a great sleeper for whatever team realized that the surface stats did not provide a full picture of his ability.

Unfortunately, whether due to the mileage put on his arm earlier in his career or due to his stuff just not being that good, Beattie's 1982 and 1983 seasons were to be his best.  By the time he was 31 years old in 1986, he suffered through 40-1/3 horrible innings -- giving up 57 hits, 7 homers, and 14 walks while striking out 24.  Once he no longer was striking out 6 or more batters per nine innings, his results followed nearly immediately.

Orange You Smart
As stated above, Beattie was an Ivy Leaguer, having earned his Bachelor's Degree from there.  But, he was not done with his education at that point.  As soon as he retired from baseball after 1986, he enrolled in the Business School at the University of Washington.  He had started his MBA at Northeastern while still playing for the Yankees, but he did not finsih it until he received his MBA in 1989 and then rejoined the Seattle Mariners organization as the director of player development.  

One could argue with this title being applied to Beattie.  After all, his stints as the general manager for the Montreal Expos from 1995-2001 and as co-General Manager with Mike Flanagan for the Baltimore Orioles from 2003-2005 were not exactly successful.  With the Expos, he was responsible for getting as much of a return as possible in exchange for Pedro Martinez.  Indeed, much of the lengthy Baseball Prospectus interview at that link revolves around the Martinez trade.

With the Orioles, he, Flanagan, and Lee Mazzilli got to answer questions about finger-wagging first baseman Rafael Palmeiro's steroid use:

(Baltimore Sun Photo by John Makely, August 1, 2005)
Perhaps it was not his fault, or ownership's fault, or anyone's fault other than Palmeiro that Palmeiro and others in the game took steroids.  But after reading the Prospectus interview, it seems less and less likely to me that the issue was anything other than blissful ignorance.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
In 1982, Beattie was a guy toiling with a team five years out from joining the league, and his results showed it.  For whatever reason, though, Beatie faced my Milwaukee Brewers less than any other American League team other than the Mariners.  Honestly, Beattie was not the kind of guy that anyone other than a hardcore fan would notice.  

For the past four years, Beattie has served as a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays.  He reports to his former gofer in the Montreal front office -- Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos -- as a major-league scout to "recommend[] possible trades." 

His career in baseball after his playing career is something that more people are likely to notice.  Interestingly, when he was named GM in Montreal, the Expos sought first to speak to none other than Billy Beane -- then the assistant GM in Oakland.  Wouldn't that be one of baseball history's great counterfactuals?  Would "Moneyball" have ever gotten written if Beane was the person who oversaw the great dismantling of the Montreal Expos prior to their decampment to Washington, DC?

That said, Beattie was not a bad front-office executive.  As Beattie rightly pointed out, even in Montreal, he was able to get some talent -- as the Expos drafted Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips before flipping them to the Indians (after Beattie left) for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.  The fact that Colon was a half-season rental for a team that finished second in the NL East proves both that the Expos had talent and that having the Expos owned by Major League Baseball was a bad, bad idea.  Then again, MLB was trying to contract the Expos and Twins at the time.

Will Beattie get back into a GM role? He won't rule it out, but he is 58 years old.  He just might.

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