This series will cover various trends I’ve observed major-league baseball teams following. Some trends will be analytical while others will be more…”conceptual.” Trends may span a season, or even several, it doesn’t matter, I don’t want to limit myself out of the box. Ideally, I’d like to cover all 30 teams, but I also don’t want to expect too much of myself out of the box, either. After all, I don’t have Francisco Lindor’s smile to pull it off.
Maybe that kind of thinking is limiting — not the part about Lindor’s smile (though in a weird way it does tie in), but maybe I like to undertake something with the caveat that I might not follow through because of experience, mine or others (see Stevens, Sufjan — 50 states project). Or maybe I don’t want to underestimate the extent of my laziness. Or maybe I’m just a glass-half-empty kind of guy…
And maybe all of this relates to my face.
From Wikipedia: “Physiognomy is the assessment of a person’s character or personality from his or her outer appearance, especially the face.”
It’s no secret that we’re all judged on our outer appearance. Some studies have shown it even relates to how well we’re paid. A predisposition towards handsome exists in baseball, too. It’s in the old scouting maxim, “the good face,” which essentially is the baseball colloquialism for “hottie.” But it can also refer to the potential presence of naturally-elevated levels of testosterone, as a strong jaw and well-defined cheekbones are sometimes indicative of the hormone.
Hogwash! Right? Well, have you ever wondered what it would be like to look like Brad Pitt and thought about how differently people would react to you? Now, I’m not talking about a matter of right or wrong, but people would generally respond more positively to you, both socially and professionally, and that does have an impact on confidence, which plays a massive, albeit intangible role in a baseball player’s on-field success.
But, come on. With all the advanced methodology we have to evaluate players, isn’t the “The Good Face” adage a thing of the past? I’m sure it’s probably lost some of its weight in the player-evaluation process, but it hasn’t disappeared. In fact, in the evaluation process used by (arguably) the most successful team of this decade, it’s very much alive. In recent memory, there have been enough handsome doppelgangers in their mix to wonder if the “Cardinal way” isn’t some iron-clad philosophy the organization established to allow them to get the most out of their young players, but that it might just be a certain type of guy!
You’re at FanGraphs, and so I assume you’re a savvy individual and that you know a ruse when you read one, but I want to qualify this writing by saying that this proposition is roughly ~0.0000000000000001% serious. Okay, so essentially, there are six archetypes for Cardinals players’ faces.
- The Wain-Os
Pseudoscience says: “If you have an oval face shape, you always know the right things to say.”
2. The Kozmakazies
Pseudoscience says: “If you have a square-shaped face, you are gung-ho and a total go-getter.”
3. The DesCarpenSons
Pseudoscience says: “You value logic and you’re a really good thinker. Plus, you’re an awesome planner.”
4. The Lynnburger
5. The Ambiguous Pham
Pseudoscience says: “If you have a diamond face shape, you’re a control freak. You’re very detail-oriented…”
6. We Don’t Want No Scruggs
Pseudoscience says: See the Wain-Os
Yes, it helps they’re in the same uniform, and yes, I very obviously cherry-picked some of those, but aren’t you still a little floored? The variation here rivals the lack of distinguishability featured among the male contestants on the Bachelorette.
So isn’t this proof of old-school scouting at work? What gives with all the talk of the Cardinals’ cutting-edge front office — are they just masquerading with the hiring of NASA data analysts and organizational philosophies? Or have they truly married the new school and old school? Maybe there is something to building a roster of similar-looking players that prevents “fault lines” from forming.
Think back to the hacking scandal of 2015. The Cardinals’ new Director of Scouting, Christopher Correa, hacked the Astros’ database for information on players regarding the draft, bonuses, and trade talks. Keep in mind, he was working for the Cardinals, not a brand-new expansion team; he could’ve hired anyone he wanted to work for him. He could’ve had his own NASA data analyst, just like Jeff Luhnow had done before him. I know that in the minds of these men, there’s a lot at stake, and so they look for any competitive advantage they can, but this scenario feels like it’s the smartest kid in class copying off the other smartest kid in class on a math test.
So what did Jeff Luhnow have access to that Correa didn’t?!
It was one file, actually. A file buried deep within the infrastructure of the Astros’ database. A file called “Stardust” (Yes, like in Rogue One). Allow me to explain.
This is daughter Luhnow. Her name and age are unknown (Jeff did not respond to my tweets), but my wife estimates her to be 19 in this photo. If we work off that number, she’s at least 20 now, and that means she’s probably been able to identify boys she thinks are cute for around 15 years, which lines up perfectly with when her dad was hired by the Cardinals in 2003.
Imagine it, “it’s easy if you try;” one day, a five-year-old daughter Luhnow wandered into her dad’s office and climbed up onto his lap while he was looking at some files of some players he was targeting to acquire. Mostly just talking to himself, Jeff explained the pros and cons of each player to his daughter and showed her their pictures. When he got to a young pitcher in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system, she put her hands to her mouth and giggled. “What’s so funny?” Jeff asked his suddenly-bashful daughter. Her face was nuzzled in her dad’s chest, so the words were a bit muffled, but Jeff heard them clear as day. “He’s cute,” she responded.
It was a strange moment for Jeff — he wrestled back the protective instincts welling up inside him, but as he looked at the picture of the lanky, young right-handed pitcher, he realized that she wasn’t wrong. Adam Wainwright was handsome in an awkward, President’s son kind of way.
While this was the deciding factor for Jeff, he was thrilled that he wouldn’t have to admit that to his bosses, because Wainwright was also a top-100 prospect. So the Cardinals sent J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero to the Braves for Wainwright, Jason Marquis, and Ray King (an admittedly motley crew).
Jeff remembered that moment and would, from time to time, call his daughter into his office and gauge her reactions to the players he’d show her. Eventually, however, he didn’t need to call her in anymore. Daughter Luhnow liked baseball, and liked looking at the pictures of the young men; it was like reading a Teen Beat magazine with her dad!
Before I go any further, I want to note that this is one of those conceptual pieces I referred to in the intro, and that the parts about daughter Luhnow are entirely fictitious. There are also no underlying misogynistic themes at play here. I believe a woman could run a major-league baseball team as well as any man — I just think the idea of a team as renowned and successful as the Cardinals being run on the lustful whims of a teenage girl is really funny.
So the way I see it, she had her own Excel spreadsheet where she could rate the features of potential acquisitions on the same 20 – 80 scale as scouts. She could comb through high-school, college, minor-league, and major-league rosters and highlight her favorite guys by coming up with an overall score.
This authoritative list, while completely undisclosed until now, has unwittingly been at the center of a couple of controversies. It is what ultimately drove the wedge between Walt Jocketty and the Cardinals, and also, as previously mentioned, is the holy grail that Christopher Correa was in search of when he hacked the Astros’ database — and what he is currently serving a 46-month jail sentence for.
About the moves that Correa made without the elusive “Stardust” file. He had an idea of her type of guy based on previous transactions, and he was able to make some quality, daughter-Luhnow-inspired acquisitions. Of course, that’s hardly a silver lining. Try explaining to your cell mate that you’re in prison for hacking into someone else’s computer for a list of cute, young men (some of which are still in high school!).
You get it. You’re on board. The Cardinals’ success has largely been driven by a teenager’s romantic fantasies. Okay, maybe not. Regardless, I still have a hard time telling the difference between Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha and I want to see if you are any better. Here are eight pictures of the two Cardinal pitchers, four of each; in the comments section, please attempt to sequence these correctly, and that’s it. This is what happens in the doldrums of the offseason!