Tuesday Tangents: Mad Men Edition

I’m tired of the Hall of Fame.

Not tired of it in the way Dustin is. I love it, for all its faults, and I’ll probably write about it again tomorrow. It’s just that I’ve been talking about it for quite a while now, and we all know what happened yesterday, and I’d like a break.

In other, unambiguously good news, it was announced yesterday that Mad Men, one of my favorite shows, will finally be returning for its fifth season on March 25, following an absence of more than a year. So here are some characters in Mad Men and how they remind me a little bit, not of the Hall of Fame candidates or voters, but of the free agents still on the market.

Bartolo Colon is a former Cy Young Award winner who put up some good numbers last year, but he’ll be 39 and is kind of a ticking time bomb. Which reminds me of how Roger Sterling seems to be falling apart a little bit…

From 1998-2005, still-free-agent Bartolo Colon was…well, he was never a Cy Young quality pitcher (Johan forever!), but he was awfully good, putting up a 3.85 ERA (119 ERA+) while averaging 216 innings a season. Then the injuries and ineffectiveness hit, though, and Colon pitched only 257 innings total over the next four years and sat out all of 2010.

Colon was an unlikely addition to the 2011 Yankees rotation, where he put up impressive overall numbers for a 38 year old who had been mostly out of the league for years — a 4.00 ERA and 111 ERA+ in 164 innings. The advanced stats are even better. But: Colon turns 39 in May, has still had more or less only those 164 good innings since ’05, and the breakdown has to give an acquiring team a bit of pause — after a really strong start to the year, Colon’s ERA and FIP jumped way up in July through September. He suffered a three-week injury in June; his ERA was 3.10 before the injury, 4.81 after. There are a lot of reasons teams haven’t rushed to snap up Colon, despite his impressive 2011.

Roger Sterling, Jr., played by the fantastic John Slattery, is getting a bit like that. He was one of the two named partners (essentially) in Sterling Cooper, the ad agency that is the central setting of most of the first three seasons of the show, and then is one of the catalysts and one of the founding partners in the new agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, formed in season 4. He’s extremely charming and friendly with nearly everyone, and it’s made very clear that he’s quite good at what he does (though he doesn’t seem to work all that much). But he’s getting a bit old. Sterling suffered two heart attacks a couple years earlier, and while that scared him straight for a while, by season four he’s back to all the old habits that got him into trouble. Then, in the fourth season, a major issue arises in which Sterling loses the agency’s biggest client, but fails to tell the others.

So, Roger could always bounce back to his former glory, but that’s not the way these things usually work; he seems more likely to become a problem, threatening to explode at any moment. Kind of like Colon.

Prince Fielder — or, more accurately, Scott Boras — has been awfully quiet for quite a while, but I continue to suspect he’s manipulating things just as he wants them. Which is what Joan Holloway/Harris always does.

I think it was generally assumed that once Albert Pujols was off the market, Prince Fielder would follow right on his heels — whoever didn’t get Pujols would dive after the consolation prize. But we’re about a month into the Pujols with the Angels era, and that certainly didn’t happen; the Marlins made it clear that Fielder didn’t have anything like the same value to them, the Cardinals were content with Carlos Beltran instead (and really, if you’ve already got Lance Berkman, it seems silly to go after another guy who has no business playing anything but first), and other than a Nationals rumor that has surfaced over the last few days, no other suitors have really come forward. It’s starting to look a bit like Fielder has just hit the market at the wrong time and is running out of options.

I don’t buy that, though. Scott Boras clients nearly always wait until the last minute to sign. It doesn’t seem like a strategy that should work, intentionally limiting your pool of potential buyers, but it always does for Boras. The few teams left in the running tend also to be kind of desperate, and of course, Boras is the best there is at exploiting that. He’s got a plan. Even if there really is only one suitor, Prince will get paid. Jim Bowden, who has been eerily accurate on almost every other deal, pegged Fielder at 8 years and $192 million entering the offseason, and I bet that doesn’t end up being that far off, either.

Which is a lot like Mad Men‘s Joan, in that…mostly, I just wanted to equate Scott Boras with Christina Hendricks. But Joan is certainly the most sneakily manipulative of all the show’s characters. In any relationship and any interaction with anyone — with the possible exception of her on-again, off-again illicit relationship with Roger Sterling — it’s a pretty safe bet that Joan has a secret plan or angle giving her the upper hand. Which is the same thing  teams have been assuming about Boras for years.

Edwin Jackson an intriguing pitcher to a lot of teams, but is probably more style than substance. Like that smarmy little punk Pete Campbell.

Speaking of Boras clients, Edwin Jackson has been talked up quite a bit this offseason. He’s still pretty young and is coming off a very strong year. Boras was rumored to have been seeking a “Lackey/Burnett” type of deal for Jackson. That hasn’t happened, but the latest rumor, per that link, is that he’s still seeking a five-year deal in the range of $15 million a year. Recent history is full of similar deals that have failed spectacularly, but it’s Boras, so who knows, he might get it.

It seems pretty misguided to me. Teams, and fans, seem intrigued by Jackson’s “upside,” driven mostly by the fact that he throws his fastball 95 miles an hour (and can get it up into the high 90s). That obscures the fact that he just doesn’t miss many bats. His strikeout rate has fluctuated quite a bit over the course of his five full seasons, but overall, it’s been right around league average; he owns a K% of 17.0%, against an MLB average during his career of 17.4%. His effectiveness depends not on blowing that fastball by hitters, but on keeping his walks down (which he’s done a nice job of lately, particularly in 2011, after a wild start to his career). Ignore the radar gun and the no-hitter, and he looks a lot like Gavin Floyd, or Scott Baker, or Derek Lowe. Not at all a bad thing to be, but do you want to commit $75 million to that? If Jackson keeps doing what he’s doing for another five years, he might be worth that or even more…so if you’ve got a crystal ball and can confirm he won’t be injured or suddenly lose his control or velocity or any of the other things that tends to happen to pitchers, maybe you go in at that price for five years. Me, I probably pass.

Which is all a nice way of saying I think he’s getting overrated in some quarters — much as he was when he was traded for Max Scherzer, and Daniel Hudson, and Colby Rasmus. And if there’s one thing that drives me nuts about Mad Men, it’s the overemphasis on Pete Campbell, the smarmy, slimy younger partner of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Campbell’s a bully, yet desperate for approval, and will do anything to anyone if it helps him get ahead. In four seasons covering more than five years, as far as I can tell, there’s been no real growth or development in Pete. And there are plenty of other characters who could play villain; Pete’s primary role, for the most part, appears to be annoyance. He could be a good character, I think, or a very useful one, in much smaller doses, but the show tends to overrely on him, with generally obnoxious results. In the same way, Jackson’s a good pitcher who could be awfully useful, but some team is likely to overpay for him and expect too much.

Hiroki Kuroda is flying under the radar right now; teams seem not to be properly appreciating his skills. Just like Harry Crane, the agency’s TV guy.

Meanwhile, Hiroki Kuroda looks like a kind of anti-Jackson. Not that it’s a good idea to sign him to a long-term deal; Kuroda will be 37, less than two years younger than Colon and more than eight years older than Jackson. But Kuroda has been just as effective as Jackson without the impressive fastball. He’s actually been getting more strikeouts and fewer walks than Jackson, and, for the most part, has been better at getting grounders.

Jackson’s better for the next five years, of course, but Kuroda is reportedly willing to sign a one-year deal, at a lower salary than the AAV Jackson is seeking. Next year the crop of free agent pitchers appears to be much better, currently including Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, and Anibal Sanchez, among others; if you’ve got the money, you can expect either to get a better pitcher than Jackson, or to get a similar pitcher for less, due to the increased competition. If I’m in the market for a pitcher and looking to compete in 2012, it’s an easy choice for me — I let some other sucker try his or her luck with Jackson and go after Kuroda on a one-year deal, and start saving up for a big push for one of those big-name guys for 2013 and beyond. And teams are interested, but nobody’s snapped him up yet, and you don’t hear nearly as much about him as you do Jackson and many other free agents.

So it’s like Harry Crane. Sterling Cooper didn’t even have a TV department until Crane pushed them into creating one, and making him the head of it. We know with the benefit of hindsight that television is the future of advertising, of course, and there are signs even then that the TV side of things is a lot more important to their business than much of the old guard realizes. Yet Crane is repeatedly misused, ignored and taken for granted. Near the end of season 4, Harry has begun to come into his own, getting good at making deals on the TV side of things (while the print side starts to fall apart). Still no sign of any appreciation from the more traditional ad men. At least there’s the whole fear-of-new-technology thing to explain the reluctance to warm up to Harry; there’s nothing like that to explain all the ignoring Kuroda.

Ah, March 25th. New Mad Men and a little more than a week from Opening Day. Less than three months away!

…That sounds like quite a while, actually. Might need one or two more Mad Men-themed posts to get me all the way there.

Comments (8)

  1. Pete Campbell’s an undeveloped character?

    Oh, no, no, no. He has a soul now and the growth is obvious.

  2. Pete’s grown, in the sense that he’s turned into somewhat of a family man and moved beyond the “sleep with the secretary” stage of his life that a lot of the minor players were stuck in.

    That said, Ken’s about twenty times more awesome on the accounts side. The “wide-eyed farmboy who’s a lot smarter than he gets credit for” angle never fails to deliver whenever he’s given a chance.

    (Also, on John Slattery – having him play Tony Stark’s dad in Iron Man 2 was the most brilliant bit of casting I’ve seen in years, even his role was all in flashback.)

  3. I think you’re giving Harry a little too much credit. It really felt like he stumbled into being the head of TV more than anything. I always thought he was a bit of an incompetent boob.

    And, yeah, Pete’s the cat’s pajamas..

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