May 2, 2014
Painting the Black
A Trip Through the NL West
A lot happens in baseball every night, and neither man nor Daniel Rathman can keep up with it all. So every few weeks we'll look at some stories within a division that would have otherwise slipped through the cracks. Let's start with the National League West.
In fact, the Rockies have fared well when hiring skippers. As Chris Jaffe wrote in Weiss' Baseball Prospectus 2014 comment, four of the five Colorado managers have won the Manager of the Year award during their careers, and the other finished in second. Giving the Rockies all the credit for their former skippers' success would be unfair; after all, Jim Leyland spent one season in Colorado, while Buddy Bell and Jim Tracy had previous managerial experience. The Rockies did launch the careers of Don Baylor and Clint Hurdle, however.
If you need proof of Weiss' obscurity, consider that the rest of Jaffe's comment focused on Colorado's improvements with double plays. When the man who wrote the book on managers can't find something compelling about a skipper, then what hope do the rest of us have? Let's try anyway by focusing on the fact that Weiss' second-place Rockies lead the NL in sacrifice bunts by position players.
The thought of a Coors Field-based team leading the league in bunts was unfathomable 15 years ago. Back in 1999, games played there averaged about 15 runs per pop. These days, the rate has declined and steadied at around 10 runs per game; still above the non-Coors average, but not by as much. (The exception being in 2012, when Colorado pitched poorly and experimented with a four-man rotation.) Asking any big-league hitter to bunt at Coors Field would appear a waste. To Weiss' credit, just three of the 10 bunts have happened at Coors Field, and it would appear that he has, for the most part, tasked the right players with bunting at the right times.
Four of those bunts were delivered by Brandon Barnes, while another four were split by Charlie Culberson and Charlie Blackmon; Drew Stubbs and Josh Rutledge dropped down the other two. Here are those hitters' credentials:
Now onto when the Rockies bunted:
Sabermetric wisdom suggests teams should bunt only in situations where one run is necessary, such as late in a close game. Weiss has stayed true to that thought, with eight of the 10 bunts coming in tied or one-run games, and six of the 10 happening after the sixth inning.
Weiss has strayed from the straight path a few times, including a few bunts in the fifth inning, and he seems to have a fondness for setting up the sacrifice fly that might stem from his playing days. Accusing a skipper of managing like he played is a common charge, but during Weiss' era (1987-2000), he tied for fifth in sac hits and ranked ninth in sac flies among shortstops. Whether that's at play or something else is anyone's guess, yet the Rockies finished highly in bunts by position players last season (fourth in the NL) as well.
Jack Moore wrote about the value of the bunt earlier this week, referencing Bill James' essay in his Guide to Baseball Managers. In the end, Moore excerpted James' conclusion, in which he wrote, "Maybe each of them had the right answer for his own team. The rest of us need to keep an open mind." Luckily for Weiss, he and his bunts are seldom on anyone's mind—even if they ought to be.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958, no team has seen more players accomplish the feat than the Dodgers (47 times)*. Gordon would need another seven seasons to match Maury Wills' franchise record, but if he set his sights lower he could pull even with Steve Sax (six), Davey Lopes (five), or Brett Butler (four). Juan Pierre and Delino DeShields, by the way, had three each.
*The Athletics (40), Royals (38), Cardinals (37), and Astros (35) round out the top five, while the Diamondbacks (four) have the fewest among franchises.
San Francisco Giants
Hudson led the A's in games started during his stay there, from 1999 to 2004, with Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Gil Heredia, and Cory Lidle finishing second through fifth. None of those four pitchers is expected to throw a pitch this season. Zito is sitting the year out, Mulder suffered an injury that delayed his comeback attempt, Heredia is retired, and Lidle is deceased. After those four there's Rich Harden, who hasn't thrown a regular-season pitch in the majors or minors since 2011; Kevin Appier, a 2006 retiree; and Ted Lilly, a 2013 retiree. Mark Redman hasn't appeared in the majors since July 2008, and Omar Olivares hasn't since September 2001. Jimmy Haynes is the last pitcher with more than 25 starts during those years, and he hasn't toed a big-league rubber in about a decade.
Skip Mike Oquist and you reach the only active pitcher besides Hudson: Aaron Harang. There are 14 other pitchers who started a game in the green and gold, and none of them will appear in the majors barring unforeseen circumstances. Not even youngsters like Kirk Saarloos, Justin Duchscherer, Brett Laxton, Mike Wood, Marcus James, or Blake Stein. How long has Hudson been around? He's probably going to be the last starter standing from the A's Moneyball days.
San Diego Padres
Cahill is missing more bats and generating more groundballs in the bullpen while throwing the same rate of strikes. Those gains have come despite his velocity remaining steady. His pitch selection has altered a little, particularly in two-strike counts, where he's sacrificed some changeups for curveballs. There's seemingly little reason Cahill could not take his new approach back to the rotation, but Arizona's plans for him are unclear.
Kevin Towers fancies himself a sludge merchant and Cahill, who is due $12 million next season, could be one of his next projects.