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March 28, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Manager Tendencies

by Steven Rubio

A few years ago, in his Guide to Baseball Managers, Bill James suggested it might be a good idea to include job-specific data on the backs of baseball cards for managers, as a way of increasing our understanding of what managers do. The Stats Major League Handbook has, for some years, included charts of what they call "Manager Tendencies." Using these charts, we can draw a picture of the strategies of some current managers, in the spirit of James' suggestion.

It's important to note here that the job of baseball manager includes tasks that aren't going to show up in this type of analysis. To me, managing is the one area in baseball where the "intangibles" we typically deride come into play in important ways. Getting someone to perform to the best of their abilities and being a good manager of people are important parts of a baseball manager's job, but are very hard to quantify. Absent a way to evaluate these aspects, there can be a tendency to overemphasize what we can quantify, like bunting strategies and the like. Can we quantify something like "played better under Manager X than under Manager Y?" Do players even do better under some managers than under others? It's not just a question of bench construction and use: it's whether or not a manager can convince a player that he's being used appropriately.

I'm not certain this stuff matters, but it seems possible. I don't care about the intangibles of players, because their job is to perform on the field. A manager's job is to get those players to perform as well as possible, and I don't see everything under that umbrella being quantifiable.

With that caveat, here are some nuggets we can glean from the 1999 "Manager Tendency" charts. These provide a picture of how different managers work, without necessarily arguing that their particular strategies are right or wrong.

Felipe Alou made more defensive substitutions and used more different starting lineups than anyone else in the National League. He frequently got the platoon advantage when he pinch-hit.

Dusty Baker called for more sac bunts than any other manager. He never uses the double steal. As is well-known by now, Dusty works his starting pitchers harder than just about anyone now that Jim Leyland is retired: 27 starts last year over 120 pitches and two over 140 pitches. Still, Baker manages to throw a lot of relievers out there, leading the league in one-batter pitching appearances. No Giant reliever got a save while pitching more than one inning.

Bruce Bochy tied for most steals in the majors. He called for seven steals of home, leading in that category as well. He didn't like the sacrifice bunt (a sabermetric plus), but did like the intentional walk (a sabermetric minus). He was very careful with his starters, who threw more than 120 pitches only four times all season.

John Boles didn't like to call double steals. He was more likely than most to change a pitcher in mid-inning.

Bobby Cox was more fond of the intentional walk than anyone else in the majors. He liked a set lineup, and didn't like to make a pitching change in mid-inning. Of course, with his staff, he wasn't forced to do so very often.

Larry Dierker tied Bochy for the most steals in the majors. He rarely called for pitchouts and didn't like the intentional walk. He ranks near the bottom in both slow and quick hooks, and doesn't generally make mid-inning pitching changes. Dierker would seem to be a particularly idiosyncratic tactician relative to his colleagues.

Terry Francona's preference for stealing with two outs (as opposed to with fewer outs) was the most marked in the majors. Conversely, he was less likely to steal with no outs than his peers.

Jim Fregosi doesn't usually call pitchouts. He made just six defensive substitutions all season, and rarely yanked a reliever after only one batter.

Mike Hargrove attempted more steals and more sacrifice bunts than anyone else in the American League. He also led the league in one-batter appearances by his pitchers.

Art Howe rarely called the hit-and-run, but the A's were more successful with this strategy than any team in the majors. (It's worth noting that, using the Stats definition of success--"baserunner advancement with no double play"--Oakland's MLB-leading success rate was only 49.1%. Somewhere, Earl Weaver is smiling.) Howe made more defensive substitutions than any other manager (thank you, Ben Grieve and Matt Stairs), and used more pinch-runners than any other manager. He was complex in his pitcher usage: he rarely had a quick hook, but he also rarely let his starters throw more than 120 pitches. He made more mid-inning pitching changes than any other manager, and led the AL in saves of more than one inning. Like Dierker, Howe is a unique strategist, but for different reasons.

Davey Johnson called for more steals of third base, and more double steals, than any other manager last season.

Tom Kelly loves to call the hit-and-run, but at least in 1999, his team was less successful with this strategy than any other. He doesn't like pitchouts or the intentional walk. He used more pinch-hitters than anyone else in the AL, and used more different starting lineups than anyone in baseball (152).

Gene Lamont loves the squeeze play.

Tony LaRussa had more quick hooks than anyone in the NL. He loves the hit and run.

Jack McKeon didn't call a squeeze bunt all season long. He had one of the quickest hooks in baseball, as wells as an extreme tendency relative to his peers to let relievers get saves of more than one inning.

In his 1997 book, James wrote of Johnny Oates: "Uses as few lineups in a season as any manager in baseball. Uses as few pinch hitters and as few relievers as anybody. Never calls pitchouts." I guess you could say Oates is predictable, because outside of the relievers (he used more in 1999), those words describe the current Johnny Oates just as much as the old one.

Lou Piniella was among the leaders in starting pitchers throwing more than 120 pitches in an outing.

Larry Rothschild doesn't like the intentional walk. Mainly, though, he had a crappy team: Tampa Bay had the lowest stolen-base success rate in the league, and his pinch-hitters hit .143.

Buck Showalter called for a steal with no outs more often than any other manager. The D'Backs stole at a 77.8% success rate, so perhaps he was on to something, but in general the no-outs steal is a bad percentage move. He pinch-hit less frequently than most managers, but his pinch-hitters hit .319.

Bobby Valentine may have been giving up signs: 15 times his runners were moving when the opposing manager called a pitchout, more than twice as often as any other manager. Valentine called the hit-and-run more often than anyone else, and led the majors in pinch-hitters used, even though those subs hit only .198 in the role. Antsy to no real purpose, it would seem.

Jimy Williams had perhaps the quickest hook for his starting pitchers of anyone last year. He absolutely loves to call pitchouts: 75 times last season. Art Howe was the closest to him in the AL at 43.

Steven Rubio can be reached at srubio@baseballprospectus.com.

Related Content:  Managers,  Manager,  Managers Of The Year,  Steals

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