August 15, 2011
Resident Fantasy Genius
Managing a Need for Speed
Prior to the 2011 season, much ado was made in the fantasy community over the Brewers declining to bring back manager Ken Macha, instead replacing him with Ron Roenicke. While Roenicke was far from a household name, his stated desire to allow his players to run more than they did under his predecessor piqued the interest of fantasy owners:
That was music to the ears of attentive fantasy owners, who hoped Roenicke’s aggressive baserunning style would translate to attempts as well. All of that talk had me thinking about the effect managers actually have on stolen-base rates and which managers are the most aggressive, and today I can show you the results.
Ideally, I’d do each year individually, figure out the proper amount of regression and weighting, and then create a true talent projection of sorts, but this should still serve as a pretty decent guideline for now. All hitters have been included with their contribution to each manager’s bucket weighted by the lesser of their two stolen-base opportunities (with the manager and without the manager).
Differences in league average from year to year have been accounted for since the stolen-base attempt environment has changed a bit over the past two seasons. While the study was run looking at differences in league average (as opposed to quotients), the numbers have been formatted as indexes to show the percent increase or reduction in stolen-base attempts for each manager.
*Johnson, Collins, and McKeon are new managers in 2011 and hadn’t managed in the 2005-2010 span that the study looked at for the other managers. However, they both managed in the 1990s, and these are their numbers from 1993-2000. They may or may not be indicative of their actual tendencies since it was a long time ago, times have changed, and they are with new organizations that may favor a different philosophy.
As you can see, a manager’s impact on the frequency with which his players steal bases is very real. This is what we’d expect, but oftentimes what we expect and what the reality is don’t match up. It’s nice to see when it does.
Macha is not on the list, but Brewers fans who wanted to see their team run more often—and fantasy owners who were excited to see Macha leave Milwaukee—were completely right about the former Brew Crew skipper. Had Macha qualified, he would have been second to last on the list—just a hair ahead of Buck Showalter—reducing stolen-base attempts by 28 percent. That’s a huge number. For a hitter who attempts a modest 20 steals per year, Macha would cut those attempts to 14. For a true speed demon who attempts 40 steals per year, playing under Macha would drop that number to 29. We have yet to be seen how much Roenicke really influences the running game, but he was Mike Scioscia’s bench coach for a while, and Scioscia liked to run 13 percent more than a league-average manager. Regardless, it would be hard to run less than Macha did.
The most extreme manager in baseball appears to be Clint Hurdle—and it’s not even close. Hurdle has his players steal 37 percent more frequently than a league-average manager does, and nearly 20 percentage points more than the second-most aggressive manager in baseball, Jim Leyland.
After the July 31 MLB trading deadline, I posted an article looking at how the value of different players changed when they’d been traded to a new team. This stolen-base tendency chart becomes a new factor to consider in this kind of analysis. Some of the biggest swings include Ryan Ludwick (+42%), Derrek Lee (+37%), Casper Wells (-36%), Michael Bourn (-24%), Jordan Schafer (+24%), Orlando Cabrera (+11%), Hunter Pence (-10%), and Carlos Beltran (-8%). (Other players who may benefit include Kosuke Fukudome and Corey Patterson, while Colby Rasmus and Trayvon Robinson could be hurt by the move, though it’s hard to say with any amount of certainty since they are all either coming from or going to a team with a new manager.)
Bourn’s name sticks out like a sore thumb on that list. Bourn, who derives most of his fantasy value from steals, was traded from a team with a manager who boosts attempts by three percent to one who suppresses them by 22 percent. If he’s not given the green light in Atlanta—and it seems Fredi Gonzalez is unwilling to give it many players—his fantasy owners could really miss that speed. So far in Atlanta, Bourn is attempting steals at a healthy 33.3 percent clip—identical to his rate in Houston this season. He’s only had 15 opportunities, though, so it’ll be interesting to see if that continues. It might be worth looking into trading him for a more secure speedster.
Schafer gets the benefit on the other side of that coin. While the Houston outfield is getting mighty crowded, manager Brad Mills said he’ll receive a lot of playing time in center and in the leadoff spot when he returns. He’s set to begin a rehab assignment this week, so Schafer makes for a very sneaky pickup in deep mixed and NL-only leagues. He was already attempting steals at a 34 percent rate in Atlanta, so he could end up turning huge dividends for savvy fantasy owners.