CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Collateral Damage: Cle... (03/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Painting the Black: Na... (03/20)
Next Column >>
Painting the Black: 20... (04/03)
Next Article >>
The Platoon Advantage:... (03/28)

March 28, 2012

Painting the Black

Building Benches Faster

by R.J. Anderson

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

If Baseball Prospectus tracked how often a manager spurred a column, Dusty Baker might sit atop the leaderboard. Baker, now entering his 19th season as a big-league manager, is wont to trumpet old-time truisms over newfangled concepts like OBP. You could mistake Baker for a troll if his comments weren’t so consistent and his tone so genuine. Alas, that would be too simplistic. Baker is deeper than that; deep enough where the public can identify three idiosyncrasies to him. One is that he abuses starting pitchers—which may no longer be true—and another is that he enjoys the utility and company of a sturdy toothpick, but then again, who doesn’t? That leaves the third piece of his puzzle as the most interesting: his crush on veteran ballplayers.

Baker’s run as a manager started in San Francisco. It was with the Giants that Baker eventually formed a tag team with Brian Sabean, thus bringing tears to the eyes, glee to the hearts, and dollars to the wallets of older players. Baker’s reputation for desiring older players might be exceeded only by Sabean’s. That same Sabean once had this joke made at his expense:

Scene: Cal Ripken, Steve Finley and Jim Leyritz are sitting on a couch in the Opryland hotel.
Observer: “All that’s missing is Brian Sabean and a pen.”

Unsurprisingly, Baker’s benches with the Giants were clustered with the likes of Shawon Dunston, Joe Carter, Eric Davis, and countless other veterans in the dusk of their careers. A few of those veterans followed Baker when he moved on to the Cubs. One such player was Tom Goodwin. Goodwin helped bring Baker’s obsession to light by making fun of himself and his fellow bench players—a group that included Todd Hollandsworth, Jose Macias, Paul Bako, and others. There are few things baseball players love more than nicknames, and Goodwin began calling the Cubs’ bench unit “The Lemons”.

[The players are like] lemons because at first sight a lemon is bright and juicy and appealing, but if you leave it in the sun too long, it shrivels up. Sort of like us if we play too much.

Sometimes Baker’s addiction hurts the teams he steers, particularly when Baker shuns youngsters in favor of older, perhaps less-talented players for the sake of experience. (The frequent inactivity of Matt Murton comes to mind.) One positive about Baker—and some, as you will see, argue that it is the only positive—is that he is a players’ manager. He handles his players and the press well enough to survive. Baker isn’t a sterling tactician, nor one likely to display an outward understanding of advanced analytical nuance. What he does is build enough rapport with his players that they won’t quit on him or whine about playing time. Is it worth the trade-off? Not according to Joe Sheehan, who wrote at the start of Baker’s Cincy tenure in March 2008
 

I also see a team with a manager completely and totally ill-suited to his personnel, with an outsized reputation that far exceeds his actual performance and more control over the roster than he should be allowed. Sometimes I think I'm too hard on Dusty Baker, given that he has managed successful teams, made postseasons, won a pennant, owns a career .527 winning percentage from the dugout. Maybe I make him a caricature, a toothpick-chewing, OBP-hating Luddite who doesn't trust anyone under 30.

[…]

The stathead image of Baker isn't a caricature. It isn't a mirage. It isn't hypercritical. Dusty Baker has no real idea of what makes an offense run. He thinks there's a massive difference between MLB and Triple-A. He thinks experience is just as important as ability.


Sure enough, the perception about Baker from back then seems to be that he is a stubborn, myopic philistine without a clue in player evaluation or application. But the anti-Baker crowd should duck, because here comes the uppercut: No team has received more bench production than the Reds since Baker took over as manager.

***

The hardest part about measuring a team’s bench contribution is defining what categorizes a player as a reserve. The methodology used within the Baseball Prospectus annual will work fine here. Essentially, a player had to appear in 40 or more games during a season, but average fewer than 3.3 plate appearances per game played. Those parameters yield a little more than 4.5 qualified players for team, a number that makes sense given that American League teams tend to carry four reserves, while National League teams carry one extra. Given the unbalanced leagues, for now, the exact number is skewed a little higher.

After defining what makes a bench player, one can apply metrics such as Wins Above Replacement Player to answer the questions about bench quality. From there, tables like the following can be created and displayed for digestion—with the WARP totals rounded to the nearest whole win:

The best on a team level:

Team (2008-2011)

Bench WARP

Team (Season)

Bench WARP

CIN

12

SLN (2011)

6

ATL

12

CIN (2009)

5

DET

12

MIN (2010)

5

SLN

11

CIN (2011)

4

CHN

9

COL (2010)

4

The worst on a team level:

Team (2008-2011)

Bench WARP

Team (Season)

Bench WARP

LAA

-5

MIN (2011)

-4

PIT

-5

PIT (2010)

-3

ARI

-3

SDN (2011)

-2

KCA

-1

KCA (2008)

-2

BAL

-1

PIT (2009)

-2

The best on a player level:

Player (2008-2011)

Bench WARP

Player (Season)

Bench WARP

Seth Smith

5

Jamey Carroll (2010)

3

Ramon Santiago

5

Jim Thome (2010)

3

Jon Jay

4

Seth Smith (2009)

3

Willie Harris

4

Ryan Raburn (2009)

3

Jamey Carroll

3

Jon Jay (2011)

2

The worst on a player level:

Player (2008-2011)

Bench WARP

Player (Season)

Bench WARP

Brandon Wood

-3

Brandon Wood (2010)

-2

Tony Pena

-2

Tony Pena (2008)

-2

Drew Butera

-2

Drew Butera (2011)

-2

Pedro Feliz

-2

Aaron Miles (2009)

-1

Juan Castro

-2

Matt Tolbert (2011)

-1

The Reds have no player present on the individual leaderboards, so their success in this area is not a one-player mirage. Likewise, the Reds haven’t journeyed through four seasons with the same bench core. To get a feel for whether the success is because or in spite of Baker, here are the qualifying Reds bench players over Baker’s four seasons, ordered by plate appearances:

Now here are those same players’ average ages while they served as Baker’s reserves:

  • Paul Janish (27 years old)
  • Chris Heisey (25.5 years old)
  • Laynce Nix (28.5 years old)
  • Miguel Cairo (36.5 years old)
  • Corey Patterson (28 years old)
  • Jonny Gomes (28 years old)
  • Chris Dickerson (27 years old)
  • Ryan Hanigan (28 years old)
  • Adam Rosales (26 years old)
  • Fred Lewis (30 year old)
  • Javier Valentin (32 years old)
  • Ryan Freel (32 years old)
  • Jolbert Cabrera (35 years old)
  • Wladimir Balentien (25 years old)
  • Todd Frazier (25 year old)
  • Darnell McDonald (30 years old)
  • Yonder Alonso (24 years old)
  • Andy Phillips (31 years old)
  • Drew Sutton (26 years old)

It should be evident by now, but Baker is no longer working with benches void of youth. If one applies these same statistical measures to Baker’s benches in San Francisco and Chicago, then weighs the players’ ages by total plate appearances, it turns out that the Reds are the youngest bunch of Baker’s career (28.4). The Giants are the next youngest (29.4), while the Cubs are the oldest (31). What Baker relied upon in Chicago no longer seems to be the norm for him, and never seemed to be the norm before his stop in North Side.

***

The process of picking players is viewed as a tug-of-war between the front office and the field staff. In reality, both sides often have a say. Maybe Baker has relinquished his need for veteran presence because he trusts in Walt Jocketty’s vision. Or maybe Baker just feels the Reds develop more wholesome young players than his previous organizations did. A more extrovertly creative manager might receive credit for thinking outside of the box in Chicago. Did Baker, realizing that the Cubs play a day-game-heavy schedule, favor veterans who might take their rest more seriously than late-night benders?  Heck, maybe it’s all statistical noise and Baker just goes with the flow. The only way to ever find out is to ask the man himself—and even then, we probably wouldn’t like how he gave his answer.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Cincinnati Reds,  Dusty Baker

10 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Collateral Damage: Cle... (03/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Painting the Black: Na... (03/20)
Next Column >>
Painting the Black: 20... (04/03)
Next Article >>
The Platoon Advantage:... (03/28)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: There Is No Derek Jeter Co...
Premium Article Monday Morning Ten Pack: Breakout Candidates...
Premium Article Skewed Left: All Games Are Equal Except For ...
The Week in Quotes: September 22-29
Premium Article Baseball Therapy: The Wild Card Penalty
Daisy Cutter: The Draw of Averages
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: AL Wild Card Game Previe...

MORE FROM MARCH 28, 2012
Premium Article Future Shock: Minor League Player of the Yea...
Research Mailbag: ...Is This Thing On?
Premium Article Heartburn Hardball: The Mysterious Brian Mat...
The Platoon Advantage: Chicago's Bear
Premium Article Collateral Damage: Clearing the Air
Fantasy Article Preseason Value Picks: Second, Short, and Ca...
The BP First Take: Wednesday, March 28

MORE BY R.J. ANDERSON
2012-04-03 - Painting the Black: 2012 Milestones Watch
2012-04-02 - Transaction Analysis: Even More Extensions
2012-03-29 - Transaction Analysis: Extending Lucroy
2012-03-28 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Building Benches Faster
2012-03-23 - BP Unfiltered: The Yankees Psych Out Torii H...
2012-03-22 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: The One Where They Sig...
2012-03-21 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Notable NRI: NL East
More...

MORE PAINTING THE BLACK
2012-04-17 - Painting the Black: Occam's Rubber
2012-04-10 - Painting the Black: Who Are These Guys?
2012-04-03 - Painting the Black: 2012 Milestones Watch
2012-03-28 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Building Benches Faster
2012-03-20 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Naming the Next Breakout...
2012-03-08 - Premium Article Painting the Black: The Show Review
2012-03-06 - Premium Article Painting the Black: Braves Still Building th...
More...