No prior major-league managerial jobs, no coaching experience, no problem.
Early in the World Series, my girlfriend wondered aloud why FOX was showing so many reaction shots of the same St. Louis player. “Which player?”, I asked. “That one,” she answered, the next time the broadcast cut to the dugout camera. She meant Mike Matheny.
It was an understandable mistake. Matheny can pass for a player because he’s not that far removed from being one. His playing days were done after 2006, his age-35 season, and he’d been retired officially for only five seasons when he was hired to take over for Tony La Russa. Given 25 years and approximately 20,000 packs of cigarettes, a fresh-faced manager like Matheny could come to look like Jim Leyland. (Okay, maybe not Leyland, who looked like this at Matheny’s age.) But that’s a long way away, and Matheny doesn’t smoke.
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Want to stick as a 21st-century skipper? Don't be like Baker.
Dusty Baker was fired on Friday, and few Twitter tears were shed. When a manager who’s perceived to be anti-analysis gets the axe, sabermetricians celebrate. It's about time, we think. All those bunts by position players, all those illogical lineups, all those refusals to bring in the closer with a tie game on the road. We said they didn’t make sense, and someone finally listened. Maybe Bob Castellini reads blogs! Ding-dong, the Dusty era is dead. We did it!
Well…no, probably not. Most managerial hirings and firings aren’t referendums on the industry’s acceptance of sabermetrics, or the result of what anyone on the internet says. Sure, Baker was known as one of the game’s most first- and second-guessable tactical managers, and sure, he’s now out of a job. Correlation, causation, etc. Maybe Baker was let go because the Reds felt his in-game decisions and reluctance to look at certain stats were costing them wins, but it’s not the only (or even the most likely) explanation.
Except for the waterworks, the last Bronx appearance of the best reliever ever was much like hundreds of excellent outings before it.
Assuming he doesn’t pitch in Houston this weekend—and after the fanfare and misty-eyed moments of his Yankee Stadium send-off, an appearance against the Astros, unless it’s in center, would feel like a letdown—Mariano Rivera threw his final 13 pitches last night. Let’s watch and savor each one of them, because we’re not going to get any more.
A retrospective on the flashes in pans that briefly became big stories in 2013.
There’s only one thing as embarrassing as old yearbook photos: narratives from the start of the baseball season, as viewed from September. So much has happened since those first few months that it’s not always easy to remember what we were worried and excited about, even when we’re not actively trying to forget. Some early slumps and hot streaks are signs of things to come, but in retrospect, others seem impossibly quaint, like relics from a more ignorant age. With the regular season in its waning days, let’s look back at some of the flashes in pans that briefly became big stories.
Jarrod Parker needs a trip to Triple-A
Parker was awful in April. More accurately, he was awful in four of his six April starts, but those four were ugly enough to completely kayo his line. At the end of the month, he had a 7.36 ERA, which Bob Melvin called “puzzling” and columnists (after all of three outings) called grounds to propose putting him in the bullpen or sending him to Sacramento. Some of the right-hander’s struggles may have been bad luck—he had a .382 BABIP—but most likely he was suffering from some mechanical issues: Parker walked 16 in 29 1/3 April innings.
The best and worst receivers of the week(s) and year, with end-of-season minor-league stats.
2013 League Leaders
Welcome back. We’re going to start things off a little differently this time. These are the top five framers of 2013, according to Max Marchi’s model, through the end of August (it takes time to run, so it’s updated monthly). Negative numbers are runs saved, and numbers inside parentheses are called pitches.
Hamilton, making his first career start and batting ninth, went 3-for-4 with two walks and four stolen bases. The steals were the most eye-catching part of his performance. As I wrote in today’s Lineup Card, Hamilton’s instincts on the bases aren’t unparalleled, but his speed and the inevitability of his attempts set him apart from other thieves. Each of his appearances on base is an event, because everyone watching knows he’s going to go; as Buster Olney wrote recently, Hamilton’s pinch-running appearances should be preceded by an entrance song, since they’re at least as exciting and game-altering as a closer coming in. Hamilton has failed to attempt a steal in only one of his 10 times on base, and then only because Shin-Soo Choo singled him home almost immediately.
Adam Dunn, David Ortiz, and others are doing their best to make defenders abandon the ever-more-popular over-shift.
A few minutes into the bottom of the first inning of Sunday night’s game between the Red Sox and Yankees, a Dustin Pedroia groundout and a Daniel Nava double brought up David Ortiz.
“He’s made a concerted effort to hit the ball the other way a lot more this season, that’s why the average is so high,” said ESPN’s Dan Shulman. Before he could finish the sentence, Ortiz grounded a single to left. “And there he goes,” Shulman said.
Are the struggles of erstwhile ace Ubaldo Jimenez over?
Just over a month ago on Effectively Wild, Sam Miller and I surveyed the 2014 options that teams would have to decide to pick up or pass on at the end of this season. When we came to the Indians’ $8 mutual million option on Ubaldo Jimenez, we very nearly dismissed it without saying what it was.
Me: Ubaldo Jimenez. Sam: Pass. Me: You don’t even want to hear the amount? Sam: Well, what is the amount? Me: The amount is $8 million. Sam: Given who’s a free agent starter this winter, it wouldn’t kill me if a team did that at all. I would pass, but it wouldn’t break my heart.
The authors of Baseball Prospectus 2014, the 19th edition of our annual book, are a couple weeks away from submitting player lists to the editing team. Generally, it’s pretty easy to compile a complete count of players who deserve to be profiled. Anyone who played for the big club and is still in the organization merits a mention, as do recent top draft picks and other minor leaguers who appear on top prospect lists. But there’s always a player who resists easy assignment—someone whose stats stand out but whose name is unknown.
At BP, we believe in blending stats and scouting information to get the most accurate picture of a player, so when those of us who mainly watch major-league action come across one of these enigmas, we seek out our colleagues on the scouting side. “Is this a prospect?” we ask, and often the answer is, “No.” “But he slugged .600!” our inner triple-slash-line lover says, before being drowned out by the evidence against him: he’s old for his level, or he plays in High Desert, or he has the sort of swing that won’t work well against advanced pitching. Put it all together, and the player’s projection is too fringy for the book.
Think your team has trouble against rookie starters whom they should have no trouble hitting? That's what they all say.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about internet commenters' attempts to concoct trades for Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins right fielder had reportedly been put on the block, and while the price in prospects was believed to be steep, not even fans of the organizations with the worst farm systems were willing to concede that their team couldn’t get a deal done. Every fan base, it turned out, had at least one blogging, tweeting, or commenting member who didn’t see any problem putting a persuasive package together. “Ultimately,” I concluded, “we’re all convinced that we’re above-average drivers, and that we’re better looking than we actually are, and that our teams would have no trouble trading for Stanton.” In reality, of course, we can’t all be above average at anything, and most of the proposed trades were preposterous. Stanton is still in Miami.
Rooting for baseball teams isn’t a totally rational activity, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the people who do it are laboring under a different delusion. This one, almost as widespread as Stantonitis, pertains to what Cliff Corcoran once dubbed “getting URPed”—shut down or beaten by an Unfamiliar Rookie Pitcher. Over the past nine-plus seasons, rookie starters, in close to 40,000 innings, have posted a 4.76 ERA. Non-rookie starters, in over 240,000 innings, have recorded a collective 4.30. Veterans have outperformed rookies in every season from 2004 through 2013, so clearly someone has to be hitting rookie pitchers. But you can find a fan of (almost) every team who’ll tell you that it must be someone else.
We likely already know who is going to make the playoffs. Is there still reason to watch?
This will be painful for some of you, but cast your mind back, if you can, to the baseball standings as they looked a year ago today. Behold: a wondrous world where the White Sox are in first place, the Giants are 16 games over .500, the Nationals are the best team in baseball, and the Orioles are a half-game up on the Rays for the second AL Wild Card spot (like that will last). The names of some of the teams at the top look strange, in light of what’s transpired this season, but I spy something even stranger: pennant races. Pennant races, as far as the eye can see.
On the morning of August 30, 2012, five of the six divisions had separations of five games or fewer between first and second place. Only in the NL Central, where the Reds had an eight-game lead over St. Louis and a nine-game cushion over the collapsing Pirates, was the division title all but awarded. According to our Playoff Odds Report for that day, there were four teams with playoff percentages of over 95 percent: the Reds, the Nats, the Rangers, and the Yankees. But there were a few tiers of lesser, but still strong contenders below that: the Braves and White Sox (oops) over 80 percent; the Cardinals, at just over 60 percent; the Tigers, Rays, and A’s between 50 and 60; the Angels, Pirates, and Dodgers clustered right around 30. And the odds weren’t buying the run differential-defying Orioles, whom PECOTA gave a 20 percent chance to claim the Wild Card they eventually won. In other words, there was an awful lot still at stake.
Why "be quiet" might be the best advice for backstops.
Catchers’ contributions, more so than those of players at any other position, defy—or at least strongly resist—quantification. We’ve long had a handle on backstops’ ability to prevent stolen bases, block pitches in the dirt, and field batted balls. But that’s the low-hanging fruit and, unfortunately, a little less juicy than the revelations hiding on the higher branches.
We have made major strides in assessing receiving, which was almost impossible (statistically) before PITCHf/x, though some aspects of that skill remain tough to untangle. But there are still some significant unknowns. Game-calling, of course. Defensive positioning. And the nebulous, but probably important, art of “working with pitchers,” which can encompass everything from recognizing when a guy is gassed to knowing how and when to boost a batterymate’s confidence. (Confidence, of course, is another intangible quality, although if Gabe Kapleris correct, “there isn’t a factor more responsible for success.”)