Trying to find a reason to believe some managers get their players ready better.
It’s officially the dog days of spring training. The pitcher and catchers finally reported. They started playing games. The Will Ferrell thing happened. Everyone is wearing green today, even though that doesn’t make any sense for some teams whose name starts with “Red”. But a funny thing will happen in these next few weeks. Gone are the days when guys play every other day for four innings. Oh, they’re not up to every-single-day mode yet, but this is the part of spring training where you have to get up to full speed. Opening Day will be here before you know it!
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The Angels skipper reflects on what he's learned in close to 15 full seasons at the helm.
Do you happen to remember the catchy tune "Maria Maria" by Santana and the Product G? Not a bad blast from the past, at least not in my mind. The song was the top dog on Billboard’s Hot 100 the very week Mike Scioscia started his managerial career in April of 2000. Doesn’t quite give you perspective on Scioscia’s tenure? Fair enough…a gallon of gas would have run you about $1.50 based on the national average when the new skipper took the helm (about $0.50 more in California). This past Thursday morning, in the back hallways of the Angels clubhouse, just hours before he won his 1,277th game as a skipper, Mike remembered that 41-year-old rookie manager and compared him to the 55-year-old seated behind his desk today.
“You can’t help but change, I think,” Scioscia said. “It’s easy to say that everything’s the same and that your thought process is the same. I do think the process stays the same, but certainly I think the way information’s gathered has changed. I think the nuts and bolts of this game, as far as I’m concerned, haven’t changed, and haven’t changed in a century as far as the fundamentals and what you need to do. The way players are evaluated keeps evolving daily, and I think to be in tune with that helps you to make some cleaner decisions. So yeah, I would say that there’s been some growth in myself as a manager over that time and I think you’d expect that.”
An attempt to settle an age-old debate: What's more important for a manager to possess, people skills or tactical savvy?
There are two men in front of you who want to be your team’s manager. One of them is fully up to date on all the latest baseball research. He reads Baseball Prospectus religiously, and that’s not a metaphor. He actually has a shrine to Dan Brooks in his bedroom. (We have a support group that meets on Wednesdays, that’s how I know.) He’s fully on board with the analytical movement, dabbles in his own research, drops the phrase “run expectancy matrix” into sentences, and has pledged that he will make sure that the supercomputer is in the dugout with him every night. He’s also rather boring. Not a jerk, just…boring.
Should starting pitchers be asked to finish what they started more often?
In 2013, Adam Wainwright led Major League Baseball by pitching five complete games. In 2012, Justin Verlander was much more of an ironman and pitched six. A mere 30 years ago, in 1983, six complete games would have landed Verlander in a tie for 42nd place with such notables as Storm Davis, Bob Forsch, Jim Gott, Ken Schrom, and Bruce Hurst. Even 20 years ago, six complete games would have been good for a tie with David Cone for 15th place in MLB. What happened to finishing what you started?
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.
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.
Which is the better situation in which to use your closer: with a three-run lead, or a one-run deficit?
Here's a question. Which late-inning situation is more important: When your team is up by three runs, or down by one? In the past, I've argued that closers should come into tie games far more often than they do now and that teams might use their closer for two innings to protect a one-run lead in the eighth, rather than a three-run lead in the ninth. Should a team actually use its closer/best reliever sometimes when it is behind? If a visiting team finds itself behind by a run heading into the bottom of the eighth, it will have one last chance to either tie or go ahead in the top of the ninth, but it has to get through the eighth inning first. A home team trailing going into the top of the ninth might have the same conversation. Should they use the best that they have to keep the score close in the hope of pulling off a comeback?
Is there a downside to trying to protect a pitcher by cutting an excellent outing short?
Last week, we talked about Tim Lincecum's 148 pitch no-hitter and found that while there might be some consequence for a pitcher's next start due to such a long outing, it was relatively small and generally gone by the second start. So there's not much penalty in the short term for leaving a pitcher in to throw a lot of pitches; what about the penalty for taking him out?
Does it make sense for managers to plan for extremely long games?
Disaster experts—and really, what better analogy is there for a discussion of major league managers—often use terms like “100-year event” or “1000-year event” to discuss the limits of our preparedness.
There are some situations that are so rare that in a cost-benefit analysis it is deemed not worthwhile to disrupt routines or expend resources in order to prevent them. For example, the United States has not stationed a large military force in International Falls because while there is a non-zero chance, there is a very small chance that Canada will attack us in a ground invasion from Ontario. The parlance is more commonly used for things like floods and earthquakes.
If it doesn't make sense to call for pitchouts, why do major-league managers keep doing it?
Last week, my colleague Sam Miller ran a few numbers on the pointless, yet poignant play that is the pitchout (a billion points to whomever catches that reference) and concluded that pitchouts are actually a net loser: they cost the defense/pitching team more in runs than they gain. Sure, individual pitchouts sometimes nab a would-be base stealer (and that's a good thing), but overall, managers guessed wrong so often that the expected payoff wasn't high enough to justify the strategy. Rule number one of strategic thinking is that just because you got lucky on a stupid bet, it doesn't negate the fact that it was a stupid bet.
You might recognize the way winning managers think: it's the way we think sometimes, too.
I’ve got a power pitcher who can’t throw enough strikes because his mechanics are unrepeatable and I doubt he’ll ever be able to fix them. I have a DH with prodigious power but chronic and severe plantar fasciitis, so I can’t really use him in the outfield at all, which I had planned to do a few dozen times because I’ve got two guys out there who can’t hit righties. Now I’ve got to hope that they manage to hit them anyway, and also that they don’t break down under a 150-plus-game load since I can’t use my DH to spell them.
We’ve got what appears to be a viable second baseman just up from Triple-A, but you never know how kids will adapt and adjust up here. My solid no. 2 gap hitter has a great compact swing, never gets hurt, and shows up to play every day—but doesn’t get on base enough to take advantage of his speed (and isn’t a good bunter). My no. 1 starter is a superb control artist who’s finicky and will get surly if left alone during practice, which affects his performance. The season gets underway in three days and I still don’t know whether my slow-starting center- and left fielders will be ready for big-league action. They’re just skipping to their lou through spring training. The front office is supposed to be acquiring a lefty groundball specialist for me to use situationally, but I haven’t heard from the GM whether that deal has been green-lighted by ownership, and in any case we’re not even sure if his current club even wants to deal him.