Yesterday I was on MLB Radio with guest hosts Will Carroll and Joe Sheehan, and they asked me what I thought Dusty Baker’s hiring in Cincinnati would mean for young pitchers like Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto. My first instinct–and what I said on the air–is that this was something of a red herring. I talked a few times with senior people in the Cubs organization in 2003 and 2004 while Dusty was managing the club, and my perception was that they were very much on board with how he was handling his pitching staff. It probably ought to be that way, because if Dusty was doing something that they were unhappy with, the team’s executives were not doing their job–Dusty should either have gotten a tersely-worded memo or, as a last resort, he should have been fired. I also cited the counterexample of Terry Francona, who went from being a first-class abuser of pitchers in Philadelphia to a model citizen in Boston.
I decided to pull up some data today, expecting to confirm that conclusion. Since 1997, I identified 28 instances in which a manager spent his first full season managing a new club, and that manager had spent a full season managing a different MLB club from 1996 onward. I then compared that team’s Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP) total that season to (i) the manager’s last full season when he did NOT manage that club, and (ii) the team’s last full season when it did NOT have that manager. The idea is to see whether it’s managerial philosophy or team philosophy that drives high pitch counts.
Here are those results.
(Note: Pitcher Abuse Points are denominated in 1000s)
Immediately we identify both some rules and some exceptions. Dusty Baker had extremely high pitch counts with the Cubs in 2003; the same had been true when he was with the Giants in 2002. Francona’s pitch counts, on the other hand, dropped radically in Boston from what they had been in Philadelphia. And then we have Jim Leyland. In 1999, he imported a habit of pitcher abuse from Florida to Colorado, implying managerial responsibility. But by 2006, when he took over the Tigers, he was a careful handler of pitchers, just about as careful as Alan Trammell had been in 2005, implying team responsibility. Overall, the correlation in PAP with the manager’s previous season (for a different team) was .415, and with a team’s previous season (with a different manager) was .416. In other words, responsibility would appear to be a 50:50 proposition, divided right down the middle.
Pitcher usage patterns have changed significantly within the past decade, however, and this has the potential to skew the results. In 1996, the average team accumulated about 430,000 Pitcher Abuse Points; by 2007, that total was down to 97,000. So I re-ran this data on a normalized basis, adjusting the PAP totals for the average and standard deviation of the year in question. Dusty Baker’s performance with the 2003 Cubs, for example, now registers as a +3.32, meaning three-plus standard deviations above the norm (still very high, in other words). Here is what that data looks like:
This presents a rather different picture. The correlation in PAP with the manager’s previous season now increases slightly to .451. However, the correlation with the team’s previous season under different management falls to .138, meaning that it barely registers. In fact, if we put both variables into a regression analysis, we find that the team variable is no longer statistically significant. Only the manager’s preferences–and the norms of the era–seem to count.
So empirically, most of the responsibility for pitcher usage does fall on the shoulders of the manager, which means that now might be a good time to trade Homer Bailey in a fantasy league. The moral responsibility, however, might be another matter. It is organizations, after all, who are responsible for hiring their managers. And when you hire a manager like Dusty Baker, one of two things ought to be true: either you’ve considered his philosophy on pitch counts and signed off on it, or you’ve given him the “Birds, Bees and Labrums” lecture and expect him to change his ways. If the careers of Bailey and Cueto are ruined by high pitch counts, it will be Dusty who pulled the trigger–but the Reds who hired the assassin.