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Quantifying the contributions of a baseball manager is a task even the geekiest of us sometimes struggle to break down. Are there certain decisive standards to which managerial judgments can be compared? How much influence does the front office exert over his strategic choices? In such a role-defined era, which situations would merit the usage of a different reliever to set up the closer? Does the manager define these roles? What types of decisions can a manager actually be credited with, given that most alternatives would act the same? More questions along these lines could be added to the evaluation stew, but one axiom remains the same: the true job of a manager involves putting his players in a position to succeed.

A competent manager will never slot Willie Bloomquist in the cleanup spot. Nor will he allow Ivan Rodriguez to patrol center field. And he definitely would not ask his ace pitcher to throw four innings of relief, on very short rest, in a meaningless early season game when at least one alternative could have logged the same frames.

Wait, scratch that last one, because that hypothetical actually took place, when Dusty Baker called on Aaron Harang to pitch four innings out of the pen in an 18-inning game against the Padres on May 25. Now, Baker’s reputation for handling a starting rotation is already about as sterling as Lindsay Lohan’s for showing up on time. Justifiably or not, his reputation is directly related to his handling of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and their subsequent struggles. It should come as no surprise that four of his starters last season-Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez, Aaron Harang, and Johnny Cueto-all finished in the senior circuit’s top twenty in pitcher abuse points.

Due to the commonly expressed opinion that Harang’s disappointing season was a direct result of Baker’s relief experiment on May 25, analysts tend to break his workload into the following three segments: Pre-relief Outings (covering the beginning of season through to May 22); Post-relief Outings (May 29 through an arbitrarily selected August 16); and Arbitrary 8/16 Marker through to the end of season (August 22 through September 30). Breaking it up in this way seems to indicate that Harang bookended his season with very solid performances, yet struggled mightily in his starts from 5/29-8/16, posting a 9.06 ERA.

Period      GS     IP     HR/9    BB/9     K/9     ERA
3/31-5/22   11    74.2     1.2     2.2     7.6    3.50
5/29-8/16   10    51.2     2.8     3.3     7.5    9.06
8/22-9/30    8    54       1.5     2.0     6.3    2.83

There’s a problem with this tidy arrangement, however. A slight adjustment needs to be made in order to more accurately reflect what happened to Harang in-season, because he suffered an injury near the flexor mass in his right forearm, shelving the ace from July 9 through August 9. In the segment markers noted above, the middle period of ineffectiveness includes two of his starts that occurred after the time spent on the disabled list. The more relevant divisions would be: Pre-relief Outings (4/4-5/22); Post-relief outings to DL (5/29-7/9); and Post-DL (8/10-9/30). This shift takes two hot-off-the-DL starts that some prefer to cobble together with his earlier mid-period struggles (making the mid-period appear worse and the end-season better), and adds the 16 earned runs given up in 7 1/3 innings to the more appropriate end-season side of the mix.

Here are Harang’s peripheral statistics with the latter two segments corrected:

Period      GS     IP     HR/9    BB/9     K/9     ERA
3/31-5/22   11    74.2     1.2     2.2     7.6    3.50
5/29- 7/9    8    44.1     2.1     2.9     7.3    7.31
8/10-9/30   10    61.1     2.2     2.3     6.6    4.84

In his first 11 starts Aaron looked much like his old self, the guy that averaged 220 IP with a 3.7 K/BB, 3.75 ERA, and 3.70 FIP over the previous three campaigns. It’s no wonder that Baker routinely finds himself blamed for Harang’s season of disappointment and mediocrity. After the relief outing and up until he landed on the disabled list, Harang barely averaged more than five innings per start. His K/BB dropped by approximately one point, and his run-prevention skills eroded to the tune of an ERA over 7.30. After returning from injury, Harang’s peripherals fell somewhere in between. He did not return to the 3.8 K/BB, 3.70 ERA pitcher, but he definitely looked better than his post-relief/pre-DL segment.

These statistics do not explain the entirety of the situation, however, as Harang pitched in front of shoddy defenders while having to call a bandbox of a ballpark home. It would be very easy for a pitcher of even his caliber to go through an awful stretch under those circumstances, regardless of the relief outing. Were there underlying factors aside from the relief appearance that caused the decline in peripheral statistics? After the relief outing, did Harang pitch the majority of the next stretch at home, at Great American Batting Practice Stadium? Did he happen to face teams like the Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals, and Marlins right away? Along similar lines, were his opponents prior to the relief appearance in the bottom tier of offensive prowess? Did interleague play start around then, necessitating Harang to pitch against the likes of the Red Sox and other dominating junior circuit teams? This isn’t to say that Dusty should be blame-free, but before officially wagging the finger, these questions merit investigation.

Following his dominating four-inning, nine-strikeout relief performance on May 25, Harang’s next eight starts were evenly split between home and road, eliminating that as a distinct possibility for the statistical decline. His opponents did include the Phillies, Red Sox, and Marlins in that stretch, but they also featured the Pirates (twice), Blue Jays, and pre-Manny Dodgers. Overall, the average team EqA that Harang faced stayed virtually identical throughout the season. In the first segment, he faced teams with an average EqA of .263, a mark that remained the exact same during his poor post-relief/pre-DL stretch. After recovering, his opponents improved to a much more potent .264. It would seem then that the underlying factors potentially capable of getting Baker off the hook are unequal to the task.

The really interesting statistical findings with regards to Aaron’s splits deal with his Pitch F/X data. Take a look at his pitch frequencies by segment:

Period      FA     CU    SL    CH
3/31-5/22  66.9    6.1  23.0   4.0
5/29- 7/9  59.0    5.7  21.0  14.3
8/10-9/30  69.4    4.3  19.1   7.2

Primarily a fastball/slider righty, Harang traded in a high percentage of his heaters for extra changeups during that bad stretch of starts. He also threw a higher percentage of pitches right around the middle of the plate. How about the movement, velocity, and release point of his fastball by segment?

Period      Velo    Horiz.  Vert.   Release
3/31-5/22   89.4    -3.7    11.2    6.96
5/29- 7/9   89.4    -3.4     9.9    6.95
8/10-9/30   89.4    -4.7    10.4    7.18

The first aspect that really sticks out is the eerily consistent velocity throughout the season. Harang averaged close to 90.6 mph on his fastball from 2005-07, but it appears that he noticeably lost velocity this past season. With as much movement as Harang gets on his pitches, a velocity dropoff like that can be hidden. But what if his movement also suffers? As the numbers above show, he lost both vertical and horizontal movement on the pitch during the middle segment. So, Harang did not throw as hard as in the past, he also lost a substantial amount of movement, and he threw a higher percentage of pitches near the middle of the zone. That’s not exactly a formula for success.

Following his DL stint, even though his starts on Aug 10 and Aug 16 produced lines even Radhames Liz would scoff at, Harang’s pitch data improved. He gained over an inch in horizontal movement and a half-inch in vertical movement, two numbers very important for a pitcher who needs that tail on his tailing fastball. With consistent velocity, increased movement, and improved control, Harang also threw his highest percentage of fastballs. His higher release point reflected his ability to get on top of the ball, a facet of pitching that those with tailing fastballs and sliders strive to perfect. Scanning the numbers once more, something very interesting stands out: over the course of the season, Harang’s velocity and release point showed consistency, for the most part, while his movement, well, moved.

According to Will Carroll:

The basics of biomechanics are in play here. Broadly, the shoulder is responsible for velocity while the elbow tends to focus more on control. We see this in players coming back from Tommy John surgery who have to re-learn that proprioception, that feeling of “connectedness” between the hand and elbow. Of course, the forearm (pronation or supination) and fingers (grip) factor into it as well and any breakdown in the kinetic chain will lead to a loss of energy and hence a loss of velocity.

The above contention really boils down to the idea that, even though all parts of the kinetic chain can adversely affect one another, the shoulder exerts the majority of its influence over velocity and release point. Likewise, the elbow and forearm deal much more with control and movement. Since Harang’s injury came near the flexor mass in his right forearm, it would be expected that his fingers would also be affected, vastly hindering his ability to grip or turn pitches. Due to this, his movement theoretically should have been down, just like his control should not have been expected to be typical of the Harang we know and love. Since the problem surfaced in the forearm, though, minimal, if any, differences should have been expected in his velocity and release point. Basically, do not be fooled by the fact that his velocity and release point stayed the same for most, or all, of the season. His movement and control suffered, and even though these numbers are not as sexy as the velocity, they are direct results expected and predicted based on his injury.

How did Harang get hurt, though? Was it the fact that he had thrown a minimum of 99 pitches in the 11 starts leading up to the relief outing? Did the bullpen experience tip him over the edge? Is Harang simply not effective when fatigued? The most likely answer is that Harang was overworked, developed fatigue, and instead of getting rest, toed the rubber whenever possible, especially on short rest. If fatigued, and a breakdown in proprioception occurs, the worst action a pitcher can take is to continually force himself to pitch. Or, in Harang’s case, be forced by his manager to pitch. Harang threw 103 pitches on May 22, 63 in the relief outing two and a half days later, and then 73 in his May 29 start that also came on short rest. Did Dusty have a choice, though? Was Harang really the only viable candidate to log those relief innings?

The May 25 game between the cellar-dwelling Reds and Padres lasted 18 innings and saw Baker call upon every available designated relief pitcher. In fact, he had used his entire bullpen up after the first 12 innings of action. Matt Belisle could not escape the fifth inning, necessitating the use of the bullpen early in the contest. At that juncture of the season, the team generally used seven relievers: Mike Lincoln, Bill Bray, Josh Fogg, Jared Burton, Jeremy Affeldt, David Weathers, and Francisco Cordero. Examining the previous four games for the Reds, it seems that the only reliever who perhaps merited the day off was Cordero. Of course, Cordero entered the ninth inning of this game looking for the save, and blew it; he pitched the tenth inning as well. Josh Fogg started the eleventh inning but only recorded two outs before being lifted in favor of Bray. Though Bray pitched 1 1/3 innings, prolonging the game to the thirteenth frame, it boggles my mind why Fogg could not have been used as a long reliever in that situation. The guy has been a starter his entire career, and in a game between two teams virtually assured of going nowhere that season, why run the risk of using up the entire bullpen? Why couldn’t Bray have started the eleventh inning with Fogg sitting in the bullpen just in case the game lasted forever and a long reliever was needed? This happens in every All-Star Game, nowadays, so why not in the regular season?

Instead, the entire relief corps finished their daily work, and as things turned out, there was a third of the game yet to play, meaning starting pitchers would need to enter the ballgame. Harang had started on May 22, the first game of this series. Volquez started the following day, and Arroyo got the nod after that. Belisle, their fifth starter, began the game in question. This meant that only one starter would realistically be relatively fresh at that point: Johnny Cueto. Granted, I am not a major league manager, but in that situation I would have the equivalent of a flowchart in my head. If all relievers used up, go to your long reliever. If your long reliever gets used up, go to freshest starter. If freshest starter used up, go to your next freshest starter. Unfortunately for Harang, Baker opted to go with: “if long reliever used up, skip freshest starter, go right to second freshest starter because he is an innings-eater.” Or, perhaps he remembered the past ire directed at him for ruining young arms and wanted to go with an older pitcher in this situation. Either way, it still doesn’t help us sort out why the long reliever wasn’t utilized properly.

A game lasting as long as this is not commonplace; perhaps we see one such game every two or three years. Still, burning the bullpen out is a problem that has become commonplace, especially in today’s micro-managed game. Considering that Harang received ample time to rest and heal over the winter, he should return to form next season. This game, however, should serve as a reminder that teams need to have a mop-up man or long reliever on their 25-man roster to be used as a just-in-case-pitcher; the guy that goes out there and throws five innings of relief when no other relievers are left. Only after he can no longer pitch should the starters begin to enter the game. That Baker used his equivalent of the just-in-case-pitcher for less than a full inning, when he was also fresh, and the team had a day off on the horizon, is extremely irresponsible. That he opted for his ace over the much fresher Cueto adds to the irresponsibility.

As far as other takeaways, Harang does not seem capable of being effective when used while fatigued. He should not be asked to throw a multitude of pitches on short rest as often as he was this past season. This seems like an easy concept to grasp, but something in the back of my head suggests a similar overusage-while-fatigued situation will present itself with the Reds next season. The axiom mentioned at the beginning of this article-that a manager should put his players in a position to succeed-can be offered in tandem with another, which is that a manager should also learn from his mistakes. Baker not only struggles with putting players in the positions to succeed, but it also looks like he has not shown that he understands the mistakes he’s made in the past, let alone learned from them.

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If Dusty Baker is my manager and I have an ounce of VORP, I\'m demanding a trade. You\'ve got to wonder if a collective shiver went through the locker room at the advent of Dusty in Cincy.
If you can get on Dusty\'s good side, he\'ll never let your inadequacies interefere with your play time. Ask Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez.
Don\'t forget Jose Macias! Zero-point-four WARP1 in 394 PA over two seasons, with an EqA of about .220.
My only quibble is that it is possible that the decline is coincidental rather than cause/effect. It is only one instance and while very suggestive, at this point the most we can do is consider it an unproved hypothesis of cause/effect.

I wonder if there are other instances of Harang being used like this and if there was any similar result. Or of other pitchers having similar experiences.

None of that disputes the point that Baker used his staff badly.
When Cueto and Volquez go down with season-ending injuries, it\'s not bad luck, it\'s Dustiny!
I don\'t understand why Bray didn\'t start the 11th. Pads had Carlin, a switch hitter, and Gerut, a lefty, due up. Your bullpen is already shot, they can save Fogg for tomorrow, they really needed to get out of this game. It is much easier to make these moves looking back but this was questionable.

Dusty had already seen Weathers and Cordero blow leads in the 8th and 9th. I guess one should assume that any pitcher, even one as bad as Josh Fogg, can hold a 2 run lead with the bottom of a teams order coming up. Now when Giles came up with 2 outs I like the move to Bray. Dusty tried to save him to have one fresh arm in the pen the next day but he had to go for the win there. Then Giles singled of course and screwed everything up.

There\'s always that risk of a game going forever, but did anyone think Harang would have to go 4 innings? Sure this game was in Petco but still. The outlash would\'ve been a lot worse had he thrown in Cueto and done damage to his arm. So at this point what where the other options? Basically it\'s Harang or a position player (who were all used up so a pitcher would\'ve had to play the OF). Dusty should\'ve just told Harang to toss it down the middle and see what happens.

So again I don\'t really blame Dusty for bringing in Harang, his mistake came in the 11th. The biggest mistake though might be on that wasn\'t even mentioned and was the one that really got to me. Not only do they let Harang throw 4 innings on short rest, but they let him pitch his normal spot in the rotation afterwards and start him on 3 days rest. He should\'ve had 4 or 5 days off minimum and that was inexcusable by Dusty.
the Pirates had a pretty good offense last year.
Hands, exactly my sentiments, and it is in there though not as explicitly as your comment. The error really occurred when Baker burned his whole bullpen after the 12th inning, and had no other relievers to bring in.

After that, he had to go to a starter. Cueto would have started the next game, so he had the most rest, and hadn\'t logged a ton of innings up to that point. Going with Cueto for a max of 2 innings and then potentially to Harang for 1-2 innings might have been excusable given the circumstances, but to throw your ace out there on 2.5 days rest, to throw 4 innings, and then start him 3.5 days later is asinine.
I was actually at this game (one of the benefits of having a sister that lives two blocks from PetCo and has a partial season ticket package), and at the time, even being fairly aware of the Reds pitching situation, I wasn\'t that shocked by the decision to bring in Harang in the 12th, once they\'d gotten that far. As you pointed out, the management of the bullpen to that point may have been arguable, especially given the eventual length of the game, but once he got there, picking Harang over Cueto or Volquez wasn\'t that shocking.

What was shocking to me, however, was the decision to not use Cueto AT ALL, instead eventually going to Volquez to lose the game. This looks even worse when you realize that the Reds were off that Monday, flying to Pittsburgh for a series starting Tuesday. Instead of bringing in Harang to relieve on 2 days rest, having Volquez relieve on 1 day rest (he also pitched well in a rain-delayed game that I also was at that Friday night) and the starting Cueto that Tuesday on 6 days rest, he could have brought in Cueto to relieve on 3 days rest, then gone to Volquez at the end saving Harang to start that Tuesday on full rest.

If he\'d had to put a starter out there on Monday, saving Cueto makes a little more sense. With the off day, it makes it quite a bit more questionable.
Way back when I was a kid, the 5th guy in the bullpen was the mop-up man.

I agree that further tests would help determine if this was coincidence. Make a list of starting pitchers who had a relief appearance of say 2+ innibgs, on less than 4 days rest, then made the next start less than 4 days after the relief game. See if there\'s a pattern, or what percent of the time bad things happen later
I agree with many commenters that it\'s hard to tie Harang\'s troubles directly to Dusty. And we won\'t know until next year if he\'s learned to use his staff better.
Perhaps the real mistake here was hiring someone with Dusty\'s track record to manage young pitchers. You won\'t know if he\'s done REAL damage to your pitching staff until it\'s too late.
That\'s not to completely rag on Dusty. But there are a LOT of prospective and former managers out that don\'t carry the risk of Dusty. He may not be so bad with young pitchers, but if you\'re running a big-league ballclub, can you afford to take that chance?
This essay is, as far as I am concerned, a magnificent exemplar of the value of the BP approach to the game, and in the process the final nail in the coffin of Baker\'s reputation as a major league manager. It is scrupulously fair to Baker in examining all the variables one can think of that could explain Baker\'s usage of Harang, and of other factors that could have contributed to his (overall) dismal season, and it is still overwhelmingly damning of Baker, as far as this writer is concerned. But then, we all knew this, didn\'t we? Yet Baker is still managing. It is sad that such irresponsible usage of a warrior like Aaron Harang (I don\'t use the term lightly, look at Harang\'s annual IP average over the past five years) had to be the conclusive factor in this final destroyer of Baker\'s credibility. I very much hope Harang is not done as a major league starter, and that his virtues are appreciated by another team that plucks him out of the living hell that Cincinnati has become for pitching talent.
Peter, very well put. When I set out to write this, the first thing I wanted to make sure of was that Dusty was fairly represented. And I still feel I could have been a bit more sympathetic towards him given the circumstances. He micro-managed the game and burned his whole bullpen up through 12 innings, which was definitely avoidable if either Fogg/Bray went deeper, or someone like Fogg was merely kept as a backup plan. This game should serve as a reminder to do your best to keep one guy available at all times, or to carry 6th starter/long reliever whose job is to make spot starts or long relief outings.

I remember a long game a couple of years ago between the Phillies and Mets where Ryan Madson pitched about 7 relief innings. He gave up a game-ending homer, but he saved a ton of arms.
Bottom line, starters are starters and relievers are relievers. Tis much better to use up the pen than your #1 starter.
Okay, wow. I have a lot to say about this.

First, I listened to the first 8.5 innings of this game on the radio. Heard the Reds fall hopelessly behind with Belisle\'s early struggles, fight their way back, Weathers blew it in the 8th, took another lead in the 9th, Cordero comes on (I think no blown saves to that point in the season), probably 3 minutes left in the game and I had to get out of my car and take my kid inside to the hockey game. (Hey, it was the playoffs and Cincinnati won the minor league hockey championship; our only title in memory in any sport.) Imagine coming out of the hockey game 2 hours later, turning on the car, radio comes on, and Aaron Harang is pitching????

I actually thought the move made some sense at the time (I missed all the business about how they got to that point, using up Fogg and Bray and so on, and of course, no benefit of hindsight) but I think you have to give any manager some leeway and credit for knowing his players\' personalities, emotions, etc., in a way we never can from the outside. Cueto was a very young, very inexperienced, and very unknown commodity at that point in the season; he started the season strong and then a streak of very shaky outings. It makes sense to me that you might not want to break his routine. Even Volquez had considerably more major league experience. Let\'s face it, they are people, not Strat cards, and a manager (of people, in any business) needs to know his people.

One other comment, if teams really saved their long relievers the way this essay suggests, they would not get into a single game all year, unless you had one of those \"every two or three years\" 18-inning games.

Last thing, in response to the first reader comment: you might think you would demand a trade if Dusty was your manager, but the players all seem to love him and love playing for him. So, no, if you were a player, you probably wouldn\'t. Guess not too many of them are BP readers.
\"Let\'s face it, they are people, not Strat cards, and a manager (of people, in any business) needs to know his people.\"

How well does Dusty have to know him to start him 3.5 days later though? In the Biblical sense?
\"One other comment, if teams really saved their long relievers the way this essay suggests, they would not get into a single game all year, unless you had one of those \"every two or three years\" 18-inning games. \"

The issue for me is that once Fogg is brought into the game, you have to ride him for a while. I don\'t think Dusty should have necessarily brought Bray in first, but once he decided to use Fogg he shouldn\'t have left the game until he was tired or it was over. Using your long reliever for 2/3rds of an inning in extra innings is the mistake. Dusty had to know that there was only one other pitcher left in the bullpen and if the game went more than another inning he was going to have to use a starter.
You\'re right that Dusty\'s players (at least the ones who stay in his good graces) love playing for him. But then, maybe that\'s the problem. Dusty manages like a player, and that builds clubhouse camaraderie--just sometimes at great cost to his team and players. So the team learns that Dusty sticks by his veterans through thick and thin, but at the price of Corey Patterson getting almost 400 plate appearances. Maybe that earns him some loyalty, but does it benefit the ballclub?

In any business, a manager\'s job is to keep in mind a bigger picture than the people working under him. In baseball, that means the players focus on winning tonight\'s game while the manager has to balance that interest against success in the season overall, and possibly future seasons, as well. As a player, I\'d have a hard time forgiving a manager who didn\'t give it his all to win a game that the team worked so hard to stay in; at the same time, on May 25 the Reds needed someone in that dugout who would look at the big picture, think \"Am I willing to risk the team\'s top two pitchers to beat the Padres in May? Is that smart?\" and manage accordingly. Everyone here knows the players aren\'t strat cards, but what\'s the value of all the rapport Dusty builds with his players if it doesn\'t give him the latitude to make tough decisions?

Also, your criticism of saving long relievers for extra innings only works if a) every game the team plays is a close game, and b) you save the same long reliever for every close game. Otherwise, not so much.
Derek, exactly the point. You cannot let your players know this is a meaningless game, but two cellar-dwelling teams at the end of May is a meaningless game. You simply, as a manager, cannot mortgage your ace and up and coming stud to win that game.

And my sentiments exactly about the long reliever criticism. I\'m not saying every team needs to have ONLY one. Just looking at the Phillies last season, Clay Condrey is their mopup guy, Ryan Madson has previously pitched loads of innings, Chad Durbin is used to being a starter, and you still could have used Kyle Kendrick as a long reliever when Madson became the setup guy. These are 3 different guys who could have alternated each game.
The only thing I don\'t see addressed is the \"throw day\" question.
As I understand it, starting pitchers throw on one of their days between starts. If Harang had already thrown Dusty looks like a total tool, but if the question is between having a veteran \"innings eater\" (past the \"injury nexus\"?) throw during a live game in lieu of in the bull-pen versus having a youngster on a strict pitch count (per season or per game) take an extra turn, the Baker decision looks better. Of course Cueto got plenty of abuse, so I don\'t guess that is much of a defense, but then again, I am not a big Baker fan either.
According to this Unfiltered post, Harang\'s throw day was actually the day prior to his four-inning relief appearance, not the day of. Even if it had been Harang\'s throw day, managers who are willing to put their starters out there on their throw days usually will let them pitch an inning or maybe two in a game, not the extended outing Harang made.
I\'m guessing that very few pitchers give you 4 innings of high leverage performance on their throw day. You might get away with 1-2 IP on a throw day, 4 is a little excessive.
I think what we\'re all agreeing with is that it\'s harder to blame Dusty, contextually, for bringing in Harang, because nobody other than Cueto was available. The bulk of the blame goes to him for burning the bullpen up so quickly and then putting Harang in for 4 innings.

And even if you feel Baker is absolutely blame-free for the entire game, how do you allow Harang to pitch three days later?

It\'s not as if the Reds were in a Sabathia-Brewers situation.