Monday, March 10, 2008

Maybe His Players Take Naps When They Get On Base

I have absolutely no idea why the Cincinnati Reds hired Dusty Baker to be their manager. I could understand it if Ken Griffey Jr. was their star (best) player and they were close to the playoffs (and even then, I would still think it's a bad decision), but for this Reds team I just don't get it. Much has been said about Dusty ruining the careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior via overuse. It's true that those pitchers (especially Prior) were often asked to throw 110, 120, even 130 pitches in an outing, time after time. I don't think that all of the blame for their injuries can be placed on Baker's shoulders (the front office didn't stop him and they were the ones who brought Prior to the big leagues with very little experience
in the minors), but the decision to pull them or leave them in the game was generally his to make, and the way he went about it betrays a lack of understanding of the way things work in baseball.

I'm not saying that Dusty Baker doesn't know anything - he probably knows many, many more things about the sport than I do - or that I could do a better job as manager (I couldn't, probably). What I am saying is that given the scarcity of managerial positions, hiring Dusty Baker doesn't make sense. I find it very hard to believe that he is one of the 30 best people at what he does, and it's because of him that I don't think the Reds have much of a chance in the NL Central this year (or even in the coming years, if he's still around).

It has been shown time and again that having young pitchers throw lots of pitches over quickly increasing numbers of innings leads to arm injuries. Whether Dusty doesn't believe that is true, or he doesn't even realize that such research has been done, I cannot say. It seems inconceivable that a man being paid millions of dollars to guide a team to victory wouldn't do everything he could to put himself in the best position to do his job, but Baker's continued misunderstanding of how a baseball team wins games makes it pretty clear that Dusty thinks that Dusty knows how things work, real world be damned.

From a recent article on the Reds:

"Dusty Baker wants his hitters to hit. He likes aggressive hitters."
Like the 2005 Dusty led Cubs, who aggressived their way to a .324 on-base percentage - good enough for 11th (out of 16) in the league. That's why, even though the team was 1st in hits, 3nd in doubles, and 2rd in home runs, they were only 9th in runs scored. Todd Hollansworth and his .254/.301/.388 line played in 107 games as the team's main left fielder while Matt Murton (.321/.386/.521) played in only 51. The key stats for Dusty: Murton was only 23 while Hollansworth (the "veteran" who "knew how to play at the big league level") was 32. Hollansowrth's aggressive approach led to 2 more walks than Murton in over 100 more at bats.
The best player Baker ever managed (and the reason he won three Manager of the Year awards and still has a job) walked more than anyone who's ever played the game. Without Barry Bonds, those Giants teams would have seen some low OBP players at a lot of positions.

"He was talking about Joey Votto and finished with this:
“I really, really hate the called third strike. I hate that. You're guess and you ain't ready to hit.”"

I really, really hate when a player swings at a first pitch ball and grounds weakly to short. People apparently like Dusty because of his manner of speech, but that last sentence isn't something I want to hear from my "field general".

"On Votto: “He needs to swing some more. I talked to him about that. Strikeouts aren't the only criteria. I'd like to see him more aggressive.”

With the approach that he currently has all Joey Votto has done in the minor leagues is hit .289/.385/.476. In a brief stint in the majors he hit .321/.360/.548. I think the kid knows what works for him. I would hope that what Dusty means by aggressive is something along the lines of "when you get a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it" as opposed to "when you have a pitch thrown in your general direction, swing at it", but the addition of Corey Patterson to the roster makes me think it's the latter. That Corey Patterson may start instead of Jay Bruce (.319/.375/.587 at three levels in the minors last year as a 20 year-old with 80(!) extra-base hits in only 133 games) is insane. Bruce is an "aggressive" hitter (135 K's) but apparently he doesn't swing and miss quite often enough to make up for his massive advantage in ability over Patterson. [Also, apparently Baker is "down" on Bruce because of a history of leg injuries - a history that is nonexistent. Baker doesn't even know what's going on with his (actually, baseballs') #1 prospect.]

And what about Adam Dunn (career .248/.381/.519)? Apparently he isn't aggressive enough either.

"“Like I said, I don't like called third strikes. Dunn’s not a kid. He's not old, but he ain't a kid. I bet you he gets better. He's from Texas, right? There’s not a cow in Texas if he don’t get better.”"

So, instead of basing his opinion of Dunn's offensive capabilities on his actual ability (he's walked over 100 times in every full season he's played and hit 40+ home runs four years in a row), Dusty is going to "bet you" he gets better and site his home state. Dunn struck out 165 times in '07 - and it doesn't really matter. If they were all called third strikes, it wouldn't really matter. Adam Dunn already does the things that help a baseball team score runs.

Let's go a little further :

This guy is in favor of Dusty Baker. He also says thing like "Numbers are fun to look at but dangerous to dwell on. Baker understands this. If Dunn walks 30 fewer times this year, he'll drive in 15 more runs. His on-base percentage will dip. Oh, no."

If Dusty actually understands how Adam Dunn walking 30 fewer teams will cause him to drive in 15 more runs, then I'd like to hear it. I guess if 10 of those at bats ended in home runs then OK, but it seems that Adam Dunn doesn't go to the plate looking to walk - he goes to the plate looking to hit the ball really hard, and if a pitcher isn't going to through him a strike (and thus, walk him) then swinging at those pitches isn't going to increase his productivity; it'll just lead to more pop-ups and ground-outs to second.

"If Votto takes fewer first-pitch strikes, his run production will improve." This doesn't make any sense - why would anyone say this? It's like if I said "Daniel Cabrera should be aggressive and hit more batters - it'll lower his ERA." I have a suspicion that when Joey Votto swings at a first pitch it is usually a strike - and that he hits it pretty darn hard.

"How Baker runs a game strategically is far less important than what he is able to pull from his employees, 162 times a summer."

That Dusty is a poor in-game strategist is besides the point - the only thing he'll be pulling from his players is their OBP in a downward direction. That is no way helps a team score runs. At this stage of baseball knowledge it should be criminal for a manager to think and say the things that routinely come out of Dusty's mouth.

This part was pretty good too - "Unless they're intentional walks, or the big boppers are being pitched around, walks aren't what you want from players hitting third through sixth. You want them up there smart-hacking."

That's right, you don't want walks from your 3-6 hitters; you want them from your 1-9 hitters. The 3-6 hitters are your power hitters. They sould hit lots of homeruns to go along with their high walk totals. Also, "smart-hacking"? What the hell?!? It's like how people called Ozzie Guillen's strategy in Chicago "smart-ball" instead of "small-ball". It seems that people that don't know what they're talking about think that just adding the word "smart" to things makes them a better idea.

The piece ends with this: "Here's a stat: Wins as manager: Dusty Baker, 1,162; Bill James, 0."

That's true. Unfortunately for the reporter (and Dusty Baker): number of intelligent baseball things they have said combined, ~ 7;
Bill James, 235,825...235,826...235,827....

An excellent explanation from Ken Tremendous: "At bats are complicated things. The best result of an AB is a home run. The worst is an out that advances no runners. (Or a triple play, I guess, but you get the idea.) In between are several thousand other possibilities. A walk is a successful AB no matter how you slice it. Patient hitters are good hitters, by and large, who help their teams a great deal more than impatient hitters, and the more a guy is patient, the more he will swing at a good pitch instead of any pitch, which increases the chances he will succeed."

This isn't even that bad. You can make a case that he wants aggressive hitters who also get on base and hit well and stuff. Nope.

"Baker has repeatedly talked about the desire to have a do-it-all lead-off hitter with speed. What kinds of hitters is he looking for further down the lineup? Does he want guys with lofty on-base percentages? The answer will likely not sit well with fans of the book "Moneyball," because Baker said he believes the OBP statistic is overvalued."

"Do-it-all lead-off hitter with speed"? Sounds crazy, I know, but Dusty is a think-outside-the-box sort of guy. OBP is overvalued by people who think it is literally the only stat that matters. Such people are crazy, but would still be able to put together a better line-up than Dusty Baker.

""I'm big on driving in runs and scoring runs," Baker said. "Guys in the middle should score about close to equal to what they drive in. On-base percentage, that's fine and dandy. But a lot of times guys get so much into on-base percentage that they cease to swing. It's becoming a little bit out of control."

See, I was actually big on having guys walk to get on base, but then to intentionally get picked off as to avoid scoring as much as possible. It's actually pretty hard to keep from putting a lot of runs on the board when guys are getting on you after another. These guys that don't swing: could it be because they know that they couldn't hit the thrown pitch very well, as opposed to how "into" OBP they are?

"What you do is run the pitcher's count up, that helps," Baker said. "You put him in the stretch, that helps. But your job in the middle is to either score them or drive them in. The name of the game is scoring runs. Sometimes, you get so caught up in on-base percentage that you're clogging up the bases."

It's tough to score runs when you're never on base. I guess Dusty wants all of his hitters to hit solo home runs all the time. What a novel suggestion - I wonder why no one else ever thought of it? He actually makes the implication that getting guys on (and "clogging up the bases") will lead to scoring less runs. Insane.

Ken Tremendous once again perfectly sums up how we "outsiders" and our "statistics" would try to win baseball games:
"Huh. Seems like an odd way to go about winning baseball games, but okay. I mean, I would challenge your "driving in runs/scoring runs" strategy as outdated. Have you tried the modern and new methodology of: philosophizing about runs, and then sort of "surrounding" the runs with positively-charged ions, and then "inducing" runs with a combination of computer-aided design and game theory-based modeling?"
Dusty Baker is a bad manager. Very bad. He may be a good "leader of men", but it bet Joey Votto won't be happy if he's hitting .250 because Dusty's making him swing at every first pitch strike. I bet Adam Dunn won't be happy if he gets benched for taking two third strikes in a game (while hitting two home runs). I bet Jay Bruce will certainly not be happy if he's hitting .350/.400/.600 in AAA while Corey Patterson and his aggressive .300 OBP are starting in the majors. This Reds team could challenge for the division title. That they probably won't can be laid almost entirely on the shoulders of Dusty "Clogging Up The Bases" Baker.

[I am 90% sure that if Dusty Baker and I each picked a Reds staring line-up for the season that mine would outscore his by at least 30 runs (that's about 3 wins worth).]

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