Cool Hand Felipe?   (06/01/01)

How does one manage hard?  I've heard of running hard or throwing hard or swinging hard, but I've never heard of anyone, as ESPN's Mike McFarlane put it, "manage hard".  To me, that's like saying someone was eating hard, or talking hard.  Anything that can be done "hard" should involve sweat from exertion or getting dirty.  I just can't see anyone coming back covered in dirt from walking to the mound and making a double switch.

Any man who loses a game, spends a night in the box

This week, two respected managers - Felipe Alou and John Boles - got fired because their teams weren't playing up to their front office's preseason expectation of competing for the playoffs.  That, or they weren't managing hard enough.  Nevermind that expectations were way too high for teams with as many glaring weaknesses as the Expos and Marlins have.  These managers were supposed to either be smart enough, lucky enough or manage hard enough to overcome those flaws.

But that begs the question: just how much a manager can improve his teams chances of winning?  Or is it more a matter of staying out of the way enough to let his team perform as best they can?

Anything built like that has got to be named Lucille

The Baseball Prospectus published this little chart a couple of weeks ago.

Bases     0 out  1 out  2 outs
empty     0.56   0.30   0.12
1st       0.95   0.58   0.25
2nd       1.20   0.72   0.34
1st, 2nd  1.57   0.99   0.46
3rd       1.46   0.99   0.39
1st, 3rd  1.91   1.24   0.54
2nd, 3rd  2.09   1.48   0.63
loaded    2.41   1.66   0.81

It shows just how many runs can be expected to score in each of the 24 possible situations, based on what has happened over the last 3 years.  So whenever a team has had runners on first and third with one out, on average they have scored 1.24 runs that inning.  A very useful chart.

Sometimes nothing can beat a real cool hand

Managers who are winning never get fired.  Even if teams are winning despite the manager.  The Padres have won 2 NL West Division crowns in the past 5 years despite the fact that Bruce Bochy frequently used to hit and run with the catcher on first and the pitcher hitting; a play with a very slow runner and a hitter who doesn't make contact.  So rather than give up an out to get a runner to second, he preferred to take the risk of a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play for the possibility of a man on first and second.

Let's suppose that the average pitcher successfully sacrifice bunts 50% of the time and has a batting average of .150.  With no outs, Bochy is betting that a 15% chance at 1.57 expected runs is better than a 50% chance of 0.72 runs.  If I'm figuring this correctly, he'd be wrong, at least in terms of percentages.  Sure, it'd be really cool if the pitcher ended up with a line-drive single through the hole vacated by the second basemen, but if you're playing the percentages, which is basically what managers are paid to do, you're probably better off doing nothing, or in this case, the next best thing to nothing, bunting.

Boch doesn't employ this strategy much anymore.  Perhaps someone showed him the probabilities.  The point is that those Padre teams were talented enough to win despite giving up extra outs with alarming frequency.  Bochy won enough to avoid getting fired and to the Padres' benefit, appears to have learned from his mistakes.

What we've got here is a failure to communicate

Don Baylor, on the other hand, has not.  He still makes the same mistakes.  When he was with Colorado, Baylor's teams were known for hit-and-runs, bunts and stolen bases in a place where an infield pop-up might carry out for a homer.  Now he's with the Cubs and although the Friendly Confines isn't the low-gravity homer-torium that Coors is, the run scoring environment which encompasses all of baseball currently is comparable.  Unfortunately, he's still employing many of the same strategies he did in Coors.

Take last Sunday's game versus the Brewers.

The Cubs were down by one run starting the bottom of the seventh.  The Brewers' Jimmie Haynes had thrown brilliantly though six, but has always had trouble pitching deeper into games.  His career ERA through 6 innings was around 5; his career ERA after the 6th was over 8.  So it was likely that he would begin to tire.  Sure enough...

-S Sosa singled to center.
-Stairs singled to center, S Sosa to second.

Which brought Rondell White to the plate.  White is a career .294 hitter with a slugging percentage around .480.  So I don't need to tell you that...

-Ro White sacrificed S Sosa to third, Stairs to second.

That's right.  Baylor had him bunt.  Nevermind that White hadn't laid down a sacrifice bunt since May 16, 1997.  Baylor felt that with Haynes tiring, he had a better chance of scoring the tying and winning runs with Miguel Cairo (career .274 hitter with .354 slugging) hitting than he did with White.  As it turns out, he was half right.

-Cairo hit sacrifice fly to center, S Sosa scored, Stairs to third.

Matt Stairs is not a fast runner so even had Cairo singled, it's doubtful he would have scored.  So the question is this: is it more likely that White would single a run home (or slug them both home) or that Cairo would get one or both home.  Given a .294 hitter  in a situation with an expected 1.57 runs to score, or a .274 hitter in a situation with an expected 1.48 runs to score even with the fact that Sosa could (and did) score on an out, it seems that the Cubs would have had a better chance of tying the game and taking the lead by not giving up an out with White's at bat.

Well, the point is really moot in this case because...

-Matthews Jr intentionally walked.
-Girardi doubled to left, Stairs and Matthews Jr scored.

Girardi's double, which was just barely inside the third base line, gave the Cubs the lead for good.  However, this seems to be a case where the Cubs won despite their manager "managing hard".

However, the chances of them continuing to defy Baylor's odds are pretty remote.  If they end up the season finishing a couple games out of the playoffs, will people be more likely to credit Baylor for getting them that close - before this season, most prognosticators figured they'd finish near the bottom of the division - or for costing them those couple of games that they fell short?  Because we generally view managers on teams that win as good managers, Baylor will probably be praised with enthusiasm.

Taking off, Boss

On a completely different topic, the Astros are taking a chance on Vinny Castilla.  Castilla, as has been well documented, is coming off a year in which he was surprisingly ineffective.  It wasn't so much that he didn't hit like he had at Coors; it was the magnitude of how little he resembled that hitter.

Astro GM Gerry Hunsicker picked him up off waivers when the D-Rays decided Vinny couldn't help them.  Normally, when a team as bad as the D-Rays lets a guy go, you have a pretty good idea he's not worth the money.  But last year, those same Devil Rays released Dwight Gooden, who ended up pitching pretty well for the Yanks on their way to another championship.  So it could be that the Devil Rays simply aren't that good at figuring out who's decent.

The Astros had a young third baseman named Chris Truby who had started the season very well.  Unfortunately, he was just on a hot streak.  Normally, he hits like Derrek Lee (very low average and on base but a decent number of homers) and fields like Dave Magadan (range factor of 2.55, which is in the bottom 20% of major league third basemen).

The Astros have a good third base prospect in AAA named Morgan Ensberg, who's close to ready for the show.  By signing Castilla, they can give him a little extra time so that they can be sure he's ready.

In the meantime, Castilla will give the Astros good defense - 2.80 range factor, which is top 20% - and at least as much offense as Truby, with the possibility that he might find hitting in that impressive line-up and in that ballpark (often referred to as Coors Lite) to his liking.  So far, seven of his 14 hits have gone for extra bases.  He won't be the Coors Castilla, but unless your league has on base or caught stealing as categories, he should be an acceptable third baseman in NL only.

Nobody can eat 50 eggs

Well, we're almost to the 1/3 point of the season and despite the fact that I'm slightly behind the actual games pace - three starts and one relief appearance - I'm on track for over 9200 points.  I am seven hitter's games ahead of the actual games pace but I'm pretty confident that I'll get those back with days off as the season wears on.

Last year's Sandbox Mock Draft League winner finished with just under 8600 points.  During the draft, when I mentioned the possibility of a team finishing with over 9000 - whether anyone has ever done it before or whether anyone thought it could be done - I got the email version of blank stares.  So far, so good.

I made a change this week in the infield.  I dropped Julio Lugo in favor of Mark McLemore.  Lugo's increasing strikeout rate is offsetting any surplus offensive value.  Although I doubt than McLemore can continue his hitting current pace, he's getting plenty of opportunities to steal and score runs.  That should hold me until Jose Vidro returns from his injury.

The Standings

                                      Starting P       Relief P       Hitters FP
Rank  Team                           FP   G  FP/G    FP   G  FP/G    FP    G   FP/G    Total
1     ...Jumanji!                   826  49  16.9   385  43   9.0   1694  517   3.3     2905
2     BaseballHQ Bombers            879  46  19.1   378  51   7.4   1556  507   3.1     2813
3     SF Mock Woodmen               649  54  12.0   269  41   6.6   1726  497   3.5     2644
4     Fantasy Baseball Headquarters 847  57  14.9   437  50   8.7   1348  501   2.7     2632
5     Dr. Stats Juggernauts        1164  56  20.8   310  45   6.9   1134  491   2.3     2608
6     Sandbox Sports                780  55  14.2   342  48   7.1   1438  504   2.9     2560
7     Press Room Pundits            904  57  15.9   241  38   6.3   1334  507   2.6     2479
8     The Write Stuff               843  47  17.9   274  44   6.2   1342  497   2.7     2459
9     WSS Hurlers                   838  57  14.7   255  42   6.1   1270  469   2.7     2363
10    Desert Dwelling Scalawags     841  69  12.2   125  47   2.7   1377  499   2.8     2343

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