FIRE JOE MORGAN: There's a War Brewing


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Sunday, March 09, 2008


There's a War Brewing

in Cincinnati. On one side: the Dustyites. On the other side: common sense. Articles are being written every day celebrating the folksy wisdom of a man who thinks bases are only good when there's no one standing on them. This is exactly what happened in L.A. when Grady Little was hired -- "He's folksy! He's down-home! He has a drawl!" (one year later) "He kind of stinks!"

If you could fart into a kind of microprocessing funnel, and the funnel poured the fart into a computer, which converted the fart into words, this is what it would look like.

Baker judges by his senses
Knowing what makes his players tick more important than their stats

Dusty Baker can literally smell whether a guy has a couple hits in his bat. And if his bones ache while a starter is warming up, that means 6 2/3, 4H, 1R. Welcome to the age of divining rods and augurs, Cincinnati.

The best baseball managing is done by the seat of your pants, using good, old-fashioned, pre-sabermetric logic.

If I live in Cincinnati, I have just purchased a one-way ticket to Canada, draft-fleeing-style.

That's another reason to like Dusty Baker. (Beyond his knowledge of single-malt Scotches and Van Morrison lyrics, which is merely astounding and downright Renaissance.)

"It doesn't matter to me if a guy gets on base if he can't run. If he can't run he's just clogging up the bases. Also, in an unrelated matter, it's a marvelous night for a moondance." (does a shot of Lagavulin 21)

If Baker manages by a book, it's one inside his head, not one written by Bill James.

Unfortunately, the book inside Dusty's head is "Lightning" by Dean R. Koontz. This will not help him.

The other day, the Reds manager decided he wanted Joey Votto and Adam Dunn to swing their bats more. "I don't like called third strikes," Baker said.

Can we get an Amen?

That's the thing about saberguys. We love called third strikes. I know it's controversial and counterintuitive, but we think batters should take more called third strikes. Statistics clearly show that offenses are best when the hitters take called 3rd strikes at least 16 times per game. That's why sabermetricians generally put on the permanent take sign for the first seven innings. Here's an equation to prove why this is good:

See? Called third strikes are awesome.

It always amuses when fans defend heart-of-the-order hitters by pointing to their on-base percentage. Wow, look at all those walks.

Yes. And then look at the corresponding runs that those walks create. And then look at the wins created by those runs! We are watching successful baseball! This is fun!

Five of the top six teams in walks last year were playoff teams.

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.

You want these guys to brain-swing. You want them to think-swipe. You don't want your 3-6-hole hitters to engage in torque ignorance. You want them to cognitive-swivel.

As Baker said: "(Votto) needs to swing more. I'd like to see him more aggressive."

Joey Votto has hit .289/.385/.476 in the minors. He's ranked as one of the top infield prospects in baseball by nearly anyone who ranks top prospects. Here's Dusty's idea: let's change his plate approach.

By-the-book managing is for men who aren't confident in their ability to read players and situations. It's for managers who don't know their players' personalities. It's what you do so you can say later, after it backfires: "Don't blame me. I went by the book."

What you are calling "by the book managing" is often completely thoughtless, ignorance-steeped tradition. 2-1 count with a guy on first? Hit and run. Leadoff guy gets on? Bunt him over. That's by-the-book managing, and it's dumb. What people like Bill James, and Rob Neyer, and BP, and Billy Beane advocate is: research, analysis, thought, science. But fuck that. Let's read some tea leaves.

The best thing about Baker is that from all accounts, it's important to him to know his players individually: what jazzes them, what scares them, the situations that best suit their talents and temperaments. Contrary to the notions of the seamheads and stat freaks, players are not numbers.

Don't use jazz as a verb, please. Also: stat freaks and seam heads hate baseball. They are fucking ASIMO robots who make managerial moves through NASA press releases. Eric Wedge makes his moves from home, via on-line chats. Terry Francona has never met anyone on his 25-man roster. Joe Maddon is a 2.4 gigahertz Linksys router. Manny Acta is actually M.A.N. eACTA, the black-ops code-name for the Mechanized Algorithmic Numerical (internet-ready) Actionable Computation Techno-Automaton. When his "contract" runs out with the Nats he is going to be launched into space. We are weaponizing space. Deal with it, China.

"Managing" means exactly what it says: the ability to manage people. How Baker runs a game strategically is far less important than what he is able to pull from his employees, 162 times a summer.

"How he runs a game strategically" and "what the results are of his moves?" are somehow mutually exclusive things.

Anyone with a laptop can locate the Web site baseball- and sound like an expert. Anyone with a library card can pick up one of James' mind-numbing baseball "abstracts," in which the author makes the game sound like a first cousin to biomechanical engineering.

Which is why it boggles the mind that some people don't. Especially the ones paid millions of dollars to operate one of 30 several-hundred-million-dollar franchises. And for the record, I'm not trying to sound like an expert. I'm trying to sound like a dude with a computer who can look shit up and point out that Adam Dunn is doing just fine, thank you, and if you start making him swing at pitches he doesn't like, you're going to screw up your team.

It ain't that scientific.

It's not purely scientific. But it goddamn is kind of scientific.

The NFL does the same thing, in a different fashion. To convince you that pro football is actually a 17-week MENSA convention, The League whips out its 800-page playbooks and offers up oh-so-serious coaches who work 20 hours a day and act as if their jobs involve brain surgery and a red telephone.

QB: What play are we running, coach?

Coach: (furious) What "play" are we "running?" This ain't science, you jackass! You, Johnson. Just run down the field, and kind of squiggle around. Henderson? I want you to just groove. Bergleson -- let your soul take over. I want you to feel it. Smithson? Put this welding helmet on and close your eyes. Run wherever you feel like you should run. And Thompson? When the ball is snapped, I want a long primal scream. Don't worry about "blocking" or "patterns" or "execution." This game is about emotion, people.

Assistant Coach: Have you noticed that everyone on this team is named "something-son?"

Coach: You're fired. I don't pay you to think. Now. Soul-Ball Gut Check 34 on 3.

Possibly, it's less complex. Block. Tackle. Win.

If you try to win a modern-day NFL game solely by telling your players to "Block and tackle" you will lose 100-0.

Baseball's cerebral side involves numbers. While I believe in baseball-card wisdom - you are who the back of your card says you are - it's just a little piece of the whole. When some of us (OK, me mostly) advocated dealing, say, Votto and Homer Bailey for Oakland pitcher Joe Blanton, the Statboys came out flame-throwing numbers:

Homer Bailey: 21, awesome in the minors. Walks too many guys but gave up 6.55 H/9IP at AAA. Votto: potential stud at 1st for years. Blanton: pretty good 27 year-old pitcher, maybe hitting his stride. Also arb-eligible for the next 3 years, and will get very expensive. Chances that Bailey outpitches him in 2009 for 1/20 the price? Decent. This would be a trade you make at the deadline if you are one starter away from the World Series, not if you're Cincy and you have to basically start from the ground-up. Also, if you want to trade Bailey and Votto, you can do a whole lot better than Joe Blanton, I think.

Blanton's a creation of his spacious home ballpark! Look at his ERA, home and away! Blanton's a flyball pitcher! Check out his ratio of groundballs to flies!

This is fucking fantastic. These are his examples of ridiculous, opaque, arcane stat-geek numbers. Home/Away ERA. GB/FB ratio. If you think that's complicated, you are a simpleton of the highest order.

If you shot back that Blanton has won 42 times in the last three years - and that he went 7-5 at home last year and 7-5 on the road - if you suggested that no number matters but Games Won, you were dismissed as an illiterate.

Not an illiterate. I believe you can read. But maybe an ignoramus? Yes, let's go with ignoramus.

(Actually, maybe Blanton won as many on the road as at home, even with a much higher road ERA, because Oakland's hitters worked under the same conditions as their pitcher. Allow more runs, score more runs. And factually, flyball man Blanton gave up only 16 home runs in 230 innings last year. But never mind.)

First of all, if he actually is worse on the road, it would be a dumb idea to make him pitch 16 times a year in Cincinnati, where the RF fence is 115 feet from the plate. However, Blanton did have a very good year in 2007. He may be entering his prime. His HR rate and BB both dipped last year. Good work using numbers to show that.

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 Dunn walks 30 fewer times, he'll drive in 15 more runs. This is thanks to the scientifically proven formula: RBI = (this is nonsense) (I made it all up).

If Votto takes fewer first-pitch strikes, his run production will improve.

You're right. He should hit more 1st-pitch home runs. Why doesn't anyone besides Dusty Baker and Paul Daugherty think home runs are better than walks?

And so on. Here's a stat: Wins as manager: Dusty Baker, 1,162; Bill James, 0.

This...this is the dumbest thing I have ever read.

Here's a stat: U.S. Presidents: All Americans Besides Paul Daugherty: 43. Paul Daugherty: 0. Suck on that, Paul Daugherty! You've never won the Presidency. What a jerk!

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.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run a level-5 diagnostic on the M.A.N. eACTA. His verillion modulator is on the fritz.

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posted by Anonymous  # 1:13 PM
Hat tip: Matthew.
Apparently Mr. Daugherty is not just a complete bonehead when it comes to baseball. Bill points us to this section of his blog, written during Ohio's recent snowstorm:

As for the Global Warming freaks... please deliver my pizza to the radio station at 9 tonight when, if warnings of the apocalypse hold, I will be spending the night, globally warmed by 10 inches of snow. I will be hungry. When you arrive, you can explain to me why it's called Green-land, what's bad about longer growing seasons in northern climates and open shipping lanes where there used to be impassable ice. Because I am the tiniest bit skeptical about melting icecaps, or at least about the catastrophically rising ocean levels guaranteed to drown us all, please show me the data indicating rising water levels in, say, New York harbor, or on the beaches in, I dunno, South Carolina. Then prove to me, beyond reasonable doubt, how all of it owes to greenhouse gases and such.

That, my friends, is the very definition of ignorance.
An excellent point made by Ulreh:

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

Number of World Series rings in Bill James' safe deposit box: 2
Number of World Series Rings in Dusty Baker's: 1

I'm late posting this, but here it is, from Russell:

Some actual math about Adam Dunn. Let's assume that he walks 30 fewer times this year. It's going to mess with his approach and he'll probably start swinging at pitches with which he doesn't feel comfortable, but let's just go against logic and assume that it won't affect what he normally does. Let's re-apportion those 30 PA according to what he did last year when he wasn't walking and see if we can get 15 RBI out of that.

First off, he walked 16.2% of the time, so we need to look at the other 85.8% of his PA. In 36.8% of those non-walk PA, he struck out, so 11 more strikeouts. That leaves 19 more PA where he didn't walk or strike out, but apparently put the ball into play. His BABIP last year was .309, which means that he would record a hit in about 6 of those remaining PA.

About 28.9% of Dunn's hits went for home runs last year, so let's be generous and say that of those six hits, two of them would be HR. Dunn would get 2 RBI from those HR, so he needs 13 more RBI to reach the 15 that Mr. Daugherty figured he would get. He's got 6 hits in which to do this (laying aside sac flies or the occasional grounder the scores a run... hell let's give him one of those... he needs 12 RBI in those six hits.) Adam Dunn would have to constantly be coming to the plate with two runners on base (at least when he gets his hits) and always drive them in.

Impossible? No. Likely? No.

And y'know, the best thing to do with a guy who averages 7.85 RC per 27 outs is to tell him to stop doing what he's been doing.

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