Sunday, April 6, 2008

Around The Diamond: Manager

In this day and age managers have barely any influence on their teams.  This doesn't mean that you and I can just become managers and lead a World Series caliber team to the World Series. What this means is that the difference between major league managers and regular coaches, like bench coaches, 1st and 3rd base coaches and pitching coaches are minimal.  The reasons for this are:

1. All managers use a five man rotation
2. All managers use preset bullpens
3. Most managers set their batting order up like this
1-Fast if possible also gets on base
2-gets on base, can move the runner over,slap hitter
3-best pure hitter (like david Wright)
4-most power
5-great hitter, but strikes out a ton (like Adam Dunn)
6-usually a platoon spot or someone who only hits lefties or righties and not both (like Geoff Jenkins)
7-plays a hard defensive position and therefore doesn't need to hit as well
8-worst hitter
4. All managers use their bullpen aces(closers) in the 9th inning 
5. There are probably a lot more tendencies that managers have that I don't know or can't think of

I'm trying to say three things here.  First, managers aren't hired because of their strategy any more, rather they're hired if they know how to work with a team and take care of all their off field issues while being the team's frontman in the media.  Second, good managers don't make great teams, great teams make good managers.  Third and most importantly all managers might be using the same basic ideas to manage their teams and therefore a "bad" manager doesn't cost his team wins but, is this the optimal way of managing your baseball team?According to many this isn't.  In the 1900's baseball managers ideas varied, whether to use a 3 or 4 man rotation whether to have more than one man in the bullpen and so on.  Now, everyone has the same ideas and a lot of them aren't optimal.  

One of them the 5-man rotation.  The 4-man rotation is much better because proven many times even in recent years, that a 4-man rotation actually holds up better during the course of a season than a 5-man rotation does.  The only tricky part is that a manager needs to know when his pitcher is done and not let him exceed 100 pitches often.  A 4-man rotation is better for many reasons and here are three of them:

1. You give all your number five guy's starts to your first four guys therefore getting more wins
2. They hold up better during the course of the season, proven that the fourth day of rest doesn't do anything and might even set the pitcher back
3. Since it's the teams first four starters, they'll be able to pitch longer into games and therefore not have to use the bullpen as much

Talking about the bullpen now, it was shown in recent studies that a bullpen by committee is better than a preset bullpen because you put each pitcher into an ideal situation for them to succeed in.  So what is the difference between these two kinds of bullpens?  A preset bullpen tells the pitchers what their task is in the bullpen giving them an idea of when they will pitch (i.e. Long Reliever, Lefty Specialist, Setup Man, Closer).  But with a bullpen by committee, any pitcher can pitch at any time given the most appropriate situation.  Another bullpen problem is the closer or ace reliever.  This guy is your best pitcher out of the bullpen so he needs to be used in the most important situations.  When do you think your best reliever should come into the ball game? A tied game in the 7th inning or up 3 in the 9th inning.  Well, the optimal decision is to pitch your closer in the seventh and not the ninth.

Another mistake managers make is not using an optimal lineup.  For some reason it's so hard for managers, fans, executives, etc. to understand that a lineup spot means that you hit 3rd or 9th in the FIRST INNING!!!  Statisticians have figured out that between each lineup spot are 18 plate-appearances(i.e. if you move form 5th to 3rd you gain 36 pa's over the course of a season). So if you haven't realized yet, the optimal batting order is to give the player with the highest OBP on your team, the leadoff spot.  This idea works if you thing about it, who would you rather give the extra pa's to/leadoff spot; a guy that gets on-base 42% of the time(David Wright) or a guy that gets on-base 36% of the time(Jose Reyes).  How is this optimal?  The more baserunners you have the higher the chances are that you'll score and approximately every 10 runs are equal to a win.

So if baseball listened to me and other smart writers(Baseball Prospectus) teams would be managed properly.  The first team to imply these ideas could get 3-10 more wins on the season. Yes 3-10 more runs, isn't that ridiculous?!