Dusty Baker Has No Leverage With The Stat People

Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Stats

The problem with bloggers, armchair experts and even beat reporters is that they think they know everything based on the numbers, the statements of the participants and history even when they don’t know and much of their critique is based on personal feelings and not facts and reality.

Yesterday the Reds lost to the Pirates in the eleventh inning after manager Dusty Baker didn’t use closer Aroldis Chapman in what is referred to here on HardballTalk as “high leverage situations.” The same piece also asserts that Baker “utilizes his bullpen according to the save rule.”

I have no problem with criticism if it’s accurate, but “managing according to the save rule” is an all-encompassing accusation that is used to hammer home the indictment against Baker even if the numbers defy it. Baker has used Chapman in 27 games this season. 16 were in save situations and 11 weren’t. The statingest of stat-loving clubs have similar numbers with their closers:

Fernando Rodney, Rays: save situations – 16; non-save situations – 9

Grant Balfour, Athletics: save situations – 13; non-save situations – 11

Jose Veras, Astros: save situations – 13; non-save situations – 12

Taking into account that the Reds are 35-22 and have had more opportunities to use Chapman in save situations than the other clubs and that the Reds have had 12 games that are classified as “blowouts” in comparison to the A’s having had 16, the Rays 18, and the Astros 19 (mostly on the losing end), is there a significant difference between people who the stat guys think are managing correctly and what Baker’s done? Add in that for most of the season Baker has had two former closers Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall to pitch the eighth inning and the argument for using Chapman in the eighth inning becomes weaker.

In order for Baker or any other manager to not manage according to the save rule would require a shifting of the entire bullpen to a perfect world scenario of varied arms and no particular role for any—the bullpen-by-committee. The bullpen-by-committee could work if there are young pitchers who can’t complain about their roles, veteran journeymen just happy to have a job, and a manager who’s comfortable in working in such a manner. This confluence of circumstances is hard to come by. In fact, in baseball today, it doesn’t exist.

And I thought the general rule of thumb was to use the closer at home if the game is tied or there’s a close deficit in the top of the ninth inning. If Baker was indeed holding Chapman out for the save opportunity, was it that terrible a decision if just about everyone—barring an emergency—does it? The “everyone” I’m referring to includes teams run by Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman, Theo Epstein and Jeff Luhnow who are idols in stat circles.

It got worse when Baker replied to a question as to why he didn’t use Chapman by saying, “That’s a manager’s decision,” he said. “You can’t put in Chapman all the time. I was saving Chapman for the (save). It’s easy now to say. I don’t know, man, maybe you should come down and manage.”

Chapman hasn’t pitched since Monday and has only pitched twice this week as Keith Law snarkily tweeted:

#allthetime RT @JYerina5: Dusty on why Chapman didn’t face Jones: “You can’t put in Chapman all the time” He has pitched twice this week

Let’s put Law in to manage a club somewhere and see how long he lasts with the amount of abuse the players would heap upon him as a non-player who’s really short, pompous and obnoxious before he ran away crying; how long he was able to take the scrutiny and sudden enemy status of those he thought were “allies” when he has a deer-in-the-headlights look at dealing with everything a manager has to deal with.

The critics wanted Baker to use Chapman in the eighth inning to pitch to Garrett Jones instead of having had Broxton do it. Broxton gave up a game-tying homer to Jones so this is the classic second guess. Is the strategic preference advocated by the “leverage” theory accurate? Yes, I suppose it is if the Reds had a dual-headed closer and used Chapman/Broxton interchangeably to get the admittedly meaningless stat save it would be, but they don’t. No team uses more than one closer, not even the Rays, A’s or Astros. Chapman has not pitched more than one inning since last August and needed to be shelved for a brief time in September because of shulder fatigue. Maybe he can’t pitch more than one inning.

The real culprits to Baker not using a lefty to pitch to Jones is the fact that he doesn’t have Marshall, who’s on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and that the Reds don’t use both Broxton and Chapman to close. If he had Marshall, we’re not talking about this because he would’ve had a lefty to pitch to Jones. If he used either Broxton or Chapman, Chapman might’ve started the eighth inning.

The question then becomes this: Would Baker have gotten ripped for using the myriad of alternatives because he didn’t have an explanation that suited the aesthetic of the critics who tear him to shreds no matter what he does or doesn’t do?

Don’t you think that Baker would’ve found a game to get Chapman into this week if he had the opportunity to get him some work? Chapman pitched on Monday May 27th and on Saturday night recording saves in both games. The game on Sunday was an afternoon game. Could it be that Chapman has something bothering him with his shoulder or elbow and is a bit tender if he’s used too much? He had shoulder problems last season, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that there’s something tweaked and he was only available for one inning.

Could it be that Baker, in an admittedly clumsy fashion as evidenced by the response that was in the linked piece on HardballTalk, was trying to deflect that Chapman might be having some sort of an issue that the Reds don’t want anyone to know about? One that isn’t a long-term problem but could affect the way opposing teams stack their lineup and prepare their bench for the eventuality that Chapman might be used? The easy thing to do for the bloggers and “experts” is to take the decision and manager’s statement as to why he made the decision at face value and go to town in one of their favorite pastimes: unleashing on a manager they despise. It fits into the biases and beliefs of their constituencies that others could do a better job than the actual manager of the team whether they have the whole story or not.

Or maybe it was just a “manager’s decision” as Baker said, one he made based on the players he had available, the ones he didn’t, and the roles that have been assigned to relievers not just by him, but by every team in baseball. It just so happens that stat people hate Baker and use him as their case study of what’s “wrong” with managing. Except it’s everywhere and everyone else does pretty much the same thing.

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Who is Garrett Jones? Plus Other A.J. Burnett-Related Stuff

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Before anything else, I don’t think these negotiations are going to go anywhere. It’s just a sense that the Yankees and Pirates aren’t a match financially or in what the Pirates are willing to surrender to get A.J. Burnett. The Yankees’ tack appears to be, “We’ll pay some of the freight, but not all; you give us decent prospect A and B.”

The Pirates want the Yankees to pay almost the whole contract of $33 million and take negligible return.

Regarding Burnett’s no-trade clause, the Yankees wouldn’t be engaging in these talks with the Pirates (I don’t think) if there were any chance of Burnett rejecting the deal. Various people have said that because Burnett’s wife doesn’t like to fly, all of the teams Burnett has blocked are on the West Coast.

If Burnett really wants to get away from the Yankees, then I suppose going to the Pirates wouldn’t be all that bad. He’d pitch in the weaker league in a big ballpark without any expectations and be able to rejuvenate his free agent credentials for the winter of 2013-2014. For the Pirates, they could multiply the return by trading Burnett at some point in the next two years to a team that the Yankees wouldn’t trade him to like the Red Sox or Blue Jays.

Remember this: there were teams—inexplicably including the Yankees—pursuing Carl Pavano after Pavano pitched well for the Indians and Twins following his disastrous tenure with the Yankees; Burnett was never as bad on or off the field as Pavano.

I’ve been asked several times who Garrett Jones is and why the Yankees would want him.

The Pirates have apparently said that they’re not interested in moving Jones and certainly not to do the Yankees a favor in filling their DH slot and taking Burnett’s salary in the process.

But here’s what you need to think about when wondering why the Yankees would want Jones.

The Yankees need a relatively inexpensive left-handed bat with pop to share the DH role with Andruw Jones, Alex Rodriguez and other righty bats who’d DH against lefties.

Jones spent 11 seasons in the minors with the Twins and Pirates and hit 158 home runs before getting a legitimate chance in the big leagues—minor league stats. As a 28-year-old rookie in 2009, he hit 21 homers in 82 games.

Jones is arbitration eligible for the first time and due for a salary of something between $2.25 million-$2.5 million. The newly budget conscious Yankees could fit him into their salary structure and then pay a backup middle infielder. (For some reason, they want Eric Chavez back—maybe because he’s handsome? I can think of no other reason.)

Examining Jones’s platoon splits, he’s a good choice for the Yankees. Jones hits righties really well; has power to center and right field which makes him a fit for Yankee Stadium—hit trajectory link; and has had success against good pitching (he’s hammered Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, Matt Cain and Yovani Gallardo among others).

It makes sense for the Yankees to want Jones and some sense for the Pirates to want Burnett. But there’s no match for an exchange of the players along with Burnett’s salary so it’s not going to happen with one being traded for the other. In fact, I don’t think it’s going to happen in any configuration at all.

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Why Would A.J. Burnett Want to Go to the Pirates?

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

I can understand why the Pirates would want A.J. Burnett; why the Yankees want to trade A.J. Burnett; and Garrett Jones is a cheap lefty bat who’d hit 20+ homers in Yankee Stadium as a DH.

But why would A.J. Burnett want to go to the Pirates?

Burnett has two years remaining on his contract at $16.5 million annually and can block trades to 10 teams. As the Mets proved last July with Francisco Rodriguez, the intricacies of those no-trade clauses aren’t as simple as they seem on the surface. K-Rod had the right to block deals to certain teams, but his agent at the time had yet to submit that list to the Mets and when he hired his new agent Scott Boras, the Mets reacted swiftly and decisively in dumping K-Rod on the Brewers, a team that K-Rod would’ve blocked a deal to.

Whether or not the Yankees would be able to do it without Burnett’s okay—or if he left the Pirates off the list—is secondary.

Would Burnett, at 35, want to go to the Pirates and have little-to-no chance at contending in 2012 and probably 2013? The Pirates are kindasorta on the right track with young talent coming through their system and Clint Hurdle instilling discipline in the clubhouse, but what’s the motivation for Burnett other than to get away from the Yankees? Getting away from the Yankees is something he has never acknowledged he wants to do.

Of course the Yankees want to get rid of him and maybe he’d like to go elsewhere, but they signed him to that contract and are going to have to pay a substantial portion of it to move him.

Burnett would presumably welcome a trade to any team in the NL West, back to Miami to play for the Marlins, the Reds, Cardinals, Cubs or White Sox. But why would he choose to go to the Pirates? If he goes to a good team in a big ballpark, chances are he’d put up solid enough numbers this year and next to be able to sell himself to some other team for a 2-3 year contract worth another $30 million.

Maybe the Yankees would pull a repeat of the Carl Pavano episode and pursue Burnett again.

But the Pirates? Why?

As is customary, the Pirates’ plans are haphazard and inexplicable. First they let it be known that they’re willing to discuss trading one of the best young players in baseball, Andrew McCutchen, then they’re discussing Burnett.

Is there a plan in place? Or is this a similar decision along the lines of the trading deadline in 2007 when the prior regime led by Dave Littlefield acquired Matt Morris and his onerous contract while the team was 20 games under .500, 14 games out of first place and headed toward a 68-94 finish. They traded a player they could’ve used in Rajai Davis to the Giants to get Morris and the $15 million remaining on his contract.

Is there something in the water at PNC Park that leads the Pirates to doing things that make no sense?

If the Yankees are giving Burnett away and paying his salary, then, yes, a team is going to take him. But it goes back to the question of what would spur the Yankees to do that in the first place.

The rumors discussed don’t make sense for anyone apart from the Yankees. But as we’ve learned repeatedly, that’s all that really matters in Yankeeland. It’s in line with the team’s, media’s and fan base’s air of entitlement that if the Yankees want, therefore the Yankees should get.

At least that’s they way they see it.

Never mind reality.

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