2012 Reds / Dusty's Lineup Shenanigans

How Long Has This Been Going On?

It’s a song that keeps playing in my head. A classic from the 1970s. At the risk of showing my age, I admit it rang in my ears once more after seeing Wilson Valdez batting in the 9th Friday night. And again, after seeing Wilson’s place in the batting order last night. I could hear it when Tony Cingrani, after being nothing short of dominating, was lifted because righty-righty always trumps performance, don’t’cha know. Nor did it stop as I considered the role of Chris Heisey, missing and back on a milk carton while the Drew Stubbs Experiment rolls on.

How long has this been goin on?

We are not supposed to be worrying about this stuff. Higher powers have got this, yeah? Leave the strategy to the experts, Nation. This in-game stuff is minutia. Players win games. Keep calm and let us carry on, say the powers that be with every #dustyslineup tweet.

Then, I came across “What the Insiders Say Makes a Good Manager”, by C. Trent Rosecrans for Baseball Prospectus.

Meant to help us unlock that most mysterious of questions—no, not where those stone figures on Easter Island came from—we’re talking serious doggone stuff now—What Makes a Manager of the Year. The insiders in question were a GM (Walt Jocketty), a manager (Dusty Baker), a star player (Andrew McCutchen), a catcher (Ryan Hanigan), a veteran player, a closer, a bat boy, the guys who roll out the tarp, and, of all people, Miguel Cairo.

Barely into the piece, I was ready to give up on it.  It seemed our local sleuth, Mr. Rosecrans, who I like reading very much, was not going to get us any closer to solving this mystery. Much obvious stuff was unraveled:

1. Players like managers who have their backs.
2. GMs like managers who are good communicators.
3. Miguel Cairo, unsurprisingly, likes managers who play all 25 guys.
4. Closer Joel Hanrahan thinks the fans and media know virtually nothing.

Check please.

Then, I read the following quote by Pete Mackanin, bench coach for the Phillies and Charlie Manuel’s right-hand man:

 I think [in-game strategy] is more than (10-15 percent), I think a lot of people discount that. Certainly, if you have a lot of good players, they make it easier and the players make that decision for you. It’s certainly more than 10 percent. You can get away with going any way you want if you have the right talent.

Well, THAT got my attention.  Game management could be worth more than 15%? The right players can, under some circumstances, make poor game management superfluous? Could lineup construction be important too, after all?

How long has this been goin on?

Okay, I confess: I’ve always felt this way. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was a big, fat 1 for me. As revelations go, it certainly didn’t rank up there with discovering the ingredients of a Krabby Pattie.

But, I’ve never heard an INSIDER say this so plainly and decisively before. The implications are huge, are they not? It means that if your team wins a lot of games, your manager may not only be less of a shoe-in for MOY than you think he is, he may in fact, have less to do with a talented team’s success than we previously thought. [You can get away with going any way you want if you have the right talent]. It also means that if your team is flawed in any significant way, your manager better know what he is doing on a daily basis, because a lot of wins are at stake in a 162 game season.

That’s what I took away from Mackanin’s moment of candor.  Did I get that right?

I confess I’ve been fond of Pete Mackanin ever since he took over for Jerry Narron and transformed a team that was 31-51 and went 41-39 the rest of the way. I thought it had earned him a shot at managing the team for a full season, but the owner thought otherwise, opting to go with a big name former player. I admit I know little about Mackanin. I don’t know how he feels about advanced metrics. I don’t know how much he values that manager’s favorite security blanket, the Closer. I don’t know if he would gleefully bunt in the first inning. But, he voiced a view I’ve always suspected was true—one that most of major league baseball doesn’t share or won’t admit. And that was a revelation to me.

Now, if I could only solve the mystery of that Dixie Chili recipe.

16 thoughts on “How Long Has This Been Going On?

  1. I had a thought last nite about a Dusty move that you mention. Cingrani is sailing along, and Dusty takes him out to have Arredondo pitch to the very dangerous Stanton. I didn’t think Stanton had a chance to do much against this hard throwing kid he’s never seen before. His facing Arredondo, on the other hand, was scary, Arredondo is much more effective against lefties.
    Fortunately Reyes tried to steal and Hanigan threw him out.

    In-game strategy can affect any close game, and a lot more than 15% are close. Let’s say it potentially affects the outcome of half of the games. But what’s very difficult to quantify is the difference between having the major league’s best and worst in game strategists as manager. Even the worst is not always going to make a bad strategy move every chance he gets. And in any case both managers are playing percentages. A bad strategy often works, a good strategy often doesn’t. I think this is a basis for the 10% claim.

  2. As always, interesting post, Richard.

    Over the years, I guess I’ve gradually come to believe the opposite view. I’m not sure that anything a manager does during the game amounts to a hill of beans. I came to this conclusion after years of believing that on-field stuff was of paramount importance.

    I mean, take a look at the Texas Rangers. If you want to see a clueless in-game manager, look at Ron Washington. He’s awful. Ten times worse than Dusty Baker.

    Yet he’s probably going to appear in a third straight World Series this October.

    Maybe — probably — I’m wrong. But it’s why I don’t complain about Dusty’s on-field, in-game shenanigans as much as most Reds fans do.

    • I’m of the same mind as Chad. Though I guess the thing that bothers me about all this, is that if a GM knows a Manager stinks at things like filling out the lineup card, why not just take away those duties from him?

      I’ll play devil’s advocate though and say Ron Washington would fall under the category of having better players, so his in game management decisions are less important.

  3. Thankfully, Dusty didn’t roll Valdez and Stubbs out for Sunday’s lineup. I also thought Pete Mackanin deserved a chance. Don’t look now but the Giants continue to win while we back into the Playoffs. Not good.

  4. Just as you can find an “insider” with this view, I’m sure you can find plenty of “insiders” with the opposite view.

    Just because one guy in a high place said/believes something doesn’t make it so.

    For me, personally, I think there are several “optimal” lineups, but I think over the course of a season they may only help you win one or two more games. Interesting how the Reds have started struggling since Dusty supposedly “optimized” the lineup by hitting BP leadoff and Ludwick at cleanup, isn’t it?

  5. @Chad Dotson: Any yet, what you are saying about Ron Washington is precisely the dichotomy Mackanin presented: game management is hugely important, unless you have great talent–and then it suddenly isn’t anymore. Of course, Washington made 2 or 3 questionable decisions in Game 6 last year, as the lead bounced back and forth and the Texas players kept rising to the occasion, only to see their manager let them down.

    It makes me think that no matter what kind of talent edge one has in the post-season, you’d better get every decision you possibly can right. People will fuss about Johnny Cueto in the days to come. I’m more worried about game decisions next month.

  6. A question for Richard and Chad – do you guys consider line-up construction a part of in-game management? I’m an admitted baseball novice, but it seems to me that much of the fan reaction this year has been line-up related. Are these two different issues?

  7. @reagansdaddy: By sheer definition, they are two different things, I guess. However, to me, they seem inextricably intertwined. Your pregame lineup decisions are going to impact later in-game decisions. What you do if you start a player who is a poor bunter, for example. And if you believe in a player and choose to bat him 2nd, as Dusty did with Valdez Friday night, it’s no surprised that he would feel the need to stick with him later in the 9th, trailing 4-0.

  8. The fact that every manager has a bench coach to help with in-game strategy proves that they think it is valuable. Every major league manager has a Chris Speier to help with pitch calling, defensive placement, pick-off attempts, etc. Seems like those who are closest to the situation think it’s crucial, at least at the margins.

    I don’t see what Mackanin said as being all that controversial or surprising. In fact, I’d have been more surprised if he’d said anything different.

    Who could disagree with the statement that teams with better players (like Texas) make the manager’s job easier? Over the course of a 162-game season, the talent/effort of the players would surely dominate the manager’s in-game skill as a factor in W-L. The Texas Rangers make the playoffs in spite of Ron Washington’s in-game decisions. Same with the Phillies and Yankees.

    Nonetheless, managers (and coaches) can make a difference. When two teams are relatively evenly matched in talent and are performing at roughly equal ability, in-game decisions can provide the margin. Again, that doesn’t seem very debatable. And the postseason seems like a time when evenly matched teams, both playing well, might show up on the same field.

    Do managers/coaches in-game decisions determine the outcome of all the games, half, or even a quarter – no. Maybe only in a handful or two. But how important is it to influence 8-10 games a season? Ask those teams scrambling to make the postseason right now.

    • I don’t see what Mackanin said as being all that controversial

      Really, Steve? I haven’t heard anyone say in-game strategy is worth 25-30 games a season. I’d say that is quite controversial. You make a good point that what they say and what they do might be two different things, in terms of bench coaches, etc.

      But it also should be noted that the last time I looked, the Reds were near the bottom of the majors in terms of doing things like shifting players defensively.

      • But I do not believe that is what Mackanin said. The way I read it, he said that in game management is 10-15% of the job of being a manager. If he meant in game managment is worth 10-15% wins in a season, then that also means that handling personalities is worth 50% wins in a season. I really he doubt he believes that.

        Just to be clear, here is the full quote:

        •I think [in-game strategy] is more than (10-15 percent), I think a lot of people discount that. Certainly, if you have a lot of good players, they make it easier and the players make that decision for you. It’s certainly more than 10 percent. You can get away with going any way you want if you have the right talent. The other 50 percent is handling the personalities and trying to put players in the best position to succeed. The more players that succeed, the better the team’s going to be. Also handling personalities, especially with the amount of money that’s being made, it becomes very difficult.

        Really, Steve?I haven’t heard anyone say in-game strategy is worth 25-30 games a season.I’d say that is quite controversial. You make a good point that what they say and what they do might be two different things, in terms of bench coaches, etc.

        But it also should be noted that the last time I looked, the Reds were near the bottom of the majors in terms of doing things like shifting players defensively.

  9. The simple sad truth here is that this organization is going to roll with Dusty no matter what we say. Unless someone develops a way to measure manager impact on wins and losses, all of the people who point out the obvious flaws in Dusty’s managing are going to be ignored or treated with contempt (#dustylineup).

  10. From Peter Gammons on twitter:
    On this date a year ago Orioles were 61-88, A’s 68-83, Nats 71-78, Reds 74-77, White Sox 71-77. Land of Hopes and Dreams.

  11. If lineups and taking Cingrani out too early is what we as a nation have to complain about, then give the man an extension please. If I just wanted to watch a team that won all the time I’d root for the Yankees. No, I love the Reds. And Baker’s Reds are more loveable than at any time in the past 20 years. And not because of all the wins.

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