So Joe Sheehan — who I really like as a baseball writer — has written an article for Sports Illustrated extolling the virtues of Dusty Baker. Or not:
In his last seven seasons as a manager, Baker’s questionable personnel choices, including an abiding love for veterans, and his refusal to prioritize on-base percentage over other traits, have chipped away at his team’s performances. Whether it was burying Matt Murton and Hee Seop Choi on the bench in Chicago, or giving away runs by leading off such OBP nightmares as Corey Patterson and Orlando Cabrera, or famously overworking Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Baker has repeatedly made poor choices since leaving San Francisco, where he at least had Bonds’ greatness to paper over his mistakes.
Baker’s fingerprints are all over this Reds team. He has penciled Cabrera into the leadoff spot in 39 games, a bit more than half the time, despite the shortstop’s execrable .281 OBP. He limited the playing time of good defender and on-base guy Chris Dickerson to open the season, instead playing OBP sinks Jonny Gomes and Laynce Nix. (Dickerson subsequently broke a bone in his right wrist and is out until at least July.) Gomes is having one of the best seasons of his career, but as a poor defensive left fielder his .285/.342/.491 line is less valuable than it appears.
Sheehan’s basic premise is that Dusty has only experienced any success because he had Barry Bonds in his lineup every night. It’s a little simplistic, but there is an argument to be made in favor of Sheehan’s hypothesis. Anyway, here’s Sheehan’s conclusion:
Quantifying the impact of a manager is a delicate thing, because a significant part of the job is invisible, and to some extent, not quantifiable. Baker has, throughout his career, been given credit for having interpersonal skills that outweighed his tactical and strategic shortcomings. Perhaps he has those skills, but if he does, those skills seem to have been connected in a large way to writing Barry Bonds’ name into the lineup. They haven’t translated to his subsequent jobs. La Russa, on the other hand, won with the White Sox, won with the A’s and keeps winning with the Cardinals and now has one wild card, 12 division titles, five pennants and two World Series championships on his resume . Perhaps he doesn’t get the “leader of men” tag, but the one he has — “winner of division titles” — is a lot more important. The Cardinals’ edge in the dugout could well make the difference in this year’s NL Central race.
Read the entire thing; it’s worth your time.
Right on cue, GM Walt Jocketty and beat writer John Fay come rushing to Baker’s defense. Jocketty, I understand; it’s his job to defend his field manager, and he makes some decent points. What the heck is Fay doing, though? I thought he was a reporter.
I’m perfectly willing to give Dusty credit for his people skills and his management of egos within the clubhouse. I’ve said several times that Dusty certainly deserves credit if this Reds team overachieves. If we’re going to blame him, we have to be willing to give him credit when things go right.
There is, however, absolutely no question that Baker’s on-field tactical cluelessness has cost the Reds. Let’s not even talk about his mismanagement of the bullpen or whether he is to blame for the Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey injuries. Baker has consistently used the absolute worst option available as the leadoff hitter in his lineup. Over at Baseball Prospectus, Steven Goldman expounded on this issue today:
Baker’s inability to exploit the leadoff spot is nothing new. Now in his 17th season as a manager, the aggregate rates for a Baker leadoff hitter are .264/.327/.382. Baker leadoff hitters have drawn more than 87 walks in a season only once, in 1998. More often, they have drawn fewer than 60. Overall, his leadoff hitters have averaged 749 plate appearances and 61 walks per season. While we would expect leadoff hitters to have a higher walk rate than the average hitter, Baker’s leadoff men have actually had a slightly lower walk rate than the average National League non-pitcher.
To wit: Corey Patterson (.238 OBP). Willy Taveras (.275 OBP). Orlando Cabrera (.276 OBP). Disgusting. I can’t take it any more.
On a more exciting note: MC Hammer is coming to Cincinnati!!!