Player psychology is such a delicate issue. That’s why managers can turn teams around; it’s not due to them making better roster decisions or when to bring in relievers, it’s due to them massaging (or demolishing) the egos of their players. You’re absolutely right, players and mangers should learn to leave their biases at the door, but baseball culture, at the moment, doesn’t allow for that.
Yeah, that’s what I was sort of trying to talk about in a convoluted and roundabout way. I’m not sure how much can be done “immediately” on the Major League level, but if they “get ’em young,” maybe things can change a bit.
Another idea for bullpen usage would be to use the 3-inning save rule more often. If a middle reliever comes on with a 7-2 lead to begin the seventh inning and hasn’t pitched in a day or two, leave him in if he is pitching effectively. Carrots may work better than sticks…
Comment by Mike Green — February 23, 2011 @ 4:12 pm
“of a smart guy like Jonathan Papelbon”
I am a sox fan, and even I can admit that he’s about as smart as a bag of rocks. But let’s take it easy on the sarcasm, ok!!!!!!!!!!!!
The last bit about getting these guys to think/act different in the minors makes a ton of sense to me. Especially the relief pitchers, aren’t most of these guys starters in college/high school anyways? I don’t see why a organizational wide approach of working reliever multiple innings wouldn’t work. It would make believers out of these kids if they went out and made 50 two inning appearances, threw 100 innings or so and lived to tell about it. They do that for 2-3 seasons in the minors there wouldn’t be an issue when they made the show.
That would make it more of a non issue inside the clubhouse between the player and manager, if he’s now only being asked to do the same thing he’s already been doing. The media/fans are another issue, but if it worked out for the team and the players arms didn’t fall off, what could they say?
The lineup stuff like you said could be worked out too in the minors. The Red Sox have several guys who could lead off but none of them “like” hitting first. If the stigma of whatever it is they think happens to them in certain spots in the batting order could get broken in the minors it would make the managers job easier both in dealing with the players and overreaction that would come from beat reporters and radio guys.
That’s the other issue with this stuff too, the morons on Boston sports radio would be just sit back and wait for the one time one of this theories didn’t work and they’d go off the deepend ripping it to pieces to the masses of unenlightened fans who blindly believe the garbage that gets spewed out of their mouths.
I think the traditional media really slows the acceptance down drastically of any of the ideas you touched on. They’re supposed to be baseball “experts” but they refuse to believe in all the new stuff that’s out. Stats that clearly and concisely disprove plenty of old theories and show the flaws in traditional stats, they ignore. And it’s asinine, every front office in baseball uses sabermetrics to some extent. It’s there, it’s in some small way there in every decision that gets made. Yet, Ken Rosenthal still gets away with throwing out RBI and run totals as if they’re really supposed to mean anything.
Rosenthal gets to say things like Jose Bautista is a good fielder at thirdbase and can play all three outfield spots(he actually said this last week) and not put forth anything at all to prove that claim. But it doesn’t matter because 90% of the people that read that will go, oh Bautista could play center field if he was asked to. But the sabermetric community gets one thing wrong and gets shit on for it.
I think people believe what the mainstream media tells them to believe. I think the mainstream media (mostly) believes what the team puts out.
I’ve heard managers say “so-and-so is a clutch player. He gets big hits when it counts.” So the media parrots that because that’s the same terminology the team uses. I’ve heard managers say that “saves are important, and so and so is our closer, so he pitches the 9th inning.” Can you blame the media for parrotting that back to the mainstream fan?
If and when the teams change, the media will change, and the mainstream fan will change too. I think trying to change the media FIRST is putting the cart ahead of the horse.
Comment by hunterfan — February 23, 2011 @ 4:40 pm
I see what you mean, but at the same time I don’t think that’s the same case when you start talking about what general managers say. They don’t seem to hold up saves and wins and RBIs and being clutch as being the way of which things should be measured. And they’re the ones signing and promoting players and so on.
It goes back to what Matt said, and what was said in Moneyball, the managers are treated rather uniquely in baseball as compared to middle management of most other organizations. If the team explained some of this stuff to the manager, these guys aren’t stupid, then they should take more of this stuff with them into the dugout.
And that’s letting the writers off the hook too, to an extent. Why can’t the media question what the manager says? That’s what this site does everyday. Why does the media have to wait around for a new generation of managers for them to start and try and change how the general public looks at baseball? Why wait?
I think another issue that players should know about is luck. Specifically, a player like Aaron Hill might benefit from knowing that he isn’t actually a .205 hitter before he starts messing around with his mechanics. I would think that knowing about BABIP and how his number last year was nearly 100 points lower than his career average would help ease his concerns.
Comment by ImKeithHernandez — February 23, 2011 @ 5:05 pm
To hell with Rosenthal, he lost every last ounce of credibility he had with me when he pulled a Bissinger on that blogger.
Comment by Not David — February 23, 2011 @ 5:08 pm
You can still appeal to both. If a 5th place hitter has reluctance about hitting second, explain that 60 more at bats will lead to 4 more homers and 15 more hits over the course of the season. LaRussa does some things counter to what would be optimal, but he has explained his preference for damage in the 2-hole for years. He is still going to put his 2 best hitters at 3-4, but whenever possible has avoided using a get-em-over guy in the second spot.
Teejay-remember what happened to the guy who reported on Ken Griffey sleeping in the clubhouse? Something the club didn’t even deny, but just felt shouldn’t have been published? They shunned the reporter. Wouldn’t talk to him.
The media that DON’T have inside access to the teams (i.e. many sabermetrics sites) can often be much more critical of the team because nothing is lost to them for being critical.
OTOH, holding up beat reporters and others who depend on inside access to the team up to the same standard and expecting them to be harsh and questioning of the team could put their very job in jeopardy.
I can’t imagine that a beat reporter in Philadelphia who constantly questions Charlie Manuel’s lineup and strategic decisions, continually pans the Ryan Howard extension, points out that Lee didn’t leave any money on the table to come to the city, questions Amaro Jr.’s competence as a general manager, etc etc will be very welcome in the clubhouse for long.
Comment by hunterfan — February 23, 2011 @ 5:20 pm
I didn’t hear about that. Do tell.
Comment by hunterfan — February 23, 2011 @ 5:21 pm
Yea and no, his BABIP was horrid, yes, but it was probably in large part to his career low line drive rate and career high flyball rate. But the gist of what your saying makes sense.
That’s a good point too. That to me just says the entire system of which the media gets and reports information is shit. It shouldn’t be that way, I’d love to know what these guys who cover the team actually think. Do they know/understand sabermetrics but just go along with the BS from the team because they have to? Or do they blindly believe everything their told?
I get it though, I’m perfectly ok writing in a blog about John Farrell’s decision making but it would be another thing all together to ask him, for example, why in Gods name he would ever consider putting Scott Podsednik in centerfield?, right to his face.
But then really how important is that? The team reports players injuries, they make official announcements on player moves, anyone can figure out the rotation, the lineup gets posted on a wall. I mean what are they really telling us we’re not going to find out anyways? And it comes at the expense of questioning all of the above. They should be able to write what they feel is true and not be denied access to something as trivial as the manager saying “O-Dog’s taking a day off ’cause his ankle hurts”.
What would you say to a guy like Carlos Gonzalez or Austin Jackson who had an unreasonably high BABIP and will probably see some regression? Not disagreeing with you, just asking how this situation should be handled.
What’s interesting is the closer debate. If it wasn’t for the save stat, you would see them used at various points. For example in a 1 run game coming up with 2-3-4 or 3-4-5. Would be more ideal for your ace reliever. But players get paid for saves. For a few years Peter Moylan was the Braves cleanup ace. went into games with a runner on and the leading or tying run at the plate and would get out of the jam, it was certainly bigger than 2007 than the closer Wickman, and he wasn’t as important as Raffy in 09, but he was damned close. He’s been elite almost every year but his cost is low, cause he doesn’t have saves.
They’re young guys that haven’t had to deal with failure yet. I think letting them know that they are in for a rude awakening wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. When luck catches up to them, they are going to find out eventually.
Comment by ImKeithHernandez — February 23, 2011 @ 8:23 pm
What I don’t understand is why a smaller market team (or Mr. Moneyball) hasn’t tried something different. When you LACK superstars, not to mention a winning tradition, shouldn’t it be easier to institute novel approaches like the author suggests??
If/when a team does successfully implement changes to bullpen usage, others will follow. (Especially if it can be shown to reduce costs…)
I think it would be a good idea for the saber community to come up with and popularize a counting stat based on LI and/or WPA for relievers. You get a point for, say, each of the three highest-leverage outs of the game. Or something along those lines. Something not too hard for the average fan to understand, and something where a reliever negotiating his contract can say “Look, I got 78 ultra-high-leverage outs, 5 saves, and only gave up the lead 7 times. Why am I being paid less than the closer with 34 saves and only 50 high-leverage outs?”
Modern closer usage is a direct result of the save stat. A competing stat that more accurately judges a pitcher’s contribution could lead to more efficient bullpen use. Of course, it will take a long time- it was 20 years between the birth of the “save” and the Larussa/Eckersley era in Oakland.
The “closer” designation and the save statistic have financial implications for relievers which goes beyond the Elias rankings. Closers are paid more than set up relievers. A slew of saves bring higher salary in free agency, and arbitration panels will award higher awards for accumulated saves. Given the financial incentive, the relief ace is acting rationally in resisting a change in his role. So, I don’t think this is a matter of just “teaching” relief pitchers to embrace a new role. The advent of the current rigid system of set up and closer roles has significantly increased the stature and salaries for closers over the past 20 years. What would relief pitchers want to change this structure?
Obviously you don’t want to say it in those words but a manager might want to say something like “look I know you hit 300 last year but we still need to work on cutting back on those strikeouts, otherwise you won’t next year”
I’m a novice to this research, but I want to ask whether lineup optimization studies have been done from the perspective of individual player performance rather than team performance. We typically read that an optimized lineup would offer Team X an additional, say, 8 runs over the course of a season, or 1 win, and so on. But are there studies that suggest how moving from, say, the fifth spot in the lineup to the second would affect a player’s WAR (or perhaps better, batting runs?) over the “same” season, all other things being equal? (Or maybe it would be necessary to adjust plate appearances to reflect the different position in the batting order.)
Players are motivated by self interest. So what might it mean to be able to inform a player that a given level of batting “productivity” (however that should be defined) would result in more *player* “wins” (higher WAR, greater value)–and not just in more *team* wins–out of the two hole than out of the six spot? And do we have the statistical means to determine that with any authority? Do these questions even make any sense?
I think Billy Beane’s quote in that article about saves is terrific:
“Why do teams do this when this is such a readily apparent poor use of resources?
“I’ll tell you why,” Oakland general manager Billy Beane says. “It’s the same reason more football coaches don’t go for it on fourth-and-1. Because when it doesn’t work, 30 of you guys come storming in wondering why the manager didn’t go to the closer. It’s turned into a situation where a lot of emotion is tied to that decision, just as a lot of emotion is tied to the fourth-down decision. Even if you know the odds, it’s more comfortable being wrong when you go to the closer or the punter.”
The argument for sending your best relievers out there, in latter innings, based on leverage situation, is one-dimensional for “stats head.”
I’m starting to wonder if this discussion based on Tom Tango’s “The Book is even sabermetric anymore, if you don’t step back and look at the whole picture here.
Pitchers are durable only because they are not overused. But we still observed plenty of pitchers burned, injured, and never came back again. Eric Gagne, yeah?
Goose Gossage is perhaps one of his kind, the special 2% out of thousands and thousands of Major League relievers.
We want to ask ourselves this question, again, and again, if pitchers who couldn’t start, and set in a relieving role, our majority, the other 98%, had they ever injured? In their minor league days? And then in their major league service? After injury, had they bounced back?
How many innings they pitched, or more specifically, how many PITCHES he used in his career before he flamed out, or injured, or afterwards faced a down in his career?
There might not be one “this rules” kind of simpletonic answer. But I’m suspecting that with the nature of pitching, and the majority of pitchers who had injuries but came back, either in his days during college, minor, or the Big, that our current “save the best for the ninth” approach might actually not be a bad idea to “save” their arms at all.
Interesting points, and my suggestions above are a rough guide. I will say that Gossage and Quisenberry are just examples, if you’ll recall from the book, the sections on workloads are based on comparisons of the average workload of all top relievers of both “today” and “yesteryear.”
It is a pervasive attitude among ball players. Recently, Mike Schmidt said the Phillies have to do a better job of playing “small ball.” If by “small ball” he means walking more and taking extra bases threafter, then cool. But I didn’t get that vibe from his comments.
Comment by neuter_your_dogma — February 24, 2011 @ 10:36 am
Your example of Jason Heyward is technically valid, but look at the Phillies from 2010. They often batted Chase Utley (their best hitter) 2nd, Polanco third, Howard fourth. They will tell you they did this in order to split up the two big lefty bats, but it has the same effect as you are mentioning. Hell, Utley even batted 2nd when he came up from the minors in 05-06, as he was still developing and was blocked by a veteran stud in Abreu. This is the same situation Heyward was in last year (Jones/McCann batting 3rd). When Jones finally retires, Heyward will bat 3rd as many expect.
Face it, it will take much more than a handful of runs per year to force the organizations’ hand and change their tactics.
Can’t believe that no one else responded earlier since the saber community already did exactly that. Tangotiger created Shutdowns and Meltdowns for relievers who gain or lose 0.06 WPA in an appearance. Fangraphs then implemented it on their site last spring.
For reference, last years leaders in Shutdowns were: Soriano, Soria, Wilson, Bard and Feliz. The leaders in Meltdowns were: Clippard, Qualls and Masset.