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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dusty Baker

Sometime in mid-August, I had a bizarre conversation with a mid-40's check-out clerk at Safeway who saw my Reds hat. He said that he was not a Reds fan, but asked what I thought about the Reds' managing situation, and said he thought that Pete MacKanin had done a heck of a job. I said "Yeah, seems like they've responded well to him."

He then started naming several additional names within the Reds system as potential candidates for the managerial job, including Pat Kelly, Rick Sweet, and Tom Hume. Have to say that I was impressed. I mean, shoot, I follow the Reds pretty closely, and I'm not sure I could have come up with Pat Kelly's name if someone asked me who the Reds' bench coach was in the second half. It'd be one thing if this had happened in Cincinnati, but this was Phoenix for pete's sake! It's not even all that nice of a Safeway.

The last thing this guy said to me as I was leaving was that he'd heard that Dusty Baker was a leading candidate for the job. I said "huh, I hadn't heard that," and left the store. It was the first time I'd ever heard Baker's name in connection with the Reds, and the last time until Fay started mentioning his name a week or so ago.

Well, it's apparently now a done deal. I need to go back to Safeway and find that guy...he's some kind of oracle. That or, more likely, he just guessed right.


Honestly, I don't know a heck of a lot about Dusty Baker. That's probably my fault, as the guy has as long of a track record as anyone. But as of tonight, here are the few things that I do know about him.
  • He often chews on a toothpick during games.
  • When serving as a commentator on ESPN radio playoff games this postseason, he tends to focus a lot on doing "the little things," like noticing when someone does a nice slide into second base. He also tends to suggest that guys may bunt a lot more than they actually do.
  • While managing with the Giants, he allowed his 3.5 year old son to be a batboy, and the kid nearly got run over during game five of the '02 world series.
  • During his tenure as manager of the Cubs, two phenomenal young pitchers--Kerry Wood and Mark Prior -- blew out their arms.
  • In 2005, under Baker's leadership, batters hitting first in his lineups had the worst OBP (0.299) of any slot in their batting order aside from the pitcher's slot.
    • Prominent leadoff hitters that year included Jerry Hairston (0.336 OBP), Corey Patterson (0.254 OBP), Neifi Perez (0.298 OBP), and Matt Lawton (0.289 OBP), and Jose Macias (0.274 OBP).
    • Plugging the lineup splits from b-ref into David Pinto's Lineup Tool predicts that Baker's lineups would score ~0.19 fewer runs per game than an optimal lineup, which works out to 30 runs per season, or roughly three wins. None of the top 40 or so lineups his tool generated place the true leadoff hitter group in the leadoff spot.
  • Baseball Prospectus's wrap on Baker following the '07 season cited impatience with the pitching staff and fickle loyalty to rookie players.
  • Bill James' '07 handbook indicates that he has used a roughly average number of lineups each year, that he hasn't focused much on platoons, has used very few pinch runners and defensive substitutions, has averaged more high pitch count outings from his starters than anyone except Jim Leyland (eek), has been prone to use relievers on consecutive days rather often, hasn't seemed particularly obsessed with the running game, has liked to sac bunt, and rarely has pitched out. For whatever that's worth.
Look, I don't think a manager makes all that much difference in the long run. I think they're important in terms of maintaining order and a sense of confidence in the clubhouse. I think they're probably important in terms of how they manage their pitching staff's workload, especially in the bullpen. But I think that variance in manager skill, especially in terms of in-game strategy and lineup construction--the two most visible things a manager does--is rather small. It's not that managers can't make a difference in these areas. Rather, I think that that most managers just do the same things that all the other ones do, which means that it doesn't matter much who you plug in at the helm as long as they have the confidence of their players.

On some level, the manager must matter, right? So looking at the things I know about Dusty Baker right now...well...I'm not super excited about this move. In fact, he seems to be exactly the sort of manager I was hoping the Reds wouldn't hire, i.e. someone who is apparently completely blind to anything that has been discovered about baseball since 1970. I mean, shoot, even Jerry Narron understood something about on base percentage in the leadoff spot.

Nevertheless, there are a few things that I do like about the move:
  • I like that they gave their chosen guy a three year deal. That indicates some anticipation of stability over the next few years, which would at least be something different for the Reds....volatility wasn't working, so maybe stability will.
  • On general principle, I like the fact that someone who is not a white male was deemed the best choice for such a prominent job, especially in a fairly conservative town like Cincinnati.
  • I like that the choice for the managerial job did not come down to a team's performance during the second half of a single season under an interim manager like it did with our last two managers.
Photo by AP/Eric Risberg


  1. Oh, the manager matters. Dusty is a horrific in-game manager, downright awful at managing pitchers' workloads, is obsessed with putting fast guys who can't reach base in the leadoff spot, and will bench younger players for veterans no matter how bad an idea it is.
    In other words, believe the stats you just cited, say good-bye to Homer Bailey's health, hasta la vista Hamilton and Votto, and hello 700 PA's for Freel.

  2. 1. Studies trying to detect managerial influence have found a very small effect, if any at all, of manager identity on team performance. Doesn't mean there's no effect, but it's not huge.

    2. Managers don't operate in a vacuum. Decisions regarding player usage, in particular, will need to be agreeable to the rest of the Reds' front office.

    I'm not saying he's going to be good for the Reds. But I have to think that this isn't as catastrophic as most of the commentary from Reds fans would have you think it is. ... at least, that's what I have to keep telling myself. -j

  3. Justin, that's an interesting point that while managers certainly COULD make a bigger difference on the game, there aren't many (any?) managers straying far from tradition. Manny Acta's probably the furthest from the stereotype. I wonder when we'll first get a manager who's out and out a statgeek, but also a talented enough leader to get his players to buy into all the differences in expectation. Within five years?

  4. It'll be interesting to see. Some of the veteran players these days seem a lot more aware of some of the research than the current managers. I heard Jeff Cirillo cite zone rating and the fielding bible as good efforts to better understand defense in a radio interview recently.

    I am doubtful that we'll get a hard core stat geek in there any time soon. After all, as Joel pointed out in my google map post, we're all just sitting in our parents basements in front of a computer all day anyway. I don't know how well we'd do in a job that requires you to be outdoors most days, for half a year at least!!

    But I think we might get folks who are progressively more open to and aware of the big ideas. ... after all, they should help you win more games, right?

  5. Dusty Baker is the "anti-Bill James".

    Interesting web site:

    Dusty quote on walks and OBP:
    “No. 1, I’ve let most guys hit 3-0 (in the count). That’s one reason. . . . I think walks are overrated unless you can run. If you get a walk and put the pitcher in a stretch, that helps, but the guy who walks and can’t run, most of the time he’s clogging up the bases for somebody who can run.”

    “Who have been the champions the last seven, eight years? Have you ever heard the Yankees talk about on-base percentage and walks? . . . Walks help. They do help. But you aren’t going to walk across the plate, you’re going to hit across the plate. That’s the school I come from.”

    “Everybody can’t hit with two strikes, everybody can’t walk,” Baker said. “You’re taking away some of the aggressiveness of a kid if you’re telling him to go up there and try to work for a walk. . . . It’s like when I see kids in Little League and they make the small kids go up there and try to get a walk. That’s not any fun. . . . Do you ever see the top 10 walking (rankings)? You see top 10 batting average. A lot of those top 10 do walk, but the name of the game is to hit.”

  6. Well, I have no problem with letting a guy hit 3-0 as long as you're selective (one pitch, one specific zone), because you have a good chance at receiving a fat fastball down the middle.

    As for the rest of it... uhh... oh shit.

  7. I am praying for the Reds pitching staff.
    Mark Prior turned 23 years old the first week of September. How did Baker help him celebrate? By letting him have these pitch counts in September!


    Those were his pitch counts for every start in September, on a 23 year old pitcher who had thrown 180 + innings heading into the month already.

    If someone doesn't step in with pitch counts on EVERY pitcher we have, I fully expect the Bats rotation to be the Reds rotation in 2009.

  8. Dusty DOES practice what he preached though....LOL.....

    Dusty Baker’s record with the Cubs:
    2003: 88-74, Pthag record 85-77, .323 OBP(13th in NL) 492 BBs(14th)
    2004: 89-73, Pthag record 94-68, .328 OBP(11th in NL) 489 BBs(14th)
    2005: 79-83, Pthag record 80-82, .324 OBP(11th in NL) 419 Bbs(16th )
    2006: 66-96, Pthag record 70-92, .319 OBP(16th in NL) 395 BBs(16th)

    Other than his 1st year, actual record was worse than pthag record every year. Number of walks declined each year.

    These stats are from

  9. Greetings from Bulgaria.

    I don't understand the hysteria surrounding the hiring. The way I look at managers is this:

    a bad manager with a bad team doesn't make a difference.

    a bad manager with a good team can screw up that team's chances with bad decisions.

    a bad manager with a great team doesn't make a difference.

    a good manager with a bad team doesn't make a difference.

    a good manager with a good team will lead that team to october, or at least get close.

    a good manager with a great team gets to the playoffs every time.

    obviously baker's three first place finishes and six second place finishes in fourteen seasons means he is at least not a damaging manager to good teams. and the reds are a good team, meaning they are just a couple of impact players away from getting there.

    my god, the overreaction is ridiculous. thanks for not overreacting here!

  10. While the cause of injuries to Prior and Wood can be debated, there is no question that Dusty likes to let his pitchers throw a lot of pitches, especially the young ones.

    Over the last 15 years, out of the top 10 teams for pushing young starters (age 25 or younger, more than 120 pitches in a game), Dusty Baker managed 3 of the teams. Hopefully Krivsky won't let him get away with it in Cincinnati.

    By the way, if you click on the individual games link on that report, you'll see some interesting names of pitchers that burned out. However, the most common name on the list is Livan Hernandez, who has made 30 or more starts in 10 straight seasons even with all of those pitches thrown. He's a freak of nature.

  11. daedalus,

    If Baker didn't have such a long history of being a horrible manager of a pitching staff and horrible job of not playing young players who are better than older players, or a history of comments saying guys who walk just clog up bases for guys who can run, or batting guys with SUB .300 on base percentages LEADOFF for entire seasons.....
    Then yeah, maybe I would say some people are overreacting a little bit. Sad part is, everything I said was true about Dusty Baker. Oh, and his last job as a manager, he won 66 games his final season. AWESOME.

    Overreaction? Absolutely not.

  12. Besides the fact that Dusty Baker is not a very good manager, the fact that the Reds are bringing in some old 70s ex-Dodger to be the manager makes me sick.

    Bleh... I grew up following the Reds and HATING the Dodgers. Anything to do with those guys, I despise.

    Dusty Baker also has led two teams to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory in huge playoff series with the Giants against the Angels and the Cubs against the Marlins. Beyond that, the collapse the next year by the feuding Cubs was disgraceful and to me even worse than game 6 against the Marlins.

    If Cincy wants to bring in a retread manager bring back Davey Johnson.