(Turns out, Bill and I were on the same track! He’s just quicker than I am.)
Reds manager Dusty Baker sometimes receives criticism for events beyond his control. However, yesterday, when asked why Todd Frazier hadn’t been in the line-up for a couple days, Baker offered up this reasoningÃ‚Â (reportedÃ‚Â by John Fay):
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everybody preaches on base percentage, which is great,Ã¢â‚¬Â Baker said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But I was talking to (Detroit manager) Jim Leyland about this the other day. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to have someone to drive them in. The name of the game is touch home plate the most.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ludwick has been very productive at driving in runs,Ã¢â‚¬Â Baker said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Which had been one of our downfalls this year, especially RBIs with two outs.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hot and who can do what,Ã¢â‚¬Â Baker said
Walt Jocketty didn’t say this, Dusty Baker did. Baker’s reasoning fails at so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s really breathtaking, and not in a “the view from the Pacific Coast Highway is breathtaking” way. But in a bad, discouraging way. From the beginning …
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Everybody preaches on base percentage, which is great,Ã¢â‚¬Â
The “preaching” is based on the overwhelming weight of research from the past couple decades showing that on base percentage is intimately tied to “touching home plate.” If a team wants to score runs, they need to get on base, and keep getting on base. The Cardinals followed this orthodoxy to the World Series championship last year. Getting on base is a specific, repeatable skill that organizations can develop, sign and trade to acquire.
It’s also worth saying that the argument for Todd Frazier (.331) over Ryan Ludwick (.305) or Scott Rolen (.258) isn’t just OBP, although it could be.
“I was talking to (Detroit manager) Jim Leyland about this the other day.”
Translation, Jim Leyland agrees. You know, a manager who actually has won a World Series. Fifteen years and a couple jobs ago. Leyland is the Detroit manager who last year gave Magglio Ordonez the most at bats in the Tigers’ #3 spot at an OBP of .276 (19 RBI in 250 AB). He also gave the most AB in the #2 spot to a .211/.277/.338 (12 RBI)Ã‚Â hitter. So yeah, Leyland is basically the last guy you’d want to talk to about what it takes to “touch home plate.” He’s the American League mirror image of Baker. Out-of-date. Baker should have this conversation with Terry Francona, Joe Maddon or Tony LaRussa.
“YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to have someone to drive them in.”
Yes, the RBI, hit by RBI-guys. But RBI are statistics of opportunity. They are largely a function of how many runners are on baseÃ‚Â (!) to drive in, and derivative of a players underlying hitting skill. The weight of research (that, again) shows very few hitters sustain AVG over a career that is higher with runners on base. Modern GMs, like Theo Epstein, ignore RBI when they decide how to build their team. (P.S. He’s won two of the last ten World Series.)
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ludwick has been very productive at driving in runs,Ã¢â‚¬Â
At the time Baker made this statement, before last night’s 0-3 game with two Ks, Todd Frazier led Ryan Ludwick in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, line drive percentage and percentage of base runners who scored on the batter’s play. Todd Frazier has been the second or third best hitter on the team since he was called up. Ludwick has been OK, Frazier has been superb, including at driving in runs.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Which had been one of our downfalls this year”
The Reds are actually league average at driving in runners. For real “downfalls” try theÃ‚Â terrible on-base-percentage from the lead-off spot. Or the horrendous walk-rate throughout the lineup, other than Joey MVP and a couple others. Chris Heisey’s one walk in 65 plate appearances batting in front of Votto the past two weeks being an example of that.
“… especially RBIs with two outs.”
Ugh. Hitters don’t hit differently with two outs over large sample sizes. It’s illogical to focus on two-out RBI any more than one-out or no-out RBI. Was Jay Bruce’s 3-run homer last night somehow worth less or less clutch because there weren’t two outs? How about Drew Stubbs’ game winning home run with no outs? Obsessing over RISP/2 is a waste of time.
And unbelievably (are you sitting down?) as John Fay points out, Frazier actually has a HIGHER average with RISP/2 outs than does Ludwick.
(Not that you should pay a second of attention to it, partly because it’s based on fewer than 25 AB, 17 in Frazier’s case. Joey MVP was hitting .188 after 16 AB this year. Zack Cozart had an OBP of .520 after 22 AB.)
Evaluating a hitter on that few AB is crazy. But if you’re Dusty Baker, and you have an irrational love for that statistic, please, at least get it right, not freakin’ backwards.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hot and who can do what.”
Performance-based line-ups would be a positive departure from Baker’s usual methods. No manager is more well known, save maybe Jim Leyland, for stubbornly using players day-after-day, even though they are underperforming. See Willy Taveras’ 437 plate appearances in the lead-off spot in 2009, for example. When Baker starts using players based on performance instead of their “established veteran-ness” the line-ups will be better. Maybe he can also start rewarding “who’s hot” by their place in the line-up, because that also influences their number of AB. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
I realize this has been a lot of digital ink spilled over a few sentences. The thing is, what Baker said yesterday is pure, distilled Dusty Baker. His ill-conceived, poorly-informed essence. A perfect reflection of how he has always been, and sadly, how he always will be as a manager.
And exactly why you shouldn’t want him, or any manager like him, to be in charge of the Reds.