Archive for Managing

Astros Goof

So yesterday, in an attempt give the Astros a second-half lift, Houston GM Tom Purpura fired hitting coach Gary Gaetti and acquired Aubrey Huff. Gaetti may be a terrible coach and Huff isn’t a horrible pick-up. What was horrible is Purpura’s public explanation. In particular, he called out Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane for their “poor” hitting. As consequence Lane was sent to Triple-A and Ensberg will share some playing time with Huff.

Lane’s demotion was not a surprise. The 29-year-old outfielder was hitting .205 (46-for-224) with 11 home runs, 30 RBIs and 40 walks. When reached Wednesday, Lane declined to comment on his demotion.

Lane’s job wasn’t the only one threatened by Huff’s acquisition.

“Obviously, it’s going to cut into (Ensberg’s) playing time,” Purpura said of the trade. “And the thing with Morgan is, I know he hasn’t admitted to having (right) shoulder problems, but he did hurt his shoulder. I don’t know if that’s still affecting him, but I think we’ll have a good, frank conversation tomorrow. Unfortunately, we’re in a position where we have to start moving forward.

“We can’t give at-bats to players because they’ve been in that spot before. We’re at a point that the potential that players have has to now translate into production and performance. We have to get production and performance out of our hitters.”

Well, while Lane and Ensberg are putting up paltry batting averages of .205 and .236, and you would expect them to do better, neither has played that badly. First, both are getting on base in other ways. Lane has an OBP of .330 and Ensberg has an OBP of .390 to go along with a SLG of .500. Lane could still do better in the power department, and Ensberg had a horrible June, but there’s another reason Lane and Ensberg shouldn’t be the scape goats. Both have been unlucky. Here are their PrOPS lines.

Ensberg: .283/.427 /.560/.987
Lane: .254/.367/.468/.836

If Purpura doesn’t like the way the team is hitting, why doesn’t he bench the Willy Taveras out-machine extravaganza and his .615 OPS (.636 PrOPS). No one forced him to build a lineup with Brad Ausmus, Preston Wilson, and Adam Everett.

So, here’s what’s going to happen. Ensberg’s average will rise in the second half, Lane will tear up Triple-A for a month then return to the big leagues hitting much better (see the 2005 Austin Kearns), and Purpura will be praised for his bold moves. What we won’t see are two players losing at-bats that the Astros need for the second-half run.

Mazzone Homecoming

I’ve been looking forward to Friday for a long time: the O’s come to Atlanta for the first time since Leo Mazzone took his magic bag to Baltimore. I’d planned to go to at least one game, but it looks like I won’t make it. Since I published my study on Leo’s effectiveness last year at The Baseball Analysts, I was curious to see how he and Braves pitchers would do away from each other. The interesting development of Russ Ortiz making his first start under Mazzone against the Braves on Saturday is going to put Mazzone in the spotlight even more.

It’s very hard to get a sense of what has really happened since Mazzone left. For one, there’s the sample size issue. There are so many factors involved in ERA differences across teams, and ERA is a statistic that varies widely; this requires a larger sample than half-a-season. Second, the two teams play in different leagues with very different pitchers. Straight comparisons of ERAs would tell us very little even if we had an adequate sample.

One way to look at this is to compare the pitchers Leo coached last year on the Braves to their performances this year. I looked at this in this post, and found that those pitchers were doing considerably worse this year. Although, I didn’t look at the Orioles.

Another way to look at the issue is compare how the overall staffs of the O’s and Braves are doing this year versus last year. While both teams have experienced some turnover, there are many constants on both teams. So, here is a second way to look at the teams. The table shows the differences in ERAs between this season and last season, with a few corrections.

      		BAL    ATL    Difference
2006 (Raw)    	5.18    4.67    0.51
2006 (RC)    	4.96    4.37    0.59
2006 (LC)    	4.76    4.37    0.39
2005 (Raw)	4.57    3.99    0.58
2005 (LC) 	4.37  	3.99 	3.38
Difference    	0.37    0.38    -0.01

The first row is the raw ERA of both teams in 2006. The second subtracts the difference in runs between this year and last year, as both leagues are yielding more earned runs than last year. The third row corrects for the differences in ERA between leagues, by subtracting the average difference in ERAs between leagues from the Orioles (I could have added it to the Braves). The fourth row lists the 2005 ERAs of both clubs, and the fifth corrects for the difference between leagues. The last row reports the difference between the roughly-corrected 2006 ERAs to the 2005 (LC) ERAs.

As everybody knows, both clubs’ pitching staffs have not done well this year, and their fortunes have been quite similar. What does this show? I have no idea, probably not much at all. It’s likely that both clubs are struggling to adapt to new pitching coaches.

It’s also interesting to look at the ERAs over time. As of late the O’s and Braves have been moving in opposite directions.

Month	O's 	Braves
April 	5.54  	4.56
May 	5.54  	4.48
June 	4.43 	4.98

The O’s have done much better in June, but is this a random fluctuation or a sign of things to come? It’s interesting to note that back in April, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo suggested June as the time Mazzone’s influence would show.

All along Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo has tried to temper people’s expectations about Mazzone. He wouldn’t work miracles right away, warned Perlozzo, who believes that by June people will see tangible evidence of why Mazzone is considered the best pitching coach in baseball.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Perlozzo said. “Right now with many of the guys being away at the [World Baseball] Classic they’re learning on the job right now. You have certain habits you’re used to. And it takes practice. I think you’ll see [Mazzone’s effect] later on.”

Obviously, it’s too early to tell what is going on, but I watch with great anticipation.

Addendum: I’m going to link to stories discussing Mazzone’s return here. If you see others, I’d appreciate it if you would please pass them along.

MLB.com: Mazzone returns to roots vs. Braves

SI.com: Welcome back, Leo

AJC (Stinson): Mazzone Busy in Baltimore

Baltimore Sun: Mound of Difference

AJC (Moore): Mazzone Not Appreciated Enough

I Think I See the Problem

From the AJC.

“[Jorge] Sosa did alright,” Cox said of the Braves starter, who allowed four runs in six innings. “Four runs against that team is not bad. But we gave them two extra runs after we tied it. That was the difference.”

Four runs in six innings—an ERA of 6.00 off two HRs and a 5/3 K/BB ratio—is alright? Those are some pretty low expectations. Well, at least he’s being realistic.

Fix the Braves

OK, the Braves have needed fixing for some time, but after last night’s complete meltdown, I think it’s time to address what I would do to fix the team, mainly through trades. Don’t look for all of these guys to be traded, nor should they—you can’t trade away the whole team. I view these potential deals as independent of other deals.

The following people should be traded immediately.

Adam LaRoche: He’s probably about as popular with Atlanta fans as Raul Mondesi, but Adam is having a nice year. He gets on base and hits for power. He’s not a good fielder and runs like a catcher, a slow catcher. In fact, if I was to bet on who would be the next left-hander to play catcher in MLB, I’d bet on LaRoche. He’s got a monster arm, and while he’s a below average first baseman as a hitter, he’s be a good-hitting catcher. Don’t look for it to happen, I’m just saying. The Braves should trade him because he might actually generate something quality in return. Even if he’s just pinch-hitting, he can be valuable addition to a team. Plus, he’s cheap and still reserved for the next three season. He’s the type of bat contenders try to add to their bench for the stretch run, so I suspect he’ll be the first to go. Plus, Chipper has to play first base. Wilson Betemit has to get in the lineup and Chipper’s defense, while never as bad as advertised, is better suited for first these days. He will be at first next year, so it’s better that he start learning now.

John Thomson: Poor John Thomson. Has there been a player in Atlanta Braves history, whom the front office hated this badly? In his three years in Atlanta, he’s had one rough stretch as a pitcher, and it just happens to be right now. The guys upstairs won’t even be discreet about their desire to rid themselves of one of their best free agent acquisitions, yet that can’t stop making excuses for Horacio Ramirez—the concussion will be excuse #236. Because of Thomson’s low salary, I think there will be several teams willing to give up some quality for him. He’s a slightly above-average major league starting pitcher. Maybe all he needs is for an organization to show a little confidence in him. We sure don’t know if it helps, because the Braves never tried it. Unfortunately, Thomson’s blister problem makes a near-term trade unlikely. Regardless of how he does when he comes back, I expect the Braves to move him as soon as he shows he’s healthy. And while I like Thomson, it’s good for the Braves to unload his contract and go with the youngsters. Because he’ll be a free agent after this year, he has to go to a contender.


Chris Reitsma:
I’ll put him here, but he’s just been so bad that I doubt he’s going to bring much of anything. I don’t think Chris’s career is over, and I think he will be a middle-relief team-jumper from here on out. Such guys can be valuable, but Chris has just been too bad this year to prove that he can even do that. He still has two years of arbitration left, so some team might be willing to take a chance on him. Maybe there’s a team who plans to be in the mix in the near term, who will take him, sign a three-year $3 million deal and hope for the best. Maybe he could return to work with Leo Mazzone.

Here are the guys the Braves should consider trading.

Edgar Renteria: His value couldn’t be any higher. And given the market for shortstops, that’s good news for the Braves. Renteria’s defense is not good, but his bat is. While PrOPS says he’s overperforming, it’s not by much. I think his offense won’t stay where it is for the duration of his contract. I know Tony Pena is capable of striking out in only two swings, but he’s an acceptable defensive shortstop until some of the younger kids are ready. Before the season is over, someone is going to be willing to take much of Renteria’s contract off of the Braves hands. I don’t necessarily think that he’s overpaid, but the Braves don’t have the luxury of paying the market price for shortstops right now.

Marcus Giles: Giles has one year of arbitration left, which makes him somewhat attractive despite his horrendous 2006 campaign. Giles will certainly play better, but he’s not going to be that .900 OPS player that I once thought he would be. He’s a good defender, so that minimizes some risk as to how far down his offense will stay. I suspect many GMs would be willing to take him.

John Smoltz: Oh boy, I’d hate to see this guy go, but it’s nearly time. He’s still one of the league’s best starting pitchers and is worth what he’s being paid. But like Edgar Renteria, the Braves need some payroll flexibility beyond paying players what they are worth. They can trade him for some good young players, without eating any of his contract. Last night, ESPN interviewed him about being traded, and I felt like I was watching Kevin Nealon doing Mr. Subliminal, “Well, I understand I might be traded, and Detroit would be an obvious possibility (please, trade me to Detroit).” He doesn’t want to end his career losing.

Who the Braves should not trade.

Tim Hudson: Hudson’s name has been thrown out there quite a bit, but I think the Braves need to hold onto him unless they get some ridiculous offer. Hudson is worth what he makes, and he’s locked up for at least the next three seasons. Despite the fact that the Braves get all sorts of praise for farming pitchers, they haven’t really produced much quality in recent years. The next crop of youngsters might make it though, but some security is needed. Davies, James, and maybe even Anthony Lerew could be be part of rotation for the next Braves run, but I’m not convinced. Horacio Ramirez and Jorge Sosa are breathing their last gasps as starting pitchers. Don’t be fooled by the occasional bright spot here and there, these guys are mediocre. And Mike Hampton, please don’t remind me how much the Braves are paying him to pitch for the next two years.

And on the non-trade front.

Jeff Francoeur should be ordered that he will finish the season with more walks than home runs. I don’t care if it’s through some sort of bonus or punishment, but the natural out machine needs to stop it if he’s going to develop. Let’s stop the nonsense that he can develop in his current mold into anything other than an everyday outfielder. That’s a worthy human achievement, but a waste of talent, and isn’t worth the hype that the Braves PR machine has put in place. Even with an isolated power of .250, he’s going to have to bat .300 to get to an OPS of close to .900. So far, he’s not shown the ability to hit for average. The home runs are distracting him from all of the outs he’s causing. The euphoria of home runs is like eating candy; it’s good, but you can’t live on it. This is the type of thing he should have learned in the minors last year. I’ve said it many times before, he was rushed. You can’t learn in the big leagues when you’re trying to get to the playoffs. However, that doesn’t seem to be an issue any more. So, the team should use this time as an opportunity to let him learn.

Of course there are many other things the Braves could and could not do, but these are just my thoughts for now. I don’t think there’s much hope for this year. It’s possible, but very unlikely given the way the team is playing. Even if Chipper and Andruw go on to have monster seasons, the rest of the team is too weak to allow the Braves to recover.

They Understand Sunk Costs in Arizona

It looks like the Diamondbacks understand sunk costs. Kudos to the ownership for allowing Josh Byrnes to relieve the team of a very bad decision.

“We’re like most clubs: every dollar counts. You want to spend them as effectively as possible,” Byrnes said at a Chase Field news conference. “That affected the decision, but we also were true to ourselves, and we want to put our best 25 on the field and try to win games. That led us to our decision.

“We have to spend all our dollars wisely, and obviously we owe Russ a lot of money going forward,” Byrnes said. “The flip side is we probably have more young talent than anyone in baseball, and that’s a good thing as managing the payroll.”

Thanks to Ballbug for the pointer. I absolutely love Ballbug.

Checking in on Mazzone

Or as Repoz calls it: The Mazzone Reflect.

Since we’re about a quarter of the way through the season, I thought I’d check in to see how Leo Mazzone and Roger McDowell are doing with their respective staffs. Before the season began, I predicted that the Orioles would improve over last year and the Braves would get a little worse; however, I was more certain about the former than the latter.

As it turns out, both clubs have struggled with poor pitching, and the Orioles are suffering worse. Here is a comparison of both teams in 2005 and 2006.

O's	2005	2006	Change	%Change
ERA	4.57	5.64	1.07	23.41%
FIP	4.54	5.46	0.92	20.26%
K9	6.63	5.96	-0.67	-10.17%
BB9	3.66	4.74	1.08	29.58%
HR9	1.14	1.39	0.25	22.44%
				
Braves	2005	2006	Change	%Change
ERA	3.99	4.35	0.36	9.02%
FIP	4.15	4.60	0.45	10.84%
K9	5.79	6.46	0.67	11.49%
BB9	3.24	3.58	0.34	10.38%
HR9	0.90	1.14	0.24	26.06%

The staffs on both teams have changed some, but the cores remain basically the same. Interestingly, both clubs are having trouble with home runs. Mazzone’s strength over his career has been in keeping homers down and increasing strikeouts, and both of those measures are moving in the opposite direction. Braves strikeouts have increased, too.

The O’s biggest struggles have come from two pitchers: Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez. These two gentlemen have combined to allow 25 homers in 87 2/3 innings—2.6 per 9 IP, and 45% of the team’s total HRs allowed. For Chen’s part, he seems to be trying. After being chased from Tuesday’s game after surrendering two homers Chen said,

“I know I threw a lot of pitches but I just didn’t want to give in,” said Chen, who needed 95 pitches to get through four. “I think overall, my pitches were better probably. I think it was positive and now, I need to show results.”

That’s Leo’s motto: “don’t give in,” so he’s listening. Although, I’m not sure he’s acting. Chen had a nice year last year, too; so, I’m sure he’s frustrated. Chen has always had a homer problem, though. Leo’s disappointed too, but he’s apparently sticking by his guys.

“He’s not going to get frustrated,” Perlozzo said of Mazzone. “He gets disappointed [if] he’s not helping somebody. He got quiet on the bench the other night in Rodrigo’s [Lopez’s] game after he came out. I asked him, ‘You OK?’ He said, ‘I’m OK, but I need to find a way to help that guy.’ You can believe one thing: He’s not going to give up.”

If any one can rally these pitchers, I think it’s Leo. When he first arrived in Atlanta, the pitching had been awful the first part of the season, so he set goals for improvement for the team, and they improved. When John Smoltz struggled early in his career, Mazzone stood by him when everyone wanted him out of the rotation. The same has been true this season with Daniel Cabrera. Though his walks are up, so are his strikeouts, and he’s only allowed one home run. Bedard and Benson have pitched similar to their career numbers.

It’s still early in the season, and too many factors to explain the rise in both team’s ERA through pitching coach changes. Although, it’s still fun to watch, isn’t it?! I’ll keep the Mazzone Meter running.

Leo’s Busy

Leo Mazzone isn’t wasting any time getting to work in Baltimore

“I think he’s starting to buy into some of the things Leo [Mazzone] has been telling him,” Manager Sam Perlozzo said.

Before Wednesday, Benson had allowed five earned runs in five innings.

“Today was a big step in moving closer to where I need to be,” Benson said.

Benson said he began to think about eliminating his curveball several days ago. After throwing in the bullpen, catcher Brandon Marsters suggested that perhaps Benson focus more on the other two pitches.

“It give me less to worry about,” Benson said.

Benson said he had previously thrown a cutter, but this winter he decided to change his grip on the pitch. When he came to spring training, Mazzone noticed the new grip was similar to that of a former pupil, Chicago Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, whom Mazzone coached when both were with the Atlanta Braves. Mazzone made a few adjustments and now Benson has the same grip on the cutter as Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner.

“If it works for him, then hopefully it works for me,” Benson said.

And if you have been impressed with Korea’s pitching performance in the WBC, check out this nugget.

Count South Korea as another team that has benefited from Mazzone’s teachings. In early January, Mazzone spent 10 days in Hawaii working with 18 pitchers from South Korea’s team. Now, South Korea’s 1.40 ERA is the lowest among teams in the Classic.

“They’ve got a lot of talent,” Mazzone said.

Mazzone needed the help of several interpreters, saying he never learned how to say “down and away” in Korean.

Sporting News on Mazzone

This article, by Dave Sheinin, in Sporting News was pointed out in the comments section, but I didn’t realize it was online.

J.C. Bradbury, an economist and sabermetrician from Georgia, published a statistical analysis in 2005 that showed Mazzone’s coaching improved an average pitcher’s ERA by 0.63 points. And pundits have speculated that Mazzone could be the first person to make it into the Hall of Fame as a pitching coach.

Just to set the record straight, I’m actually from Charlotte and I live in Tennessee. But, at least he got my name right. :-) I am certainly not complaining. Thanks Dave.

Again, we here to rumors of the Mazzone hate. I’m not sure what this is all about, but if the Braves pitching tanks this year and the Orioles improve, things could get ugly. While, if the Braves sail as usual and the O’s stink, I think Mazzone will get a pass since he’ll be adjusting to a new organization. I really don’t understand the P.R. benefits to the Braves by allowing this negative energy, even if there was some truth to it. Just say, “Leo was great, he couldn’t pass up a great opportunity, we’ll miss him, but we’ve got a heck-of-a- lot of confidence in Roger McDowell.” Is that so hard?

Neel on The Mazzone Effect

Thanks to Eric Neel (Page 2) over at ESPN.com for linking to The Mazzone Effect. It seems like I picked a good topic to study. The press I’ve received on this is beyond embarrassing. Thanks to everyone for reading, and thanks to Leo for giving me something to study.

Thanks to Rich and John W. for pointing me to the story.

Are Pitchers More Expensive than Hitters?

That is, in terms of what it costs teams to train and maintain these players, not salary. It seems to me that pitchers require more coaching, advanced scouting, and medical care than position players. Does this sound right?