Archive for Managing

Crasnick on Mazzone and McDowell

Thanks to Jerry Crasnick for citing my Leo Mazzone study in today’s ESPN.com column.

McDowell walks into an interesting situation as the successor to Mazzone, who carved out an impressive legacy in 15½ seasons with the Braves. J.C. Bradbury, a baseball fan and college professor based in Tennessee, conducted a study that showed having Mazzone as a pitching coach can lower a pitcher’s ERA by more than half a run. But the numbers notwithstanding, the Braves didn’t seem especially upset to see Mazzone leave.

It’s a nice little article that compares the old and new approaches. More so, it’s a nice write-up about McDowell. Once again, we hear the same thing about Leo that has been running through the media since he left: Leo is a foul-mouthed hard ass who didn’t put up with crap, while McDowell is a laid back prankster who will fit with the younger staff. The Braves public relations department is certainly keeping the story straight. Is it a coincidence that the USSR dissolved in the same year Schuerholz came to Atlanta? ;-) But really, what else can they say?

When ESPN.com ran a piece last summer declaring Mazzone the greatest assistant coach in the history of sports, Cox declined to comment. Cox is uncomfortable with the spotlight and values the contributions of all his coaches equally. Mazzone, with his radio show, his books and his perceived flair for self-promotion, appeared to have outgrown the organizational dynamic.

Mazzone’s throwing program clearly helped Atlanta’s starters stay healthy, and his philosophy of pounding hitters down and away worked wonders for pitchers who could execute it. He helped revive the careers of Jaret Wright, John Burkett and numerous others.

But Mazzone can be abrasive, and his style doesn’t resonate with everyone. Kevin Millwood clashed with him, Jason Marquis never warmed to him, and Mazzone failed to turn around Dan Kolb. For all his genius, Mazzone is not a big proponent of ironing out mechanical flaws with the benefit of new-age technology. You’d have a better chance of spotting Bigfoot in the video room.

Maybe this is true, but I have a hard time thinking that Leo could be anything close to the problem with the Braves last year. Maybe he doesn’t deserve all of the credit he’s been getting, but he certainly doesn’t deserve any blame. It’s time to watch the play on the field to put this topic to rest. That is, unless the Braves pitching collapses in 2006 and the O’s blossom.

JC on Mazzone in the New York Times

I’d like to thank Jack Curry for mentioning my research in today’s New York Times.

Atlanta’s Pitching Wizard Takes His Magic to Baltimore

Smoltz said Atlanta’s perennial pitching success increased expectations among inexperienced pitchers and sometimes rattled them. Because the Braves had six Cy Young Award winners and nine 20-game winners under Mazzone’s tutelage, Smoltz said some pitchers tried to become the next Maddux or Glavine to impress Mazzone. That pressure, Smoltz said, could be detrimental.

Still, a detailed statistical analysis showed that Mazzone’s coaching makes a major difference. J. C. Bradbury, an economics professor at Sewanee: The University of the South, in Sewanee, Tenn., determined that Mazzone helped pitchers decrease their E.R.A.’s by slightly more than half a run per season.

“That’s a huge number,” Bradbury said.

In Bradbury’s 2004 study, he researched every pitcher who had pitched at least one season for Mazzone and compared their yearly E.R.A.’s with Mazzone and without him. Bradbury, a Braves fan who was skeptical of Mazzone’s effect on pitchers, was surprised by the results. His research is on the Web site baseballanalysts.com.

I enjoyed the article quite a bit.

Tony, Tony , Tony

Oh, how I enjoyed watching Tony La Russa [complain] and moan in yesterday’s loss to the Astro’s. Remember this quote from TLR, earlier this season?

The only thing the [Braves] should not be respected for is the way they [complain] and moan and beat the umpires down. That’s beneath the class of their organization.

This gives me reason to redirect readers to my study of manger complainers (here and here). TLR, is right at the top of the list.

Only 3 managers have a statistically significant impact on K/BB. And right at the top of the list is Tony LaRussa….certainly Tony LaRussa has no moral high ground to accuse any other manager for influencing the game through umpires.

Way to go out like an absolute jackass, Tony. As for Jim Edmonds, use your brain knuckle-head. Plate umpire, Phil Cuzzi, clearly asked Edmunds before he tossed him “do you want to go?” Let’s see, your manager has just behaved like a little child by spending five minutes trying to skirt Tim McClelland—who coincidentally towered over TLR like an adult over a child—to get to Cuzzi. Don’t you think he might have a short fuse? So, Edmonds decides to say something back. Whatever brand of ball the Cardinals play, “smartball” shouldn’t be the name of it. That was absolutely pathetic. I suspect that La Russa offered no sympathy to Edmonds as they met in the tunnel. Edmonds can’t swing the bat from a phone in the clubhouse. You’ve got to keep your wits about you in that situation.

Go Astros!

Addendum: And this warms my heart.

Another Reason to Major in Economics

From MLB.com:

Texas Rangers owner Thomas O. Hicks announced on Tuesday that John Hart has resigned as executive vice president/general manager to become senior advisor/baseball operations and that assistant general manager Jon Daniels has been promoted to general manager.

Daniels, who becomes the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history at 28 years, 41 days, becomes the eighth general manager in club history. He joined the Texas organization in 2002 as a baseball operations assistant before being promoted to director of baseball operations in October of 2003 and then again to assistant general manager in July of 2004.

A 1999 graduate of Cornell University in upstate New York, he earned his degree in applied economics and management. He is a native of New York City.

I get about one e-mail a week from high school and college students wanting advice on what to study in order to work in baseball. First, I plead ignorance, since I’ve never worked for a sports team. However, I did work for The Charlotte Observer sports pages in high school…recording high school football scores. Yes, I should plead ignorance. But then I offer some course suggestions such as statistics, logic and critical thinking (philosophy), and a few economics courses.

From now on, I’m going to be less timid: If you want to work in baseball, major in economics. Here’s a list of people working in baseball whom I know studied economics: Bill James, Paul DePodesta, Farhan Zaidi (PhD), Voros McCracken, and now Jon Daniels. The trend is quite clear. Economics certainly isn’t necessary, but it’s clear that people familiar with the economic way of thinking—maybe because they think that way naturally—are getting good jobs in baseball. Of course, there’s no substitute for making contacts within baseball, but I’m just offering course advice here.

As to the question about Mr. Daniels’s young age, it really isn’t all that surprising. Good thinkers are intelligent both young and old. All else being equal, I’d prefer the experience that comes with age; however, in this case, I suspect all is not equal. It’s quite common for successful people to begin their success at an early age. See Bill Gates, for example. I expect big things from Daniels, and I wish him the best of luck. Don’t let the nattering nabobs of negativism in “The Club” get to you.

Addendum: An alternative to majoring in economics: www.HireMeTheo.com. Thanks to David Pinto.

ESPN on Leo

Thanks for those of you who pointed me to this weekend’s article about Leo Mazzone on ESPN’s E-Ticket. I get a nice mention in the article

There are those who suggest Mazzone’s success is based more on good fortune than anything else. Who wouldn’t look good coaching Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Steve Avery, Neagle, Mark Wohlers and the other great pitchers acquired by general manager John Schuerholz or developed in the Braves’ farm system? But the fact is this: Most pitchers get better when they join the Braves, and many get worse after they depart.

There is clear evidence. Economist J.C. Bradbury’s concludes from his extensive statistical analysis at the Sabernomics Blog, that “working with Leo shaves off between .55 and .85 points of a pitcher’s ERA.”

If you want to see the work I’ve done on Mazzone, the original article is here and the follow-up is on Baseball Analysts.

Thanks to Jeff Merron for the mention and writing a very good article.

A New Level of Relief

Baseball statistics are usually used in one of two ways: analysis of past performance or predicting future performance. In either case, we often use them to analyze the decisions of the manager, the general manager, the owner, and anyone else related to the team. Along those lines, my motivation for tracking pitcher WPA stats was not only to know more about pitching, but also to know which pitchers should be used in certain situations. To that end, I have come up with a statistic that I call Usage Score. While the stat corresponds to specific players, it is actually a reflection of the manager’s tendencies with regard to those players.

(If you haven’t read my introductory article on WPA, you may want to now. Otherwise, this will be difficult to follow.)

The calculation for Usage Score (USG) is relatively simple, although getting to the right numbers to use can be quite a task. First, I take a player’s average total P and WPA per appearance. Next, I find the team’s averages in those categories (not including the player’s stats) during the time period that the player was on the team. With that data, I also have the player’s and team’s WPTP over that time period.

Player Team
P-Tot WPA WPTP P-Tot WPA WPTP
Boyer 0.052 0.004 0.068 0.058 -0.011 -0.192
Brower 0.059 -0.007 -0.115 0.074 0.004 0.055
Farnsworth 0.041 -0.002 -0.054 0.020 0.013 0.649
Foster 0.069 0.003 0.047 0.073 -0.010 -0.136
Kolb 0.083 -0.040 -0.477 0.062 0.012 0.192
McBride 0.107 0.094 0.882 0.117 -0.010 -0.084
Reitsma 0.094 0.036 0.388 0.072 -0.001 -0.019

By taking the differences between the player and team averages in these stats, you can learn a few things. First, you know if a player is being used in higher-leverage situations than his teammates by comparing the P values. You also know if a player is doing a better overall job by comparing WPTP rates. Take a look at the Braves’ leaders in average total P and WPTP vs. team averages:

P-Tot WPTP
Reitsma 0.021 McBride 0.966
Farnsworth 0.021 Reitsma 0.408
Kolb 0.021 Boyer 0.261
Foster -0.004 Foster 0.183
Boyer -0.006 Brower -0.170
McBride -0.010 Kolb -0.668
Brower -0.016 Farnsworth -0.703

From this table, we might already be able to tell which players are not used at the right times, and we’re now getting close to the USG. Using the player’s WPTP and difference from team average P (WPTP +/- and P +/-), we can find out what the player’s WPA would be if he had been used in the average situation his team faced. Just multiply the player’s WPTP +/- by the team’s average P to find the player’s theoretical WPA +/-.

Now we have the two building blocks for USG: The player’s theoretical WPA +/- and his average total P +/-. The difference between the two is the usage score (I subtract P +/- from WPA +/- so that underused players are at the top). Here is the Braves’ USG leaderboard:

Pitcher USG
McBride 0.1226
Boyer 0.0211
Foster 0.0174
Reitsma 0.0082
Brower 0.0031
Farnsworth -0.035
Kolb -0.062

Theoretically, a manager should use his middle-of-the-pack reliever in situations close to his team’s average P. More crucial situations should go to above-team-average relievers, while garbage time goes to the team’s worst players. In the above leaderboard, you’ll notice that Macay McBride, Blaine Boyer, and John Foster are the top three most “under-used” current relievers, while Kolb and Farnsworth are “over-used.” Sample sizes are a problem with the current staff, since only Reitsma and Kolb have seen more than a handful of appearances, but you get the idea. It appears that Bobby Cox has done a decent job, aside from the anomaly of Dan Kolb, who was clearly not expected to perform so poorly.

I think USG can be very helpful, but there are a few problems with using this as a catch-all manager performance stat, beyond sample size issues. First, I only have data for the Braves, which means that I really have no idea how Cox is doing compared to other managers. All I can say is that he probably should have used John Foster a few times when he actually used Kolb.

Second, as JF said in his comment on Kyle’s article, you just can’t predict the leverage of future situations. You have to make decisions based on the current situation of your staff (things such as fatigue and perhaps hot and cold players) and only the current state of the game. If Cox brings in Chris Reitsma for a 3-2 game in the eighth, who’s to say that he won’t need someone to get Kyle Farnsworth out of a bases-loaded jam in a 3-3 ninth? Of course, the reverse could be true, with the Braves scoring 4 runs to put the game out of reach after Reitsma’s appearance. I don’t know if those scenarios average out, so we’d likely need a guinea pig manager to start bringing in the closer in these early-but-tight situations to see what ends up happening.

All of the stats I’m tracking are still in the early stages of their development. WPA analysis is not widespread, by any means, so it’s very difficult to say anything conclusively when looking from a broad perspective. Any and all comments and suggestions about my work are always welcome. You can visit my site by following JC’s link to “Advanced Pitching Stats for Relievers” on the left.

Keeping Score with Leo Mazzone

The success of Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone is the subject of Alan Schwarz’s Keeping Score column in this Sunday’s New York Times, The Mazzone Touch is More than Just Perception. And the study I did over at Baseball Analysts, The Mazzone Effect Revisited, plays a major role in the article.

I’d like to thank Alan Schwarz for such a fantastic write-up. I talked with Alan several times over the past week, and I certainly enjoyed the experience. If you ever get a chance to talk with Alan, don’t pass it up. What a nice guy, and he knows A LOT about baseball. I think the article turned out very nicely, and I appreciate his covering my research on Leo. Alan’s a very good writer, and if you haven’t read The Numbers Game yet, you should.

I also want to thank the online sabermetric community for promoting my research in this area since I published the first study last December. The postings at Baseball Think Factory by Repoz, and most certainly the invitation from Rich and Bryan at Baseball Analysts to DH gave a tremendous boost to the project. Thank you all.

Arguing Balls and Strikes: The Most Influential Managers

In an earlier post I discussed the possibility of managers influencing the calling of balls and strikes by umpires. This was, of course, motivated by Tony LaRussa’s recent comments about Bobby Cox’s excessive complaining to the umpires over the strike zone. Using Questec as a controlled environment, where complaining would be less effective, I looked at how Cox’s and LaRussa’s pitchers performed, in terms of the strikeout-to-walk ratio, in Questec and non-Questec parks. Simple t-tests indicated that while Cox had no influence, LaRussa’s pitchers performed significantly worse in Questec parks, where lobbying the umpire should be less effective. While this test was fun, there could be many outside factors that explain the difference. What about the park, batter quality and pitching quality? These could all contribute to explaining the difference. So, I decided to take it up a notch to control for these factors and examine the lobbying impact of all the managers in the sample.

The data I used is the same as before. I looked at managers in away games (eliminating any impact from home field advantage) in 2002 and 2003. Instead of just concentrating on Cox and LaRussa, I used a sample of all managers who managed at least 60 away games over this time period. I used a multiple regression to estimate the impact of various factors on a visiting team’s strikeout-to-walk ratio in each game. The factors I controlled for were:

  • the average K/BB of the pitchers on the visiting team on the road in that year
  • the average K/BB of the batters on the home team at home in that year
  • the park in which the game was played (using indicator dummy variables)
  • the league of the home team (to control for the designated hitter effect)
  • the manager of the visiting team (using indicator dummy variables)
  • whether or not the game was played in a Questec park
  • the manager of the visiting team in Questec parks ( an interaction term to pull out the individual effect of each manager in Questec parks

The results were quite interesting. And once again, the evidence indicates that LaRussa should not be the one complaining about the behavior of other managers. Here is a list of managers and their estimated increase/decline on their teams’ strikeout-to-walk ratio in Questec parks.

Manager        		Marg. Impact
Bob Boone    		-1.017
Ken Macha    		-0.967
Tony LaRussa    	-0.966
Jim Tracy    		-0.869
Larry Bowa    		-0.743
Joe Torre    		-0.639
Jimy Williams   	-0.584
Clint Hurdle    	-0.494
Hal McRae    		-0.487
Mike Scioscia   	-0.453
Bruce Bochy    		-0.409
Lloyd McClendon   	-0.406
Bobby Valentine    	-0.387
Jerry Narron    	-0.283
Bobby Cox    		-0.275
Jack McKeon    		-0.255
Lou Piniella    	-0.230
Jerry Manuel    	-0.156
Bob Melvin    		-0.114
Felipe Alou    		-0.085
Jeff Torborg    	-0.084
Carlos Tosca    	-0.024
Jerry Royster    	0.000
Dusty Baker    		0.024
Ned Yost   		0.113
Art Howe    		0.160
Grady Little  		0.197
Tony Pena    		0.215
Frank Robinson    	0.271
Alan Trammell    	0.289
Mike Hargrove    	0.348
Eric Wedge    		0.369
Luis Pujols    		0.428
Buck Showalter    	0.483
Ron Gardenhire    	0.749
Bob Brenly    		0.771
    
Bold: statistically significant at the 5% level
Italics: statistically significant at the 10% level

Update: I corrected the estimates from my previous posting. Brenly, Hargrove, and Gardenhire no longer have statistically significant impacts. Jim Tracy’s estimate is now statistically significant.

As you can see, most managers experience no statistical difference between Questec and non-Questec parks (rounded to thee decimal places). Only 3 managers have a statistically significant impact on K/BB. And right at the top of the list is Tony LaRussa. LaRussa’s ability to sway umpires is not surprising considering that he is a lawyer, which is about as a well-kept secret as John Kerry’s military service. I wouldn’t be surprised if LaRussa is also good at manipulating MLB’s umpire complaint department.

And then look at Bob Brenley (although his impact is large it’s not statistically significant. Why is he so “bad?” Well, there may be some as yet to be explained factors, but I’ve certainly never been convinced by anything he’s said during a TV broadcast. In fact, I’ve changed opinions based on the fact that he agreed with my thinking. I wonder if his arguing skills are so weak that he ends up hurting his pitchers. Maybe other managers take advantage of him when Questec is not around, and he can’t counter with anything. Or, it could be that protects his hitters to the extent that it hurts his pitchers, which was not such a bad strategy given the good pitching he had during these years.

Overall, most managers don’t seem to have any real impact in arguing balls and strikes, which is consistent with rent seeking outcomes. Everyone wastes energy arguing but nothing is gained. At least maybe Questec can get the excessive bickering over balls and strikes out of the game.

Given that Boone is no longer managing, I think it’s safe to say that Tony LaRussa is the best rent seeking manager in the game today. Although, rent seeking is generally considered to be bad, it certainly is good news for the Cards. So, I think it’s a quality to be admired, but certainly Tony LaRussa has no moral high ground to accuse any other manager for influencing the game through umpires.

Does Bobby Cox Win by Rent Seeking?

That’s the implication Tony LaRussa gave in some recent comments about the Braves.

Rent seeking is “the socially costly pursuit of wealth transfers,” in the words of my former professor Bob Tollison. Most of the time we discuss rent seeking in law-making; for example, lobbyists spend effort to encourage legislators to adopt policies that give interest groups legislated benefits. Rent seeking involves expending energy to change the rules of the game to your benefit, instead of using resources to seek rewards within the rules of the game. In baseball, it means mangers, players, and fans attempting to influence the calling of the rules of the game. Now, the social loss of rent seeking in the game is a bit complicated, but, from my standpoint, watching managers both plead theie cases to an umpire just so we end up where we started in the rulebook is a waste. We could argue over that, though.

Although LaRussa toned down his assertions a bit from Saturday, on Sunday he had a little more to say about Cox’s influence on the game.

“All I said was that when you go against somebody who is complaining all the time, you worry about how it affects the umpires,” said La Russa, who doesn’t think he should be fined for his critique of Dale Scott’s strike zone in the seventh inning when he and pitcher Al Reyes were ejected.

“When I was a young manager, Earl Weaver at Baltimore played it that way. They challenged ever strike. If your wife is getting on you every minute, you get fed up. Pretty soon, you may tune her out and do whatever it takes to get through it. If I was an umpire, I’d put [the Braves] in their place.

“I didn’t say anything to challenge anybody’s integrity. I have great respect for Bobby. He’s out to beat you. He does all that stuff sincerely. I didn’t say anything personal about Bobby Cox.”

Well, the last stuff kind of seems to contradict the first stuff, but that’s not what I’m really interested in. LaRussa makes a bold claim about the Cox-managed Braves that I think is legitimate: Cox’s complaints to the umpire influence the game. I strongly believe that players, managers, and fans harass referees/umpires in a way that can effect the outcome of the game. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, nor necessarily something that any sports league needs to address. Heckling and complaining have long been a part of the game and will persist. I will admit that I think it can go too far and some restrictions would be beneficial.

But in reference to LaRussa, he seems to be saying something further than this; namely, that Cox has more influence than other managers. He’s a successful rent seeker, stealing games by manipulating umpires rather than outfoxing other managers on his way to glory. As someone who has found the success of Braves pitchers quite exceptional without any particular explanation as to why, I wondered if this might be the reason. So, I put on my economic thinking cap and went to work. How could I identify managers influencing umpires? Questec.

Questec is system of cameras and computers that track the pitches in a game. In 2002, MLB installed Questec cameras in 10 parks to track the ball and strike calls of umpires. The umpires were none too pleased, and even players (most notably Tom Glavine and Curt Schilling) complained. While the impact of Questec on the game is a little unclear, one thing it does is keep umpires honest. Think of this situation without Questec. Cox is screaming from the dugout, “You stink ump. Can’t you see the strike-zone.” While I believe umpires are resistant to such calls, I can imagine that on close calls umps may, even subconsciously, favor the complainers. (Fellow professors know what I’m talking about.) Cox might be able to gain a strikeout or lose a walk for his pitchers just by being an ass. But with Questec, the umpire answers not just to managers, but to MLB. Umpires, while they may be swayed when Questec is operational, I think there is less movement for bending.

How can I use Questec to examine Bobby Cox’s rent seeking? One nice feature of MLB’s experiment with Questec is it’s inclusion in only some parks. This article by Nate Silver and and Keith Woolner (with an aside by Rob Neyer) identifies the ten parks with Questec, which was installed beginning in the 2002 season. As best I can tell, the usage of Questec has not changed since their first installment. I then used Retrosheet game logs to look at all of the visiting games (to avoid the home fan/park influence) in which Cox was the manager inside and outside Questec parks for 2002 and 2003. I compared his pitchers’ average strikeout-to-walk ratio in these parks to non-Questec parks. Here is what I found.

Questec K/BB (46 games) = 2.86
Non-Questec K/BB (115 games)= 2.81

A t-test reveals that the difference in not statistically significant, and if anything his pitchers do better in Questec parks. Now, of course, this does not prove Cox has no influence, only that from looking at the raw numbers no influence is observable. Certainly, pitcher and team quality may be important. Sorting through all of that is a big project that I may tackle one day, but today is not that day.

But, I didn’t want to end there. I wondered what LaRussa’s influence might be, since he made such a big deal about it. Well, it turns out that Tony may not be as innocent as he claims.

Questec K/BB (53 games) = 2.00
Non-Questec K/BB (109 games)= 2.75

It turns out, that this estimate is statistically significant at just about the 1% level. LaRussa does do better without Questec in the house to keep the umpires honest. Well, this certainly doesn’t imply that LaRussa is necessarily the cause, but it is fun to point out. While there is no evidence of Bobby Cox winning games through the means LaRussa suggests, the same cannot be said about the man making the accusation.

Note: I would like to add that for games with zero walks, I assigned one walk to the team. When I exclude these observations, the results do not change.

Cram it, Tony

I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’ t like Tony LaRussa. I think he’s a conceited jerk who has a wee bit too much confidence in his own intelligence and morality. Here are his comments on last night’s Cards/Braves game.

We had Mondesi struck out twice [in that inning] and we had Chipper out on the same pitch. …[The umpire] Scott lost the aggressiveness of his strike zone.

I watched the whole game, and I admit I thought the balls and strikes were not called well all night. Although, I think the calls were universally bad for both teams. I recall, in particular, that Pete Orr took a crucial called strike-two that was nowhere near the zone. Pete’s pretty much a free swinger and the replay showed the ball to be low and inside. LaRussa also forgot to mention that Chipper should have been on first in any event since Chipper was hit by the pitch in his injured foot. The umpire somehow thought Chipper’s jumping around in severe pain must have been an act.

But, you know, that kind of comment doesn’t bother me. All managers complain about umps, so that’s fine. But LaRussa’s next statement requires a personal apology to Bobby Cox.

The only thing they [Braves] should not be respected for is the way they [complain] and moan and beat the umpires down. That’s beneath the class of their organization.

What? Give me a break, Tony. Did you you see Chipper complain when your pitcher hit him in the foot? No. He stood in there an earned a walk. I understand Tony was upset about having two runs taken off the board when the umps determined that a ball had struck the baserunner Pujols. But, the replays seemed to confirm that the ball did hit his player. Shouldn’t the call be reversed? Nope, it’s those whining Braves who are at fault.

This reminds me of an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated about a month ago. In an excerpt from the recent book written about him (I won’t link to it deliberately), LaRussa philosophizes about his decision to plunk Luis Gonzalez in the ribs in a situation that really hurt his own team. I was embarrassed that LaRussa thought he’d reached a decision based on anything but spite (“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”). I felt like vomiting at the end. I hope Gonzalez spits in his face the next time they meet. And I won’t be surprised if LaRussa orders a cowardly plunking again today.