Hello seamheads! Welcome to a new Hamsterdam piece that will hopefully be showing up frequently — depending on the incorrigible laziness of the writers. Bullpen By Committee is an in-depth baseball discussion of different events around MLB, with a forward-thinking mindset and a strong dose of sabermetrics. Colin and I are both baseball obsessives and would love to share some of our thoughts about the world’s greatest sport with you.
DAN: OK, so a lot of storylines are already emerging in the young season. Tim Lincecum’s struggles, big-time contract extensions, Yoenis Cespedes’ ability to punish baseballs for offenses they surely didn’t mean to commit, etc. We’ve also seen two interesting developments this season regarding managing: Joe Girardi’s overmanaging reaching comical new heights, and some mainstream recognition of Joe Maddon’s defensive shifts.
Girardi’s chess moves drew instant fame on Opening Day, when he intentionally walked Sean Rodriguez in the first inning to face Carlos Pena, who promptly belted a grand slam. Last Wednesday against the Orioles he pulled this stunt: tied at 4, Orioles at the plate in the bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, Rafael Soriano pitching, runners on 1st and 2nd. Nick Markakis is batting and Girardi issues him a free pass to get to Adam Jones. Why? Obviously you lose the game now with a walk, wild pitch/passed ball, or HBP, and your margin on batted balls is exactly zero. Girardi’s either looking at Soriano’s fairly significant platoon splits matching up better against Jones, or the fact that Jones was 0-6 with 1 K in his career against Soriano. Knowing all about Girardi’s infamous binder, which do we think had more to do with it? Your thoughts?
COLIN: It seems that if there is any opportunity for Girardi to walk out to the mound or put up four fingers, he’ll bite. His trigger-happy ways aren’t winning many friends in New York, that’s for sure. Heck, say the Yanks get lost in the newly shuffled AL East, would you be surprised to see him out of a job in 2013? Joe Torre was run for less. Speculation in April is fun.
Anyways, while Girardi is losing fans, Rays manager Joe Maddon is turning his micromanaging style into widespread popularity (or panic, depending on how traditional you are). It’s nothing we haven’t seen from Maddon in the past and hardly the most unorthodox move of his career, but his use of defensive shifts caused a lot of commotion on Opening Day. The implementation of right handed shifts has been in use for a few seasons, so why the hubbub now? My guess would be that a lot of “baseball fans” lie about watching the entire season and only tune in for Opening Day and October. Shame on them. We know that managers, GMs and writers have been watching, though. It makes you wonder: how much can we expect those minds to change?
No one knows exactly how much of a positive effect the shifts amount to. As established as offensive sabermetrics are in the Moneyball Era, the metrics used for defensive analysis are very much still in the “Wild, Wild West” phase. We do know that hard-headed managers are always last to the party. With those obstacles looming, is change on the way for defense in baseball? Do you think that 2012 is the season of defensive reform?
DAN: Easy with the fandom snobbery, dude! Apparently you’re the Jack Black in High Fidelity of baseball fans.
Eventually, Girardi will get himself pitchfork-and-torch-mobbed right out of town. The Yankees manager needs to be someone who can take blame for losses, massage egos, and call for #42 when up 1-4 runs in the ninth inning. That’s it. Sit back and let the payroll win pennants. Anything more is either pointless or actually detrimental to the team’s chances of winning, and I think Girardi crosses that line with shocking frequency.
Do you find it kind of interesting that we’re praising Maddon for his aggression with his defenders but killing Girardi for overmanaging? I’m not saying that to excuse Girardi, but what if Maddon makes his decisions with similarly small-sample statistics? I doubt that’s the case, since the Tampa organization clearly knows how to use metrics to their advantage; also, the fact that the Rays repeatedly rank highly in team defensive metrics suggests something is working. But maybe they would be even better at converting balls into outs without all the shifts?
I think in a few years we will be able to know, and that’s why I don’t think 2012 is the year of the defensive revolution, as you suggested. I think we will see more teams follow Maddon’s lead, but once hitFX and fieldFX reach their full potential, defense as we know it could change entirely. Smart teams will utilize this new information to start preventing runs very soon, but eventually everyone will catch on. Even Dusty Baker. Okay, maybe not everyone.
Last thing I want to ask about: you’re a Brewers fan. Ron Roenicke is the only manager in baseball who shifts as much as Maddon. As a fan, how do you react to this? On a macro scale, does it make you more or less confident in Roenicke, the front office, and the team’s run prevention? And on a per-play basis, are you more or less confident about getting an out when they shift?
COLIN: I was actually going with CC Babcock from “The Nanny”, but whatever.
I do think it’s funny that we applaud Maddon and chastise Girardi, but that’s just the nature of results. As for me, I’ll pretty much always support decisions that stretch the limits of baseball as long as there is some basis behind them.
Roenicke certainly caught Brew Crew fans off guard with his use of the “Ted Williams” shift last summer. According to Bill James, the Crew went from dead last in shifts in 2010 (22) to second highest in 2012 (170, behind the Rays 216). The defense indeed showed marked improvement over Ken Macha’s club the previous season, though there are so many variables at play that it’s tough to come to ironclad conclusions.
I also don’t feel that Roenicke is quite as daring as Maddon at least in regards to the infield. The Brewers rarely shift with men on base as we have seen with the Rays. Let’s be real, the guy is still a graduate of the Mike Scioscia School of Brain Explosion. He’s clearly not as savvy as Maddon and demonstrates this with his willingness to throw away outs. It’s like his defense acts as a beard to cover up the scars inflicted from his base running gaffes.
I would like to see Roenicke push the limits further. Then again, I wonder if Maddon is too aggressive and the dominant strategy should be somewhere between the two philosophies.
Maddon, Roenicke and whoever may follow will get all of the credit, but shouldn’t we just assume that they are button pushers? I want to know where the Andrew Friedman love is! If the Braves start using anything more than the baseball version of the Cover 2, I won’t be giving Fredi Gonzalez his due. Or Baker. Or Bobby Valentine. Boy, there are a lot of bad managers collecting paychecks in 2012.