Monday, November 4, 2013

We're losing some distinctive managers

Dusty Baker's teams averaged more than 100 sacrifice bunt
attempts in his 19 years as a manager.
The Monday print column — the last for 2013 — takes note of the novice managers being handed the reins of contending teams in Detroit, Washington and Cincinnati and offers the theory that this trend is rooted in the homogenizing of managerial strategy.

Everybody handles their pitching staffs the same way these days. Five-man rotations, adherence to pitch counts, a designated one-inning closer who seldom enters with men on base, specialist relievers ... that's not merely conventional wisdom, it is standard practice.

To do that, a manager needs an inflated pitching staff. In the 1970s and 1980s, teams seldom carried more than 10 pitchers on a 25-man roster. That started to change in the early 1990s, and today everybody has at least 12 pitchers.

The specialist relievers and the limited roster space for extra hitters have combined to essentially drive platoons out of the game.

The departures, at least for now, of grizzled veteran managers Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson and Jim Leyland takes out some of the more distinctive strategists. Baseball Info Systems has for several years published a "managerial record" in the annual Bill James Handbook, and Baker in particular shows up with a lot of boldfaced type, indicative of having led the league in a particular move.

Jim Leyland went longer with his starters than any
other current manager, a pattern that really started to
emerge in the past five years.
In 2013, for example, Baker's Reds attempted 110 sacrifice bunts. No other team reached 100. The average National League team (the NL does more bunting because its pitchers hit) had 80 sac attempts. Baker was 37.5 percent above that average. (Baker also led the NL in pitchouts, albeit by just one.)

Johnson and Leyland each led their league in what BIS calls "long outings by starting pitchers," defined at this point as starts exceeding 110 pitches. (When they started keeping track of this, the defining pitch count was higher, but there weren't enough starts of 120 pitches to make it meaningful.)

Leyland's Tigers had 50 such starts, Johnson's Nationals 27. (There were just 14 starts of 125 pitches or more in the majors this year; the Tigers had three of them, as did the Texas Rangers.)

My guess is that the new guys will be more conventional on bunting than Baker was, and likely to pull their starters earlier than Leyland and Johnson.

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