The Royals appear to be doing the right thing by looking for a veteran manager. It also looks as if Terry Collins, a dark horse who has cropped up on the elusive "short list," deserves serious consideration.
Collins has the first prerequisite for the Royals' managerial search: He's managed (and won) in the big leagues.
As a rule, do veteran managers make more of an impact?
To examine this question, we looked at the managerial records for the last 15 seasons. We looked at each new manager and marked him as a veteran manager (previous big-league experience) or a rookie manager (no big-league experience). There were 44 rookie managers and 41 veteran managers during this period.
To measure the effect of the two groups, we looked at the two seasons before the managerial change, then the two seasons after the change, including the new manager's first season with his team. Thus, new managers needed at least two seasons with their new team to qualify for the study.
The measurement we'll use is called EFF162 (effect per 162 games). It is calculated by subtracting the winning percentage for the seasons before the change from the percentage after the change and multiplying that times 162.
The veteran managers clearly were the more effective group. The teams that hired managers with experience improved their two-season win total by an aggregate of 85 games, for a 2.2 EFF162. Teams that rolled the dice on unproven managers dropped an extra 71 games in the aggregate for a -1.6 EFF162.
Twenty-six of 41 (63 percent) veteran managers had a positive effect on their new team. Only 18 of 44 (41 percent) first-timers aided improvement.
There were eight first-time managers on the list who had a negative EFF162 who were later given a second chance with another team. Four of the eight posted a positive EFF162 the second time around - Gene Lamont, Johnny Oates, Buddy Bell and Jim Riggleman.
Lamont is thought to be on the Royals' short list of candidates but has not been confirmed.
There were also six first-timers who posted a positive EFF162 and then went on to manage another team. All six of them vindicated themselves by improving their new charges as well.
Of these "sensational six," four of them already have managing jobs - Dusty Baker, Buck Showalter, Felipe Alou and Phil Garner. Two of them don't - Collins and Kevin Kennedy.
Collins topped our study of available managers last week based on wins added with a score of 3.3 wins added per 162 games (WA162). Kennedy placed third on that list with 1.9 WA162 (see the Stat Guy blog for details). Collins has been verified as a member of the short list. Kennedy has not been mentioned as a candidate.
Another member of the short list, Art Howe, actually predates this study as a first-time manager because he made his debut as manager in 1989. But if he had qualified, Howe wouldn't have fared very well because the Astros got markedly worse the first two seasons after he took the helm.
Howe did make the study as a veteran manager - twice. In both instances, the teams he took over (the Athletics and Mets) got worse in the two-year period after his hire. Of course, by the time he left the Athletics, the squad had won more than 100 games for two straight seasons.
Howe posted a 1.4 WA162 in last week's study, good for fourth place on the list. Lamont finished out of the running with a -1.2 WA162. Collins is the only candidate on the unofficial short list to score well in both studies.
So it appears that the Royals are talking to the right candidate (Collins) and the right kind of candidates (veteran managers).
Of course, talk is just that - talk. Who actually gets the job remains to be seen.
Spoils of experience
Veteran managers seem to have a more positive effect on a team's victory total than first-time managers. A look at new managers in the period from 1990 to 2003:
If you haven't noticed, scoring is down in the American League this season.
Some publicity has already been generated by the startling number of 1-0 games across baseball in the early going. According to The Indianapolis Star, there have been 10 of these encounters so far - almost enough to stir echoes of Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson. It's also stirred the rancor of Roger Clemens, who has been on the short end of three 1-0 games already. At a comparable juncture of the 2004 season, there were just three 1-0 games on the ledger in all of baseball.
But it's not just the mono-run games. Something seems to be amiss, especially in the AL.
Home runs are being hit in 2.6 percent of plate appearances, down from 3.0 percent. The league is on pace to hit 2,226 home runs, which would be the lowest full-season total since 1993.
After one week of May, the average American League team is on pace to score 750 runs. That's down from an average of 811 in 2004. If the trend holds up, the league average will be the lowest for any full season since 1992.
The league batting average is .261, down from .270. The on-base percentage has dropped from .338 to .325. Slugging percentage has fallen from .433 to .408. All of these totals would be the lowest since 1992, if they persist.
Could it be the defense?
In a previous Stat Guy piece, it was noted there seemingly was an inexplicable drop in team defensive efficiency record (DER) between 1992 and 1993. Explanations were sought. None were received, at least none that satisfactorily explained the drop.
So far this season, the league-average DER in the American League is .698. Last season, it was .690. The last time it was this high was - you guessed it - 1992.
DER, if you haven't been paying attention (shame on you!) measures the percentage of balls hit into play against a team that are converted to outs. The three primary variables in DER are: 1) the skill of a team's fielders; 2) how hard a team's pitchers allow the ball to be hit; and 3) luck.
Assuming that the universe hasn't altered in some frightening and bizarre fashion, the luck factor can't probably account for the change in DER. Of course, because we're dealing with five weeks' worth of numbers, luck can't be discounted altogether but the sample sizes are getting large enough to pay attention to.
If we set luck aside, we're left with fielding skill and how hard balls are being hit. It seems unlikely that fielders have improved that much since last season. Was there some amazing innovation in baseball-glove technology that we haven't been told about?
The good people at The Hardball Times track line-drive percentages so the rest of us won't have to. Last season, the line-drive percentage for AL hitters was 17.7 percent. This season, it has fallen to 16.8 percent, which is significant but far from conclusive.
It's too early to know for sure, but it sure seems as if hitters aren't hitting the ball as hard as often in 2005.
What accounts for this seeming decline in offense?
Again, it's too early to speculate why scoring is down. Heck, it's too early to even know whether scoring is down. There are too many variables, and the sample sizes are too minute. Any theory at this point would be the worst kind of conjecture.
The April weather may have skewed the numbers. Remember those excessively windy games at Kauffman Stadium? There may have also simply been a fluky number of outstanding pitching performances. After all, we have those 10 1-0 games already. Maybe it's something in the water. Or, more to the point, maybe it's something they took out of the water.
All we have right now is an early trend, one which suggests offense is down. Let's watch the trend and see where it takes us.
Then let the conjecture begin.
Here in Kansas City, we know more about this phenomenon than other AL cities. We've seen plenty of it firsthand.
If not for the great start by Mike Sweeney, who on the basis of runs created is the second-most productive hitter in the league this season, the Royals' offense would be historically inept.
As it is, the Royals are on pace to set new franchise lows for on-base percentage (.289) and runs in a full season (596). They are on pace to collect the fewest hits (1275) and strike out the most times (1,092).
It doesn't get much better once guys get on base. Royals' baserunners are scoring 34 percent of the time, the team's worst total in 13 years. The Royals are on pace to match last season's franchise low for stolen bases (68).
We could go on and on with the ugly numbers, but you get the drift. The best advice when reviewing the Royals' offensive record is to concentrate on the line that begins with 'Sweeney' and ignore the rest.
As I figured, the reaction I got from readers was that there was an Obvious Answer. Clearly, players are a bunch of marauding juice freaks whose stash has been suddenly taken away, cold turkey. Here's a sampling, taken from a caller who dialed into the Star's 'Voices' hot line:
"The reason scoring is down in the AL is because steroid use is down in the AL. What a surprise."
or this, from an e-mail:
"It's the steroids, stupid!"
All of my e-mail was pretty much along those lines. Personally, I don't agree with that assessment but I'm not surprised to hear it. A couple of days ago, the Associated Press moved a chart outlining that home run rates are lower at this point in the season than they were at a comparable juncture in seasons past. In the last couple of days, I've seen the issue broached on The Hardball Times and Baseball Propectus. People are starting to notice.
The stats community is mostly wrestling with the issue of statistical variation. Sure, line drive rates are down, flyballs aren't leaving the park, the balls-in-figures are diminshed and, when you add it all up, teams aren't scoring as much. But all of it falls within fairly normal parameters of statistical variation so that's what the focus is on. Giving credence to the flucuation/luck approach is the fact that the effect is more pronounced in the AL. In the National League, numbers are down but not as much.
As I say in my article, there are a great many possible explanations for why offense is seemingly down. But it is down - at this point - and that point can't really be denied.
The timing of the drop is bad for baseball, that's for sure. It would have been better for everyone if teams were scoring six runs a game and Jim Thome was on pace to hit 80 home runs. That's not happening. The big-league leader in homers, Alex Rodriguez, is on pace to hit 51 home runs. At one time, that would have seemed like a lot. Not any more.
So I suppose one of the things I wanted to find out when I wrote this piece was just how convinced the average baseball fan is that steroids have a huge impact on offensive numbers. I have no idea if the people who read Stat Guy qualify as 'average baseball fans'. Judging by the quantity and tone of the response of those who did read and respond, I can honestly say that these folks have made up their mind: it's the steroids that are responsible from the huge figures of the last eight or so years and it's the absence of steroids that is responsible for the numbers falling this season.
I guess I can't say empirically that these people are wrong, but I certainly feel at the very least they are oversimplifying the situation. First of all, let's see what happens to the numbers as teams start to play more teams outside their division and the weather begins to warm up. Then, let's ride it out to till the end of the season. Then, perhaps, we can look at different groupings of players to see if anything telling emerges.
So, anybody out there have an accurate listing of player weights for the last couple of years?
With the Tony Pena era at an abrupt end and because of a special request by a person with a vested interest in the Milwaukee Brewers, I have updated my mananger rankings. The methodolgy is outlined in the original article "The measure of a manager" which, by the way, is a take on a Star Trek episode. While I plan to refine my methods and expand the study to include 10-15 years worth of managers, these rankings use the same procedures as my original studies. I've included Ned Yost, who was accidentally omitted from my original piece, and the statistics are up-to-date through Tuesday, May 10.
There was plenty of ammunition regarding Ken Harvey that I held back because of the usual space considerations. Before I get into that, let me expound on a couple of other issues regarding the Royals enigmatic former Husker.
* I don't think it was a mistake to recall Harvey. In fact, I never felt like he should have been sent down to begin with. All along, I've thought the best thing the Royals could do is to keep both Harvey and Calvin Pickering on the roster in a straight platoon. Consider:
OK, I realize it's not as clear cut as all that, especially given Pickering sudden inability to hit anything, but you get my point. Also, consider that Mike Sweeney has played in all 26 games. For a player whose games played have diminished each of the last five seasons, this is both good and bad news. It's great that he finally seems to be healthy. But, unless you're planning to trade him, this not the best way to use a durability-challenged player. At some point, Sweeney is going to have to have some days off.
As for the overall roster construction, all you would have had to do is keep 11 pitchers instead of 12. Since the Royals ended up cutting back to 11 pitchers anyway because guys weren't getting enough work, that extra spot would have been much better utilitized by keeping Harvey. As for this stuff about getting Harvey to work on his approach, it didn't happen and it won't.
* All this bunk about Harvey being an 'All-Star' is truly laughable. Every team gets an All-Star, even the 2003 Tigers. Stuffing feathers in your *bleep* does not make you chicken. Nor does being the default All-Star choice from a bad team make you an All-Star.
* Harvey's start in Omaha was truly overblown. Harvey was a 27-year-old, two-year major league vet playing in a hitter's league. Yes, he was putting up some glossy numbers. But Harvey's .375 batting average was not in the league's top ten. His 14 RBI were not in the top 20, nor were his 3 home runs. He was sent to Omaha to work on his approach and if he indeed was doing that, you can't tell by the results.
Here's another way to look at Harvey's recent career:
He's been pretty darn consistent. But so much of his value is tied up in his ability to hit singles. You don't win with big, lumbering first basemen with poor gloves whose only excel at hitting singles. By the way, the OBIP% in this table refers to outs on balls-in-play. Each outcome is expressed as a perentage of overall plate appearances. XRPA is a shorthand number I utilitze. It's generated by PROFITS. 12 is a league-average hitter, though each integer represents a fairly broad stroke of players.
Here are some other comments I picked up at the ballpark. I couldn't use them for my column, but here they are:
Tony Pena -
- on why the Camp-for-Harvey switch was made "Shawn Camp lately has not thrown the ball the way he is capable of throwing. Right now, we need some offense and Ken Harvey has been swinging the bat real good in AAA."
- on the timing of the Harvey recall "We sent Ken Harvey to work on his approach at the plate. He has done real well. Right now, the way our offense is, we need another bat and I think Harvey is the best guy."
- on going with 11 pitchers "The way our starting pitchers have been throwing, they have been going deep into the ballgames. I have not seen myself giving enough work to everybody in the bullpen."
- on the changes Harvey was asked to make "Last season, he was chasing alot of pitches out of the strike zone. In spring training, we saw the same thing. We talked about sending him down to work on that, just to get himself in good situations to hit. When the guy hits strikes, he hits the ball a long way."
- look at Harvey's splite when ahead in the count. In baseball, it's not really important how well you do something. Of greater import is how often you do it.
Jeff Pentland -
- How difficult is it to teach a hitter to be more patient at the plate? "The biggest thing is that, around the big leagues, you have a lot of aggressive players. They don't get to the big leagues by taking (pitches). That progression works, usually, all the way through the minor leagues. In the big leagues and, even now, in the minor leagues, we're trying to create a better approach. We try to shrink the plate in hopes of getting a good pitch to hit."
- What is the technical thing that is hard to get across - the mindset or the ability to read pitches? "I think it's the recognition of pitches because sometimes it's not that easy. If you look at the best hitters in the game, they see the ball early, they recognize pitches early. A lot of it has to do with technique. Some of it has to do with mindset, a calmness and relaxation at the plate so they realize that they have to see the ball before they swing."
- With some players, at some point, do you just have to accentuate their aggressiveness because that's just who they are? "No question. Look at Sweeney, he's the most aggressive guy we have. Sometimes, he's a little too anxious, too aggressive and he swings at pitches he shouldn't swing at. But everybody does it. You just try to keep it at a minimum. But the pitchers dictate a lot of that. Some guys will be aggressive in the strike zone and the nibblers will try to get you to chase pitches off the plate."
- Is plate discipline something that is being emphasized from here on down to the minor leagues? "I think that most organizations are very aware of on-base percentage and the things that go along with seeing pitches, like getting pitch counts up and being able to foul off pitches. All of those things are kind of nuances in the game. The strike zone is certainly part of it."
- Within a game, when you see the team being too aggressive at the plate and the opposing pitcher's pitch count is too low, do you ask the hitters to take more pitches? "We definitely make some adjustments. A big part of hitting is to adjust to what you're seeing. That could be being more aggressive or less aggressive. Ideally, you want pitch counts up but sometimes the pitchers don't allow you to do that."