Monday, May 24, 2010

Acta's Triage

Welcome to Cleveland, Manny Acta.

Only 35 games into his inaugural season as Cleveland’s manager, Acta had two of the three normally reliable players on his roster taken away. With shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera out until at least late July (8-10 weeks was the formal diagnosis, excluding minor league rehab time) and center fielder Grady Sizemore benched with a bum knee that may require surgery (he's soliciting second and third opinions from specialists this week), things are looking grim for the Tribe.

That’s not to say things were going according to plan beforehand, but few teams would be expected to fully recover after the loss of two cornerstone players (especially a team that’s already dug itself a bit of a hole in the standings).

You have to give Acta credit though, he’s maintained a positive attitude throughout, hoping it rubs off on the rest of the team as they try and find their way out of the basement (or at least to the top of the stairs).

"I choose to have a good attitude,” Acta explained, “You have to lead by example. If you come dragging in with your head down, you send the wrong message." It may sound like the usual dose of manager rhetoric (formerly referred to in this space as ‘Wedge Speak’), but the way Acta communicates and projects himself provides a stark contrast with his predecessor.

Acta’s main goal, especially with the younger players, is to hammer home the fundamentals (defense, smart base running, throwing strikes). Parts of his message have already translated to the field (fewer errors being committed), while others aren’t quite there (last in the AL in first-pitch strike percentage). However, I think the reason Acta will ultimately be successful is that the players see the enthusiasm and sincerity in how he approaches his job and it leaves them wanting to meet those expectations. They want to match Acta’s passion for the game and put forth their best effort.

I think Acta’s communication skills (in English or Español) and advanced knowledge of the game will allow him to engage and encourage his players in a way that Eric Wedge could not. Eventually, Wedge’s rigid system broke down under pressure and the team lost faith in his leadership. Acta has yet to be tested in a high stakes season (expectations for 2010 were understandably low), but it will be interesting to see how this team responds to pressure situations under his watch.

For now, Acta is tasked with installing his system and evaluating and developing personnel for the future. I’m confident Cleveland’s new manager has the team on the right track, even if recent trends have been disconcerting (to put it lightly).

The current challenge is to assemble a productive offense around Shin Soo Choo, some veteran spring training invitees, and a bunch of kids not yet accustomed to hitting in the Majors. As daunting as that may sound, I’m of the opinion that the day-to-day batting order doesn’t matter nearly as much as providing the players with a defined role and the appropriate amount of playing time.

Acta has expressed his desire to win, but understands that “we have to develop players too.” The skipper recognizes the value in the remaining three-quarters of the season to further develop a young, largely inexperienced, and not quite cohesive unit into a respectable squad for the second half of 2010 and beyond. So what can we expect as far as playing time, minor league call-ups, and roster management while Cabrera and Sizemore are sidelined?

Jason Donald will be the Tribe’s starting shortstop for the foreseeable future. Donald, acquired from Philadelphia as part of the Cliff Lee package, had zero experience at the major league level before his debut on May 18. Donald had built a strong case for a promotion in Triple-A Columbus this season, compiling a .277/.396/.423 line with 10 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, and 10 stolen bases in 165 PA. With Luis Valbuena’s game coming apart at the seams (54 OPS+, 5 errors on the season), Donald was already on the fast track for a promotion.

Valbuena’s performance and the sudden injury to Cabrera paved the way for Donald to be named starter, ready or not. Spring training invitee Mark Grudzielanek had already earned the everyday second baseman’s gig of his own merit, leaving Valbuena in a reduced role as utility infielder.

The veteran Grudzielanek provides a significant upgrade over Valbuena in every aspect of the game, except power (which is irrelevant, since Valbuena’s power stroke has yet to return). Grudz may be a journeyman at this point in his career, but he still has an above-average glove and had a .345 OBP in 2008 (he missed most of 2009 due to a back injury).

Acta’s initial endorsement of Valbuena as the team’s second baseman at the start of the season looks hollow in hindsight. Valbuena already had one foot out the door prior to Donald’s arrival, but the organization isn’t ready to give up on him. Valbuena will continue to see a start or two each week, likely confined to second base, to allow him to work through his funk at the plate. Even if they fall into a slump, Donald and Grudzielanek’s defense will keep them in the lineup.

Andy Marte is due to come off the DL next week, but a lack of extra middle infielders (Peralta will not be playing short, says Acta) on the 25-man roster may see the recently recalled Shelley Duncan (currently occupying Sizemore’s roster spot) get sent down instead of Valbuena. Remember, Marte is out of minor league options.

Trevor Crowe was actually called up to spell Marte, but his fate is now tied to that of Sizemore’s knee. Crowe had been on the coaching staff’s radar after a memorable effort in spring training, only to lose the fourth outfielder gig to Michael Brantley (who appeared in a grand total of 9 games).

Some fans may be wondering why Trevor Crowe got called up instead of Brantley. Crowe’s promotion was initially in response to Andy Marte’s injury, meaning the team wasn’t planning on keeping him up for more than a couple weeks. The organization wanted Brantley (and Donald for that matter) to continue seeing everyday at-bats in Triple-A, so they were passed over. When Crowe caught fire in Cleveland, he gave little reason for the club to demote him even after the prognosis on Sizemore’s knee got worse. Why mess with a good thing?

Personally, I’m glad the team stuck with Crowe. There are too many first-round picks wasting away in Triple-A in this organization. If Crowe has something to offer, the team couldn’t have been handed a better opportunity to find out. Crowe is 26 years old, already has 202 major league PA under his belt, and center field is wide open. Sure he may not be as talented as Brantley, that’s not the point. There are only so many at-bats to go around and a line of young players in need of an extended look. Crowe deserves this opportunity more than Brantley, in my opinion.

Under normal circumstances, Acta views the switch-hitting Crowe as an ideal fourth outfielder, able to provide excellent defense and speed off the bench. Instead, he’s been anointed the leadoff hitter and everyday center fielder. Crowe has responded to the organization’s vote of confidence in a big way, with a slash line of .324/.390/.432 with 12 H, 4 BB, and 3 SB in his first 9 games (41 PA) entering Monday’s series against Chicago. The 26-year-old Crowe is currently outperforming his career line of .276/.354/.407 at Triple-A. Combined with a .355 BABIP, Crowe is probably playing over his head right now. As long as he’s hitting though, that leadoff spot is his.

It’s not like the team has any clear cut leadoff hitters anyway. Grudzielanek? Donald? Choo is far-and-away the best available hitter, but someone has to drive in the runs. Plus, it would be a waste to have Choo’s power batting leadoff. Instead, Acta has tapped Choo to continue his noble “bat Sizemore second” experiment (a brilliant move I’ll continue to defend, if only Sizemore had hit…). Choo’s response? Two taters in three games, so far.

Proposed Cleveland Lineup

Order Starter (sub) GS (PA) wOBA^ ISO WAR
1 T. Crowe# 8 (41)
.375 .108 0.4
2 S. Choo* 42 (190)
.405 .176 2.1
3 J. Peralta 39 (167)
.323 .160 0.2
4 T. Hafner* 37 (160)
.363 .145 0.7
5 A. Kearns 29 (130)
.383 .183 1.1
6 R. Branyan* 19 (84)
.319 .219 0.3
7 M. Grudzielanek 20 (95)
.283 .000 0.2
8 L. Marson 29 (106)
.247 .042 -0.1
9 J. Donald 6 (23)
.148 .000 -0.2

(M. LaPorta) 24 (106)
.249 .061 -0.5

(L. Valbuena*) 25 (102)
.250 .107 -0.4

(M. Redmond) 13 (49)
.269 .091 -0.2
DL (A. Marte) 8 (32)
.338 .208 0.1
DL G. Sizemore* 31 (140)
.255 .078 -0.4
DL A. Cabrera# 33 (149)
.303 .081 -0.1

*Lefty; #Switch

^League average is roughly .335

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs, current as of 5/24/10

The rest of the lineup that’s been trotted out for the past 9 games has been fairly conventional. Speed at the top, power in the middle, light weights and scrubs at the bottom. The speedy Jason Donald is sort of the “second” leadoff man batting ninth, similar to how Brantley was deployed at the start of the season. Meanwhile, Peralta really shouldn’t be batting lower than fourth now that he’s broken out of his usual April doldrums (this opinion subject to change in 30 days).

The bottom half of the lineup is almost a throw-away with Grudzielanek setting the table for the punch-less LaPorta and Marson. The heart of the order isn’t too bad though, assuming Hafner’s bat continues to come around, Kearns doesn’t become a black hole when the inevitable regression hits (.421 BABIP!), and Branyan does….well, I guess the home runs are nice. I’m pretty comfortable with a lineup starting off with [Hot Hand of the Month], Choo, Peralta, Hafner, Kearns, and Branyan. You know, considering the circumstances. Cleveland’s lineup isn’t about to send Francisco Liriano running for the hills, but it might make Luke Hochevar break a sweat (those complete games are hard work).

Again, the lineup doesn’t really matter much in the long run. Acta might be able to eke out some extra runs by shuffling the batting order and playing the splits, but consistency and playing time are the name of the game for a young ball club trying to get its act together. Not to mention, the makeup of the offense could be in line for a dramatic overhaul once Carlos Santana comes to town. Remember what a difference it made when Victor Martinez went down with an injury in 2008? Ok, maybe you don’t because Kelly Shoppach had a career year and belted 21 homers as a catcher. Still, it’s going to be a big deal when Santana arrives in June.

Quotable Acta

When asked whether it's tough to get reliever Rafael Perez enough work in non-pressure situations:

"Life is tough. Get a helmet."

When asked about the loss of his number 1 and 2 hitters a week later:

“Life is tough, get a double-flap helmet. It provides more protection from both sides.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tribe Loses Cabrera in a Botched Shift

Asdrubal Cabrera has to be one of the unluckiest players in Cleveland history, which is saying something given the crappy luck that franchise has had. In a collision that turned out to be much worse than it looked, Cabrera fractured his left forearm in the first inning of Monday’s game at Tampa Bay.

A shift was on for Hank Blalock, moving Jhonny Peralta to the shortstop position and Cabrera over to the first base side. Blalock hit a ground ball about a foot left of the bag, directly between the two infielders. Running at full speed to make a play on the ball, neither player appears to see each other until it’s too late. In an attempt to slow down at the last second, Peralta slides into and on top of Cabrera, placing Cabrera’s arm in an awkward position underneath his torso and causing the fractured bone.

I was ready to place the blame on Peralta for the incident (which I’m sure was the knee-jerk reaction for a lot of fans), but upon further review, there really wasn’t anything Peralta could have done to avoid the collision once the play began. Below is a series of screenshots showing the play in question:

Normally, if Peralta and Cabrera were converging on a ball, their routes would overlap with one backing up the other. Because of the shift and the direction the ball took towards second base, their ranges overlapped.

Here, you can see Peralta and Cabrera converging on the ball at nearly the same time. Both are focused on the ball and getting ready to make a play and fail to notice the other player bearing down on them.

After watching the replay several times, I think this is the point where the play broke down and turned dangerous. Some may blame Peralta’s inability to get out of the way in time or point out that the shortstop should have received priority on the play, but the collision resulted from a lack of communication and the departure of the standard infield procedures. This is partly due to the unusual circumstances presented by the shift.

To my knowledge, infielders don’t typically call out for a ground ball, it just reverts to whoever is closest to the area of play at the time. An initial verbal cue could have prevented the collision, though such an act is far from second nature for a ground ball up the middle. Cabrera may have been a few steps closer to where the ball rolled through, but it was very close; arguably too close for the players to reasonably judge in the middle of a quick play like that. However, they did have an opportunity to either discuss the shift with each other or note where people were positioned prior to that first pitch to Blalock. It’s unclear whether this actually happened or not.

Both players are still looking over their shoulder at the ball and not paying attention to each other. Peralta seems to be taking a route slightly behind Cabrera.

At this point, Peralta notices Cabrera diving towards him at an angle to cut off the ball and he attempts to put on the brakes. Keep in mind that they are both going at full tilt right now.

Peralta tries to skid to a halt on his knee, but his momentum continues to carry him…

...until he briefly rolls over Cabrera. It appears that Peralta was able to avoid dropping his full weight onto Cabrera, propping himself up with his knee. Unfortunately, Cabrera’s arm is trapped between the ground and the point where Peralta’s weight does land, which places too much stress on the bone and fractures it.

Again, I feel that blame for the collision lies with both players, even though Cabrera took the hit. There are measures each player could have taken collaboratively or on his own to prevent the accident, yet presumably failed to do so. The severity of Cabrera’s injury still seems like a fluke to me though. If I had watched the replay without knowing the aftermath, I would have been surprised to hear it caused a broken arm. There just didn’t seem to be enough contact or force involved.

That said, I feel absolutely terrible for Cabrera. He had begun to establish himself as a key member of the team as starting shortstop and leadoff hitter this season, only to have it derailed early on. Last season, Cabrera missed nearly a month after dislocating his shoulder while sliding into second to break up a double play. Both were fairly routine plays that for whatever reason, ended in a serious injury.

Is Cabrera at risk of developing into one of those brilliant, yet fragile players during his career? Even though he was a starter for all of 2009, Cabrera was only healthy enough to appear in 131 games that year. Over the course of the 2009 season, he suffered a hip strain, ankle injury (running out to his position between innings), knee contusion (fouled off a ball), the dislocated shoulder, and had surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow after the season. So far in 2010, he’s had a strained groin in spring training, a quad strain, and the broken arm. All those little injuries are seemingly starting to pile up for the 24-year-old shortstop.

I think it’s still too early to write off Cabrera as a chronic injury risk, partly due to his age and the unavoidable or routine nature of some of the injuries. Plus, a major item was overlooked in the list above: how much time was actually missed from these injuries. It may be a lengthy list compared to some players, but it’s not nearly as bad as it seems. Twenty five of the games he missed in 2009 resulted solely from the dislocated shoulder. Had he not collided with the infielder’s leg on that play, Cabrera would have appeared in at least 156 games (that’s over 96% of the season). If that were the case, I wouldn’t have given his injury history a second thought.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Luis and the Lefties

Cleveland has had a tough time finding that “second baseman of the future” ever since they shipped out Brandon Phillips in 2006. Since then, second has been occupied by Josh Barfield and various veteran journeymen. Ronnie Belliard’s tenure, from 2004 until he was traded to St. Louis late in 2006, was the longest of the bunch. Belliard also posted two of the best offensive seasons (106, 107 OPS+) by a Cleveland second baseman since Roberto Alomar in 2001 (150 OPS+), so clearly it’s been a while since the franchise had a capable hitter manning the pivot.

This makes a player like Luis Valbuena all the more intriguing. Valbuena was acquired from Seattle (along with Joe Smith via the Mets) during the 2008 offseason in exchange for Franklin Gutierrez. Even though Cleveland essentially pulled a Brian Giles with the Gutierrez trade (stud outfielder traded so he wouldn’t be blocked by a studlier outfielder at his natural position), the expectations within the organization and amongst the fans (at least those who valued cost-controlled, elite defenders in center field) were already slightly elevated. The fact that the Barfield trade ended up as a huge disappointment also shadowed Valbuena’s arrival.

Despite a rushed development track with Seattle, the 22-year-old Valbuena more than held his own in the upper minors, splitting the 2008 season between Double and Triple-A. After posting a combined .303/.382/.431 line over 523 PA that year, Cleveland promoted him full time to Triple-A, where he continued to thrive at the plate with a .321/.436/.538 line over 95 PA. Valbuena made his debut in Cleveland in May of 2009 and proceeded to take his lumps against major league pitching for the remainder of the season. The Tribe had wanted to determine if he could be a viable starter as the team shifted into rebuilding mode and expressed optimism in the relatively raw Valbuena’s .714 OPS that season.

Valbuena received a vote of confidence from new manager Manny Acta during spring training this offseason when Acta addressed the topic no young position player wants to be associated with:

We're not in the business of developing platoon players at 24 years old. We're going to give him opportunities [against lefties].

From a developmental stand-point, this was the right approach to take with Valbuena. Common sense dictates that he’ll never figure out lefties if he doesn’t get a chance to face them on a regular basis. However, there have been rumblings that Acta may be hedging somewhat on his original promise. Below are the season splits for Valbuena and his backup, Mark Grudzielanek, through May 1:


Total 16 65 2 2 9 .308 .327 .635 .216
vs RHP 14 55 2 1 7 .291 .277 .568 .219
vs LHP 2 10 0 1 2 .400 .625 1.025 .200


Total 7 30 0 0 0 .233 .233 .467 .269
vs RHP 2 9 0 0 0 .222 .222 .444 .250
vs LHP 5 21 0 0 0 .238 .238 .476 .278

It may be a limited sample, but considering five of Grudzielanek’s seven starts have come against LH starting pitchers (all of which were at 2B) while only two of Valbuena’s sixteen have come against lefty starters, there appears to be a trend forming. It’s too early to draw any useful conclusions performance-wise, but it is curious that Valbuena’s 10 PA against lefties this season have been outstanding while Grudzielanek’s contributions in that department have been poor.

Acta may be trying to help Valbuena break out of his early slump by putting him in ideal situations for success and will end the platoon once Valbuena gets his overall numbers up. Acta may also be feeling the pressure of managing an under-performing offense and has opted to temporarily shelve his plan for Valbuena in an effort to get some extra production from second base.

If that’s the case, it’s not working. Grudzielanek has been a dog at the plate so far, even worse than Valbuena’s overall numbers. So why not just give the kid the at-bats he was promised? Acta has the green light to test his young players this season and has suggested he’ll take advantage of that opportunity, making any talk of platoons seem out of place right now.

Is it possible Acta is just ahead of the curve on Valbuena though? After all, the main contradiction between what Acta originally stated and the direction he may be taking now was based on a spring training sound bite, so the anti-platoon policy for second isn’t exactly iron clad. Valbuena’s career minor league splits are a bit discouraging. Below are his career totals and a sample of his time in the upper minors:

Year Age Level Split AB HR OBP SLG OPS BABIP LD%
2008 22 AA vs RHP 170 8 .374 .524 .898 .326 18.50%

vs LHP 70 1 .398 .386 .784 .339 22.20%

AAA vs RHP 161 2 .395 .391 .786 .348 17.70%

vs LHP 48 0 .327 .292 .619 .325 16.70%

2009 23 AAA vs RHP 59 3 .471 .661 1.132 .396 27.50%

vs LHP 19 0 .304 .158 .462 .214 13.3%

Minors vs RHP 1289 37 .361 .447 .808 .306 13.9%

vs LHP 460 5 .319 .311 .630 .290 14.60%

MLB vs RHP 418 9 .293 .463 .756 .270 20.6%

vs LHP 58 3 .302 .390 .692 .292 19.40%

Valbuena’s second stint in Double-A in 2007 also happens to be his best overall season in the minors. Considering he put up a better OBP against lefties than righties for the first time since A+ ball accompanied by an elevated BABIP (.339 versus a career .302), this stretch is probably more of an outlier. After being promoted to Triple-A, Valbuena’s numbers against lefties dropped off considerably and haven’t shown much sign of rebounding.

His career minor league splits reinforce this trend with a .630 OPS over 460 AB against lefties compared to a much healthier .808 OPS over 1289 AB against righties. Not only has Valbuena struggled to get on base against southpaws (.319 OBP), but his bat loses most of its pop (.311 SLG).

With that kind of track record, it’s quite possible that Valbuena never figures out how to handle lefties effectively. If he failed to do so against lesser competition throughout his minor league career, the odds don’t look good, even if he were to receive regular at-bats against them in the majors. However, the main factor working in the 24-year-old's favor at the moment is that he was rushed through the minors and is still relatively young for a major league starter, so he could still develop into a serviceable hitter against lefties down the road.

The team should maintain a patient approach with Valbuena. Regardless of what he does against lefties, it’s well established that he has the potential to be an above average hitter versus righties (which is what he’ll be facing most of the time anyway). Also, considering Valbuena’s home is second base, it’s not like he’s expected to be an integral part of the offense, nor is he blocking any superior hitters down on the farm.

A lot of players tend to have difficulty against left handed pitching during their career. For example, fellow lefty Grady Sizemore has a modest career OPS of .705 against left handed pitching, which casts Valbuena's career mark of .630 in the minors in a better light considering the disparity in talent between the two players.

Given how ineffective guys like Sizemore, Peralta, and Hafner have been early in the season, it would seem unfair to single out Valbuena’s slump. If management does decide to shake things up at second base though, Jason Donald is making quite a case for himself in Columbus with 8 doubles, 2 HR, and a .321/.424/.912 line over 84 AB so far. Donald can also play every infield position except first, meaning incumbent utility infielder Grudzielanek should start looking over his shoulder as well.

Coincidentally, Donald owns a career minor league line of .279/.391/.423 against left handed pitching, making him an ideal platoon partner for Valbuena if that’s the direction the team decides to go in. Cleveland would have to move Grudzielanek before promoting Donald, but that appears to be the best option if Grudzielanek fails to produce at the plate.

Having both Valbuena and Donald up gives Manny Acta more options as far as developing his future roster while optimizing his current one. Even if the team “is not in the business of developing 24 year old platoon players,” at least they’d be able to get a look at their two best options at second base in the same season, possibly improving the offense in the process if they end up as a pure platoon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Evaluating Baseball's Managers by Chris Jaffe

I was recently contacted by baseball writer Chris Jaffe to review a set of excerpts from his new book, "Evaluating Baseball's Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876-2008." I’ve never posted a book review before, but I had enjoyed some of the author’s earlier articles on major league managers for The Hardball Times, so the topic caught my interest right away.

I think this is a great concept for a book given that managers tend to be one of the most overlooked elements of a team. Despite all the statistical advances in evaluating player and team performance, the manager’s influence has always been difficult to measure. What role do a manager’s actions actually play in deciding a team’s win-loss record? Jaffe’s book takes a fresh approach to answering this question and lays a solid foundation for future research on the impact of managerial decisions.

The first part of the book explains the metrics upon which its conclusions are based and provides results illustrating who the best, worst, and most extreme managers in history are. Jaffe utilizes the Birnbaum Database (based on expected win-loss records and run differential algorithms) and Tendencies Database (based on how teams rank in certain categories, like bunts), in addition to other supporting stats, to create the core metrics for comparing managers in relation to their team’s performance. The databases also provide a baseline with which to compare managers against each other, distilling their abilities (or lack thereof) into tangible results.

The second half of the book contains entries on 89 managers spanning 132 years of baseball history, including 77 managers who served at least 10 seasons as a team’s primary manager and 12 of the most significant who fell short of this criterion. Additional background on the book is available here, for those who are curious.

I had access to the entries for 13 former Cleveland managers, from Patsy Tebeau (1892-98) to Mike Hargrove (1992-99), which gave me a good sample to consider.

My favorite part of the excerpts was how seamlessly Jaffe integrated the history in with the analysis for each manager. Historical context can play an important role in understanding a manager’s tendencies (the use of starting pitchers now and in the past is a prime example), while also adding depth to an entry. Famous events, characters, and trivia from baseball’s history populate each entry, making the book as much a history lesson as an analytical tool.

Obviously, some managers received more detailed entries than others, but I never felt like any of them were being shorted (length was appropriate to influence). It also didn’t show any bias towards the big name managers; for every Lou Boudreau, you’ll find someone like Steve O’Neill who is described in just as much detail and is just as fascinating.

Each manager’s Team Characteristics write-up is prefaced with a summary of their career record/timeline and database results. The data is depicted on the basis of runs scored/prevented and was easy enough to understand. Basically, if you can read an adjusted stat like OPS+, you won’t have any trouble understanding the stats presented in the book. By comparing the Team Characteristics section to a manager’s effectiveness scores from the Birnbaum database, the reader can immediately make a connection as to whether or not a manager’s methods proved effective or not.

Based on the brief explanation I read, Jaffe seems to have a strong methodology in place for generating and evaluating the statistics he uses from all angles, going so far as to highlight possible errors or shortcomings that may be influencing the data and offering an appropriate explanation or caveat to accompany the data.

Occasionally, an individual manager’s entry will highlight a particular trend or unique record, weaving in other managers who share the same thread. I particularly enjoyed these nuggets of analysis, since they actually backed up the previously stated tendencies with results and could connect historical trends experienced by other managers. Below is a sample of analysis for Al Lopez (1951-56) pertaining to his starting rotation:

Lopez, unlike other AL skippers, noted the weather and temperature when deciding how much he should lean on his starting pitchers. The below chart notes what percentage of starts resulted in completion for the White Sox from 1957-65 (when Lopez managed them) in comparison to the rest of the league:

Month CWS Other AL
April 25.7% 26.2%
May 25.3% 26.4%
June 28.0% 25.6%
July 28.4% 26.1%
Aug. 34.7% 27.1%
S/O 24.6% 27.7%

This list reveals that the rest of the league’s pitchers started games on a regular basis throughout the season, but Lopez’s White Sox were less likely to finish games in the colder months. This looks like sensible player management on Lopez’s part. The colder the weather, the harder it is for the muscles to warm up (this is especially true after sitting down for a half-inning). An arm that was not fully warmed up risked a greater chance of injury or at least ineffectiveness. By maintaining an awareness of when to push or ease up on his players, Lopez’s squads could thrive instead of wilt as the year went on.

I’ve become so accustomed to the way the game is managed today, it’s fun to look back at how the game used to be. I’d also never even heard of most of the old-time mangers and wouldn’t have known how influential some of them were on the franchise from just glancing at the numbers on their Baseball Reference page. Jaffe’s book helps define part of a franchise’s history that fans wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.

Even better, is reading about managers that you’ve actually seen in action and are able to pair your own opinion and experiences with. Reading about popular contemporary managers in this context puts them in a whole other light as far as whether they actually deserve the reputation and accolades they’ve received in their careers. So for all the fans who are tired of hearing about the genius of Tony LaRussa or how overrated Joe Torre is, now you have a tool at your disposal that can help separate fact from fiction.

I would recommend this book to any baseball fan with an interest in history or the latest statistical analysis (honestly, it could stand alone in either category). "Evaluating Baseball's Managers" is available for purchase here.