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The Cooperstown Three and Evaluating Managers

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In response to Erik’s post, I think I’ve mentioned this before but in fact the subject of evaluating managers is the subject of Chris Jaffe’s book, which I think is the most impressive work of sabermetrics in at least a decade. Combining cutting-edge empirical evidence and careful subjective profiles, it does an exceptionally good job of sorting through the thorny issue.  The most important job a manager has — getting the most out of the talent available — is also the hardest to measure objectively. Ingeniously, Jaffe uses the historical projections developed by Phil Birnbaum to compare the performance expected of a roster and the performance the roster actually achieved. (He further breaks down the data to measure a manager’s impact on pitching and defense, etc. He combines this measure with sabermetric analysis of a manager’s tactical choices.

Anyway, all three of the managers inducted today rank as among the greatest ever. As of 2008, LaRussa ranked second all-time behind Joe McCarthy with an impact of +1, 012 runs. Cox ranked 11th all time at +655, and Torre ranked 21st at +475. (And that standing for Cox especially is probably too low. He ranks below Billy Martin, but that’s because Martin would get fired before the deleterious long-term impact of his short-term focus would fully manifest. That cumulative positive impact is a lot more impressive for managers who stay with jobs long-term, because the typical pattern of a manager is to overachieve in the first year and underachieve after that. Overachievement with the same organization year after year is a very rare, and is what defines a Hall of Fame manager to me.)

In at least two of these cases, I also don’t agree with Erik that the success of the manager was just a function of payroll. LaRussa never managed a high-payroll, big-market team. Cox did for part of his tenure in Atlanta, but that’s not his full career. In Toronto, Cox turned a .349 team into a .549 team in two years working largely with retreads considered to have little value when Toronto acquired them. His first pennant-winning team in Atlanta — which had lost 97 games the year before — was also a team that had neither a lot of ex ante impressive young talent or premium free agents. (Nobody would have looked at Tom Glavine in March 1991 and seen a future Hall of Famer.) Torre — and I agree with Jaffe’s methods that his overall record is the least impressive in context of the three — did have a high payroll and a lot of premium talent to work with, plus he had failed at his previous job in St. Louis. (His performance with Atlanta looks pretty good in retrospect; with the Donald Grant Mets, he had a hopeless situation, and I wouldn’t really count it for or against him.) That’s not to say Torre deserves no credit for the performance of the Yankees — high-level talent or not, winning in the high nineties every year isn’t easy, and plenty of teams have won nothing with impressive bases of front-line talent — but I think he was more limited that the other two. In a job that involved managing veterans and dealing with the media, he was nearly perfect. But I would love to have LaRussa or Cox managing a young team too, while making judgements about and integrating young talent was never Torre’s strength.

Of course, if Torre was not as great a manager as Cox and LaRussa, he’s also pretty well-qualified for the Hall of Fame as a player, so he’s just as big a no-brainer overall.

One final point about Cox. The only possible knock on him is his relative lack of post-season success. I’m open to a showing that this was in part the result of poor tactics. As I think I’ve said before, though, I think a lot of this perception is based on an argument that’s clearly wrong. Bill James, in his lengthy account of the Royal’s World Championship in 1985, argued that Dick Howser outmaneuvered Cox in Game 7 by compelling the later to make platoon substitutions in the early innings. He repeated this criticism in his own excellent book on managers, and I think he has elsewhere. The thing is, though, that the criticism is transparently incorrect — James is viewing this through the lens of a Royals fan still smarting over Quisenberry blowing game 2 by giving up hits to left-handed line-drive hitters who were a terrible matchup for him. So while I understand why James was happy to see Mulliniks and Oliver pulled from Game 7 early, two points seem pertinent:

  • The Blue Jays lost 6-2.  They didn’t lose the game because of the marginal impact of some managerial moves.
  • Cox’s decision to put in his right-handed platoon players after Saberhagen got pulled was pretty obviously right.  Liebrandt, after all, pitched 5 1/3 innings.  Particularly when you consider that Johnson was a better hitter than Oliver and Mulliniks had a lifetime .642 OPS against lefties, leaving his left-handed platoon in just in case they could face Quisenberry in a game situation would have been insane.

Again, if anyone has done a careful analysis of later years showing that Cox screwed up a lot of big games I’m happy to see it.  But his reputation for a poor post-season tactician seems to rest on large measure on a game where his decisions were quite clearly correct.

One final note: Tom Kelly’s impact was modestly positive, at +75.  He was very good at constructing defenses, but wasn’t great working with hitters (as Jaffe says, his teams had the worst Beane count of any long-term manager.)  It’s true that he won two World Championships, but one of those was with a team that had a solid core of young offensive talent and won 85 games.  (I’ll guarantee that Cox’s postseason record would look a lot better if he managed his whole career only one series away from the World Series.)  Kelly was a decent manager, better at his best than that total impact would indicate, but he wasn’t in the same league as Cox or LaRussa.

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  • patrick II

    Where does another st louis favorite, Whitey Herzog, finish on the list?

    • Scott Lemieux

      Herzog is 24th, very comparable to Torre.

      • Colin

        If we’re answering individual requests…

        …I’m genuinely curious how Mike Hargrove looks in this system? His Cleveland years definitely fell under the “won a lot with a lot of young talent [that got expensive when it left],” but his post-Cleveland record is obviously less-than-stellar. How does his case (or similar cases like his) shake out?

        • Hard for me to think of any team that had that much talent for 3 or more years and never won a WS. That lineup from 1995 through 2001 or so was ridiculous; some prime years from Albert Belle, Thome, Manny, Robbie Alomar, Lofton, David Justice, Vizquel, Baerga,Matt Williams, Travis Fryman, and some late-career cameos from Julio Franco, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, Tony Fernandez, Harold Baines. That’s three guys already in the HoF, plus three more (Manny, Thome and Vizquel) who will probably end up there, and another (Lofton) who should get more HoF buzz than he has. And while I wouldn’t say they had great pitching, they generally had a respectable rotation.

          • efgoldman

            Manny should be in the HOF (as should Bonds and Clemens) but none of them makes it until the old generation of the BBWA retires or dies. War on some people who take….

        • Scott Lemieux

          Hargrove comes in at +48, on the positive side of generic, which seems about right.

          • James E. Powell

            Disclosure – I like Mike Hargrove a lot. From 1994-1998 I probably attended 75% of the Indians’ home games, including every playoff game.

            Hargrove never got credit for managing a clubhouse that was a zoo, Belle vs. The World being the most known. In 95, their best shot, they lost to the Braves Big Three who were having great years. Not exactly under-performance.

            The later years he did less well. He lacked what Torre seemed to have in abundance: the ability to keep the players focused on doing their jobs.

  • Jordan

    Does the book have a discussion and list of the worst managers of all time? Because then I would totally get it.

    • Jordan

      Also, apparently, LGM thinks Joe McCarthy is one of the top managers of all time, while the original post’s first update cites David Cameron‘s baseball analysis approvingly.

      What world am I living in???

      • Bill Murray

        conservagea

  • Martin

    I don’t really understand the swipe at Torre’s implementation of young talent. One of the distinctive features of the 1996-1998 Yankees was the simultaneous rise of an unprecedented* clot of young talent that ended up being integral to a dynasty, by which I mean Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and RIvera, and you can throw in the emergence of Bernie Williams as a star during that period as well. I agree with you about Torre’s basic tendency, but ignoring that group of players, it ends up being a little like saying, “We all know Dan Marino was wary of the long bomb….” Huh? You can make the argument, but what you can’t do is just say it like it’s something everybody knows to be true — it may be true but there’s a big obvious data point that cuts the other way.

    (* This claim is highly specific, putting emphasis on the simultaneity of it and the fact that they remained together as a clot for so long and had such success as a unit. I’m sure other teams like the 75 Red Sox had better talent, but the Yankees’ group was unique in its way.)

    • Scott Lemieux

      Well, yes, obviously Torre would play a young player who had exceptional ability. But if you look at his tenures in St. Louis and with the Mets, I wouldn’t say evaluating and developing young talent below a superstar level was a major strength.

      • brad

        If he had no other choice, that is.
        Jeter, famously, was not his first choice as starter, remember.

        • Kurzleg

          Who was?

          • brad

            Tony Fernandez. But he suffered a season ending injury in spring training, so Joe had no choice.
            I think Martin below gives Torre far, far too much credit regarding breaking in talent. Mo was not groomed as a reliever, he was a failed starter who ended up being there to make it possible to let go of Wetteland. Unless the difference in framing was enough to offset the offensive difference (which isn’t impossible), Posada should have been the starter a year or two prior. And in later years making roster moves like keeping Ruben Sierra around were made in part in reflection of who Joe would and wouldn’t play.
            But it’s also true there aren’t any massively successful young players the Yankees discarded in that time frame who turned out to be truly productive. Mike Lowell is the only exception who comes to mind and he was a unique case in many respects who was traded for prospects anyhow. And, of course, the Yankees were very rationally in a win now mode during his time, so being patient with youth wasn’t a luxury he could often afford. It’s in some respects a chicken or the egg scenario, but Joe was also very old school. He respected and preferred vets, and wasn’t always good for the arms of his pitchers, especially his favorite set-up relievers.

            • Kurzleg

              I’d forgotten about Fernandez.

            • Martin

              I’m just giving him credit for — actually, mentioning at all — things that happened while he was manager. When you’re writing a guy off as basically useless with young stars and something like this happens during his tenure, it deserves mention. We’ve all already noted the mitigating circumstances such as the Yankees’ outsize resources and the happenstances that forced Torre to start Jeter and so on. But it’s just too big a feature of his Yankees’ tenure to brush aside like that, and goes directly against the grain of Scott’s assertion. It’s fine to explain it all away and return to the point that Torre preferred established stars, but it has to be addressed.

              • brad

                And Soriano, Nick Johnson, and a handful of others with smaller roles reflecting smaller expectations like Ledee were in the mix, too.
                Pettite was established, tho, as was Bernie, and in many of those young star cases his hand was forced or, in the case of Mo, he “earned” it by surviving a season as the daily 6th-8th inning guy in spectacular fashion.

      • Martin

        I think that’s probably right — I find the statement about superstars a little dubious because it treats an outcome as inevitable, which it wasn’t. That group is remarkable in that basically all four players attained the “best-case” scenario, a little bit like Cox and his pitchers. Jeter and Rivera will easily go into the Hall; Pettitte and Posada won’t but they’re both very solid, durable stars who are a little short of that level of greatness.

        In certain respects the Jeter group is a textbook example of how to fold talent into a team, esp. Posada and Rivera, both of whom had capable “mentors” in the eventual slot to be occupied that made the transition easier. Having said that, I agree there were a whole lot of positives working in favor of Torre there, for sure. So it’s an unusual thing. Not only did Torre prefer established talent in other contexts, but in the Bronx he had a never-ending supply of that kind of talent available to him, e.g. Sierra, Strawberry, Fielder, and so on, not to mention the additions of Teixeira, Clemens, etc. down the road. So it’s an odd case. BTW I agree with everything else in your post, which had a lot of content in it. Very astute post.

        • You’re probably right Posada won’t get in to the HoF, but that’s an injustice. He played over 1800 games, almost 1,600 at catcher, and retired with an .848 OPS, which is about 50 points better than Fisk, and 75 points better than Gary Carter.

          • Martin

            Every couple of years I do a little assessment on Posada and Pettitte as to whether they’re Hall-worthy….. I keep concluding that they’re both a little short. Posada’s great asset was durability and consistency. I watched those Yankees very closely and …. well, in the end he doesn’t really seem like a Hall of Famer, even though his contributions were considerable.

            • Well, my point is that his career batting numbers match up favorably to other unquestioned HoF catchers. He doesn’t have the raw totals of those guys, because he wasn’t a regular until he was 26, whereas Carter was at 20 and Fisk at 24, and Fisk did the George Blanda/Gordie Howe thing and played until he was 45. But their 162 game average seasons are almost identical…with Posada’s, by a small bit, the best.

              • Martin

                Posada’s gaudy numbers, if such they be, were compiled in a live-ball phase. I went and looked up the WARs for the three players involved. Posada’s 3 best WARs were 5.9, 5.5, 5.4, scattered randomly across his career, not clustered at all. Fisk attained highs of 7.0 and 7.3 and even scored a whopping 4.9 at the age of 42 (!). Meanwhile, Carter’s ’77-’85 run makes Posada look like a wimp. I keep coming back to, Posada didn’t seem like a dominant player mainly because he was not a dominant player. What he was was a solid, essential piece to a dynasty. Watching him every day definitely made me appreciate his assets, but he wasn’t Gary Carter.

                • Sherm

                  Thank you.

                  Nor was Posada the defensive catcher that Carter was. Carter wasn’t just one of the top catchers in the game during his prime seasons, but one of the best players in the league. His final stats were dragged down by his decision to hang around for five years or so after his knees were shot.

                • The HoF isn’t a list of the guys with the highest WAR, for good and for bad. If it was, Trammaker, Grich, Graig Nettles, Bagwell, Raines, Buddy Bell, Willie Randolph, Edgar Martinez, and Rick Reuschel would all be in the Hall, and Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Catfish Hunter, Roy Campanella and Kirby Puckett and a lot of the guys inducted in the 50’s through the 70’s would not.

                • howard

                  exactly: there are 13 catchers in the hall of fame, and at no time during posada’s very fine and productive career did i ever think “there’s one of the 14 top catchers in baseball history.”

                  he also had enough of a post-season sample size to lead me to conclude that catchers are especially vulnerable to post-season bat fatigue, since his post-season hitting was well below his regular season mark.

                • Howard, are Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk among those fourteen? And have only only five of the fourteen catchers who’ve played baseball and have been out of baseball since 2008 been active later than 1947?

                • Martin

                  I’m not saying anything should be decided by WAR, by the way. The utility of WAR is that it adjusts for the historical era and that it addresses peak performance, which in this case are the salient points about Posada’s record that should be addressed. I don’t want to turn over the HoF just to WAR performers. But in this case WAR tends to verify an impression that everyone in this thread appears to share, which is that nobody ever thought of Posada as an all-time great. So why not bring it in to confirm the impression?

                • Bill Freehan and Ted Simmons: higher WAR than all catchers except Bench, Carter, Fisk, Pudge, Berra, Piazza and Cochrane (I think that’s everyone ahead of them). Are they wrongly excluded from the HoF? Are there really only 6-8 catchers in the entire history of post-dead ball baseball that are deserving of the HoF (because we’ll assume Ferrell and Schalk don’t belong, and Campanella is there because of a short phase of brilliance not reflected in career WAR numbers).

                • howard

                  dana, you just sent me skimming through my original edition of the bill james historic baseball abstract (i don’t have the updated, and he probably evolved his list), but when i look at his top 10 catchers in both peak and career value (i.e., i’m using james rather than the hof), i don’t see posada as measuring up and didn’t at the time.

                  it turns out that a 14th catcher was added to the hall who wasn’t on the other count i looked at, plus there are 3 former negro league catchers.

                  btw, roughly speaking, 1.25% of players all-time are in the hall; according to the encylopedia of baseball catchers i just discovered, there have been 1582 major league catchers, so they are perhaps a tad under-represented, but not much.

                  average number of years per catcher has been 5.236; the median number of years played was 2.9; and only 15% of catchers played at least 10 years.

                • howard

                  btw, meant to include the link for the encyclopedia of catchers.

                • Interesting. Did you notice that on career win share/per 100 games that Posada is behind Campanella, Berra, Bench and Piazza but ahead of Pudge…and Carter and Fisk?

                • howard

                  hadn’t looked at that yet: i’m actually still mulling over the implications of how few catchers even make it to 10 years and thinking about what that means in terms of the hall of fame and catchers: maybe there should be more catchers just because of how rare it is to combine the talent to play the position with having a body that can absorb the punishment of playing the position.

                  a good part of the posada question comes down to, in james’ old formulation, do you reward peak value or career value or some combination thereof? my own leaning is that a bunch of very good seasons piled up makes you a very good player, not an all-time great, but ymmv.

                • There’s another confounding factor in all of these comparisons to players of earlier eras that’s special to catchers. Today’s catchers spend more time in the crouch, and probably take a lot more foul balls, because strikeouts are so much more prevalent today than even the 70’s and 80’s; the number of pitches they receive is probably quite a great more. They arguably have more intellectual demands today, with the greater amount of data to master in order to know an opposing lineup.

                • howard

                  i would love to see pitch count data from the past, because i’m inclined to agree that pitch counts are higher today.

                  while i suspect teams had that data (without taking it seriously: a lot of teams charted pitches to look for tendencies, but not necessarily pitch counts)but i bet all that old paper has long since been pitched.

              • Kurzleg

                Dana – But what about context? Both Carter and Fisk played in lower-scoring eras than Posada. Seems like apples and oranges.

                • That’s true, and I’m absolutely not saying Fisk and Carter didn’t deserve to be in there; they both do, and it’s not borderline imo. But again, that cost some of their contemporaries, like Grich and Trammaker, but didn’t cost guys like Stargell and Tony Perez. And there doesn’t seem to have been much compensation on the pitching side, with guys like Fingers and Catfish Hunter making it in. And admittedly, catcher is a tough one to assess, because a decent number of catchers have shorter careers, or move to 1st or DH, and because there are aspects of a catcher’s game–pitch calling, dealing with pitchers, framing pitches, etc–that don’t translate easily to statistics (and which some of the sabermetrics people completely dismiss). And I’ll admit that if I think about it more, that maybe I’d change my mind on Posada; some of my initial reaction is that he was a key piece of one of the most successful 10 year stretches any franchise has ever had. That probably overly influences my thinking.

                  BTW, we seem to be getting a thing where if a recent (previous 10 years) retiree has some kind of crappy/terminal illness his chances seem to increase that he’ll get inducted before he dies or very shortly after.

            • brad

              To me Posada’s biggest flaw is that as catcher defense, including framing, continues to be discovered to be much more valuable than previously regarded he probably loses a great deal of value to that. I love the guy, but he wasn’t a good framer, and was probably among the worst at it, considering how much motion there was in his receiving and all the passed balls in part as a result. The difference between Jorge and Molina, in 08, was very noticeable, not that the difference at the plate didn’t more than make up for that.

              Pettite, is very borderline. To me it depends on how you value postseason contributions from Yankees and Braves and Sox from the era, the teams pretty much always in the playoffs. I’d love to see a simple calculation of playoff WAR treating each season’s playoff games as simply a few more series in that regular season. I think with that, Pettite is in, but I understand the counter-argument, and considering the state of the ballot he’s not someone I’d argue for in the near term.

              • Sherm

                I wouldn’t vote for Pettite. He only had two excellent seasons. He was otherwise just a very consistent, but merely solid starter, who was lucky enough to pitch on excellent teams. He was never considered a top-flight pitcher.

                • brad

                  He’s one of those guys who there’s no real compelling argument for, but at the same time there’s quite a few pitchers already in who were far worse. And his playoff stats are 275 innings of about the same production, which, to me, counts as another prime season at least, considering relative value.
                  But with the ballot as it is, and the logjam/witch hunt/purgatory crap in the mix, I can’t really argue for him. If he stays on the ballot but never makes it in, that’d be fair.

                • Martin

                  Pettitte’s real problem is that he played for outstanding teams for most of his career, which probably has left him with an inflated W/L percentage. And that’s probably the best aspect of his resume. So if you let some air out of the tires, he more clearly doesn’t make it (in a moment when there is a glut of genuinely outstanding candidates).

                • Martin

                  I just realized you basically said exactly this, Sherm. We agree. Pettitte’s got a lot of honkin’ wins, but he played for great teams.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I just realized you basically said exactly this, Sherm. We agree. Pettitte’s got a lot of honkin’ wins, but he played for great teams.

                  I think Jaffe has him right.

          • Rob in CT

            I loved Posada, but the trouble with this is that he was a bad defender. Possibly *really* bad. The recent work on pitch framing makes him look awful (but to be fair, that’s b/c the pitch framing metrics were only worked out when he was at the tail end of his career). It’s entirely possible he gave back a significant amount of his offensive contributions via poor D.

            That said, I will always remember The Posada Game:

            http://riveraveblues.com/2012/01/the-jorge-posada-game-62033/

            • brad

              My purely gut instinct is to say that framing is a skill that peaks at a later age, as it’s not really that dependent on physical skill. Yes, hand-eye coordination, but being a pro baseball player and a catcher at that is already highly, highly selective for that skill and of course at a certain age they just get too creaky and immobile. But for a converted player like Jorge, who started off as a 2b in the minors, a lot of the learning experience still came in the bigs, and that was the stated reason for holding him back the first 2-3 years.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Yeah, I agree. Unlike throwing, framing really shouldn’t be negatively affected by getting on in years.

                • Brien Jackson

                  I dunno. Qualitatively, the biggest factor in effective framing seems to be movement, i.e., the catchers that get the most calls are the ones who can catch borderline pitches and “pull them back” with the least amount of glove movement possible. I don’t know if age would deteriorate that skill or not, but I do think it’s still largely a physical ability.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  I don’t know if age would deteriorate that skill or not, but I do think it’s still largely a physical ability.

                  I mean, I’m open to evidence, but the fact that one of the most valuable pitch framers in baseball is a 38-year-old guy who makes Prince Fielder look like Jose Reyes makes me skeptical that it’s a highly age-sensitive skill.

        • Martin

          Expanding on this (and thinking about the Posada discussion below), what was striking about that quartet is that basically none of them were billed as the next big thing. I’m dead certain that scouts were aware of the potential of Jeter and Rivera very early, but Rivera had kicked around as a starter and Jeter needed the injury of Fernandez to score his big ROY season. Posada was the only one of the bunch who was absolutely KNOWN to be a future starter/potential All-Star well ahead of his eventual starting slot — I’m fudging a bit on Jeter, there; insiders surely did peg him as a future starter. But the point about all four of them was that they kept pleasantly surprising people. Anyone who remembers Gregg Jeffries will remember a different template for him.

          Last thought on this — that group fascinates me so in part because they suggested a different model for a prospect, a player of good-to-excellent talent who also had a whole slew of positive personality aspects: hard work, humility, determination, etc. None of them were potential stars, except Rivera, when judged solely on the basis of sheer physical attributes, I’d reckon, but all of them combined talent with a role-player mentality of doing what would lead to team success, and that’s an unbeatable combination.

          • Sherm

            Jeter was a huge prospect. Every baseball fan in New York was aware of Jeter before he came up.

            • Yeah, turned down scholarship to Michigan after being drafted 6th. And (in)famously, Tigers HoF pitcher and then Astros scout Hal Newhouser wrote a scouting report urging the Astros to take Jeter, who he said would be the foundation of championship team. He said nobody was worth $1m, but if anyone should be it was Jeter. So it also wasn’t like the Yankees stole someone nobody had heard of.

            • Martin

              I simply don’t remember the buzz around Jeter being like that, and I was in the NYC area at the time. Again, I point to Gregg Jefferies as the contrast case. I completely agree that when Fernandez went down, a lot of people started saying, “Well let’s see what this Jeter kid can do.” He just wasn’t a huge-ticket prospect in the usual sense, a la Jason Heyward. He wasn’t.

              • Sherm

                Prospect Ratings by Baseball America:
                Pre-1993: Rated #44 Prospect
                Pre-1994: Rated #16 Prospect
                Pre-1995: Rated #4 Prospect
                Pre-1996: Rated #6 Prospect

                There was a buzz, though it might have been drowned out by the hype surrounding Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher.

                • Martin

                  Fair enough. I think a couple things happened there, which is that the end of the 1995 season was so exciting that it tended to shift the focus from prospects (also change in leadership etc.), and second, if all that is true then the Yankees (not Torre) deserve even more credit for not bringing him in as a Heyward-type prospect. Further tends to reinforce the impression that it was all a textbook example of how to build a core of stars.

                • Sherm

                  There was also generally a lot less prospect-fellating back then, Generation K notwithstanding.

                • Martin

                  Also I said multiple times that the scouts knew about him. The general public didn’t, not to the same extent.

                • Martin

                  This is a good point about the prospect-fellating (but you still have the Jefferies example).

                • Sherm

                  Jefferies was a special case — he posted an OPS of over 1000 as a 19 year old in AA ball at a time when the Mets’ farm system was cranking out players.

                • Martin

                  Ah — good point. But then we also had Generation K, as Sherm said. I don’t know, I don’t think the word “hype” was ever really tagged to Jeter, but I suppose I’m at least partly wrong about this.

  • Why does sabermetrics have anything to do with who gets into the Hall of Fame? It’s a popularity contest, not a precise statistical measure of the greatest players and personnel.

    Cox should get in because his teams won all those division titles, period. It wouldn’t matter if some math geek could prove he was actually the worst manager in history.

    Sabermetrics is a tool for making personnel decisions. It has nothing to do with what people MLB, writers, veterans, or fans choose to recognize as great.

    • Jordan

      Uhh, it pretty clearly has something to do with who a lot of fans “choose” to recognize as great.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Sabermetrics is a tool for making personnel decisions. It has nothing to do with what people MLB, writers, veterans, or fans choose to recognize as great.

      This is, in fact, quite clearly false. If it was true, Jack Morris would be in the Hall of Fame and Bert Blyleven wouldn’t be. Sportswriters aren’t always great at it, but they do try to vote for the best players, and they obviously consider statistical evidence.

      • junker

        Don’t forget Tim Raines, the cause celebre of a large swath of sabermetric literate fans.

      • Hall-eligible player with the best career WAR not in the HoF and not tainted by scandal/PED’s: Lou Whitaker. He didn’t get enough votes his first year to remain on the ballot. And right behind him–and ahead of Barry Larkin–is Alan Trammel.

        Good standings by sabermetrics are selectively used, and also selectively ignored, by a lot of sportswriters.

        • Oh, now that he’s eligible, Whitaker is second; Bagwell now has the highest career WAR of guys not in the Hall. And his numbers were crazy, and way better than a lot of guys who’ve gotten in recently.

        • junker

          In fairness,Whitaker fell off the ballot after one go,in 2001, which is before the upswell in sabermetrics.

          • brad

            That and so much of his career value is tied in defensive stats that are still being fully fleshed out (and considering the less and less granular info there is to work with as you go back in time have to be taken more and more as educated guesses, to a degree).
            And general, popular, sabermetrics probably took until the fangraphs era to begin to fully appreciate the defensive value truly elite fielders can create.

          • His offensive numbers are almost exactly the same as Ryne Sandberg.

            • Sherm

              I suspect that Whitacker was hurt by the fact that he never had any great seasons, whereas Sandberg had the MVP season (1984?) and a 40 homerun season (1989?).

              • Not really. It was that Lou almost never gave interviews and was kind of a dick to reporters.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Reporters loved Trammell and he’s getting screwed too. Whitaker has the kind of mix of skills that Hall of Fame voters have never sufficiently appreciated.

                • But again, his skills, other than not having a 40 HR season, were reflected in numbers similar to Sandberg (other than steals). And you’re right about Tram, reporters loved him, which is why he’s remained on the ballot rather than barely making a blip (Junker corrected me that Lou was actually on twice before dropping).

                  Lou’s demeanor is a big reason for the difference between him and Tram, while a different set of problems explain why even if he hadn’t been kind of a dick he’d have joined Tram as someone who screwed by the market they played in and for overlapping with a few legitimate greats (Alomar, Ripken) and preceding the era of Brady Anderson and Jeff Kent 50 and 40 HR seasons.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  But again, his skills, other than not having a 40 HR season, were reflected in numbers similar to Sandberg (other than steals)

                  But, from the standpoint of HOF voters, that’s an “apart from that Mrs. Lincoln” argument. Sandberg had an MVP season and had superficially more impressive triple crown stats in his peak years, which is why he was perceived as a star and Sweet Lou wasn’t.

            • [Meant that as a response to Brad]

              Also, Trammell’s offensive numbers are only slightly off from Larkin’s, but Tram had one more GG and a slightly higher MVP share.

              Sandberg and Larkin both deserve to be in the HoF. My point is that the reasons some guys don’t get in or take too long to get in (like, for instance, Santo) are still often kind of dubious.

              • brad

                Fair point, but as has been mentioned by many, for some reason HOF voters can’t see 80s era Detroit teams at all clearly. My qualifications aside I agree in a rational world Trammell is a no brainer HOFer and Whitaker clearly one while Jack effing Morris…

                • I contend that Morris is on the bubble in part because he had success outside of Detroit. And, of course, the 1990 WS. Had he stayed in Detroit I’m not sure he’d be getting as many votes.

          • mpowell

            This deserves more than just an ‘in fairness’. The whole criticism is bogus in light of the very recent acceptance of reason-based modelling of player value.

            • junker

              Sorry, didn’t mean to be flip. My point is that Whitaker went up for election before sabermetrics had really taken life for a big group of fans. For example, Dana referred to WAR, which to the best of my knowledge wasn’t created in 2001 (or at least, wasn’t widely used).

              I think it’s a good thing that these stats are being used to evaluate players for honors, and that more and more writers are taking advanced stats seriously. I was just responding to Dana’s point that Whitaker, based on WAR, has a hall of fame case. I would imagine you could make that case but during his actual chance at the hall, we didn’t have those sorts of statistics.

  • DivGuy

    Just following up on Scott’s point that Torre is a deserving Hall of Famer as a player…

    Torre had a six-season peak as a catcher with a 135 OPS+ in the mid-60s, won a deserved MVP as a third baseman in 1971, and put up 57.1 WAR mostly at catcher. He’s not the equal of Cox or LaRussa as a manager, but he’s got more than just that on his resume.

    • howard

      because i try not to miss opportunities to recommend jim brosnan’s pennant race, his diary of the 1961 season as a reds’ reliever when they won an upset pennant, you can find an account of joe torre’s debut, which, iirc, included a home run….

    • Sherm

      Agreed on Torre. Very deserving in view of all of his accomplishments. Trivia Question — What single game hitting record does Torre share (hint, he did it with the Mets)?

      • Jordan

        lol, the answer to that trivia question is pretty funny.

        • Sherm

          Well, you had to know that it wouldn’t be something good with the hint that I gave. Felix Millian went 4 for 4 with four singles batting in front of him.

          • Jordan

            Yeah, that was one of the parts that jumped out at me: Haha, all your hits are belong to them.

  • howard

    you know, i’m going to have to go back and revisit the ’85 playoff (which i don’t have time to do right now).

    my recollection is that after the game 2 quiz fiasco, howser a favorite of mine for many reasons, but that’s a separate matter) consistently played the platoon switch game to outmaneuver cox, not just game 7.

    (not that that, by itself, means much of anything: anyone can get an individual game decision wrong, even joe mccarthy or tony larussa.)

  • agorabum

    It’s not Cox’s fault that the Minnesota Twins manipulated the vents so the air suppressed hits by the Braves and boosted those by the Twins.
    Not to mention that series had five of its games being decided by a single run, four games decided in the final at-bat and three games going into extra innings.
    Five world series appearances (even if only one victory) ought to be enough for Cox – but add in all those division victories and it is easy.

    • Kurzleg

      It’s not Cox’s fault that the Minnesota Twins manipulated the vents so the air suppressed hits by the Braves and boosted those by the Twins.

      Ha!

    • wengler

      The Twins forgot to use the vents against the Yankees. And the A’s. And the Angels. They only worked against the Braves.

      • junker

        And what is the one variable that Atlanta had and those teams didn’t? COX.

      • agorabum

        The vents are marginal. If you’re up 5-1, doesn’t matter.
        But when 3 of the 4 games at the Dome are decided by 1 run, it’s more of an issue. Sometimes its just a game of inches.

  • Tom

    Hey, LaRussa actually won a WS with Billy Beane as a player, so I think that alone is HOF worthy.

    • rea

      I don’t think Beane was on the World Series Roster, and Tom Kelly won a World Series (’87) after a season in which Billy Beane played in the majors for his team, too.

      1988 was a confusing year for Tiger fans; I never did figure out the difference between OF Billy Bean and OF Billy Beane.

      • DivGuy

        It would be hard to come up with a better example of two players nearly indistinguishable during their careers who became so incredibly easily distinguishable in their post-playing careers.

      • Sherm

        I never did figure out the difference between OF Billy Bean and OF Billy Beane.

        You’re not alone. After Bean came out of the closet, it took me a while to realize Beane was straight.

  • I’ve been wanting to get this book for a while. Sabermatics have done some unbelievable things with objective standards (even with baseball defense statistics, the unicorn of sports mathematical analysis) but it still has problems when objective and subjective meet, incorrectly rejecting the subjective out of hand. Being able to get both sides to play nicely makes for useful (and entertaining) reading.

    • Scott Lemieux

      It’s really, really good, for exactly this reason.

      • Has anyone ever done something useful regarding catchers managing a pitching staff/calling games?

        • Scott Lemieux

          There’s been some great work about framing recently.

          • Got a link? I’m curious how they’re doing it.

            What’s the current discussion on pitch calling?

          • mpowell

            This is a lot easier to approach with statistics though than pitch calling.

            • Richard

              I cant imagine a way to come up with stats on pitch calling since its so dependent on the catcher’s assessment of what pitches are working for a pitcher on the day in question (plus there’s no way of comparing a specific pitch selection with the result if a different pitch had been called for)

              • There’s also the “calming influence” some catchers supposedly have. The Tigers all rave about Alex Avila’s ability to know the emotional reactions of his pitchers, and who to calm down, who sometimes loses his focus, how best to talk to one guy and that you talk to another pitcher in a very different way, etc. My impression is that Posada was good at that stuff, and Yadier probably is too (same for Carter and Fisk). On the other hand, while he was a great defensive catcher who shut down other teams’ running games, I’m not sure people would say Lance Parrish was great at that stuff, and Mauer may be only OK.

  • JTR

    Actually when LaRussa was in Oakland they had the 2nd highest payroll in baseball (god bless Walter Haas may he rest in peace).

    • Kurzleg

      And still lost to the Reds in four in 1990.

      • Tucker

        That’s because he kept pitching to Billy Hatcher for no good reason.

        While I think this is no reason to keep him out, he still gets a major pass for presiding over the two of the most famous clubhouses of the PED era, St Louis and Oakland.

        • This came up on the other thread. I know that the A’s were an obvious case because of Canseco and McGwire. But wasn’t it the Rangers who had the reputation for the most PED-heavy environment?

  • junker

    Reading the other thread, I had a thought: Why are managers excused for PEDs, but players aren’t? Larussa and Oakland is probably the the most obvious connection, but several of the PED guys (like Pettite, Clemens) played for Torre. If I am a PED crusader, why do the managers get a pass? If they knew about it, then that means they either explicitly or implicitly condoned cheating. If they didn’t know about it then they didn’t have enough control of the clubhouse to prevent cheating.

    I’m in the “Who cares about PED use” group, and this seems like a pretty unfair double standard, that there is so much hand wringing about players sullying the game but managers like these guys are essentially lauded unconditionally.

    • junker

      And I see this was mentioned upthread by Tucker, whoops.

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    If you think of baseball-as-we-know-it as beginning in 1892 (when the pitcher’s mound was pulled back to its current distance), the entire history of baseball is covered by the playing-managing careers of three men: John McGraw (1892-1934), Al Lopez (1928-1969) and Joe Torre (1961-present).

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