Now & Later: Which MLB teams feature the most top talent?

andrew mccutchen batting

If you followed MLB Network’s annual “Top 10: Right Now” features this year, you’ll know the Pirates ranked very well. With “The Shredder,” they again objectively named the best major league players at each position. Subjectively, I can say some of the rankings were questionable (Pirates included). But they’re still fun to think about, and there’s not much else going on in the final days before spring training. also recently finished up their top 10 position-by-position lists for the minor league side of things. If you recall their top 100 we wrote a little bit about, the Bucs are doing well in the farm system as well.

So why not compare all of the lists and see which organizations are loaded with the most talent? The positions are a little different (MLB uses all three outfield positions and starter/reliever; MiLB has just outfield and right-handed pitchers/left-handed pitchers), but we’ll go with it.

The method: if a team has the #1 player at a position, they get 10 points; #2 player gets 9 points; #3 gets 8; and so on. We’ll keep it simple for now — everything on the same scale, even though the best at one position may not be as valuable as the best at another position.

Here are the results…

Continue reading “Now & Later: Which MLB teams feature the most top talent?”

MLB’s Most Strategic Managers

The impact of a Major League manager has been a bit of a topic this winter, as Joe Maddon bolted to Chicago for five years and 25 million of the Cubs’ dollars. As everyone knows, the Cubbies have been dreadful recently and are still looking for their first World Series title since 1908. Maddon can certainly change the culture over there, but how will it translate onto the field?

SportsCenter recently ran with this ridiculous graphic…

joe maddon 16 wins

…saying they think he’ll contribute 16 more wins to the Chicago Cubs (“Cubs being Cubs” — funny as it is — isn’t too profound, either).

For players, we have wins above replacement. Jon Lester was worth 6.1 WAR in 2014, and projects to be worth 3-4 in 2015, so you can see where ESPN sees a 5+ win improvement over whichever replacement level pitcher he knocked out of their rotation. But for managers? It’s much tougher to quantify.

Tony LaRussa had a pretty solid quote on this kind of idea back in August:

“Our attitude as a coaching staff was, we were involved 162 games. And we felt that somewhere along the way — whether it was moving an outfielder or moving an infielder, the hitting coach tweaking hitters — we felt our job was putting people in a position to win… But I don’t know how you put a measure on that in number of games.”

So maybe we can’t quantify a manager’s win value just yet. But what about from a strategy standpoint? “…we felt our job was putting people in a position to win…”

There’s a managerial section of the 2015 Bill James Handbook, featuring a number of statistics for each manager, ranging from lineups and substitutions to pitcher usage and other tactics. How can we see which manager employed the most of these strategies in 2014?

joe maddon cubs

Keep in mind, there are a ton of caveats to a manager’s “strategy.” Each team faces entirely different situations. Perhaps a team’s lineup is changing so frequently due to injuries, or the platoon advantage can’t be controlled so well because of roster construction, or whatever. This is all part of what makes quantifying a manager difficult.

But let’s see what we can do. Here are the categories we’ll use, all thanks to the Bill James Handbook: 1) lineups used, 2) percentage of players who had platoon advantage at start of game, 3) pinch-hitters used, 4) pinch-runners used, 5) defensive substitutions, 6) relievers used, 7) stolen base attempts, 8) sacrifice bunt attempts, 9) runners moving with the pitch, 10) pitchouts ordered, and 11) intentional walks ordered.

I decided to calculate z-scores for each category, which measure how many standard deviations a value is above/below the mean. This gives us an idea of how many moves of each type a manager made compared to the guys in the opposing dugouts, as defined by the criteria above.

To make it more accurate, I split up managers by league. Pitchers hitting in the National League makes a big difference, especially when it comes to pinch-hitting and bunting:

Average pinch-hitters used in AL: 111
Average pinch-hitters used in NL: 258

Average sac bunt attempts in AL: 39
Average sac bunt attempts in AL: 76

For example, the overall MLB average for pinch-hitters was 184, which was only topped by the Blue Jays and A’s in the AL. All NL teams were well over the 184 mark. By z-score methodology, that would’ve made the National Leaguers look way more PH-savvy when it’s really a fault of the rulebook. So we must compare each to their peers within their respective leagues.

Anyway, I then summed each category’s z-score for a final “strategy score,” to find which managers utilized the most and least tactics compared to their peers. I thought about weighting categories differently — say, tinkering with the lineup probably has a different impact on the game than a single pitchout — but decided to keep them all equal for now.

Without further ado, here are the results…

American League: Most Strategic Managers in 2014
1. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners (8.48)
2. Mike Scioscia, Angels (6.45)
3. Terry Francona, Indians (5.07)
4. John Gibbons, Blue Jays (3.70)
5. Robin Ventura, White Sox (1.47)

American League: Least Strategic Managers in 2014
11. Joe Maddon, Rays (-1.50)
12. Buck Showalter, Orioles (-4.79)
13. Ron Washington, Rangers (-5.27)
14. John Farrell, Red Sox (-5.92)
15. Bo Porter, Astros (-7.00)

Lloyd! The former Pirate manager finishes in first, having used an above-average amount of different lineups, platoon advantages, pinch-runners, stolen base attempts, and pitchouts, just to name a few. McClendon filled out a lineup card with 69% platoon advantages, fifth-best in the American League and a sound improvement from his days in Pittsburgh. He also called for more pitchouts than any other AL skipper (30), a category he used to dominate on the Pirates’ bench as well (led the NL with 67 in ’02 and 73 in ’03). Stealing first base wasn’t part of his arsenal this year, though.

You’re probably wondering about Maddon. I figured to see him at the top; not near the bottom. But he didn’t stick out in many categories, especially not like he has in the past. Looking at his previous numbers, Maddon typically uses many different lineups (led AL in 2012 and 2013), pinch-hitters (led six years in a row from 2008 to 2013), and stolen base attempts (led four times between ’08 and ’12). It was a down year for the Rays, and maybe a down year for Joe, too. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in a National League setting.

And perhaps we get a glimpse here of why Bo Porter was fired in Houston. He clearly didn’t do a lot behind the bench, and there were rumblings that Jeff Luhnow — one of baseball’s most forward-thinking general managers — engaged in “excessive second-guessing of (Porter’s) in-game management.” Hmm…

Anyway, how about the NL?

National League: Most Strategic Managers in 2014
1. Clint Hurdle, Pirates (9.02)
2. Bud Black, Padres (5.49)
3. Don Mattingly, Dodgers (2.33)
4. Bruce Bochy, Giants (1.45)
5. Walt Weiss, Rockies (0.56)

National League: Least Strategic Managers in 2014
11. Terry Collins, Mets (-1.51)
12. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves (-1.88)
13. Ron Roenicke, Brewers (-2.34)
14. Matt Williams, Nationals (-5.92)
15. Mike Redmond, Marlins (-6.55)

Woah, Clint! Hurdle runs away with this one. He employed the most pinch-hitters and put the most runners in motion (can recall a number of successful hit-and-run’s this year), while also ordering the most pitchouts and intentional walks. That’s the second year in a row Hurdle has used more pinch-hitters than anyone in the National League, further emphasizing the need of a strong bench. The Pirates are well on their way with Travis Snider, Corey Hart, and Sean Rodriguez, and could look even better if they lock up Jung-Ho Kang.

You’ll notice Matt Williams at #14. The first-year Nats manager was criticized for a few issues this year, especially his bullpen usage in the playoffs. He might not have known what he was doing, but won the NL Manager of the Year award anyway — there wasn’t a great storyline this year, the teams that were supposed to be good were good (STL and LAD), and an already talented team gave a rookie manager a league-leading 96 wins, so there’s your nod.

What we’ve done here is simply a look at the amount of in-game moves a manger made to try to presumably help his team win from a strategic standpoint. Keep in mind — this isn’t measuring a manager’s effectiveness. (That’s the next step, and hopefully something we can work on soon.) Not all stolen base attempts work, not all bunts are smart, etc. Hurdle thought it was a good idea to put 43 men on base via the intentional walk, but the Bill James Handbook declared 17 of those “Not Good” decisions (meaning the Pirates were unable to get a double play on the next batter, or get out of the inning without allowing any additional runs).

There’s basically no correlation between a manager’s overall “strategy score” that we calculated above and his team’s winning percentage — well, it’s a weak one but it is positive with an r-squared value of 0.1009 …

mlb managers strategy

There were managers like Williams, Buck Showalter, and Brad Ausmus, who perhaps didn’t need to call for much in-game move-making and still reaped the benefit of a good winning percentage. Actually, if you remove those three from the equation, there is a much better correlation — r-squared of 0.33.

It is notable that there weren’t any high-strategy managers with a low winning percentage (see the area below Bud Black). That’s pretty much the only section of the graph that’s untouched, and what makes it stronger when you remove Williams/Showalter/Ausmus.

On the flip side, some of the lowest strategy managers produced very low winning percentages (Washington, Porter, Farrell, etc.)

This is quite preliminary, but maybe it’s a good first step. It might not be entirely possible to quantify a manager’s “on-field” contributions, but hopefully we can get closer to a better understanding sometime in the near future.

***Once again, all data courtesy of the 2015 Bill James Handbook. Highly recommend it.***

Go Bucs

Ridiculous replay rules coming to Major League Baseball

Bud Selig

“It’s historic. There’s no question about it.” – Bud Selig

Major League Baseball is set to debut an expansion of instant replay in 2014, though an official announcement will wait until November. By then, MLB owners will vote on the topic, and changes will be discussed with the Players & Umpires Associations.

Here are the main highlights of the new deal, via


• A review will be initiated when a manager informs the umpire that he wants to challenge a play. He will be allowed one challenge in the first six innings and two more from the seventh through the end of the game.

• If the manager wins his appeal, he retains the challenge. The challenge from the first six innings does not carry over.

• Not all plays are reviewable.

• If a manager disagrees with a reviewable call, his only recourse would be to use a challenge. Managers would not be able to argue a reviewable call in a bid to get it overturned without the use of replay. A manager could still argue in situations not open to review, such as when defending a player or questioning an improper substitution.

• All replays will be reviewed by umpires at headquarters in New York, with technicians available to provide the necessary video.

• However, boundary calls on home runs have been grandfathered. The on-site umpires will retain the right to submit the plays for review or not.

• There is no provision to cover the possibility of an obviously blown call late in the game if the manager has used all his challenges.


The big idea is that managers will be challenging close calls, although they have limits: 1 challenge for the first six innings; 2 challenges for the rest of the game. This division of challenges makes limited sense, unless Major League Baseball has concrete evidence that plays have been/will be more controversial and/or challenge-worthy at the end of ballgames.

Furthermore, any missed call will stand if the manager has already used his challenges. Sort of defeats the purpose of replay, no? As Braves’ president John Schuerholz described, MLB wants to “dramatically reduce the number of incorrect calls that are made in any game…” Yet there’s still going to be a solid chance of incorrect calls if a manager loses his challenges.

If you want to drastically expand replay, make sure ALL calls are corrected, not just some. And if you’re forfeiting that due to a select number of challenges, then put it in the hands of the league or umpires.

It sounds like skippers aren’t even behind the proposed changes…

MLB Manager challenges

Some players have spoken out about the issue as well, like Washington’s Ian Desmond:

Ian Desmond MLB replay

The tradition and human element of the game will seemingly be lost. In this ESPN poll, 60% of fans think it should be preserved:

major league baseball human element

But at the same time, many think it’s a good idea for replay to greatly expand:

mlb replay expansion

We’ll see what happens…

Bucs Bits: Pirates News and Notes 12/19/12

A few days removed from PirateFest weekend, here are some Bucco links:

– Speaking of PirateFest, nearly 17,000 fans flocked to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which set a new record.

– Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout provides five reasons why the Pirates aren’t likely to get a huge return if they decide to trade Joel Hanrahan.

– More on Hanrahan — Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness wonders if the Hammer would be a significant upgrade for the Dodgers.

– Andrew McCutchen is a candidate to be on the cover of MLB 13: The Show. Voting begins on January 7th.

– Jason Shetler of Bucco Nation got an exclusive interview with’s Jonathan Mayo.

– Gaby Sanchez is ready to bounce back in 2013, writes Bob Cohn of the Trib.

Happy Holidays from the Pirates.

– The introduction of the new Sunday alternate uniforms and batting practice cap at Friday’s PirateFest luncheon:

– Neil Walker is 100% and ready to go for 2013:

102 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs

Pirates sign Mike Zagurski

The Pirates announced this morning that they have signed minor league free agent Mike Zagurski. The deal includes an invite to spring training.

Zagurski, a 29 year old lefty reliever, has never posted an ERA below 5.40 in the big leagues. He’s 1-0 with a 6.13 ERA in 83 career MLB games with the Phillies and Diamondbacks.

We found this while searching for Zagurski:

(Credit: D-backs Memes on Facebook)

That picture was associated with the following caption:
“My apologies for bringing up Mike Zagurski, but it seemed fitting. (No, he is no longer a Diamondback, hopefully it stays that way).” Yeah…

Go Bucs