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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

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Again, while I am pretty much in agreement with the strategy here, I just have a hard time with this crazy "I call for his head!" crap, when Tito, as SF must acknowledge, has kept his injury-prone club in or around first place all year. (And never mind that, um WS victory--memories are short.) Torre does all kinds of kakimame things with the Yankee pen; you don't hear YFs calling for his ouster.

-Seeing as Van and James are actually EMPLOYED by the Sox, it would seem to me that the team has probably run numbers on various order distributions. So if this is really THAT serious a problem, it's practically inconceivable that the matter hasn't been or won't be specifically addressed within the organization.

-Meanwhile, I think SF might be exaggerating the actual effect involved. All studies I'm aware of indicate the effect of batting order is pretty negligible. Tek and Cora have to bat somewhere. And the one replacing Youk at the head of the lineup is Coco, so the replacement there is pretty good--it's not like he's pulled a Dusty Baker, and he's putting Neifi Perez up there.

Anyway, I agree that Youk should be up higher. If it continues, It'll probably cost a couple of runs over the course of the year. But firing offense?

YF: my point is that it's a move that is beyond any rational explanation. It's terrible baseball strategy. It's something I would put on a list, if I were compiling a list.

And yes, I know that Van and James are employed by the club, but they don't necessarily have any control over what a manager pencils in to his lineup card before a game. Van is probably simply providing numbers; how there are deployed/interpreted is unknown.

I think it's one thing to scream "fire the guy" in a game thread over taking out a pitcher too late, or not batting a guy in the right spot; to do so cavalierly is somewhat irrational and insubstantial. Which is why I tried to explain my position more substantially. My reasoning here is not that Francona should be fired for just for batting Youkilis eighth, but that if he continues to bat Youkilis eighth, and continues to bat Varitek 6th, and continues to make questionable moves with his pitchers (a separate issue, frankly), then the list of tactical deficiencies starts to get dangerously long, and it could be reasonably argued that the team is not being managed into a situation where best results are enabled. I think that's a fair opinion to have.

Aside:

if Torre batted Jeets 5th, then 6th, then 8th, and continued to bat him 8th for any duration, what would you say? I don't imagine you'd ask for his head, he's got a much longer and better track record than Francona. But if he did that, and then did several other mind-boggling things with his lineup and bullpen, at what point would you begin to become extremely frustrated?

All you need to say SF is that Youk is batting ahead of Cora. That fact alone is enough to question Francona's sensibility. Youk should be the lead-off. He sees a ton of pitches, which in turn helps set up Loretta, Papi, Manny, etc for more probability of success. Your arguement is 100% on.

I still disagree. Bill James need not "punch walls." All he needs is to pick up the phone. My guess is that when Bill James calls Theo, Theo picks up the receiver and listens. Attentively. (So it's not just "providing numbers.") So if James and Van find something serious, it seems to me MANAGEMENT's responsibility to instruct Tito exactly what order is most effective. And then and only then, if Tito throws that info in their face and defies it, do you even start to have rational for some kind of action. Without knowing the internal dynamic, I have a hard time with this.

SF: Last year Torre was batting Womack leadoff. So we have plenty of experience with retarded lineups.

Ugh, you're tiresome, YF. The title of the post was meant for dramatic flair, a visual image explaining the statistical silliness of Francona's lineup last night.

And now I guess you can't really comment with any substance on the Yankees drafts, waiver pickups, their free agent signings, or anything else that you "don't know the internal dyanamic" about. Because you don't know the internal dynamic about any of that, and neither do I about the Sox, other than what I read in the papers and on the web. That's why we do this, I thought.

Tiresome! That's me!

I'm sorry things aren't simple and transparent. They're no Don't blame me. We can all agree it would be better to have Youk batting higher in the order. That's certainly a subject worthy of debate. But when this morphs into "fire Tito" talk, you've essentially shifted the argument, and i think unfairly. If you want to have that talk, there's A LOT to think about.

For one, I didn't "shift" the argument. I spell out my opinions in the post and in the comments pretty clearly. When and if Tito ends up on a pre-firing hotseat (and we'll get some of that through the conventional media and other blogs), then those "issues" you refer to will have to be addressed. Who will they replace him with? Will that person be any better tactically? What is the possible replacement's MO? Answering those may very well lead me to the opinion that there is no better option than Francona, and that he shouldn't be fired. But that's for later, as far as I am concerned. You don't fire a guy for doing something without contemplating the impact on the team, the abilities of a replacement. That is obvious.

But looking at his tactical abilities and trying to figure out if he is really managing the team well is another issue, and I think there are several questions that are beginning to arise about them. The more they pile up, the more I wonder if his "people skills" are a sufficient balance for those deficiencies.

Well that's fair enough. I've got no disagreements with that analysis, to be sure.

it's getting pretty old for me to keep saying this, and eventually i suppose i'll stop trying to have this argument with you. but i still could not disagree more with your views on terry francona. i still feel wholeheartedly that making francona the scapegoat for the team's inherent shortcomings this year is an absolute overreaction, and still wonder why it is you're so hell-bent on doing it. i still wonder who you think would be better at this job. i still wonder what the point is at seizing on every decision you disagree with and essentially mounting a one-man campaign to have him let go. i wonder what you think this would accomplish.

Beth, can you please read the comments, particularly the comment two above your post.

Thanks.

To be clear, seeing as my post is being referenced by SF. I do agree with Beth here, but also, as SF notes, that it's fair enough--indeed it's our "job" here, to evaluate Tito's performance, summing up the positives and negatives as the campaign progresses. As it stands, I think the dossier, all told, is pretty impressive.

Actually, YF, I was referencing my own comment, not yours. Here it is again:

"When and if Tito ends up on a pre-firing hotseat (and we'll get some of that through the conventional media and other blogs), then those "issues" you refer to will have to be addressed. Who will they replace him with? Will that person be any better tactically? What is the possible replacement's MO? Answering those may very well lead me to the opinion that there is no better option than Francona, and that he shouldn't be fired. But that's for later, as far as I am concerned. You don't fire a guy for doing something without contemplating the impact on the team, the abilities of a replacement. That is obvious.

But looking at his tactical abilities and trying to figure out if he is really managing the team well is another issue, and I think there are several questions that are beginning to arise about them. The more they pile up, the more I wonder if his "people skills" are a sufficient balance for those deficiencies."


Personally, I think Youk should be in the 5 slot. I like Crisp and Loretta where they are, so unless they want to bump Ortiz and Manny down a spot, 5th is the next best option. With Lowell (or Nixon, if you want to toggle lefty/righty) batting behind him, there will be planty of chances to score from first on one of Lowell's many gapshot doubles.

I wholeheartedly agree that 8th is preposterous. To me, 5th is a good fit, because, in addition to the OBP prowess, Youk is emerging as a power threat, currently 3rd on the team in home runs. Let's not forget that aspect of his game.

I agree with SF that the move betrays some tactical shortcomings by Tito. But according to BP's latest book, lineups don't make that much of a difference. In fact, they suggest that if you were to have your batters line up in ascending order of OBP - so that best OBP hits 9th and worst leads off - you'd only suffer a few losses per season over the optimal lineup (which is to play your hitters in descending order).

So, while I agree with the gist of SF's post, I think he's overstating things somewhat.

And I bet if you deployed BP's strategy in the real world, you'd suffer much worse than the numbers. You'd drive more guys into slumps, screw with heads, etc. Such are the limits of utopian statistics. I don't doubt BP is telling us what the numbers say, but the actual practice of what they suppose would, in my opinion, compound over time and wreak increasing havoc. The numbers can never account for psychology.

"Answering those may very well lead me to the opinion that there is no better option than Francona, and that he shouldn't be fired. But that's for later, as far as I am concerned...But looking at his tactical abilities and trying to figure out if he is really managing the team well is another issue..."

okay...?? if you are claiming not to make the case for his firing as red sox manager and don't necessarily feel there's a better replacement out there, why harp on how his lineups are hurting the team? why take him to task for his decisions involving a mediocre pitching staff? what's your point, then?

SF - fair point, and I agree.

Beth - you can't have it both ways. SF gets jumped on for being in the "fire Tito" crowd, then when he says that's not what's he's saying, he gets jumped on for not saying anything!

In the games I've seen this year, Tito has done a bad job of handling his pitchers (keeping them in too long) and of his lineup. I think it's fair to point these things out. After all, aside from the man-management side (which SF acknowledged), what else is there to being a baseball manager?

The point Beth, is that Francona's decisions may very well be costing the Sox ballgames. Fans have every right to take managers to task for making tactical blunders that prevent their team from being in the best possible position to win, ie Torre's poor management of the Bullpen or Tito's insistency on leaving guys in after they should have been yanked two batters ago.

So when does Willie Randolph become Yankees manager?

I think SF is 100% in the right here. I always hear rumblings that, according to the statheads, batting order over the course of a season isn't that important. I remember a study showing this to be true in the preseason discussion of how to arrange Damon and Jeter. I hope that someone who is not at work right now (or who is at work and also very irresponsible) will do the research, because while I can see this being true in the plus-or-minus one batting slot case, moving a great hitter from leadoff to 8-hole is nothing less than disastrous to my mind (and I may be proved wrong). Like someone mentioned, Tek ended up having one more AB than Youk last night. What if that happened every game?! A guy with Youk's numbers has 162 fewer at bats in a season! Que malo!

I think the scrapping between Beth and SF brings up the interesting issue of manager credit. Truth be told, I think the popular conception has it backwards. A manager deserves much more credit for filling out a lineup card that optimizes his team's potential to score runs than he does for his team winning games despite injuries. Not that the latter deserves none, just less, and significantly so.

I understand Beth's inclination to defend managers from the general reaming and scapegoating they are forced to endure, often unfairly. But to reiterate a great point made by SF: what if Torre started to bat Jeter 8th? In this particular case, regarding this issue, I'm with you SF: Off with his head!

And I have no interest in scapegoating Francona, either. That's totally unfair. I only ask that we be allowed to critique his managing based on those things he has absolute control over. That is not the performance of players, obviously, but rather what are his tactical decisions and how well do they put his players in position to perform, and are those tactical decisions good ones. I have always been consistent about this on this site, on how I judge Francona (and other managers). If we can't critique him on those terms, then that means he's basically immunized. And that, in my opinion, would be terribly unfair.

I agree with the saberheads that batting order likely makes little difference -- maybe a couple runs, maybe a couple losses. The only problem is that we're in a division against a team where a couple runs decide games, and a couple games decide pennants. Putting Youkilis in front of Cora is asking for Youk to be left on base. If he's batting higher, he's in front of guys like Trot (high-OBP) and Lowell (high-SLG), which might result in the run that would have tied last night's game. Instead, he's stranded by Cora.

Likewise, putting a severely struggling Tek behind Manny (when Pena's in the lineup) or behind Trot just assures that Trot and Manny see horrible pitches to hit, which in turn can lead to slumps, etc, along with removing the potential for a big hit in that situation.

This is common-knowledge stuff among baseball fans. The reasoning is absolutely inexplicable. Which is what makes it so frustrating. Equally frustrating to me -- the Boston press' general apathy about these kinds of decisions. Gordon Edes repeatedly has said, "We don't have the information he does" without ever explaining (or apparently asking Tito) what information he had to justify a questionable decision.

Putting Tek so high and Youk so low has cost the Sox in specific ways over the last week, namely by stranding runners, which ahs been a chronic problem all season. That decision is Francona's, and it's costing us games.

I should say "the reasoning on Francona's part" is inexplicable...

I'm not sure that Tito has final say on the lineup. I imagine there to be heavy consultation from the front office.

you know, I was cursing Tek today after the (third?) GIDP in the last couple games, since he seemed to me (at the time) to possibly be the worst baseball player ever in the history of the game (overstated, of course). So I looked up the splits, and lo and behold, the Captain is hitting a respectable .286/.390/.469 with RISP, a slightly worse (except the SLG) .258/.324/.516 with RISP and 2 outs, and a very nice .455/.533/.545 with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs. So, although the three GIDP still suck, it doesn't seem like he has been the rally killer that everyone perceives from the numbers, and appears to be doing a pretty good job driving in runs and keeping the lineup turning when runners are on base in front of him. The times he can't hit a lick are when the bases are empty (under the mendoza line).

I guess I still think that he should be batting lower, but after seeing those numbers, I don't feel as terrible about his spot in the lineup. Plus, i feel Tek (like Papi) is due to see his average rise towards his historical averages over the rest of the season.

And of course, after I left work and stopped watching the game (or at least the gametracker) he went and slugged a three run bomb and ended up 3 for 5.

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