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Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

In the good old days of the 50s, 60s I remember watching such baseball managers as Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher and Billy Martin. In those days the manager ruled his team as a dictator with absolute power. Even a super star like Mickey Mantle feared Casey Stengel. When Mickey stayed out all night before a day game and arrived at the game drunk, he knew he good not perform. He was afraid to face Casey and say he could not play in the game. Like a child who misbehaved, Mickey chose to cover up his misdeed by getting himself thrown out of the game by arguing with the home umpire about a called strike. Another story that comes to mind is when Billy Martin yanked Reggie Jackson out of the outfield in the middle of an inning because Reggie did not hustle after a ball. In the dugout the 2 exchanged blows.

In the old days the manager was the CEO of his team. He had complete control of his players He was solely responsible for all the in-game strategic decisions including when to bunt, when to hit-and-run, when to remove a starting pitcher, who to play, and many others. He also had a very strong input on which players to hire and which player to get rid of.

Today’s baseball manager is really a middle manager. He surrounds himself with a bench coach, pitching coach, bullpen coach, hitting coach, and base-running and fielding coach. In the background he has an analytic department to decide on positioning the fielders, which batter to use against a pitcher, how many innings to use a starting pitcher, and so on. The front office people control the hiring and releasing of players.

What brought about the changing role of today’s baseball manager? The book Moneyball featuring Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland As, was a major contributing factor in changing the role of the manager. Beane was responsible for leading his Oakland As to successful seasons in the early 2000s in spite of having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. Beane with the help of his assistant Paul Depodesta used baseball statistics to discover and sign underappreciated players. Beane also used statistics to show that the old gold standard of measuring a player’s value by his batting average was wrong. Instead, Beane showed that a player’s on-base percentage led to more runs than a player’s batting average. Finding damaged players with good OBPs enabled Beane to get these players on the cheap. One of his tenets was don’t give up outs. This led to Oakland not bunting or stealing bases. His manager Art Howe was ordered to follow Beane’s mandates.

Beane’s formula for success has been copied by many other low budget teams. Today, almost all the ML teams have sports analytic departments. Teams are bunting at their lowest rate since 1920; teams are attempting to steal bases less frequently than they have in the last 45 years. Pitching has also adopted the 100-pitch rule for the removal of a starting pitcher. Also, teams now have designated 8th and 9th inning pitchers. Again, these decisions no longer belonged to the manager. Defensive shifts are determined by the analytic people and not the manager.

Even the new technology of instant replay is mainly determined not by the manager but by the umpire crew chief. The manager is allowed just 2 reviews. So what is today’s baseball manager’s job description? Today’s manager must have good people skills. He is responsible for keeping a good atmosphere in the clubhouse and at the hotels. He also acts as a psychologist, talking to his players to keep them focused on the upcoming games. His most important task is to keep his players on the field and off the DL. The term used for today’s manager is he is a ‘players’ manager. This accounts for the fact that so many of the recent hired managers were ex-players. This list includes Brad Ausmus, Craig Counsell, Walt Weiss, Robin Ventura, and Don Mattingly.

Posted By Dr. Stan, the Stats Man

In 2016, 2 record batting streaks have been in the news. The 2 batting streaks are Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ 84-game getting on-base streak. DiMaggio’s streak means he got a hit in 56 consecutive games; whereas, Williams’ streak means in 84 consecutive games he reached base with either a hit, a base-on-balls or a hit-by-pitch. The 2 players toying with these 2 streaks in 2016 were Jackie Bradley Jr. and Marcell Ozuna. Bradley’s hitting streak ended at 29 consecutive games. Ozuna’s on-base streak ended at 36 consecutive games. How does one compare different batting streaks to choose which one is the most impressive? Most impressive means harder to achieve.

In an article by Herm Krabbenhoft which appeared in the Baseball Research Journal, he compares DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak to Williams’ 84-game on-base streak. Krabbenhoft gives his answer in terms of approachability. He states, “Since DiMaggio achieved his streak in 1941, the closest any major league player has come to it was the 44-game hitting streak by Pete Rose in 1978. Forty-four is 78.6% of the way to 56. Since Williams achieved his 84-game streak in 1949, the closest any player has come to it were the 58 consecutive game on-base streak by Duke Snider in 1954 and Barry Bonds in 2003. Fifty-eight is 69% of the way to 84. So, with the above approachability considerations in mind, it can be argued that Teddy Ballgame’s 84 game on-base safely streak may be the greatest batting achievement of all.” Since Krabbenhoft’s article was published in 2004, Orlando Cabrera recorded a consecutive game on-base streak of 63 games in 2006. Sixty-three is 75% of the way to 84. This blows a hole in the approachability argument.

As a sabermetrician, I give my answer using probability theory. Which player DiMaggio or Williams, based on their statistics for that year, had the smallest probability of achieving their streak? Using the number of games played, number of plate appearances and number of successes of any player combined with the length of the streak, I created a probability formula which gives the probability of any player, based on their season’s batting statistics, duplicating any batting streak. The development of my probability formula for different batting streaks can be found in two books. In my book, Sandlot Stats: Learning Statistics with Baseball, published by John Hopkins Press I devote the entire Chapter 16 to comparing different batting streaks. My research on streaks was also published as Chapter 4 in the book Mathematics and Sports, published by the Mathematical Association of America. 

Applying my probability formula to both players’ streaks, here are the results.For the year 1941, the probability of Joe DiMaggio achieving his 56-game hitting streak was 0.0001 or 0.01%. For the year 1949, the probability of Ted Williams achieving his 84-game on-base streak was 0.0944 or 9.44%. For every 10,000 seasons, we would have expected DiMaggio in 1941 to accomplish his streak once while we would have expected Williams in 1949 to accomplish his streak 944 times. Ted Williams himself said, “I believe there isn’t a record on the books that will be tougher to break than Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.”

Based on the probabilities calculated above, I agree with Williams that DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is the more impressive.What about the probabilities associated with the 2016 streaks of Bradley and Ozuna? As for Bradley’s 29-game hitting streak his probability was 0.00281 or 0.281%.

Ozuna probability of a 36-game on-base streak was 0.0125 or 1.25%. Bradley’s streak is the more impressive one.

If you are wondering why Williams’ 84-game streak had such a high probability of occurring in 1949 the lengthy answer is in my book.




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