Rob Neyer Newsbeat
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Joe Sheehan’s got a lot of strong opinions, and occasionally I disagree with him strongly. But agree or disagree, Joe’s always worth reading. From Tuesday’s newsletter (sorry, subscriber-only), written in the wake of a) Ned Yost making a bizarre decision in the ninth inning of a game the Royals needed to win, and b) the Eagles winning with a highly innovative offense ...
Where are the MLB Chip Kellys? Forget whether you agree or not that the Blur can work in the NFL and just focus on the fact that he’s thinking about how to win with a level of creativity that just doesn’t exist in our game… The NFL has become a league of innovators, with coaches and coordinators aggressively attacking the problem of how to move the 22 pieces around in ways that give their side an advantage. The NBA is actually even more interesting right now, with many teams leveraging statistical research to find the most valuable shots—ones at the rim and from the deep corners—and how to move the ball and players around to get them. Erik Spoelstra all but invented a new offense to take advantage of LeBron James’ skills.
MLB has nothing like that. The only current area of innovation in MLB is in defensive spacing… There’s no lineup innovation. There’s no roster innovation. No one is packing the roster with one type of player or another. No one is introducing new tactics. No one is doing what Kelly or Spoelstra or Art Briles or Mike Brey has done, which is to apply their mind to the question of how to win and come up with a new answer.
I think Joe’s about half-right here.
Here’s where he’s wrong: Baseball isn’t football or basketball… Baseball’s not a bunch of guys running around. Generally, it’s a bunch of guys standing around, punctuated by brief spells of a few guys running around highly circumscribed places. Runners on first and second, batter hits a fly ball to medium-depth left field ... What is the manager supposed to do? That’s just one case, but there are a lot of cases just like it. Essentially, in football and basketball the coach might influence nearly every minute of play, but in baseball the manager can do relatively nothing.
Here’s where Joe is right: Baseball managers, more than the coaches in any other sport, are slaves to convention.
And maybe they’ve got a good excuse. Because baseball has been around the longest, there’s been more time for Convention Wisdom to accrue, and Conventional Wisdom is usually pretty smart. The game does seem to find a natural balance. Stealing bases and bunting don’t make as much sense as they once did, and so there isn’t as much stealing and bunting as there once was. Getting the platoon advantage with your relief pitchers works well, and so managers get the platoon advantage more often than they used to. Nobody’s innovating, really, but managers do respond to the sport’s changing conditions, even if just subconsciously.
They could respond more quickly, though, and they could innovate. The extreme defensive shifts are a great example, and I don’t think Joe’s giving managers enough credit for that. Again, though, Joe’s basically correct. And I think the “problem” is simple: Baseball managers are actually middle managers. When a football coach is hired, he assumes the weight of his new team’s performance. For now, Chip Kelly is the Philadelphia Eagles. If the Eagles win, he’ll receive most of the credit. If they lose, he’ll be fired and might never work in the NFL again. Bill Parcells used to get hired to turn franchises around. And with that responsibility came freedom. To hire players, to fire players, and to try some unorthodox things. If you win, you earn the right to try more unorthodox things. Just look at Bill Belichik [sic].
Baseball’s not like that… baseball managers are hired to change attitudes, not systems. Because there’s not much left in the systems that can be changed. Sure, maybe Ned Yost bunts more than he should. But the Royals have bunted just 33 times this season. In 1970, Earl Weaver’s Baltimore Orioles were credited with 64 sacrifice bunts.
Ned Yost’s problem isn’t that he isn’t innovative. Ned Yost’s problem is that he doesn’t understand the principles that some managers understood 20 or 30 years ago. Today the best managers aren’t really ahead of the curve. They’ve just managed to keep up with it.
The most killer closer whose last name starts with “U”! Wait, what?
Twenty-seven up, 27 down. That’s what Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has done over his last nine appearances. The right-hander has thrown a “hidden” perfect game for Boston, retiring each of the last 27 batters he’s faced.
Yes, 27 straight is impressive. It’s not even close to the record, though. Bizarrely enough, the record is held by Mark Buehrle, who threw an actual perfect game and sandwiched that with one out in his previous start and 17 straight outs in his next start, for a total of 45 straight hitters retired.
The record for a relief pitcher is 41 straight, set by Bobby Jenks in 2007. That’s why I think a lot of relievers have thrown hidden perfect games; if Jenks reached 41, you have to figure a bunch of guys have been in the 30s, right? ...
Uehara’s career strikeout-to-walk ratio—8.4, including his dozen starts as a rookie in 2009—is by far the highest in major-league history for a pitcher with at least 150 innings…
There are dozens and dozens of examples of pitchers who didn’t get a chance to close because ... well, because they weren’t closers. Until finally they did get a chance, and most of them performed just as they’d performed before. What’s so odd about Uehara isn’t that he’s been brilliant since taking over as Red Sox closer. What’s odd is that he’s been even more brilliant.
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