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Monday, June 09, 2014

Jack O’Connell: Don Zimmer, a seat-of-the-pants baseball guy

Zimmer: Dating back to the dawn of baseball time in Hoboken.

In an interview I did with him about 10 years ago after he left the Yankees and began working as a consultant for the Tampa Bay club, Zim told me, “I don’t think I could manage today if it meant relying so much on statistics. Managing is more than just studying stat sheets. I was told that in Boston they had all the managerial candidates play a simulated game on a computer. Can you see me doing that? I would have had to bring my grandkids along to show me how to work the darn thing.”

Zimmer managed four teams in 13 seasons but none officially since 1991, the year he was fired by the Cubs. As recently as 1999, however, Zimmer was an interim manager for the Yankees while Joe Torre was recovering from surgery for prostate cancer. He never had any ideas about going into the dugout for the Rays.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want the headaches managers have today, which includes having every move scrutinized,” Zim said. “`You see it on TV, hear it on the radio, read it in the newspapers. Somebody is using a mathematical equation to prove why the manager made a dumb move. That’s what I don’t like about all these statistics. Sure, they are a part of the game, and they can be helpful obviously in assessing a player’s ability, but you can’t manage games by numbers alone.

“With the Yankees, they would bring all these charts into Joe’s office, and we’d all go over them. You’d see so-and-so is 4-for-6 against so-and-so. Well, he might have gotten those four hits five years ago before [that pitcher] developed an effective new pitch. A manager has to trust his instincts and play hunches on occasion.

“One thing that gets me about all these experts with their statistics is that they are not out there on the mound with the manager when the pitcher is shaking like a leaf and the blood is draining from his face. Show me a statistic that can combat that.

“Managers need to learn what their players can and cannot do, and the good ones are the best judges of their personnel. Go by the numbers, and you’re taking the easy way out. That just gives a manager an alibi. The heck with that. You live with players day in and day out for six, seven months and you learn which ones can handle themselves under pressure. You’re not going to find that on a computer printout.”

Repoz Posted: June 09, 2014 at 07:30 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. villageidiom Posted: June 09, 2014 at 09:59 AM (#4721720)
Reality and assumptions sometimes come into conflict with each other. Statistics rely on reality, but their applicability relies on assumptions.

Where I agree with Zimmer is that when the assumptions under the stats don't match the situation - say, that a player is not feeling well today - one has to consider ignoring the stats. Where I disagree is that, for a manager to know when that point is, he has to understand the stats enough to know what those assumptions are.

Likewise, the stats guys need to be honest and forthright in laying out what those assumptions are. I've met very few who are willing to do so, because they generally don't want to give anyone an opprtunity to dismiss their work.
   2. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: June 09, 2014 at 10:30 AM (#4721737)
I'm just glad that Zimmer didn't believe in pitch counts back in 1978.
   3. Russ Posted: June 09, 2014 at 11:31 AM (#4721803)
Likewise, the stats guys need to be honest and forthright in laying out what those assumptions are. I've met very few who are willing to do so, because they generally don't want to give anyone an opprtunity to dismiss their work.


This is not true. They probably just don't want to talk to you anymore and they assume that you wouldn't understand their assumptions anyways, even if they explained them to you.
   4. Ron J2 Posted: June 09, 2014 at 12:37 PM (#4721864)
#1 I've been talking with the serious stats guys for decades. Rarely have I had any problems getting answers to questions about methodology.
   5. villageidiom Posted: June 09, 2014 at 02:14 PM (#4721948)
This is not true. They probably just don't want to talk to you anymore and they assume that you wouldn't understand their assumptions anyways, even if they explained them to you.
I like how your response is definitive, yet the basis is a "probably" that is completely uninformed. Like I said, the applicability relies on assumptions, and your assumptions make your comment entirely useless. It was mildly entertaining, so there's that.
#1 I've been talking with the serious stats guys for decades. Rarely have I had any problems getting answers to questions about methodology.
But you had to ask. My point is that you shouldn't have had to ask. If it's a good analysis, the limitations of applicability are clear. A huge part of that are the assumptions made.

I've gone into greater length in a discussion back here - part of which was you faulting MGL for "a lack of documentation on some simplifying assumptions".
   6. Ron J2 Posted: June 09, 2014 at 02:44 PM (#4721977)
#5 I had originally put it as "never" and modified it to "rarely" thinking specifically of MGL. MGL is very good at the critical thinking side and not so good at the presentation. More than any stathead I can think of he goes to "trust me I know what I'm doing".

And I rarely have to ask of the guys who are RSB alum. "Show your work" being an almost constant refrain there.
   7. Srul Itza Posted: June 09, 2014 at 03:04 PM (#4721996)
You’d see so-and-so is 4-for-6 against so-and-so.


100 years from now, they are still going to be conflating statistics/sabermetric analysis with dumb situational" and "match-up" stats. And it is still going to be as annoying.

Because teh stupid.
   8. Russ Posted: June 09, 2014 at 03:49 PM (#4722038)
I like how your response is definitive, yet the basis is a "probably" that is completely uninformed. Like I said, the applicability relies on assumptions, and your assumptions make your comment entirely useless.


Well, you weren't particularly specific about who the stats guys were you had come across that would and wouldn't share their assumptions with you, particularly when asked. So I just based it on my prior information that either you didn't ask or they didn't share it with you after having been asked. The latter (as Ron indicates above) is very rare... so then I assumed that you must have not asked. Now I almost always state my assumptions up front when discussing a statistical analysis (which is basically a large part of my job as a PhD statistician), but many of my colleagues don't for the reason that I listed above.

But in the end, you're confusing "uncertainty" (in that I was "uninformed") with my assumptions (which may or may not have been correct). I would argue that it was my lack of information, not my assumptions that were the problem.


It was mildly entertaining, so there's that.


My wife said the same thing just last night!
   9. villageidiom Posted: June 09, 2014 at 04:11 PM (#4722066)
And I rarely have to ask of the guys who are RSB alum. "Show your work" being an almost constant refrain there.
That's fair. I'm not really talking about the people operating in the public domain... I'm talking about the ones providing stats to managers.

   10. Ron J2 Posted: June 10, 2014 at 09:31 AM (#4722378)
#9 They've got to have a different set of skills. There are very few managers who will understand (or even be interested in) a probabilistic argument (in that respect they're not all that different from most people) and a stathead can't honestly deal in certainties.

Having said that, I do recall Craig Wright's very brief time on RSB. He didn't take it well when Chris Kahrl challenged him on a "trust me" assertion.
   11. Sunday silence Posted: June 11, 2014 at 01:58 PM (#4723429)
I wanted to ask this in the Zimmer obit thread, but didnt get a chance: How did Zimmer come to manage the Red Sox in '78? I remember when Daryl Johnston took over the Red Sox I guess in '74 and reading some SI article about him, it sounded like he had some new ideas and was the man for future. They won the pennant in '75 he was named manager of the year and half way into '76 he was fired.

How did it sour so quickly for Johnson?

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