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Monday, November 14, 2005

Earl Weaver’s Rookie Season

On July 11, 1968 Earl Weaver was promoted from first base coach to manager of the Baltimore Orioles.  Weaver, then only 38, was the youngest manager in the American League and replaced the embattled Hank Bauer at the All-Star Break. 

Weaver even being on Bauer’s coaching staff was controversial at the time.  Bauer who was named manager in 1964, averaged 93 wins in his first 3 seasons with the Birds and lead the team to its first World Championship since being moved from St Louis during the 1953-54 off season. 

After a disappointing 1967 campaign where the Orioles finished in 7th place, then general manager Harry Dalton broke normal procedure and dismissed coaches Sherm Lollar, Harry Breechan and Gene Woodling with limited input from Bauer, who would later go on to say Dalton stabbed him in the back.  Dalton replaced them with George Bamberger and wunderkind Weaver. They were both promoted from the Orioles minor league system. 

Despite being only 38 years old, Weaver had accumulated more managerial experience than the vast majority of first-time hires seen today.  Weaver lost his managerial cherry at the age of 26 as a player-manager for the Knoxville Smokies of the South Atlantic League in 1956.  His debut season at the helm was not an indicator of things to come, as the Smokies went 10 and 24 with Weaver in charge. 

Weaver was brought into the Orioles organization in 1957 by Jim McLaughlin to manage the Class D club located in Fitzgerald Georgia, at a salary of $3,500.  The Fitzgerald club went 65-74 that season and finished in fourth place.  The next time Weaver managed a sub-.500 team was nearly 30 years later, at the other end of his career.

Earl worked his way up to AAA by 1966, where he managed the Rochester club for 2 seasons.  When he was finally brought on board at the major league level he was widely considered the heir-apparent to Bauer, after finishing in first or second place with 13 of the last 14 clubs he managed.

When Earl took over the club, the Orioles were third place (43-37 – Win % .538) and 10.5 games behind the first place Tigers.  The first managerial decision that Weaver made was to move part-time second baseman Don Buford to centerfield, replacing incumbent Paul Blair; Buford also took over in the leadoff spot. Light-hitting shortstop Mark Belanger was moved from a part-time role to a full-time role and moved from the bottom of the lineup into the two-slot.

Looking at these moves with a contemporary eye, I’m sure the internet baseball community would laud the replacement of the light hitting Blair with Buford whose skill set (good on=base, good base stealer) perfectly fit the leadoff need.  However, I’m equally sure that if Al Gore at invented the internet, 40 years earlier Weaver would have been ridiculed for hitting the offensively challenged (understatement) Belanger second.

The only other player whose playing time changed drastically was Curt Motton, whose playing time was already being trimmed by Bauer.  One interesting thing that was noted at the time was that the Orioles played a more aggressive brand of baseball under Weaver, as they stole 53 of their 78 bases in the second half.  While a good portion of that was Buford’s infusion into the line up, it does run counter to the general conception of Earl Weaver Baseball.

On the pitching side of the ledger, Weaver showed more confidence in Dave McNally (pitched 110 innings in the first half, and 161 in the second) who responded with a huge 22 win season, complimented with a 1.95 ERA and a fifth place finish in the MVP vote, and may have finished higher if he was used more aggressively earlier in the season.

Weaver did more than just show more faith in McNally.  He consolidated the entire pitching rotation.  The Orioles opened the season with a four-man rotation of Jim Hardin, Tom Phoebus, Bruce Howard, and Dave McNally, and then in May they shifted to a 5-man rotation with Gene Brabender moving into the 5th spot and Dave Leonhard replacing Bruce Howard.  Then in June, Phoebus, Hardin and McNally pitched on a regular 5-man rotation schedule with other two rotation spots being mixed and matched between Leonhard, Brabender, Wally Bunker, and Bruce Howard. 

After Weaver took over McNally, Phoebus and Hardin pitched slightly less than they would on with a normal 4-man rotation, however, they pitched more often than they would have on a 5-man rotation, while the other slot and a half was rotated, until September when Roger Nelson was given a steady role, but less than that of a McNally, Phoebus and Hardin.

Weaver did a reasonably good job turning around the team’s fortune.  After Weaver took over, the team played .585 ball (48-34), while playing very good in July and in August, and on August 27th they had closed the 10.5 game gap with the Tigers to only 4 games, which was the high water mark on the season. They played sub-500 (12-14) in September and ended the season 12 games behind the Tigers,

General Manager Harry Daulton was pleased with the way Weaver led the club and renewed his contract for the 1969 season and said:

“Earl accomplished a lot in a short time, under his direction the club created the only semblance of a pennant race in either league, pulling to within four games of Detroit. He also played an exciting brand of baseball, and I liked the way he used his players.  He made good use of all 25 men, and I think he tends to keep everybody sharper and ready to contribute when called.”

Sources: TSN 1969 Baseball Guide
  The Earl of Baltimore by Terry Pluto
  Weaver on Strategy by Weaver and Pluto
  It’s What you Learn After you know It All That Counts by Weaver with Stainback

MHS Posted: November 14, 2005 at 11:38 PM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. PhillyBooster Posted: November 15, 2005 at 12:34 AM (#1731903)
One wonders what the internet would have thought of Belanger's offensive performance as it was occurring.

Would people who say OPS+ from 1968-1971 of 59, 95, 56, 97 think he was "on the verge of a breakout season", or was an "inherently 75 OPS player". The league was full of Bert Campanaris/ Leo Cardenas type shortstops who would raise or lower their OPS+ twenty to thirty points a year, seemingly at random.

In any event, by the end of the 1969 regular season, moving Belanger up would have looked a lot smarter.
   2. BDC Posted: November 15, 2005 at 12:40 AM (#1731910)
lost his managerial cherry

As the New Yorker used to say, block that metaphor :)
   3. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: November 15, 2005 at 12:49 AM (#1731916)
Good article, Mr. High Standards, but:

However, I’m equally sure that if Al Gore at invented the internet, 40 years earlier Weaver would have been ridiculed for hitting the offensively challenged (understatement) Belanger second.

A curious decision, indeed.

My first thought was that maybe this had something to do with Weaver planning to pinch hit for Belanger, but he averaged 3.46 plate appearances per game batting 8th before Weaver took over, and 3.99 PA/G from that point forward.

But ... Belanger averaged 4.11 PA/G batting in the 2 spot. Buford averaged 4.46 PA in the 1 spot, and Frank Robinson averaged 4.18 PA in the 3 spot.

How can the #3 guy get more PA than the #2 guy? Well, that would infer that Belanger was in fact pinch hit for more than a few times. Maybe Weaver just figured that if he were going to have a spot where he'd want a pinch-hitter, he was more likely to have an important PH situation with the 2 spot than batting Belanger 8th.

Look at it this way:
1968 Orioles, PA/G by Batting Order
Pos   PA/G  Sub
 1    4.57   33
 2    4.48   37
 3    4.35   16
 4    4.27   12
 5    4.15   14
 6    4.00   15
 7    3.89   20
 8    3.77   51
 9    3.70  357
What that last column signifies is ... well, if you go to the Retrosheet splits, where this all came from, you'll find that there are 195 games listed for the #1 spot in the order. Obviously, the Orioles played 162 games that year, so there are 33 instances where some kind of substitution -- defense, pinch hitting, pinch running -- was made in the #1 spot.

Obviously, the #9 spot in a pre-DH league will see the most substitutions. But what comes in second? Why, our #2 spot, so often occupied by Mark Belanger.

Buford, while leading off, had 97.6% of the PA/G we would expect for an Oriole lead-off hitter. Frank Robinson, batting third, had 96.1%, and if we take out the two times he didn't start the game but subbed into the 3 spot, he had 97.0%.

Belanger, batting 2nd, had only 91.7% of the PA/G we would expect.

Here's something else:
#2 Spot, 1968 Orioles
          AB   R   H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG
Belanger 199  17  42    7    0    0   18   48   211  283  246
Others   425  53  85   15    1    8   59   60   200  304  296
It's not like anyone else Weaver put in that spot was doing all that well, either. So maybe he figured, "Put the defensive guy there, I'll pinch hit for him if I need to, and that way I can dictate an important platoon match-up while I'm at the top of the order."

Or, maybe he was just more traditionalist when he started off, and figured Belanger was good at making Productive Outs!.

Interestingly, Belanger did have a uniquely good season in 1969.
   4. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: November 15, 2005 at 12:51 AM (#1731919)
I thought that the recently departed GM's last name was Dalton. You may want to check that Matt. Otherwise, nice piece.
   5. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: November 15, 2005 at 12:54 AM (#1731922)
Obviously, the #9 spot in a pre-DH league will see the most substitutions. But what comes in second? Why, our #2 spot, so often occupied by Mark Belanger.

Whoops, I mean it's third; the #8 spot had more subsitutions than the #2 spot ...
   6. Mister High Standards Posted: November 15, 2005 at 01:05 AM (#1731935)
Your right GGC - Dalton.
   7. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: November 15, 2005 at 01:27 AM (#1731962)
Not particularly connected to this article, but ... wouldn't you think that Earl Weaver-managed teams would have the platoon advantage more often than other teams?

In 1973, the AL had the platoon advantage in 55.3% of its plate appearances. The Orioles had it in 51.5%.

1974: AL 55.1%, Orioles 51.7%.

1975: AL 55.6%, Orioles 45.5%.

Does that surprise anyone else?

So I thought, "Well, maybe the O's had a bunch of good RHB who weren't coming out no matter what, like Frank Robinson and everyone, so maybe they'll have a better platoon rate against LHP than against RHP."

Sure enough, just looking at platoon advantage against LHP:

1973: AL 79.4%, Orioles 91.5%.

1974: AL 78.7%, Orioles 93.2%.

1975: AL 75.1%, Orioles 93.9%.

Obviously, just a few years, but that still struck me as interesting.
   8. Boogie Nights Powell Posted: November 15, 2005 at 01:48 AM (#1731984)
God I miss Earl. He was a hoot to watch.
   9. dlf Posted: November 15, 2005 at 02:14 AM (#1732012)
but ... wouldn't you think that Earl Weaver-managed teams would have the platoon advantage more often than other teams?

Weaver's platoon mania came closer to the end of his career. For the first half dozen or so seasons, he used a fairly fixed lineup. It wasn't until the team started hemorraging talent in the post-Messersmith era that The Earl started using his multi-player platoons. From about '77 on, he had about a billion different moving parts on his 25 man roster; before then not so much.
   10. schuey Posted: November 15, 2005 at 02:31 AM (#1732033)
Weaver may have gotten like Casey Stengel. The more he managed and won the more he thought he was the reason. Stengel probably did it more with his pitching staff because Reynolds, Raschi and Lopat got old. Weaver did it with hitters. Both teams won world series the year after they left but both collapsed about 4 years later. For the first three years Stengel had to treat the aging Joe DiMaggio with kid gloves. I don't think Weaver had to with Frank Robinson but you wonder if the 1971 trade with the Dodgers had something to do with personalities as well as making room for Merv Rettenmund.
   11. Anthony Giacalone Posted: November 15, 2005 at 02:48 AM (#1732064)
Good insights, Matt.

And a nice follow-up by Waterloo. Although, Weaver's platooning was much more complex than simple left/right platoons. Altobelli did the straight forward Roeni-stein stuff (although I haven't checked his platoon splits to confirm this) when he they won the Series in 1983. But Weaver used a tremendously complicated set of determinents for whom he would start, when they would start and where they would start. He would play guys based on lifetime averages vs a certain pitcher. He would use them based on what park they were playing in. He would use walk-oriented guys against some pitchers but contact guys against another. He would use infielders with bad range when fly ball pitchers were throwing and so on.

After Weaver's comeback his team was dreadful and probably shouldn't be used to determine anything, but when speaking of his hey-day of 1969-82 it is to do a disservice to Weaver to categorize him as a "platoon manager."
   12. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: November 15, 2005 at 02:57 AM (#1732079)
Back to overall platoon rates:

1977: AL 56.2%, Orioles 61.1%.

1978: AL 57.3%, Orioles 63.7%

1979: AL 56.4%, Orioles 60.8%

1980: AL 59.4%, Orioles 66.9%

1981: AL 57.9%, Orioles 65.1%

1982: AL 57.6%, Orioles 65.4%

So it is definitely something he picked up as he went along.
   13. PhillyBooster Posted: November 15, 2005 at 03:35 AM (#1732132)
Of course, the smart managers today are the ones who DON'T blindly platoon, sitting Babe Ruth for Mike Gazella against those tougher lefties.

When you've got Jose Offerman on the bench, it may be a "platoon", but it's never an "advantage."
   14. Flynn Posted: November 15, 2005 at 05:21 AM (#1732224)
Of course, the smart managers today are the ones who DON'T blindly platoon, sitting Babe Ruth for Mike Gazella against those tougher lefties.

Well, Weaver didn't blindly platoon even at the end of his career. I think the issue was as free agency came along, the Orioles saw themselves as probably being limited players in the market, so Weaver had to make do with less.
   15. PhillyBooster Posted: November 15, 2005 at 02:33 PM (#1732368)
I was not criticizing Weaver. Merely pointing out that the pendulum had swung the other way. Now the innovative manager is not the one who knows when the platoon, but the one who knows when not to.
   16. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: November 15, 2005 at 04:36 PM (#1732473)
Thanks for the article about my favorite manager, Matt!
   17. Anthony Giacalone Posted: November 15, 2005 at 10:54 PM (#1733185)
Now the innovative manager is not the one who knows when the platoon, but the one who knows when not to.

I don't really know what you mean here, Booster. There is virtually no one who platoons anymore, thanks to 12 man pitching staff.

I guess if you are making the point that you shouldn't platoon Barry Bonds just because he hits better against RHers than LHers, then, of course, you are right. However, if you had a good right-handed bat on your bench or a combination of hitters whom you could use to hit for Barry when your team is facing someone like Charlie Leibrandt (against whom Barry hit .133/.188/.133) or Craig Lefferts (.241/.267/.448) or Bob McClure (.231/.286/.385) or Kent Mercker or Chris Nabholz or Bruce Ruffin or Rick Sutcliffe or John Tudor or Fernando or Viola. As great as Barry Bonds was in 1993 wouldn't there have been many days when starting Todd Benzinger (.486/.512/.730 vs. lefties) or Mark Carreon (.350/.409/.610) or Willie McGee (.319/.349/.403), heck, even Darren Lewis and his .660 OPS vs lefties would have been more sensible than Bonds?

As for Offerman, he hit .269/.337/.410 against RHers this year, while the league hit .260/.328/.412 aginst RHers. That makes him better than most hitters, although not better (I'd imagine) than most 1B hitting against righties. But Offerman wasn't really a 1B, he was really just a PHer (in which role he made 65 of his 105 ABs). And he did a pretty damn good job pinch hitting, hitting .262/.351/.400, while league PHers hit .228/.305/.333.
   18. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: November 15, 2005 at 11:17 PM (#1733233)
Anthony, do you think Barry's true talent level v. Leibrandt was .133/.188/.133 - or that Benzinger versus lefties was really a .486 hitter? I see, and agree with in part, your point, but you go too far in the above.
As for Offerman, what was the outcome of the alternative (where he wasn't the pinch hitter or a pinch hitter wasn't used)? How about the outcomes in subsequent at bats for the slot in the order?

Part of Earl's genius (from my distant and biased eye, having seriously started following baseball in the Altobelli years and knowing Weaver from reading about him, rather than watching) stemmed from his understanding that "the book" wasn't what mattered, it was the ideas behind it and in his ability and willingness to take the information available to him and apply it to those ideas in ways others didn't or wouldn't attempt.
   19. rlc Posted: November 16, 2005 at 03:36 AM (#1733540)
So [platooning] is definitely something he picked up as he went along.
That's part of it - he also picked up a switch-hitting outfielder in '75 and a switch-hitting firstbaseman in '77; this ensured that the O's virtually always had the platoon advantage in 22% of the lineup.
   20. Mike Emeigh Posted: November 17, 2005 at 12:10 AM (#1734841)
As great as Barry Bonds was in 1993 wouldn't there have been many days when starting Todd Benzinger (.486/.512/.730 vs. lefties) or Mark Carreon (.350/.409/.610) or Willie McGee (.319/.349/.403), heck, even Darren Lewis and his .660 OPS vs lefties would have been more sensible than Bonds?

You know (or should expect) that Bonds is not going to play in 162 games when you go into the season, so he's going to get some time off. Most managers nowadays do this by rote (day-game-after-night-game and the like). But it makes a lot of sense to me for the manager to look at the upcoming matchups and schedule Barry's days off in that manner, especially if there's a reasonable alternative matchup.

-- MWE

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