Fun With Pythagoras, pt. 6

added 5/31/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Columnist note: This is the final edition on our series on Pythagorean record. We will simply tie up loose ends and make the data mean something for us after five editions of hard statistics.

Tim Purpura came to speak to our SABR chapter several weeks ago and told us about how much information he gets. As someone that sends him stuff every now and then it was a very humbling and enlightening experience at the same time. A few readers out there know about my dream of breaking into the baseball industry. That dream is still alive, but it is definitely colored with a different perspective after hearing about how many bright people contribute information to the club.

In one instance, he told us about someone that sent in depth weather pattern data as it related to the ball flight at Minute Maid Park. It highlights the fact that there is a fine line between information that is interesting and brilliant and information that is immediately useful. Fortunately, I’m not much of a meteorologist. Yet, it is daunting when you think about the stack of material than Purpura and Tal Smith go through on a daily basis.

Many of you that have been patient with me to this point are probably wondering what all of those numbers mean at the end of the day. In many cases, the categories overlap and cancel each other out. I find the best way to approach these situations is to approach it like a scientist. As the saying goes, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics”. This is particularly true when someone tries to justify a pet theory of their’s with statistics. Instead, we should evaluate every factor before making any conclusions.

In this case, we find that managing, offense, and defense plays a role. None of them explain everything and even combined the problem with underachieving cannot be explained. There are two assumptions we can make on that. First, we could say that the other factors have yet to be determined. Secondly, we could assume that the remainder is luck. I refuse to believe in luck to this extent. If you choose to believe in luck then you’re choosing to believe that luck is positive or negative over a long period of time. How does one quantify luck? How do we change luck?

In many instances, luck can become a bullet-proof excuse for not succeeding. You can’t do anything about luck, so we came in second and are destined to be second because we will perpetually have bad luck. Part of this delusion includes omitting instances of good luck from our memory. Good luck turns into clutch performance or great play. So, luck by its very definition cannot be quantified, so it is virtually useless to us. What are we going to do, instruct scouts to find “lucky players”? Maybe they can have every player buy lottery tickets and sign the player that wins the most.

Picking a Manager

I hate to continually criticize ownership because I think Drayton McLane means well. He has stepped up to the plate in the last two seasons enough to make me regret some of the things I said about him in my book. Yet, the managerial situation is one area where I have to.

The decision to hire Jimy Williams was predicated on his winning percentage. We need to discard that statistic entirely. Williams managed very talented Blue Jays teams a very good teams in Boston. If he didn’t win more games than he lost then he would have been universally regarded an idiot. Yet, he wins nothing in terms of division titles or pennants, but he is considered “one of the best baseball guys in the game.” Hogwash. Williams was experienced at coming in second (he had in every full season of his managerial career), so in Houston he came in second twice.

When looking for a manager you should look for one of three things. First, someone that took good teams and won big. Joe Torre isn’t special, but he has gotten the Yankees to the brink and over many times. Mike Hargrove is a good example of a manager that did okay with great talent, but hasn’t done much since. The second possibility is a manager that took average talent and made them pretty good. Jack McKeon is a good example of this with the Reds in 1999 and the Marlins in 2003. The third category to look for are guys that may be new, but has a baseball philosophy that is conducive to overachieving.

As for the Astros, when you have an 80 million dollar payroll, but you pay in the middle of the pack for a manager you get what you pay for. It’s hard to buy the best player at any position because of the cost, but in the case of the manager you might pay an extra million or two a season. If its worth an extra four to five wins season to have a top notch manager then why not? Players that contribute that kind of additional production usually cost that much more.