Raul Ibanez and Ruben Amaro: On Notice

Scott Lauber reported yesterday, after the Phillies had signed Placido Polanco, that recent signee and left fielder Raul Ibanez helped to recruit The Forehead for the former WFC’s. Polanco got a three-year, $18 million deal that will end when he’s nearly 38 years old.

Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is reporting that the Seattle Mariners and Chone Figgins are very close to agreeing on a four-year, $36 million deal. Ken-Ro adds, “The contact will include a $9 million vesting option for 2013, bringing the potential value of the package to $45 million.”

As I explained yesterday, the Polanco signing was misguided for a number of reasons, among them was the alacrity with which Rube opened his checkbook for a mediocre, aging second baseman third baseman. There are two main reasons why a GM would want to be so quick to sign a player, and that’s if he’s A) being heavily pursued by other teams and/or B) if he’s signing for significantly under market value.

About a month ago, I evaluated all of the free agent third basemen likely to pique the Phillies’ interest (at that point, Polanco was but a small blip on the radar). I concluded that, in 2009, Figgins was worth nearly 7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), covering all of offense, defense, and base running. And yesterday, we learned that Polanco is worth about 3 WAR. In dollar amounts, Polanco is worth about $14 million, which isn’t bad. However, Figgins was worth about $30.5 million last season.

So, we have a simple calculation to determine the better investment. The Phillies could have paid Figgins $9 million annually for nearly $31 million of production (3.4 times their investment) or Polanco $6 million annually for $14 million of production (2.3 times their investment). We, of course, assume Figgins will produce at his 2009 level, which isn’t the most likely scenario. Let’s lop off a full win. He’s still worth nearly three times the $9 million investment at 5.8 WAR and 2.5 times at 5.0 WAR.

This is exactly why I said two weeks ago that we cannot abstain from being critical of Ruben Amaro, even though he made some head-scratching maneuvers for the 2009 team that did not backfire. There are plenty of third basemen for everyone: Figgins, Polanco, Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, Joe Crede, Pedro Feliz again. Inquiries about Mark Teahen of the Kansas City Royals could have been made. No need to be a quick draw with the wallet — it’s a buyer’s market.

Let’s recap Amaro’s off-season so far:

  • Paid $700,000 for one year of Juan Castro, who turns 38 on June 20. He has a career OPS+ of 57, possesses no base running skills. His calling card is defensive versatility in the infield. Sound like someone familiar? He’s an older version of Eric Bruntlett (career 64 OPS+) with worse legs.
  • Signed Brian Schneider to a two-year, $2.75 million deal. That was three days ago, so some factors may have changed, but that certainly doesn’t seem favorable now that Gregg Zaun has signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.4 million and incentives that could bring it to $2.25 million. Another example of why acting quickly in the off-season is poor strategy. I was, however, a supporter of the signing at the time.
  • Signed Placido Polanco to a three-year, $18 million deal with a mutual option for a fourth year.

We use retrospect here because it demonstrates how Ruben Amaro could have signed a better back-up infielder (Adam Everett, anyone?), back-up catcher (Zaun), and starting third baseman (Figgins) for only slightly more — about $5 million — than he spent on Castro, Schneider, and Polanco if he had simply not acted like a kid in a candy store. The Phillies have had an incredible showing at the turnstiles for two straight seasons, so the payroll should not be regressing.

Like his predecessor Pat Gillick, Amaro’s best work appears to come during the season. That is unfortunate because it costs the Phillies more than simply money and draft pick lottery tickets.

That’s why I am now putting Amaro and Ibanez (who recruited Polanco) on notice. Any more slip-ups and they’ll be Dead to Me.

Chris Jaffe’s Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: Gene Mauch

Chris Jaffe is the author of the book Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876–2008. If you’re like me and a huge baseball fan, it already sounds interesting, but Chris was nice enough to forward me an excerpt from his book about a Phillies-related manager he studied.

You may recall Gene Mauch as the manager of the worst collapse one of the worst collapses in baseball history when he was at the helm of the 1964 Phillies squad, but there is a lot more to the man besides that blemish. Jaffe’s study on Mauch reveals there is much more to a manager than simply rolling dice and preventing mutiny. Here is an excerpt from Evaluating Baseball Managers on Mauch. Both Chris and I hope you enjoy learning about a former Phillies manager.

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Gene Mauch

W/L Record: 1,902-2,037 (.483)
Managed:

Full Seasons: Philadelphia 1960-67; Montreal 1969-75; Minnesota 1976-79; California 1982, 1985-87

Majority in: Minnesota 1980; California 1981

Minority of:  Philadelphia 1968

Birnbaum Database: +231 runs

Individual Hitters: +163 runs
Individual Pitchers: +56 runs
Pythagenpat Difference: -59 runs
Team Offense: +75 runs
Team Defense: -10 runs

Team Characteristics: Befitting his reputation, Mauch loved playing inside baseball.  His teams bunted constantly, focused on platoon advantage, and had numerous in-game substitutions and pinch hitters.  He did a little bit of pitcher leveraging early in his career (most notably Jim Owens had an AOWP+ of 106 in 22 starts in 1960), but he never did it that much.

LPA: 2.73 (through 1965 only)
LPA+: 80 (through 1965 only)

Few men have been as widely heralded for their ability to manage the game as Gene Mauch.  Though he had the longest managerial career without a pennant, even his detractors acknowledged that his mind contained a comprehensive understanding of the game.  He was one of the game’s leading tinkerers, always looking for that little extra edge on the opponent.  Three tendencies especially stand out.

First, Gene Mauch loved to bunt.  He would have anyone bunt: from 1967-80, everyone with at least 300 plate appearances in a season for him had at least one sacrifice hit.  Seven players on his 1979 Twins cracked double digits in sacrifices.  The team’s second basemen (not just the starter, but the total performance from everyone playing that position) combined for 36 sacrifice hits.  Since 1956, no other team’s second basemen have cracked 28.  That squad’s third basemen had twenty bunts, tied for the most by any squad in the Retrosheet era.  Similarly, the most bunts ever attained by a team’s catchers came from Mauch’s 1982 Angels, with 24.  Only one other team had more than nineteen.  Bob Boone, Mauch’s starting catcher that year, bunted more times than his previous six seasons combined.  Since 1956, at least one of Mauch’s teams rank in the top five in sacrifice bunts from shortstop, designated hitter, and right field.  Incredibly, none of his pitching staffs are in the top 140.  For other managers, the bunt was a default move.  For Mauch, it was a weapon – hence the difference with pitchers.

By reputation, Mauch was the all-time champion of bunting to move the runner into scoring position.   Thanks to the Retrosheet’s work, this can be verified.  One split generated by that website’s data shows what all teams did with a runner on first and the remaining bases empty.  Looking at how likely teams were to sacrifice in that situation (sacrifice hits divided by total plate appearances in that split), Mauch’s dominance is overwhelming.  He managed nine of the 23 most bunt-prone squads, and sixteen of the top 64 (out of 1,316 teams since 1956).

Over his career, Mauch called 86% of his bunts with only a runner on first, which is the highest percentage by any manager who lasted four or more full seasons in the last half-century.  That should not happen.  Across all baseball, most bunts occur with a runner on first and no one else on.  By bunting more than anyone else (not just in this split, but overall as well), it should be that much harder for Mauch to be the manager with the highest percentage of bunts called with a runner on first and the remaining bases empty.  Clearly, Mauch was passionate about bunting his runners into scoring position.

Bunting a player from first to second provides a crucial advantage: it removes the possibility of a double play.  The twin killing was also something Mauch had an intense interest in.  Not only did he try to prevent his batters from hitting into them, but he wanted his defenders performing them.  As noted in the Hughie Jennings commentary, the following formula in the Tendencies Database determines which defenses did the best job turning double plays based on opportunity:  DP/(H-2B-3B-HR+BB+HB-SH-SB-CS).  It is double plays turned divided by the times someone should have been on first base.  The following managers’ squads were the most adept at turning two:

Most Double Plays Turned
Danny Murtaugh    0.497
Earl Weaver        0.531
Gene Mauch        0.591
Casey Stengel        0.667
Whitey Herzog    0.670

Murtaugh scores the highest, but he had uber-whiz Bill Mazeroski at second base.  Earl Weaver also benefited from spending his entire career with one team and a core of defensive specialists up the middle.  In contrast, Mauch, constantly created new double play combinations.  Account for that, and Mauch may have been baseball’s best at coaxing double plays from his fielders.  He found the best gloves he could, coached them to focus on the double play, and had them positioned so they could pull it off.  Mauch took advantage of whatever little nooks and crannies existed for the manager to increase the number of double plays turned.  On several occasions, Mauch famously used a defensive alignment featuring five infielders and two outfielders, a maneuver that greatly aided the likelihood of a double play.

By the Tendencies Database’s double play formula, Gene Mauch ran the two best teams in history at this play.  Incredibly, they were separate franchises with completely different middle infielders – the 1979 Twins and 1985 Angels.  Both turned a double play in 14.9% of all opportunities while no other units are over 14.7%.  Mauch managed two of the only seven teams in the last half-century that turned over 200 double plays. With each of the four teams he managed, he set franchise defensive records that still stand for most double plays in a season: 179 with the 1961 Phillies, 193 with the 1970 Expos, 203 with the 1979 Twins, and 202 with the 1985 Angels.

Delving into team splits data makes Mauch’s interest in players who could make the double play even more apparent.  Add together splits at Baseball-Reference.com that includes a runner on first base (a runner only on first, runners on first and second, runners on the corners, and bases loaded), and use the formula DP/(PA-K-BB-HR-HB-SB-CS-PK) to determine how successful squads were at turning this play when they had the opportunity.  Six Mauch teams led the league; those squads featured five different starting second baseman and four shortstops.  Another half-dozen Mauch-managed clubs came in second place.
Due to his intense focus on the double play, Mauch’s teams greatly benefited from this play.  Only once did his batters hit into more than 140 double plays in a season while Mauch’s defenders pulled off at least 141 double plays every season except his rookie campaign and the strike shortened 1981 season.  Each one of the 26 teams Mauch managed pulled off more double plays than they hit into.

However, the previous sentence is not quite as impressive as it sounds.  League-wide, double plays turned are always higher than those grounded into.  That sounds impossible – because for every double play hit into, another is turned – yet that is the case.  Baseball has three main statistical reference sources: the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Baseball-Reference.com, and Retrosheet.  The ESPN book gives defensive double plays, but not offensive ones hit into.  Retrosheet has team totals for GIDP, but not DP.  (Retrosheet does provide double plays for the years they have game logs, but not earlier, and the game logs from the 1950s onward are sometimes incomplete).  Baseball-Reference alone features both.  Its GIDP info matches Retrosheet and its team DP numbers are the same as ESPN’s book, yet Baseball-Reference’s league-wide DP are always higher than their GIDP.  Sometimes, every single team in a league has more DP turned than hit into.  I do not know the reason for this discrepancy.  My best guess is that the GIDP counts only those double plays grounded into, and not outfield flies, or strike out/throw out double plays.

That puts us in a quandary.  Mauch clearly benefited from double plays on both sides of the ball, yet it is difficult to put the two halves together.  There is no perfect way to solve this riddle, but an effective rough approximation exists.  Take the 1961 NL, for example: every team in that league supposedly turned more double plays than they hit into, for a combined difference of 294 DPs.  At eight teams, that was a difference of 36.75 double plays per club – so adjust all teams in the league by that.  In 1961, Mauch’s Phillies grounded into 130 double plays while their defenders turned 179.  That difference of 49 becomes 12.25 when adjusted by the league average differential (49 – 36.75 = 12.25).  Once the same adjustment is made for all teams in each league in every season, estimated double play differentials can be determined for all managers.  The following had the best career marks:

Best Adjusted Double Play Differentials
Casey Stengel        +537 double plays
Gene Mauch        +423 double plays
Roger Craig         +326 double plays
Whitey Herzog    +285 double plays
Sparky Anderson    +283 double plays

Only one other manager is over +200 (Phil Garner at +212).  By this reckoning, Mauch had 22 teams benefit from double plays.  Only once (1973 Expos) did he have a team do worse than –10.

Mauch also fixated on platoon advantage, a fact Retrosheet’s splits can verify.  Those splits contain righty/lefty breakdowns for all teams’ pitching staffs and offenses for the last half-century.  Determine what percentage of each teams’ plate appearances contained the platoon edge, and likewise for the batters faced by their pitchers.  Run both items through the Tendencies Database, and add them together to determine which managers since 1956 had the greatest overall interest in ensuring their squads had the platoon advantage working in their favor:

Combined Platoon Advantage
Gene Mauch        1.098
Bruce Bochy        1.332
Whitey Herzog    1.354
Frank Robinson    1.402
Bill Virdon        1.420

Mauch dominates this list.  He scored best overall with pitchers, and second with hitters.  Whitey Herzog beats him in the latter category, but only because he possessed numerous switch hitters in St. Louis.  Five times Mauch’s hitters had the platoon advantage in the highest percentage of plate appearances in the league.  His pitchers topped the league nine times.

One aspect of Mauch’s managerial style appears out of place with the overall thrust of his career: he had little interest in the stolen base.  His teams were not historically averse to stealing, but it is not what one would expect from such a staunch supporter of the game’s details.  However, Mauch’s interest in the bunt negated the point of stealing.  Most steals are of second base, and his teams bunted their way there.  To steal, a team needs players with speed, but nearly anyone can be taught to bunt competently.

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A hearty thank you to Chris Jaffe for sharing a Phillies-related excerpt from his book Evaluating Baseball Managers. If you enjoyed that, make sure to pick yourself — and your friends and family — a copy for the holiday season.

If you’d like to hear Mr. Jaffe’s thoughts on more modern managerial affairs, check out my two-part interview with him from September at Baseball Daily Digest: