How Do You Replace Davey Lopes?

The Phillies and first base coach Davey Lopes were unable to come to an agreement on a salary, meaning that the base running guru will not return to the team for the 2011 season. Jim Salisbury reports:

“We just had a difference of opinion on what I felt my worth was,” Lopes said by telephone. “That’s all. It was a really tough decision because I loved my time in Philadelphia, I loved working for [manager] Charlie Manuel, and I have the utmost respect for everyone in that organization.

Already expected to lose right fielder Jayson Werth to free agency, the departure of Lopes will sting the Phillies.

Just how big of an impact did Lopes have? I tried to come up with an answer in a 2010 season preview at The Hardball Times, posted at the end of March.

With first base coach Davey Lopes, the Phillies’ base runners have been historically great. In 2007, Lopes’ first year on the job, the Phillies stole bases at an 88 percent success rate, setting an all-time Major League record. In ’08 and ’09, their success rates were 84 percent and 81 percent, respectively. From 2007-09, the Phillies were the most efficient baseball team in terms of stealing bases.

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The team has also become more aggressive under Lopes. In the three years prior to his hiring, 2004-06, the Phillies were just in the top half to top one-third in the majors in terms of base-stealing aggressiveness (attempts to steal). With Lopes, from ’07-09, the Phillies have been in the top one-fourth to one-sixth.

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While it is obvious that Lopes has made his runners attempt to steal second more often, he has also done the same at third base. Phillies runners have become more aggressive trying to steal third base.

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It isn’t just blind aggression, either. From 2007-09, the Phillies successfully stole third base 85 percent, 89 percent, and 72 percent respectively, well above the 75 percent break-even point in two out of the three years.

Despite a rash of injuries this year, the Phillies still managed to place fourth in the National League in total steals with 108 (league average was 91) and continued to set the pace in efficiency with an 84 percent success rate.

It is commonly accepted that first and third base coaches are easily replaced, and for the most part they are. But Lopes was given a much larger-than-average amount of autonomy by Charlie Manuel, allowing him to leave his unique footprint on the team’s running game.

While in the Minor Leagues, Jimmy Rollins stole bases at a 76 percent rate. In his Major League career prior to Lopes, he stole bases at an 80 percent clip. Under Lopes, that success rate went all the way up to 88 percent. For Victorino, those rates were 72, 69, and 82 percent respectively (though, to be fair, the latter includes all of his time as a regular position player). For Utley, his success rates were 70, 82, and 92 percent. Jayson Werth‘s rates were, 81, 85, and 88 percent. In all cases, the Phillies’ four best base-stealers all improved under Lopes’ tutelage.

Sadly, there is no replacing the wisdom of Davey Lopes and the Phillies’ running game will suffer because of it.

If the disagreement in salary is over something relatively small like $50,000, the Phillies made a mistake in not relenting. Cutting Lopes loose over a relatively small amount of money is an error in judgment.

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38 comments

  1. wooddt

    November 02, 2010 09:02 AM

    Could the organization think they got the most wisdom they were going to get from Lopes? He has dispensed his knowledge to the likes of Rollins, Werth, Victorino, and Utley etc. He doesn’t take that knowledge with him when he leaves. Those players already have it. Granted, there are little nuances that he adds to it, but I still think the running game will be good even with Lopes’ departure. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lopes. I just think the Phillies think they got what they needed from him and that’s it. I’m willing to bet we still see similar base-running numbers in ’11.

  2. Bill Baer

    November 02, 2010 09:03 AM

    Lopes was famous for his stop-watch and ability to read/time the pitchers. Maybe that’s something you can teach but I’d put chips on at least a slight drop in base-running aggression and efficiency.

  3. SABR

    November 02, 2010 09:20 AM

    You mention small discrepancy ($50k), but what do you think Lopes in worth in terms of wins? If he is even worth 0.5 win over a season then pay him whatever he wants since a win is worth about $2-$2.5 million, especially to a team with playoff aspirations since making the playoffs is worth so much to the organization. I think this was a really bad decision by the club, in a long line of bad decisions by the GM.

  4. Bill Baer

    November 02, 2010 09:32 AM

    I actually had something like that originally in the article but I didn’t like my methodology, and couldn’t come up with something better.

    The average team in 2010 was at about -3 EQBRR according to Baseball Prospectus. The Phillies were at about even, thanks to the injury bug. They were at 0.5 in 2009, 13.4 in ’08, and 13.3 in ’07.

    If you assume the Phillies are a 5 EQBRR team, they’re about eight runs better than the average team. Eight runs is eight-tenths of a win, and one win is worth about $6 million according to Matt Swartz’s MORP study at Baseball Prospectus.

    If you assume that the Phillies, without Lopes, regress to -3, then Lopes’ presence is worth about $5 million. Of course, there’s a lot of noise in there and it’s impossible to prove causation.

    Conservatively, I’d guess Lopes’ impact to be worth at least $1-2 million.

  5. Jake

    November 02, 2010 10:07 AM

    I hate losing Lopes but lets face it…this team isn’t a running team anymore. Old legs, swing and miss guys, pop-ups, 0-2 counts out the wazoo to the 4-5-6 hitters. Losing Lopes would have killed me in 07-09. Now it’s just another sign of an old team that needs a spark.

  6. Bill Baer

    November 02, 2010 10:14 AM

    Jake, that’s not necessarily true.

    Team K% from 2007-10: 21%, 20%, 21%, 19%
    IFFB%: 9%, 11%, 9%, 8%
    0-2 count%: 7%, 8%, 8%, 8%

    And, as mentioned above, despite injuries the Phillies still managed to have the best base-stealing efficiency and were still well above the league average in stolen bases.

    Sure, the team is older than it was two years ago but they’re not taking their positions with walkers and canes.

  7. Mike

    November 02, 2010 11:58 AM

    Also, it would have been nice to have Lopes around to work with Brown.

  8. schmenkman

    November 02, 2010 12:07 PM

    Jake,
    1) the Phillies were the 2nd toughest team in the NL to strike out this year (in terms of PAs per K).

    2) from July 1 to the end of the year (after Rollins came off the DL at the end of June), the Phillies led the NL in steals, and in stolen base attempts.

  9. Bob Stew

    November 02, 2010 01:07 PM

    The Phillies don’t like having people they can’t control, or at least people who can’t discipline themselves. Lopes wrote his ticket outta here when he leaked the Utley injury info. It is a shame, he is probably the best 1B coach in the game, and he’ll probably end up with the Mets.

  10. Phylan

    November 02, 2010 01:11 PM

    I think the “0-2 COUNTS OMG” talking point, which I’ve seen before, comes from the set that thinks Utley/Werth should swing more for some reason, despite the fact that that’s a stupid idea.

  11. Dan

    November 02, 2010 01:32 PM

    I would really, REALLY like to see Lopes work with Dom Brown, and Ben Francisco if he hasn’t already. Also, whoever we may be able to find to replace Rollins.

    All in all, I’d say not offering him some more money was a huge mistake.

  12. schmenkman

    November 02, 2010 01:44 PM

    While he may be “worth $1-2 million”, and I certainly agree he’s done a great job with the Phillies’ running game and will be missed, we don’t know what he was offered, or what he asked for.

  13. sean

    November 02, 2010 01:51 PM

    1st/3rd base coachs don’t make that much money to begin with, less then the minimum to players which is around $450k. he’ll move on just like the phillies will move on. i guess this would be a test year to see if they can continue the rate of successfull stealing, assuming injuries/age don’t skew the results first

  14. Aaron H

    November 02, 2010 01:51 PM

    I guess we can chalk up this saga to the mantra of “penny-wise, pound-foolish.” I’m guessing that RAJ couldn’t fathom paying top dollar for “only” a first base coach, even if it wouldn’t cost too much but help the team a great deal.

    You’ll probably see this in other parts of baseball-for example, most teams pay their minor leaguers next to nothing. If they gave them a decent salary and access to better training staff, it would probably be much more valuable to the organization to have these minor leaguers be more productive and healthy in the long run.

  15. CH Phan

    November 02, 2010 02:58 PM

    Well, I was hoping for the best, but I can see this is only the beginning of what will likely be more questionable decisions, at least imo. I might have to wait until April ’11 to see if I even care enough to comment on what’s left of a Phillies team I’d really loved.

    It may or may not be true that they sunk every penny they’re willing to spend into Ryan Howard. I’m sure they mean to “build a team” around him, but that logic has escaped me since that was first said to me.

    Age & money seems to be the the two excuses used so often on this team & yet Howard’s not young, neither is the rest of the team. He earns a large sum now (& more as the yrs go, as will others). Current ages & pay below:

    J. Blanton 29 $3mil (b’day 12/11)
    R. Halladay33 $15,750,000
    R. Oswalt 33 $15mil
    B. Lidge 33 $12mil
    P, Polanco 35 $5,166,666
    R. Howard 30 $19mil (b’day 11/19)
    J. Rollins 31 $8.5mil
    C. Utley 31 $15,285,714 (b’day 12/17)
    R. Ibanez 38 $12,166,666
    S. Victorino 29 $5mil (b’day 11/30)

    B. Francisco 29 $420k

    $100 – $150k and they couldn’t spend that for Lopes? It’s honestly staggering.

    And if ‘youth’ & lower paychecks are the goal for the team – then RAJ has definitely deliberately gone in the wrong direction. Find another excuse for not signing Werth b/c the old one doesn’t work.

  16. Bill Baer

    November 02, 2010 02:05 PM

    schmenkman,

    From what I read, Mike Missanelli asked him something along the lines of whether or not $300,000 was enough, and Lopes said he wasn’t even asking for that much.

  17. Dan

    November 02, 2010 02:17 PM

    What they should start doing with coaches is what they do with players that they aren’t sure of;

    Offer a base salary that isn’t worth all that much, but put all kinds of incentives in it. They could offer him a base salary of what they offered him minus $50k, and then put incentives (success rate, number of stolen bases) that add up to $50k over what he asked for. It’s a win-win.

  18. sean

    November 02, 2010 02:17 PM

    from what i’m told he was asking for between 100k-150k

  19. schmenkman

    November 02, 2010 02:24 PM

    Bill/Sean, I’m surprised the coaches don’t make more than that, and I agree — it would be a shame to lose him over $50k give or take.

  20. jdogg13

    November 02, 2010 03:34 PM

    They could have fired Perlozzo and used the money to pay Lopes and erect a permanent stop sign at third.

  21. Dan

    November 02, 2010 04:37 PM

    @jdogg,

    I LOLed.

  22. danny

    November 02, 2010 04:53 PM

    The salary I heard from a good source was 50K

  23. Scott G

    November 02, 2010 06:35 PM

    Can he leave his stop watch by first base?

    If the Phillies are hesitant to part with 50k – 100k, I’m afraid to see the “offer” they make Werth.

  24. Steve

    November 02, 2010 06:49 PM

    How much does Charlie make? Lopes may be worth more wins than he is.

  25. schmenkman

    November 02, 2010 08:17 PM

    How quickly they turn…

  26. glenn

    November 03, 2010 07:02 AM

    Hmmm…Nothing in Cot’s that show coaches salaries, or at least I didn’t see it. I still find it very hard to believe that they only offered 50K. Even 150K strikes me as absurd.

    I’m not trying to defend them, but just off the top of my head DL has to be worth at least 300K to them. Actually more, but if the lowest paid managers are around 500K/per, then 300K for a top-flight coach/instructor working for an elite level team seems to be about correct. Can’t see this FO making such an elementary (foolish) mistake.

    There has to be something else in play here. Wasn’t Pat Gillick the guy that hired Lopes? I wonder what he has to say about this.

  27. sean

    November 03, 2010 01:19 PM

    i don’t know how you can say that DL is worth 300k when that would mess up the structure already in place.

    the hierarchy for pay is head coach/pitching and batting coach and bench coach/third base coach/first base coach.

    i like lopes as much as the rest of you, but you also can’t rule out that the replacement they find is just as good/if not better. plus how do we even measure what the coaches even do? milt thompson gets fired as hitting coach, did their hitting ablity really change? if anything charlie is the real hitting coach, and the other guy just gets a pay check.

  28. Scott G

    November 03, 2010 03:40 PM

    Sean, whatever you do, don’t read the article above that contains the Phillies base running stats under Davey Lopes.

    Also, pretty much a direct parallel, I don’t know why people took a stance against Hitler, the structure was in place.

  29. David Molina

    November 03, 2010 06:36 PM

    A lowball offer to DL was a mistake. Isn’t the obvious needed change at the other corner? Get a top quality replacement!!! Don’t go cheap!!!

  30. Jonny5

    November 04, 2010 10:21 AM

    Bill, great work here. Maybe you could forward this over to Ruben??? As if it isn’t already too late… Charlie obviously felt Lopes was the best man for that job, if he gave him full control over the running game as i’ve heard. I’ll be honest, I think Sam P. is a dud. They could have given Lopes his salary, replaced Sam P. with a lesser salary and i’d have been happy.

  31. sean

    November 04, 2010 12:29 PM

    scott G whatever you do don’t look at who actually ran the bases, because it wasn’t lopes. if the phillies put up similar numbers without lopes what will you tell me next year as the reason they did it?

  32. hk

    November 04, 2010 04:01 PM

    sean,

    FWIW, through the end of the 2006 season, the quartet of Rollins, Utley, Victorino and Werth were successful on 80% of their 340 attempted steals. From 2007 through 2010, those four succeeded on 86.58% of their 447 attempted steals. I get that comparing their pre-Lopes success rates to their rates with Davey as coach does not tell the whole story, but I think it does at least offer the possibility that Lopes brings some value to the 1B coach’s box.

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  34. SAM

    November 13, 2010 12:01 AM

    Sam P is a lousy coach. Most of the time the Phillies ran right past his stop signs and scored. He’s another Steve Smith and you’ll see what a mistake it was letting Lopes go.

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