Managing is About Winning GAMES

It Ain’t Fantasy Baseball, Folks

During Sunday night’s Cubs-Cardinals game on ESPN, Joe Morgan and Jon Miller were discussing whether Soriano – with his .160 BA and .220 OBP — should continue to bat leadoff. Morgan mentioned that he thought a manager’s job is to get the most out of the players he has, instead of blindly obeying theories about who should bat where in the lineup.

For example, if certain players produce better individual stats at leadoff than elsewhere in the lineup, the manager should put them there. Bobby Bonds was brought up as an example. Miller agreed with all this.

How this leads to winning games was left as an exercise for the listener.

Manager Lou Pinniella is quoted as telling Joe Morgan during Sunday’s game:

“I played with Bobby Bonds in New York, and we traded for him from the Giants for Bobby Murcer,” Piniella told Morgan. “And we put him in the 4 hole, and boy, he floundered. And all of a sudden, two months into the season, we put him back where he was familiar in that 1 hole and he really, really flourished and just had 40-40 (steals and home runs) and over 100 RBIs and was the great player he always was.

“I think Soriano is the same type of player as Bobby Bonds, so I like him in the 1 hole. He feels comfortable there.”

The manager’s job is not to maximize individual stats of the players. The manager’s job is to maximize team production.

As Mike at BadNewsCubs points out, The Cubs scored 7.36 runs per game with Soriano out of the lineup. Since his return on May 1, they are scoring 4.5. And even that 4.5 is misleading; their totals are 3, 3, 9, 3, and 3. Throw out the high and the low and you’re stuck at 3 runs per game. The Cubs are 2-13 for the season when scoring 3 runs or less.

Wow, it’s a good thing we’re maximizing Soriano’s ability to feel good about himself.

Now, admittedly, Soriano is unlikely to hit .160 all year. He is streaky, and when he gets hot, he can carry a team for a while. So his individual production is likely to increase. But even when it does, the team is still not likely to get back up to 7.36 runs per game production. Or even 6 runs per game.

Maximizing the production of one individual is not the same thing as maximizing the production of a team. Often, the goals are conflicting. For a whole bunch of reasons, and I’m not going to get into all that now, but I will list one: leadership. Players see who helps the team and who is just out there to impress people, before striking out on 0-2 curve balls in the dirt. It isn’t all that complicated.

Contrast that with the team this year, with the insertion of Kosuke Fukudome and Geovany Soto, and especially with Soriano out of the lineup. It was a team that showed patience, and made the pitcher earn every out, and scored a whole bunch of runs. Now that Soriano is back in the leadoff spot, where he likes it best, the team is not scoring much.

The question to ask is not “where should Soriano bat”. The right question to ask is “should he be playing at all?”.

Because a manager’s job is to win games. And this team, today, as constructed right now, especially with a slumping Soriano batting leadoff, is a better team when he doesn’t play. Making a lot of money doesn’t mean you are a good baseball player; it just means your agent conned some GM into paying you that much. Maybe Lou Pinniella is getting pressured to play Soriano from above; I wouldn’t be shocked. It happens. But let’s drop the pretense that his batting leadoff has anything to do with making sure Soriano gets his stats, OK?

I’m not Bill James, or Rob Neyer, or even Billy Beane. I’m just a baseball fan who has been watching games since I was a kid, over 40 years ago now. The Cubs have been playing free-swinging, low-OBP baseball for all that time, and more. How’s that working out for them?

This year, they’ve showed us a taste of what a team can do when it plays team baseball. Winning baseball. I liked it, and I want more.

  1. Mike said:

    Well done, JBrokaw. As always, you say it better than I could.