29 January 2013

Weaver on Strategy - Offense (Camden Depot Book Club)

Previously on the Camden Depot Book Club, I remarked on a few items that Weaver addressed in his first chapter of the book, Weaver on Strategy.  That chapter addressed his thoughts on Spring Training and contained a great many more thoughts than those I addressed.  This entry will address the next chapter.

Chapter 2 - The Offense
Praise be the Three Run Homer!

Home Run Offenses
During Weaver's continuous 15 year tenure, his teams were largely built upon scoring runs through home runs.  He was risk averse when it came to putting base runners in difficult positions and he deplored the bunt.  As Weaver wrote:
I've got nothing against the bunt--in its place.  But most of the time that place is the bottom of a long forgotten closet.
He then goes on length about the value of the home run versus the value of a contact hitter:
The power of the home run is so elementary that I fail to comprehend why people try to outsmart this game in other ways.  If I were to play a singles hitter in right field or left field or at third base, he'd have to hit well over .300 and get on base often to be as valuable as a twenty five homer man.
I do think Weaver overstates things here in him selling how great home runs are.  For one, offensive profiles for corner outfield and third base bats are not exactly equivalent.  Ignoring that, the statement is pretty profound in noting that he is equating a plus power hitter with a guy who not only makes successful contact, but also gets on via walks.

He then takes a little swipe at the industry perception of Charlie Lau:
As a hitting coach, Charlie Lau is known for producing .300 hitters, and he has turned out a lot of them.  But when Charlie was with a team that hit a lot of homers, they won.  When he was with a singles hitting club, they lost.
Suffice to say, Weaver was not a Juan Pierre kind of guy.  Lau is actually a pretty interesting guy.  He was a massive failure of a hitter (a below .200 hitter with no power), but bounced around due to his catching.  Upon being dealt to Baltimore in 1961, he completely re-engineered his batting stance.  He exaggerated the spread between his feet and lowered his bat in order to make more contact.  When he found was that with a higher contact rate, he hit more singles and would sometimes find himself in hitters' counts to exploit.  After he retired in 1967, he moved over to the Royals and made his name through George Brett and the Royals' athlete first movement by working on having their players focus on contact.  I imagine Weaver's comments are primarily directed to the 1977 and 1980 Royals' squads who won 102 and 97 games, respectively, with a good number of home runs to boot.

However, Weaver's words made me want to see how those words compared to the reality of the team that Baltimore constructed during his tenure.  To do that, for each year I determined the average percent of runs scored via home run.  Then I compared Baltimore's percentage to the league average.  What I wound up with was a number similar to OPS+.  For instance, a 124 value would mean that the team scored 24% more of its runs via home runs than the average team.  A 94 value would mean that the team scored 6% less via home runs than the average team.  A 100 value would be league average if the above inference was not clear.

As you can see above, only two of Weaver's 15 squads were below average in terms of how important home runs were to the team scoring runs.  It is also interesting to note that Memorial Stadium during these years tended to lean toward benefiting pitchers by being a slightly difficult place to hit a home run.  That is pretty remarkable.

Although Buck Showalter only has a shade over two years as Orioles manager under his belt, his offenses have also reflected the same tendencies as Weaver's.  In 2011, the Orioles ranked second in the AL by scoring 42% of their runs through the long ball.  Last year, that number increased to 47%.  We will see how much the Orioles will miss Mark Reynolds' power production as he has contributed 15% of the Orioles' home runs over the past two seasons (60 out of 405).

Weaver As Innovator
I mentioned velocity in the last post on Weaver on Strategy.  In that post, I noted how there was expressed wonder and amazement at Sammy Stewart throwing a 92 mile per hour fastball.  Nowadays, that sort of amazement would go for someone who throws in the upper 90s.  Heat at 92 these days needs to be well commanded with a solid secondary pitch to be of great use in the pen.  In this chapter, Weaver goes a bit more into radar guns and velocity:
The Orioles were the first team in the majors to makes extensive use of the radar gun, and I love it. It's another tool that gives a manager information.  It took me six years to convince the front office that we should have the guns in our minor league system.
Yes, Weaver was a great innovator always looking to improve himself, to improve his understanding of the game.  This really is the main idea behind Weaver and his success.  Never resting, always striving.  I think the current manager who really puts this sort of perspective out there is Joe Maddon with the Tampa Bay Rays.  I am sure other managers embrace advancement as well, but Maddon celebrates it quite vocally just like Weaver did.

In his discussion on using radar guns, he mentioned using one on his own pitchers:
When a pitcher is throwing at 88 miles per hour most of the game and then goes to the mound in the eighth inning and is at 84 miles per hour, it is a good bet he is tiring.
What, again, impresses upon me here is that my assumption of 88 miles per hour being used as an example is that this is considered typical velocity.  In 2012, 90 pitchers qualified for ERA.  Of those 90, only 14 (16%) threw an average velocity below 88.5 mph.  That includes knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.  Again, this only shows that the game has changed a great deal from the 1970s.


Next time on the Camden Depot Book Club:
Weaver on Strategy
Chapter 3
The Lineup: Pushing the Right Buttons

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