Monday, June 29, 2009

Except for the Last Game...

...OSU baseball had a wonderful season, its best since 2003. But the last game was so dreadful that the success of the season will be overlooked by those who don't follow the team closely (which, since we're talking about college baseball, is just about everybody).

The sad truth is that Florida State laid a whooping for the ages on the Buckeyes in the first regional final game, a 37-6 rout in which multiple NCAA Tournament records were broken. It also broke several OSU futility records. OSU has played 3,810 games, and the previous high mark for runs allowed was 24 (incidentally, one of these occurrences was against the Seminoles in 1978, the other against Central Michigan in 1990). The worst loss in OSU annals was 20 (23-3 to Miami-FL in 1999 and 22-2 to New Mexico in 2002).

There's no doubt that the last act was a downer, and it highlighted the team's one glaring weakness (pitching depth), which had been on display all season long. However, the carnage should not be allowed to overshadow the fact that OSU was one of the last 32 teams standing in the NCAA Tournament and had dispatched Georgia earlier in the day to finish second in the Tallahassee regional.

OSU started with a fairly soft non-conference schedule, but it set the team up well for conference success. The Bucks won their first seven contests and were sitting at 18-3 entering Big Ten play. The biggest non-conference game was at Miami-FL, where Alex Wimmers pitched five strong innings on three days rest in a 7-1 victory.

The Big Ten switched from a four-game weekend series (with a Saturday doubleheader made up of seven inning games) to a standard three-game series. This change was fortuitous to OSU in this particular season as it reduced the importance of second-line pitchers. The Bucks won a series at Penn State and lost at Minnesota to open the conference season. At 3-3, they were in the middle of the early pack and lost ground to Minnesota, who figured to be one of the top contenders.

The Bucks were able to jump into first place with back-to-back sweeps (MSU at home and Purdue on the road), but even after taking two of three in the next three series (Northwestern, the forces of evil, and at fellow contender Illinois), they had fallen out of first by a half-game to Minnesota.

In the final weekend, OSU was able to sweep Iowa at home, meaning they would need just one Penn State win over Minnesota to take the title. On Sunday, Penn State obliged, and the Buckeyes had their first regular season Big Ten title since 2001.

Meanwhile, the weekday games (generally non-conference home games against weaker area opponents) had not been going as smoothly as usual. OSU's record in these games was just 3-6 (although two of the losses came at Louisville, a strong club and an exception to the normal scheduling).

Here is Ohio's record in non-conference home games (essentially mid-week games, with exceptions like Louisville) over the last five seasons:

2005: 6-1
2006: 5-2
2007: 5-4
2008: 6-3
2009: 3-4

This is another manifestation of the pitching problems (of course, the sample size of seven games could be a factor as well). Winning the Big Ten title with a sub-.500 record in those games is an oddity.

The Big Ten tournament was held in Columbus; under the old format, which was in place until this season, it would have been at Bill Davis Stadium. But for the first time the Big Ten tried a neutral site, off-campus location for the tournament, namely the Clippers' brand-new Huntington Park. OSU beat Illinois in the opener 7-4, but Indiana and Minnesota each roughed up the Buckeye staff (13-3 and 9-6) to consign them to a third-place finish.

In the NCAA Tournament, the Bucks were made a #3 seed in the Tallahassee region with #1 Florida State, #2 Georgia, and #4 Marist. A disastrous eight run first inning enabled Georgia to cruise to a 24-8 win (again, the second-line pitching was brought in to be drubbed), but OSU stayed alive with a 6-4 win over Marist. Meeting Georgia for the right to play for the regional title against Florida State, the Bucks rallied from a 4-0 deficit for a 13-6 win. The season ended with the FSU game, already covered above.

The Buckeyes finished first in the B10 with a .689 EW%, fifth with a .540 EW% (Minnesota led at .635), and fourth in PW% (Indiana led at .639). Of course, these measures were affected by the blowout loss to FSU and some other blowouts throughout the season (not all of which went against Ohio, of course, but more did than didn't).

As a whole, the defense allowed 7.3 runs/game, ninth in the Big Ten--this despite the fact that Bill Davis Stadium is a fairly strong pitcher's park. The pitching staff had two shining bright spots. The first was sophomore Alex Wimmers, who went from a potentially brilliant but maddeningly inconsistent middle reliever to staff ace. Wimmers had multiple double digit strikeout games, pitched the first nine-inning no-hitter in OSU history on May 2 against the servants of evil, was the co-Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, and was named a first-team All-American by PING. He averaged 11.7 K/9 and was 35 runs better than an average Big Ten pitcher.

Senior closer Jake Hale also had an amazing season. A starter as a freshman and junior and the closer as a soph, he returned to the pen and set the OSU single season saves record with 18, appearance record with 40, and career save record with 29. He had a 11.0 K/9 and was +25 RAA in just 55 innings, and was drafted by Arizona in the 27th round.

Beyond that pair, OSU had three pitchers of moderate effectiveness. Sophomore reliever Drew Rucinski led the team in wins at 12-2, and early in the year was lights out. He faded a bit down the stretch, and ended at just +3 RAA (Rucinski's season stats, like those for most of the pitchers that follow, were hurt by their battering in the Florida State game, which for many of them was their third appearance in a must-win game in two days.)

The other two starters, sophomore Dean Wolosiansky and junior Eric Best each checked in at -3 RAA. Past that, the pitching was a disaster, as six other pitchers combined for 133 innings and a 13.53 RA. Most disappointing was that sophomore lefty Andrew Armstrong (penciled in the rotation with Wimmers and Wolosiansky) was derailed by injuries as was strong-armed freshman righty Ross Oltorik (a walk-on quarterback in the fall).

Coming into the season, I and other followers of the team felt that pitching depth might be a strength. Oops. However, most people felt that the offense would continue to be mediocre and woefully lacking in power, and that was decidedly not the case. The Bucks scored 7.9 runs/game to pace the conference, led in BA at .328, were second in OBA at .390 (Purdue, .395), and first in SLG at .495. Rather than lacking in power, the Buckeyes were second in the conference with 118 doubles (Indiana, 119), first with 66 longballs, and first with a .168 ISO.

Sophomore catcher Dan Burkhart had a breakout season, taking Big Ten Player of the Year honors with a .354/.438/.589, +21 RAA performance and solid defense behind the plate. At first base, sophomore Matt Streng was forced into action and acquitted himself fairly well with a surprising 8 homer, +3 RAA campaign. Junior second baseman Cory Kovanda did a great job getting on base, tying for the team-lead with 33 walks, finishing second to Burkhart in OBA at .427, and winding up +10 RAA despite lacking power (.101 ISO). At shortstop, sophomore Tyler Engle didn't do much well except get on base, but drawing 28 walks in just 130 at bats enabled him to post a respectable .285/.411/.423, +3 season.

Senior captain Justin Miller was ice cold early in the season, and wound up at third base after the expected starter, junior Brian DeLucia, went down with a finger injury. Miller closed his career with a .310/.369/.506, +4 season. The key infield reserve was junior Cory Rupert, who saw significant time at short and third, struggling to .279/.329/.388, -8.

Junior left fielder and leadoff man Zach Hurley teamed with Kovanda to form a dynamic on base duo at the top of the lineup (.346/.421/.510, +15), and was picked by Florida in the 45th round of the draft. Junior college transfer Michael Stephens (a junior in eligibility) manned center ably and while billed as having doubles power, paced the team with 14 round-trippers and wound up at .346/.375/.608, +13. The hole in his game was his walk rate, with just 11 in 237 at bats. In right field, senior Michael Arp was not particular productive, hitting .295/.345/.405, -7 RAA. Junior DH Ryan Dew finally delivered on his offensive promise, hitting .388/.420/.562, +16. Those four combined to play almost all of the available innings in the outfield.

The early outlook for the 2010 Buckeyes is bright. Most of the key players return, with Jake Hale, Justin Miller, and Michael Arp the only senior starters. Given Hurley's low draft position, it is likely that he'll be back as well. Hopefully OSU will be able to find some freshman pitching that can at least soak up innings, and get Armstrong and Oltorik healthy to go along with Wimmers, Wolosiansky, and Best. This season showed that it's possible to achieve great things with a paper thin staff, but it's not a feat that Bob Todd will want to attempt again any time soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Thought There Were Nine Players on a Team...

Alternate title: The Indians lost to a team with a 7-man lineup? Figures...

Monday, June 22, 2009

And Again...

Today I received my copy of the Baseball Research Journal, 2009 Volume 1 from SABR. As I have said before, the increase in the quality of the BRJ from the mid-90s to now has been remarkable, and much credit is due to the contributors as well as to SABR's publication directors. I look forward to reading it and I may devote a post down the road to my comments on particular articles.

However, escaping the continuing reuse of a particular offensive statistic appears to be too much to ask for. Quickly skimming the statistical pieces, I came across "Offensive Strategy and Efficiency in the United States and Dominican Republic" by Robert J. Reynolds and Steven M. Day, which appears to be a study of the shape of offensive performance of American and Dominican batters. Just flipping through it, the graph "Plate Appearance Base Average" caught my eye and raised my suspicions.

Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. This is yet another presentation of bases/something, this time bases/plate appearance. The authors write "...we use on-base percentage and introduce the statistic plate-appearance base average as a plate-appearance analog to slugging percentage. PABA is calculated as the sum of the bases achieved in three categories--hitting (TB), BB, and HBP--divided by the total number of plate appearances: (TB + BB + HBP)/TPA...PABA is similar to bases per plate appearance and runs created, though these later include stolen bases, and advancing other players through sacrifices."

At least one can rejoice that they are not claiming to be the originators of this statistic as many others have. It appears as if they use both OBP and PABA to determine overall effectiveness, which at least somewhat defuses a major downfall of bases/PA in isolation, which is that it does not properly account for outs. Still, it would be nice to be spared the "introduction" of bases/PA, and it would be nice to see a better metric used as the primary offensive measure.

Last week, I linked to a new website, the Barry Code, which features the work of Barry Codell, the creator of Base-Out Percentage, which was one of the first bases/something metrics and the first bases/out metric. Many others have come along with bases/out metrics (most famously Tom Boswell's Total Average), but Codell was the first. While I have my qualms about any base/something metric, bases/out is certainly the "better" form (better in the sense that it better captures a player or team's true offensive efficiency), and at the very least was a nifty idea at the time of its introduction. It is a continuing frustration of mine that people keep re-"inventing" these measures, with seemingly no knowledge of the work of others that went before them, which in the internet age can be discovered with a cursory Google search.

To be fair, Messrs. Reynolds and Day don't fall into this category exactly, as they make no claim to developer status. Still, the relentless recycling of bases/PA (and re-invention of bases/out) remains one of my top sabermetric pet peeves.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mid-Season Managerial Changes, 1982-2008

Disclaimer: This is not so much a study as it is a collection of data. There is no claim that the data is statistically significant; although I will use it in the course of discussion, I am not making any formal claims. You will also note that I have included a number of graphs; they don't do much for me (I'd rather just have the data table), but some readers may find them helpful in this case. With any of the images, you can click on them to enlarge as they may be tough to read otherwise.

I started with 1982 because it seemed like a good cutoff point--I didn't want to go too far back, and strike years cause a bit of a problem. I'm certainly not claiming that there is any fundamental difference with regard to managerial dismissals between, say, 1978 and 1982.

I counted all permanent managerial changes that occurred during the season with four exceptions, identified by either the Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball or my memory as not baseball related. The three exceptions are:

1. Dick Howser, KC 1986--medical issue
2. Pete Rose, CIN 1989--banned from baseball
3. Tommy Lasorda, LA 1996--medical issue
4. Larry Dierker, HOU 1999--medical issue

Only the first change is counted for any team-season. If there is an initial interim replacement, and later a permanent replacement, I have lumped them together as most of the interim stints are just a couple of games. I have tried to use the word "change" primarily, but sometimes I have lapsed into "fired", even though some certainly were resignations (and unless my memory from two years ago has been completely fried, Mike Hargrove's departure from Seattle really was a resignation). I'm not using "fired" as a technical term, here, okay?

I have a link to the spreadsheet I used at the end of the post, if you are interested. I am going to do this in a Q-and-A format:

At what point in the season did managerial changes occur?

The earliest (in terms of games) changes came after six games: Cal Ripken (BAL, 1988) and Phil Garner (DET, 2002). Each team started 0-6.

The latest change came after 160 games, when Larry Bowa (PHI, 2004) was let go and Gary Varsho managed the final two games.

The average change came after 80 games, which seems logical. The median was 75.5 games. No team made a change at the exact halfway point of 81 games; in 1990 both Jack McKeon (SD) and Whitey Herzog (STL) were replaced after 80 games, while Bob Boone lasted 82 games for KC in 1997 and Jerry Narron the same for Cincinnati a decade later.

Here is a table showing the number of games elapsed when a change was made. "0" means that the change occurred after 1-9 games; "10" after 10-19; and so on:

And a graph of the same:

The pattern seems to be a lull after the All-Star break; if you make it to the halfway point, are relatively safe for a month, month and a half. Then things pick up again towards the tail end of the season.

Which franchises made the most changes?

During the period in question, every major league franchise has made at least one mid-season change. I expected that the team with the most would be the Yankees, but I was wrong--they are in an eight-way tie for fourth with five changes. The Reds have changed managers seven times mid-stream since 1982 (eight if you count Rose's banishment):

1982: Russ Nixon replaced John McNamara
1984: Pete Rose replaced Vern Rapp
1993: Davey Johnson replaced Tony Perez
1997: Jack McKeon replaced Ray Knight
2003: Ray Knight and Dave Miley replaced Bob Boone
2005: Jerry Narron replaced Dave Miley
2007: Pete Mackanin replaced Jerry Narron

While there are five teams that made just one mid-season change, but three are fourth-wave expansion teams (and two of them have pulled the plug on their manager in 2009). The two longstanding franchises that made just one change are Pittsburgh (Pete Mackanin for Llloyd McClendon, 2005) and Los Angeles (N) (Glenn Hoffman for Bill Russell, 1998).

Has the frequency of mid-season firings changed over time?

Indeed it has, and the change to the division/playoff format of 1994 *appears* to be a reasonable explanation for the altered behavior. Here are the changes by year; N is the number of major league teams:

The maximum of 31% (8 of 26) was reached in both 1988 and 1991. The only seasons without any changes were 2000 and 2006. Here is the percentage in graph form:

I also figured a moving three-year average and produced a graph (the years on the x-axis are the first years of the three-year period):

1992-1994 saw a nosedive in the frequency of firings, one from which there has been a bit of a recovery, but never to a frequency any higher than the 1991-1993 period. 1994 certainly poses a problem due to the strike (and 1995 to a lesser extent with a 144 game schedule), but even if you ignore the three-year periods starting between 1992 and 1994 (i.e. those that include 1994), the rate of changes has dropped.

It certainly seems logical to me that the existence of four additional playoff spots led to a reduction in firings. More teams remain in the hunt despite slow starts, and a slow start is easier to overcome.

Summing it up, in the period 1982-1993, 19% of teams fired their manager mid-season. From 1996-2008, that rate has fallen to 10%. A difference of about 9% in a league of thirty teams is three (2.7) fewer changes per season.

Did teams improve their record after the change?

Yes, they did. The composite record prior to changes was 3562-4580 (.437); after changes it was 3881-4390 (.469). The total season record for the teams was 7443-8970 (.453).

76 of the 102 teams had a better record after the change than before (75%).

Of course you have to be very careful with this data. Cito Gaston was fired with a 72-85 record in 1997 and Mel Queen took over and went 4-1. Thus the 1997 Blue Jays count as a team that improved their record, but obviously one would not want to draw any conclusions from five games. Teams like that also can cause the aggregate records to be distorted.

Nonetheless, I am comfortable with the conclusion that teams generally had better records post-change. The improvement from aggregate wins and losses was .032. The average improvement (weighting all teams equally, even teams like the Gaston/Queen Jays) was .055. The median of the same was .045.

A better approach might be to take a weighted average, with the weight determined by the minimum of games before/after the change. Gaston managed 157 games and Queen managed 5, so the 1997 Jays will be weighted at 5. A team in which the change was made at the exact halfway point would get the maximum possible weight, 81.

Doing it this way, the average improvement is .046. Attempting something else in lieu of more advanced mathematical techniques, one could try weighting by the harmonic mean of games before and games after (2*before*after/(before + after), which you may recognize as Bill James' Power/Speed Number. It's also 2/(1/before + 1/after)). Done in this manner, the weighted average improvement is .049.

But don't teams that fire their managers generally feel as if they are underperforming? Could some (most? all?) of the difference in performance after the change be a result of regression to the mean?

Now that is a good question. And yes, I believe that is what is really going on here, although what follows in no way proves it.

What I would really like to do, if I had a lot more patience for this kind of thing than I actually possess and a better database, is this:

1) figure an expected record for each team in MLB during this period
2) for each team that made a managerial change, find a team (or teams) with similar records and expected records at the point at which the change is made
3) compare the performance of the teams that made a change with those that stayed the course

I *suspect* that if one did such a study, they would find that the performance of the two groups of teams was very similar, and that there was little proof that the managerial change was the impetus for improvement.

I do have a poor man's study here for you, though. In the Bill James Guide to Managers, James figured an expected record for each team based 50% on the previous year's record, 25% on .500, and 12.5% on each the second and third most-recent records. For example, the Angels played .438 ball in 1993, .409 in 1994, and .538 in 1995. So their expected record for 1996 was:

.5(.538) + .25(.500) + .125(.438 + .409) = .500

I figured expected records in this manner for each team that made a managerial change. Obviously, this is a crude approach and thus the study built on it is crude.

The teams that made managerial changes had a combined expected record of .492. Before the change they were had an aggregate W% of .437; after, .469; and for the season as a whole, .453. At the time of the change, 91 of the 102 teams had a lower than expected record (89%).

So one might well expect that many of these teams would improve on their own, whether a managerial change was made or not. It is of course impossible to say to what extent that is true . One must grant the possibility, however far-fetched it may be, that these managers were all an albatross around the neck of the club, dragging it down and preventing it from reaching its true potential. I don't buy it, certainly not in the majority of cases. Managers are relatively fungible, and so they are offered up as penance for a poor season, demonstrating to the fans or the players or the media that the brass is being proactive.

The teams went from playing at 89% of expectation before the change to 95% after. Even after the change, the teams did not play up to expectations, but the method of setting expectations is nowhere near accurate enough to get carried away with this tidbit. Ideally, the actual rosters would be used to set expectations, and you would account for injuries and the like.

Here is a spreadsheet listing all of the changes, along with the expected records.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Schedule Oddity

As of June 14, here are the games played for each AL team against each division:

One of these things is not like the others...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

This is...uh...interesting...

Barry Codell developed Base-Out Percentage, which was essentially the first of the many bases/something ratios, and the first bases/outs ratio. While I have written about this proliferation before, one certainly cannot blame Mr. Codell, as he was the pioneer. While I have my issues (explained in the link) with these metrics, there is no doubt that outs are crucial, and Codell was one of the first to take them into account, and may well have been the first to explicitly make them the denominator in an overall offensive measure. So I'm not here to criticize Mr. Codell or bash BOP.

However, the creator of this new website, (which features Codell's statistics and some of his articles), is just a tad over the top in his devotion: *Compiled by IBAR: Individual for Baseball’s Absolute Recounting. Barry was the first; we "Barry Coders" are naturally next. Not to be confused with SABR, IBAR seeks not to join the group, but to be "a one"! - see S. Kierrkegaard "Maieutic Baseball". Codell's recounting inspires us to tell a different tale, a baseball history, itself uncovering missed mystery, with "something new to say about every player who did ever play..."

I'll leave the question of how much of it is cheeky and how much of it is serious up to you. I'm sticking with "...uh, interesting..."

Monday, June 08, 2009


* Steve Phillips took a lot of hits on the internet (and rightfully so) for his petty and relentless attack on Carlos Beltran during the May 17 Sunday night game on ESPN between the Mets and Giants, and rightfully so. However, I personally felt that his comments on May 24 during the Brewers/Twins game were even more absurd.

ESPN had a graphic showing the number of major leaguers who were in the Armed Forces during World War I and World War II. Instead of simply thanking those men for their service, or praising the "Greatest Generation" or something else that most normal people might do when discussing World War veterans, Phillips used this as a soapbox to savage today's generation of players for steroid use. No joke.

I have no idea how long his monologue went on; it might have just been the one brief comment. I was watching the Cavs game anyway and was just flipping to baseball during the commercials. I immediately flipped back to hoops, even if that meant enduring another Cialis commercial.

Phillips said something to the effect of "A few generations ago we had all these players serving their country, and now we have players using steroids. What has happened to our game?" Gee Steve, I don't know. Your graphic showed the large number of players who were in the service during World War I as well. And less than one year after World War I ended, a group of eight players threw the World Series. What on earth happened to our game in the eleven months between the Armistice and the 1919 World Series, Steve?

* Steve Phillips has given me a new-found appreciation for Joe Morgan. I apologize for all of the complaints I've ever lodged about Morgan's announcing, his misunderstanding of who authored Moneyball, everything. Please let us have the two-man booth back.

More broadly, though, I really think that color commentators need to be put out to pasture after ten or fifteen years. Even the best eventually become little more than caricatures of themselves (I always enjoyed listening to John Madden, but I always had a nagging suspicion that if I as serious a NFL fan as I am of MLB, I would have considered him in the same class as an aforementioned commentator with the initials JM).

Since most color commentators are former players, they cannot immediately devolve into "good old days syndrome". If only five years have passed since your retirement, it's hard to complain too much about "today's players" since you played against most of them. Give it another five or ten years and the only players left are the rookies from when you were a grizzled veteran, and that you probably shook your head at even then. Now it's a lot easier to wax poetic about how great baseball was when you played. Give it another decade and, well, you get the idea.

Now of course not all color commentators are insufferable worshipers of yesteryear, and I'm not REALLY suggesting a mandatory retirement age. But I definitely feel that in general it is better to have a younger man in the booth.

* It's only fair to balance out criticism of TV commentators I don't like with praise of those I do. One in particular is John Hart on the MLB Network. It does seem a little odd that he's still a consultant to the Rangers (just a slight conflict of interest), and as a Cleveland fan I have mixed feelings about Hart (love the building part of his tenure, hate the attempting to sustain part). But he is very good for a TV commentator, and hurray for MLBN for hiring a GM who actually had success rather than one who was largely a failure as ESPN did.

MLBN has its share of obnoxious folks, of course--Dan Plesac is unbearable, Harold Reynolds is still himself, Mitch Williams is really annoying, while Jon Heyman and Joe Magrane rub me the wrong way. But Al Leiter and Barry Larkin are both excellent, relatively speaking, and I can tolerate Bill Ripken, Sean Casey, Dave Valle, and Tom Verducci. Among the anchors, Matt Vasgersian is okay although he tries to be too clever, Greg Amsinger is enthusiastic if nothing else, and Victor Rojas is solid. All told, MLBN's team is light years better than ESPN's. The only Baseball Tonight personality I'd really like to see on MLBN is Peter Gammons.

Also refreshing is Saturday Night Baseball, using local telecasts and actually (gasp) sometimes choosing games that feature west coast teams playing at home.

* It's time for All-Star voting again, which means we will be subjected to a number of columns about how so-and-so got snubbed. As with so many things, I think that Bill James cut to the heart of the matter when he asked whether the purpose of the All-Star Game was to honor the players or to entertain the fans. If it is the latter, then the hand-wringing is completely unnecessary. The fans will vote for whichever players they want to see. Does that mean that the voting system is perfect (or even anything more than a gigantic mess)? No. But it means that you can quit with the phony outrage about players getting snubbed.

What's funny about the yearly phony outrage from columnists is that it is usually focused on the fans for making picks that don't mesh with the first-half stats, rather than having questionable preferences in players over the long haul. If, say, Raul Ibanez is not voted in, there will be columns pointing out that he's leading the league in home runs and RBI. There is comparatively little phony outrage directed at consistently voting in an Alfonso Soriano over more deserving players, and other similar cases that demonstrate an odd notion of player value (Of course, since it is a popularity contest, there are other elements in play than simple value, but popularity and ability are certainly positively correlated.)

Left unstated is the premise that the purpose of all-star selection is not just to honor the players, but to honor the players for their first half performance. If this is the point of view you want to take, that's fine, but you need to recognize that there is no prescribed definition of what an all-star should be. There's nothing stopping another fan from believing that the all-star game should be to honor the "best" players (and the myriad of different corresponding definitions of "best" muddies things even more), another from believing that it is to honor the players who have had the best careers, and another from believing that it should be a celebration of the Houston Astros.

The phony outrage is even worse in the all-star case than it is in the interminable MVP discussions at the end of the year, because at least the MVP is defined by some nebulous criteria. Even with those guidelines in place, there are folks who demand that all others accept their own personal, narrowly-defined definition of MVP.

Granting for the sake of discussion the position that the all-stars should be the players with the best year-to-date performances, one must remember that the voting begins in May. How does a fan voting on May 6 predict who will have the best statistics come July 1? The best answer is to take the results to date and add in a heavy amount of regression...which in the end is much the same as just voting for whichever player you feel has established himself as the best.

But it all provides a nice fodder for columnists. And to be fair, I suppose it also provides fodder for bloggers to shake their heads at the fans and mainstream media.

* I suppose that in order to maintain my credibility as an Indian fan I should comment on their dismal start, specifically whether or not Eric Wedge should be fired.

The short answer is "I don't care". I generally don't feel that most managers are fairly interchangeable, and I don't think there's any reason to believe that the team's fortunes would be significantly altered were Joel Skinner or Torey Lovullo in charge.

Here are some of my disjointed thoughts on various aspects of Wedge's record:

1. Bullpen management

This is not so much a complaint about the Indians' horrific bullpen in 2009. If anyone can be blamed for that, it is the front office. While I thought the bullpen would be average-ish when looking at it on paper (and I still think it would be if all of the pieces were healthy and Rafael Perez hadn't fallen off a cliff), it is clear now that there is a lack of organizational depth. Thus, when unexpected things happened, Cleveland was forced to patch things up with people like Vinny Chulk, Matt Herges, Luis Vizcaino, and Greg Aquino. But that's not Wedge's fault.

I do think, however, that Wedge is a below-average bullpen manager. He is one to fixate on a couple of horses and ride them for all they are worth. I'm not saying he overworks them and causes subsequent declines in effectiveness--that's possible, but I'm not willing to assert it. What it does, though, is prevent an effective second-line of relievers from being developed.

Once Wedge loses confidence in a reliever, he has a hard time sending him out to the mound in any game which is still within a +/- 3-4 run deficit. An example was Craig Breslow, who sat unutilized in the pen for the first month and a half last year before the team finally had to cut bait (of course, his recent release by Minnesota suggests that Wedge is hardly the only manager that doesn't trust him). If you're not in the back four, you might as well not even show up to the ballpark if you expect a close game.

2. Player relationships. This falls squarely under the category of BSing, since I can't possibly know what goes on behind closed doors, and I am very skeptical of reports of what does because there really is no such thing as an objective source. Anyone who tries to tell you about what goes on in a baseball clubhouse has some angle of their own.

So I think this can easily be overblown. His critics like to bring this up, primarily focusing on the cases of Milton Bradley and Brandon Phillips. While at the time I thought Wedge's spring-training blowup with Bradley was a bit excessive, Milton has now become persona non grata with enough organizations to make it pretty clear that Wedge was not uniquely wired to snap at him. Perhaps a bit quick, but that's impossible to judge.

The Phillips situation on the other hand does look bad, but it's just one case. There are a lot of managers perceived as good, like Tony LaRussa, who has had just as many problems getting along with his players. This may be a weakness of Wedge, but I'm far from convinced that it is a crippling one.

3. I believe, generally, that Wedge does not overreact to small sample sizes to excess. Key words: "generally" and "excess". I know that there will be a large number of Indian observers who disagree with me completely on this count, and I understand that. This season has seen some silly tinkering out of desperation, but I think that's the outlier in Wedge's behavior. He will occasionally try to ride a hot hand in lineup position (like batting Ben Francisco third in the first half last year), but I don't get the impression that he really buys it. And lineup tinkering is a great way to appease the "Do SOMETHING!" crowd without actually doing anything drastic.

People like to complain that he kept running David Dellucci and Jason Michaels out to left field, but that's another issue for which the primary blame must fall on the front office--they seem to regard corner outfield spots as unimportant (although I am a Shin-Soo Choo fan). Cleveland fans may have had an unrealistically rosy assessment of Ben Francisco's talents, but I think now they are seeing that he is a fourth outfielder and nothing more. Unfortunately, he's also embarked on a hot streak that will probably secure his place in the lineup (although with the injury to Sizemore, there's not really a better center field option).

This year he dropped Grady Sizemore to second in the lineup after his slow start, which I don't think was necessary but also is not a disastrous move. If it any way caused Sizemore to press less (please note, I'm not saying it did or will), then it would have been justifiable. (In fact, batting your best hitter #2 is not such a bad idea anyway. I am NOT saying that Wedge is a subscriber to that school of thought.) There have been isolated oddities like Mark DeRosa at first base with Ryan Garko in left, and the decision to juggle the infield after a month is reminiscent of the Tigers' flailings last year (although I would argue that in both cases the key moves were the right ones). Again, though, I think that the front office bears a great deal of responsibility on this score. I never understood why DeRosa was acquired to play third rather than second in the first place, and why Luis Valbeuna has been deemed ready to be the starting second baseman. It is safe to assume that Wedge had input on those decisions, but he hardly has the authority to make them on his own.

4. He's not a terrible strategic manager, IMO. He does like to bunt a lot when the offense is sputtering (and in fairly predictable patterns), but he's not over-the-top crazy about the intentional walk or pitchouts or pinch-hitting (unless he has a clearly defined left-right platoon). I hesitate to say anything more specific than "not terrible", because it would imply a systematic comparison of all thirty managers, and I obviously have not undertaken such a survey. So I'm sticking with "not terrible", and probably about average, standard boilerplate managing.

5. Wedge is sometimes criticized for the Indians' underplaying of their Pythagorean record, but I don't think this is a particularly sound complaint. There is no study that I know of that has indicated any significant relationship between Pythag underachievement and manager. We do know that teams with strong bullpens have a tendency to "overachieve", and that has certainly been a factor in play for Cleveland during Wedge's tenure. In other words, it could be a symptom of the bullpen management problem, not an independent flaw. The notion that Pythag +/- is a managerial measurement appears to have been started by Palmer and Thorn including it in the manager register of Total Baseball, which was probably done in an attempt to include something other than just win-loss record and place in standings. I have never seen a satisfactory explanation of how a manager would be able to impact Pythag +/- other than, again, effective bullpen deployment.

In short, even given a conclusion that the Indians' differential is something other than random variation, it is not safe to conclude that it can be laid at the feet of the manager

6. People also complain about the Indians' slow starts under Wedge, but I don't find that particularly compelling either. It's true that the Indians under Wedge (excluding 2009) have a March/April record of 65-82 (.442) versus a rest of season record of 431-394 (.522). However, if Wedge's first year (which was also his first experience as a major league manager, and with a team that was not expected to do anything at all) is removed, the split drops to .483/.514. In two of six seasons the team has had a better record in March/April, and these are two of the three most recent seasons (2006 and 2007).

If "getting out to a fast start" is something you value in a manager, then you could certainly consider Wedge's track record on this count to be a weakness. But I just don't see it. In the end, all the games count the same. A bad start can certainly bury a team, but so can bad middles and ends to the season.

2008 can better be described as a bad middle. In mid-May, the Indians were in first place, although by a narrow margin and with a record just above .500. Still, the season was far from a disaster at that point. The bottom fell out in late May and June.

If there was a team that went 41-53 in the first half, then made a managerial change and went 40-28 in the second half, I'd imagine that there would be a good number of people praising the new manager and bashing the previous one. Well, there was such a team, except without the managerial change--the 2008 Indians.

Had those splits been reversed, all sorts of ire would have come down on Wedge's head. The average fan is going to be much more exercised by a slow finish than a slow start, and thus I tend to think that people who cite slow starts are actively searching for reasons to complain about the manager. In the end, all the games really do count the same, and while it's possible to dig a whole so deep all hope is lost (as the Indians did last year), it's also possible to recover from a bad April.

As for the organization as a whole, it seems as if the draft has not yielded sufficient talent. Much of the organization's talent has been acquired through shrewd trades, but there has been an apparent deficiency in the team's own development. This helps contribute to the lack of second-line bullpen arms, and while it hasn't seriously hurt the major league lineup, it certainly is an item for concern long-term.

I have seen the complaint that the team never loads up to take a shot in any particular season, but I think this is a sound policy. If I were GM of a team without a lot of money to buy talent on the free agent market, my goal would be to put a consistently competitive team on the field and hope to catch lightning in a bottle one year(as any number of teams have done in recent years. The 2003 Marlins, 2005 White Sox, 2007 Rockies, were not really teams designed to take one shot). I would prioritize consistent playoff contention over the long odds of winning a World Series. Selling out for one year is an extraordinarily risky strategy that is unlikely to pay off even if executed perfectly, due to the nature of the post-season itself.

If this reads as something less than a strong endorsement, that's because it is. I know I sound like a broken record, but I think managers for the most part are fungible, and therefore I don't really care whether Wedge stays or goes.

That being said, I am pulling for him. Not just because I want the team to succeed, but because I find the scapegoat mentality of so many fans to be off-putting. People who want the manager to yell and scream or bench a star player to "send a message" are those that I generally avoid making common cause with. Add in a high covariance between that crowd and the all too common Cleveland "woe is us" attitude, and it gets even easier to be a contrarian.