Dusty Baker-A Critical-Historical Study

So a comment made over on Fya's blog yesterday got me to thinking. Here's the quote:

LETS HOPE SO.. seeing Mr Out batting lead off and then Dickerson who looks good on his swings of late, batting ninth.. i turned the game off!! Baker cant win without a All-star caliber lineup.. like heck would i as a manager trying to win, keep letting players that dont get the job done, continue to make outs and bat leadoff!!!!! Ask dusty why he continues to let Patterson/Taveras types continue to bat leadoff and make outs!! the fans are not stupid and see it, WHY doesnt he???

Apart from the ridiculous spelling, grammar, and punctuation silliness (5 exclamation points? Really?), the poster makes an interesting point.

Does Dusty need an all-star caliber lineup to win?  I decided to check out the years his teams won the division or wild card to see if there are similarities amongst the teams.   I'm going to use OPS+ as the main standard for offensive performance.  We'll start from the beginning.

1993-San Francisco Giants, 103-59

This was Baker's first year being an MLB manager, and he won manager of the year for leading the team to 103 wins.  5 of his 8 position starters posted an OPS+ above 100, led by big-head himself Barry Bonds, who sported a sparkling 204(!).  The only position starters that were below average offensively were the SS, C, and CF (sound familiar?)  Now obviously, those are the three least offensively important positions, so the question is, did Dusty have better options that he ignored?  In this case, not really.  The only significantly below average starter was CF Darren Lewis, and there were no other decent OFs on the team that year except Dave Martinez, who I'm pretty sure wasn't a CF and was below average himself.  Add 4 average to above average starters and a 24 year old Rod Beck closing and kicking all kinds of ass, and this is the definition of a Dusty-proof roster.

1997-San Francisco Giants, 90-72

This team was again led by Bonds with an OPS+ of 170.  This year the two significantly below average starters were C Rick Wilkins and SS Jose Vizcaino, 51 and 78, respectively.  Dusty did have a much better catcher in Brian Johnson available, OPS+ 123, but he and Wilkins basically split time, so that's not a big deal.  At SS Dusty had a 25 year old Rich Aurilia, who in 113 PAs put up a 113 OPS+(symmetry anyone?)  That looks like a good example of blind veteran favoring we've come to expect from Dusty.  But at only one position, combined with another solid rotation and bullpen, and you've got your 90 wins.

2000-S.F. Giants, 97-65

This team was an offensive juggernaut, led by Bonds (188) and 2B Jeff Kent (162).  Rich Aurilia had won the starting SS job by this point, and every starter was above average offensively except 3B and CF.  There weren't any better options at either position, though, and Marvin Benard in CF was just slightly below average (92).  The rotation was once again very solid, and the bullpen had Felix Rodriguez setting up (ERA+ 161) and Rob Nenn closing (284!).  Once again, a Dusty proof roster.

2002-S.F Giants, 95-66

This lineup was again led by Bonds, who posted an OPS+ of 268 at the age of 37....yeah, he wasn't on anything.  The only significantly below average starter was CF Tsuyoshi Shinjo (78), but other than a 35 year old Kenny Lofton, there wasn't much else to choose from.  Once again, the starters were good and the bullpen was great: 8 pitchers had an ERA+ of 120 or higher.  Again, Dusty proof.

2003-Chicago Cubs, 88-74

Dusty's first year in Chicago, the year of the Bartman, did not feature an offensive superstar like Bonds, but he did have 6 solid starters led by Corey Patterson................yes, him. (114)  The only below average starters were C Damien Miller and SS Alex Gonzalez (the other one, but what is it about light hitting SS named Alex Gonzalez?)  Dusty truly didn't have better options, though.  His backup C that year was Paul Bako.  (Seriously, the more I look at this the more I think Dusty has MAJOR influence over Walt on roster decisions.  Look how many former players he brings in.  But that's another fanpost)  The star of this team was the pitching staff, led by 26 year old Kerry Wood and 22 year olds Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior.  (This is the year that Dusty "ruined" Prior by having him throw 211 innings.  But Zambrano threw 214 innings that year at the same age.  Lesson?  Prior's a mangina)  The bullpen was also stellar and stable all year:  Dusty proof.


In all of these years, there was only one example of an older player playing over a clearly better younger player (Vizcaino and Aurilia in '97.  That was also the Giants' weakest playoff team)  Also, in SF Dusty always had Bonds, who in his steroid-infused prime could singlehandedly carry an offense.

Another lesson is that Dusty really does love older players.  Of the 5 teams listed above, 30 of the 40 position starters were 29 or older. (18 of them were 32 or older)  They were good older players though, not Paul Bako.  Also, looking back at these years, I couldn't find any examples of a younger player getting a chance to play over a more established veteran.  Not to say there weren't any, I just couldn't find one.

Looking at some of Dusty's crappy teams (Giants from '94-'96, Cubs '05-'06) there are a bunch of examples of younger, promising players (or just a better player, regardless of age) being trapped behind fading veterans.  Rich Aurilia was showing promise long before he got his chance in 97-98, but he was trapped behind the always crappy Royce Clayton.  For years he had both Matt Williams and Bill Mueller at 3B.  Williams was great, but Mueller was very good too, and instead of finding Mueller a place to play, he stayed as Williams backup for years.

In 2005 in Chicago, Patterson was given 481 PAs in the OF, even though he put up an OPS+ of 54!  That's as bad as Bonds was good, and he had a young Matt Murton putting up a 132 at the age of 23 in only 160 PAs. (But Murton isn't a CF you argue...good point, but Dusty's LF that year was Todd Hollandsworth, sporting a 77.)  That year Neifi Perez (75) stunk it up at SS all year with Nomar Garciaparra (97) and Ronny Cedeno (90) riding the pine.


This is an admittedly biased and simplified summary, but it's clear that Dusty shows zero flexibility in his managing.  He seemingly assigns his players roles in his head at the outset, and if they fit those roles well, the team succeeds.  However, if creativity or out-of-the-box thinking is required to put the best team on the field, Dusty can't handle it.  With the team the Reds have, they will never succeed with Dusty as their manager.  Perhaps in a year or two when there is a more established starter at every position, but not now.  Dusty doesn't necessarily need an all-star caliber lineup to win, but he needs a roster that keeps decision making to a minimum.  That certainly doesn't apply to this year's Reds.

Please feel free to point out any gaps in logic or lazy research on my part.

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