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Is Dusty Baker the Right Manager for Willy Taveras?

After reading Slyde's post on team speed (and especially this comment by our new friend Stock), I got to thinking about Dusty and how he handles the running game.  We all remember the baserunning follies from last year, watching time and again when Two-Pitch-At-Batterson and Farney ran the team out of an inning.  It looks like we are going to see a Reds team in '09 that relies more on creating havoc on the basepaths, and this led me to ask a few questions:  1) how does Dusty compare to other managers regarding the use of the running game, and 2) specifically regarding Willy Taveras, how has Dusty fared at using legitimate baserunning threats when he has them on the roster? 

More after the break...

Dusty got his first managing gig in 1993 with the Giants, and he stayed in San Fran for 10 seasons before moving on to the Cubs.  After 4 seasons he was fired, and he then spent a year with ESPN before getting the Reds gig last season.  That's 15 seasons that Dusty has managed a baseball team, so we should have a pretty good data set with which to work.  Let us remember, if you are stealing bases at less than a 70% rate, it's pretty much not worth trying.  So here are the SB/CS numbers for each of Dusty's teams, from 1993-2006, and 2008:


That adds up to 1437/656, which is a stolen base % of 68.6.  That isn't bad, actually.  The National League average last year was 73% (72.9% in the AL).  That does not reflect too well upon Dusty's base-stealing strategy.  But it is kind of unfair to compare Dusty's whole career to only last year's data:  total stolen bases have been on the decline since the early 90's while the success rate has been increasing since then.  People are stealing less often, but they aren't getting caught as often either.  So basically the times have changed since Dusty first saddled up.  Comparing Dusty's success rate to the rate of the entire NL in the years Dusty has managed reflects a little better on Dusty:  the NL average since 1993 is 69.7%.  So Dusty is still a bit below average, but not much.  Hooray!

Now on to Taveras.  (I'm not sure how legit my methodology is here, so if you smell something funky please call me out on it.)  I decided to look at all the "base-stealing threats" Dusty has managed over the years to see if they fared markedly worse under his tutelege.  I'm defining "base-stealing threat" as a player who attempted 10 steals in both the year Dusty managed him and the year before Dusty managed him.  To illustrate, here is an example:

In 1992, under manager Roger Craig, Royce Clayton's SB/CS was 8/4.  In '93, his first year under Dusty, Clayton's SB/CS was 11/10. 

My hypothesis is that this trend seen in Clayton's numbers (increased attempts and increased CS rate under Baker) is a trend we can track throughout Baker's career.  So I went back to every player Dusty managed that attempted 10 or more steals and checked what they did the year before, under a different manager.  Here's what I found:

There have been 21 "base-stealing threats" that Dusty has managed in his career, and 23 such instances as described above (Patterson and JHJ show up on the list twice).  These players are Robby Thompson, Royce Clayton, Barry Bonds, Darren Lewis, Willie McGee, Glenallen Hill, Mike Benjamin, Stan Javier, Jeff Kent, Darryl Hamilton, Frank-Paul Santangelo, Tom Goodwin, Reggie Sanders, Corey Patterson, Kenny Lofton, Derrek Lee, Jerry Hairston Jr, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones, Brandon Phillips, and Ryan Freel.  Collectively, in the year before Dusty managed them these guys' SB/CS was 450/148, which is a SB% of 75.2.  So before Dusty got ahold of them, these guys were above average.  In the first year Dusty managed them, their SB/CS was 403/152, which is a SB% of 72.6.  So they got worse, but not because they were running more and getting caught more.  They actually attempted to steal less often under Dusty, they just didn't succeed as often.

So how does all this have anything to do with Willy Taveras?  Well, I'm not sure.  I did all this stuff expecting to see that Dusty is a bad manager when it comes to steals because he runs too often and at inopportune times, but I can't really say I've proved that in any way, significant or not.  Sure, he's a bit below average at calling for the swipe, but not embarrassingly so.  I'm not sure the whole exercise with the "base-stealing threats" is worth anything at all, because a number of factors (injuries, etc.) are left unaccounted for.  But the conclusion I come to is that Dusty is not the shoot-from-the-hip "unclog the bases" manager he's often characterized as, but rather one that merely isn't quite as good at the running game as his peers.  So to respond to Stock's comment, I don't think Taveras will steal 85 bases, but that probably doesn't have much to do with Dusty.