Wednesday, September 13, 2006

the impact of management

dusty baker has been a painful thorn in the side of this page and cub fans generally since 2003. several contributors to this page at that time watched with trepidation as baker's questionable double-switching, queer lineups and relentless assault on the arms of kerry wood and mark prior produced five months of mediocrity and one shockingly spectacular september. his infamous intellectual collapse in game six of the national league championship series sealed the deal for many here -- if the cubs were going to win, it would probably have to be in spite of dusty.

of course, things have since changed -- winning often doesn't seem a possibility regardless of conditions anymore.

it has been theorized that the impact of poor management on a team is, in the tactical sense, minimal -- counterproductive lineup construction counts for something on the order of one or two forfeited wins a year. the best examples of such studies include the markov process model (which assumes, among other things, that game events are conditionally independent -- that is, that streaks are spurious artefacts of random functions), a sort of monte carlo generator in which large numbers of identical trials are totaled under a set of conditions to estimate the probable outcome distribution of complex and/or random systems. the famous first example in western history is the estimator of pi devised by the comte de buffon, but a generator more familiar to baseball fans is stratomatic baseball.

this page would argue, however, that this is an woefully incomplete assessment of the impact of a manager. disregarding the idea of "clubhouse chemistry" -- considered here to be of some probable impact on actual individual and team performances but often an unpredictable function of several volatile personalities and generally well beyond the complete control of any one of them -- a manager's decisions go far beyond lineup construction. influence may run from player personnel -- who gets signed and cut, a responsibility shared with the general manager -- to strategic aspects with ramifications that are in scope both tactical -- eg, the decision to stick with ryan dempster as closer come hell or high water -- and strategic -- eg, the baseball wreckage that has been wood and prior since 2003.

indeed, if considered in this light, the decisions made by dusty in 2003 may remain the single greatest determining factor in the outcome not only of the 2006 season but of 2004, 2005 and quite probably 2007, 2008 and beyond -- if one accepts that a healthy wood and prior, having a combined warp3 of 18.2 in that fateful year, may have been worth some ten wins beyond their replacements if what became of them could have been avoided.

because of the complex nature of the game, it is impossible to quantify the damage that poor management may do to a team's chances or that good management may do to improve them against an expected value. but this page would not hesitate to say that the net effect is greater than is sometimes supposed, even if it is neither universally measurable nor universally predictable.

the cubs won last night, but this was again a case of spiting the best efforts of dusty baker to sabotage the team. a starting lineup that featured baker favorite and null value freddie bynum over ryan theriot and a 6-8 of scott moore, henry blanco and ronny cedeno did its worst -- bynum's three errors at second base helped put the cubs into a 7-0 hole after three, through the bottom of the order defied meager expectaction to go 3-for-11 with one run scored. the cubs rode matt murton, derrek lee and a key pinch hit by aramis ramirez to get to the ninth with one of the most laughably improbable leads of the season -- only to have baker dutifully trot dempster out for yet another blown save on the wings of errors from lee and cesar izturis and further a botched double play, sending the game into extra innings.

wins and losses mean nothing anymore in this lost year, and izturis found redemption in an eleventh-inning walkoff rbi single to render all this grief for naught from that perspective. but it is worth pointing out again here that baker has managed to find bynum, cedeno, angel pagan, henry blanco, john mabry and the dearly departed neifi perez -- several offensive and/or defensive black holes, none of them callups or prospects -- a total of 557 at-bats in the second half to date, some 28% of the team total of 1,981, while theriot, moore and geovany soto have difficulty getting plate appearances. on the pitching side, dempster leads the team in second half relief innings with 29 and wade miller is inexplicably getting starts. and is it too much to say that baker's incredible abuse of zambrano this season is responsible for aggravating his chronic back problems -- an injury which baker and the cubs appear foolishly willing to allow zambrano to pitch through for no good reason whatsoever, inviting the kind of mechanically-induced cascading injury that could truly damage him?

indeed, regardless of whether one considers the impact of management to be great or small, it does inarguably have an impact. can anyone say that impact is positive -- regardless of context -- where the cubs are concerned?

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