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Cecil Cooper from take off to landing

A one-hour plane ride and two torn out pages of the Bill James Handbook, that’s all I have.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a grizzled veteran now, but probably because I know that I work best under a deadline (see: 3 AM the night morning before any important paper due in college); whatever the reason for this hare-brained idea, that’s what I’m working with to produce this post.

If you didn’t believe me when I said that I was going to be using the interesting things I’ve stumbled upon in the Bill James Handbook as fodder for 30 or so posts—believe.

Today’s topic: Cecil Cooper’s managerial statistics.  The juicy details: after the jump.

James has a couple of pretty useful measures for us to talk about what we got with Coop in 2008 and 2009.  Looking over the historical stats for various managers in the book, I noted how it seemed like a lot of these stats were driven by the kinds of teams that the managers could pull the levers with.  But here’s the thing, Coop doesn’t really seem to fit that mold at all.

(Since I’m writing this in a bind, I don’t know that I’ll do the greatest job of holding onto my objectivity, but c’est la vie.  I’ve now sat through an hour and half of delays and there will always be a part of me that will hold Coop in ire for 2009 being a second half nose-dive.  My stasis is not the best for pure, rational objectivity.)

2008: The year that Coop drove us nuts with the running game

The Astros attempted 154 stolen bases, 81 sacrifices, and started the runners moving 112 times.  Having loosely observed the various levels of these stats for other managers, this is a pretty high year for wasting outs.  The stolen base has a negative run expectancy.  A sacrifice obviously uses an out (and let’s be honest, Coop wasn’t using sacrifices in high leverage situations only), and I’ve never read anything on the statistical impact of sending the runners, but I imagine it’s probably not a wonderful statistical move.

Thinking about this team without the aid of FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, or any of my statistical sanctuaries, this wasn’t a shrewd move on Coop’s part.  Subjectively, let’s think about the bone headed stolen base attempts we saw that year: Ty Wigginton and Carlos Lee on several occasions. There was, of course, the well-publicized "green light" policy and the neglect of telling Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn that simply being fast doesn’t mean you’ll steal with a lot of success.

These numbers don’t capture their effect.  They’re just a count of attempts, but just thinking about the number of attempts with the cogs that were cranking the wheels, it’s not hard to say that this wasn’t the finest piece of utility maximization in the history of managing.

2009: The year that Coop, seemingly, destroyed the bull pen

There are only two numbers I need to give you (four really, but get off my back): 116 and 449 (108 and 488).  The first number is the number of times that a reliever was used in consecutive days and the second is the total number of relievers used.  The non-parenthetical numbers are 2009’s totals and the parenthetical are 2008. 

In twelve less games than he had to work with 2008, Coop increased the number of consecutive days, while using nearly forty less relievers.  While this probably isn’t the most damning usage of relief pitchers ever, let’s consider who Coop was working with:

  • Chris Sampson: Coming off an off-season elbow surgery.
  •  Geoff Geary: Coming off an off-season hip surgery.
  • Doug Brocail: Coming off a season where he’d just been abused in the 8th inning all year long.  And yes, he was over the age of forty in both instances and had a faulty ticker.
  • Jose Valverde: Coming off his shredded calf muscle in April.
  • Relief pitcher X: The guy I should have mentioned but have forgotten as I realize I’m running out of time.

Just like with the running game in 2008, this isn’t to say that Coop definitively killed the Astros bullpen because determining that would take a lot more evidence than I have.  Both of these brief blurbs are to point out that Coop had bad tendencies as a manager.  The usage pattern in 2009 for our relievers was bone-headed.  There’s no other way for me to describe it.  During all of our discussions of what helped the Astros out pace their Pythag record in 2008, we all came back to our successful late-inning relievers.  The second of 2009: we were trying to plug the links as they sprang up; ultimately, our ship sank. 

So what’s the overall point of this (besides the challenge of writing all this between takeoff and landing)? To say that these are the small changes in managerial tactics that I think can hopefully give the Astros a better starting point in 2010.  Brad Mills, please take note.