As I was unwinding from a fifth and final day of covering the National Diving Championships, I stumbled across Blazing Saddles on HDNet Movies. I bring this up for no reason other than because it's freakin' brilliant, even almost 40 years after it first debuted.
Another show I saw as I flipped through channels was more relevant to this article. In a discussion of childhood vaccines, a doctor brought up the scientific method and how some authors of studies can fall victim to letting the data support their initial idea instead of the other way around. I think baseball writers like me can fall into the same trap.
That's what happened in this article by Richard Justice. At least, I believe he's been talking with players and coaches who see a change in the Astros because of Jeff Bagwell. The changes may be real, but do they account for the offensive jump?
For one thing, 24 of the 27 games the Astros have played with Bagwell as hitting coach have been against the NL Central. Of those nine series, only three have been against teams over .500 as well. So, we've got 16 percent of the schedule mostly against losing teams? And we're surprised that the Astros have been doing well? The level of competition is key to how the team has performed, and it's something we've been talking about here for a while. Heck, even the Cardinals have been owned by Houston this season, making only two legitimate series against teams that give the Astros fits. How will Bagwell's job look after these series against the Mets, Florida and Philadelphia?
Justice does talk about this some, but it's worth mentioning that the Astros hitters were unlucky. He also used batting average to justify Bagwell's statistical impact on Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee. Pence has a fairly even career split between the first and second halves, with slightly more power in the second. There's also a bit of regression back to the mean involved, which he does hint at. It's easy to fall into the trap of making every bad performance about luck, but if you're going to argue for someone's impact on a team's hitting, you have to account for luck in some way.
I like the quotes about what Bagwell has been able to accomplish. He seems to be running the team's hitters well and in a way they respond to. If anything, his true impact has come in being the clubhouse leader instead. His little comments about "deserving a sandwich" means he's holding guys accountable like he did when he was playing. Brad Mills can do the same thing, but having that coach/leader be someone who's not the manager helps keep authority where it belongs. At any rate, I think Bagwell's approach has helped the club hit better. I'm just not sure to what degree he's helped.
Justice did a great job of getting quotes that worked and writing about an interesting subject. Fans want to believe one of the most beloved players in franchise history is helping to make this team win. I just think it'll take more than 27 games to figure out if that's a true statement.