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Tracy With The Dodgers: An Interview With Dodger Math

UPDATE: Bumped. Be sure to check out a new post on Craig Wilson's homers below.

In light of the weird decisions and comments Jim Tracy has made recently, it seemed wise to check in with someone who's been watching Tracy for years to find out if Tracy's recent bizarre managing is typical for him. So I had a chat with Andrew from Dodger Math (formerly titled "DePodesta for President"). Andrew's writings about Tracy are collected here.

BUCS DUGOUT: Let me begin by telling you why I'm upset. Here's a list of some decisions Jim Tracy has made since becoming Pirates manager just months ago. Do any of these resonate with you? First, he defended Jeromy Burnitz for failing to run out a grounder that might've resulted in a hit. Second, he declared that Jason Bay, who had a .408 OBP at the time, needed to "sort things out" and moved him to sixth in the order, behind Burnitz, who had a .229 OBP.

DODGER MATH: These two cases don't seem all that familiar. Tracy did drop J.D. Drew in the order for a while, but at least he could replace him with Jeff Kent or Milton Bradley.

BUCS DUGOUT: Third, he started Jose Hernandez at first base ahead of Craig Wilson. Fourth, he played Ryan Doumit at first base in an effort to block Wilson even though Doumit had never played there before but had played right field, where Burnitz plays. Fifth, he wouldn't start Wilson against many lefties, even though Wilson mashes them, until Sean Casey got injured.

DODGER MATH: I think the best way to illustrate the parallels here with Tracy's Dodgers is to describe Hee Seop Choi's 2005. After a 2004 season where Choi was almost immediately banished to the bench, Paul DePodesta traded away everyone on the team who could possibly play first base. Tracy had no choice but to start Choi. Nevertheless, when the season started, Choi was put into a platoon with Olmedo Saenz. While I wanted to see Choi play, this was acceptable, since Saenz mashes lefties. After Choi started the season on a slight cold streak, players like Norihiro Nakamura or Jason Grabowski would occasionally get starts against righties.

Eventually, Choi raised his average to .300, and Tracy was forced to let him play, though he would occasionally sit against righties for increasingly bizarre reasons, the most infamous of which was, "Byung Hyun Kim throws at a funny arm angle." This continued until the beginning of June, when Choi went crazy and hit seven home runs in four games. At this point, Tracy said Choi would get more starts against left handed pitching. Immediately after this statement, Choi went into an 0 for 20 slump and never saw regular play again, as Saenz and Jeff Kent got most of the starts at first.

Amazingly, this story gets even more depressing. Around the end of July, catcher Jason Phillips lost his job after Ryan Freel stole five bases in one game. Phillips was a below average hitter, even for a catcher, so any normal manager would have banished Phillips to backup duty. Jim Tracy decided that the best course of action was to make Phillips his first baseman and cleanup hitter. As a final insult, in September, the Dodgers called up Brian Myrow, a 29 year old first baseman who had never made it up to the bigs, and then he started getting starts at first base. Which lead to a famous column by L.A. Times writer Bill Plaschke where he basically said, "Look at how horrid Paul DePodesta is, poor Jim Tracy has to start Brian Myrow at first base." In the end, on a team where DePodesta did his best to eliminate any possible competition for Choi, he still got less than 300 at bats.

Antonio Perez's story isn't nearly as dramatic. For the most part, it seems as though if you perform well in your first 15 at bats for Jim Tracy, he loves you, otherwise, you never play again. Antonio Perez performed well and then some, hitting (and this is not exaggeration) .700 in his first week as a starter. Despite this, Tracy put his tag of doom on Perez, saying he plays bad defense (though most metrics show this to be untrue). Perez then gradually got phased out for Oscar Robles and Mike Edwards.

In 2005 the Dodgers were desperate for offense after they were decimated by injuries. Tracy kept probably his second and third best remaining hitters on the bench to, as far as I can tell, fulfill some petty grudge.

Ironically, even though Tracy seems to love playing Jose Hernandez now, he wouldn't use him nearly enough in L.A., even though Hernandez had a .930 OPS. Why? Because Tracy just had to get Alex Cora's bat into the lineup.  Jim Tracy simply doesn't like three true outcomes guys like Craig Wilson, and I fully expect Tracy to keep Wilson and Doumit out of the lineup for the same reasons he had for benching Choi, possibly because they aren't "baseball savvy." (Yes, Tracy used that as his reason for keeping Choi on the bench. No, I don't know what it means.)

BUCS DUGOUT: Tracy also refused to start Freddy Sanchez (.813 OPS) at third base ahead of Joe Randa (.559 OPS) until Randa got injured.

DODGER MATH: The tales of Choi and Perez explain this one well. Not entirely related, but it shows an example of what it means to be one of Jim Tracy's favored players. In 2004, the Dodgers had a bench with three players who had at least an .800 OPS: Hernandez, Saenz, and Jayson Werth or Choi. Also on this bench was Jason Grabowski, who managed to finish with a .679 OPS due to a hot start. Grabowski holds the all time record for pinch hit appearances in a season.

BUCS DUGOUT: Tracy took over a month to figure out that Nate McLouth and Chris Duffy and their .314 and .265 OBPs shouldn't bat leadoff.

DODGER MATH: Tracy continued to bat Cesar Izturis lead off in 2005 even after he had an OPS of .270 in June (yes, that's OPS, not OBP), and he stuck there despite hitting worse than Cristian Guzman the rest of the season. The other lineup sin that Tracy committed in general was that he loved to stick the worst hitter in the lineup in the number two slot. In 2004, Izturis was given the number two slot despite putting up a career high .597 OPS the year before. In 2005, Jason Repko (.665 OPS) and Oscar Robles (.700 OPS) took the majority of at bats in the number two slot. Tracy's love of Robles became absurd, as Robles frequently hit third near the end of the season. If Jim Tracy likes you, your spot in the lineup will never change.

BUCS DUGOUT: Moving on, this offseason, Tracy declared that his way of doing things was the right way and that, based on the success he had in Los Angeles, it would be very difficult to convince him otherwise. What do you think of that?

DODGER MATH: This is a perfect example of Tracy's shameless self-promotion. Consider the circumstances that Tracy managed in: The Dodgers had one of the highest payrolls in baseball, and they played in a division where there were always at least two very bad teams. Even with these advantages, Tracy took the Dodgers to the playoffs only once. Aside from that, the best finish the Dodgers had was six games out of first. 2003 might have been the worst example of this. The Dodgers had one of the best pitching staffs of all time that year, with an ERA that was over half a run better than the number two pitching staff. Despite this, they finished 15 games out of first place. This wasn't all Tracy's fault. I blame the fact that the Dodgers had four starters with a sub-.300 on base percentage. But it certainly isn't something that I would brag about.

 The Dodgers didn't spend their money all that wisely during Tracy's tenure, but it wasn't like Tracy was managing a ragtag bunch of misfits. The Dodgers had a decent shot at making the playoffs in all of his seasons, yet all he has to show for his time in L.A. is one playoff win. Considering the circumstances, I wouldn't call Tracy a successful manager.

BUCS DUGOUT: One of the things we heard about Tracy before the year started is that he was good at maximizing platoon advantages. But I've seen no evidence that he actually does this. Sean Casey is a lefty, but over half his at bats have been against lefties because the Pirates faced a number of lefties in the games in which he was available to start. Meanwhile, Craig Wilson sat on the bench. Tracy has made no obvious effort to get Wilson at bats against lefties. Through April 22, left-handed rookie outfielder Nate McLouth had gotten five starts, all against lefties. Freddy Sanchez, a righty who plays three positions capably, has hardly had any plate appearances against lefties. Of the lefty pitchers, only Damaso Marte has actually been used against in such a way as to favor his handedness much. Where did Tracy get this reputation as a platoon-friendly manager? Is this behavior typical?

DODGER MATH: Here's where things start to get bizarre. Up until 2004, Tracy was actually a decent manager. Maybe it's because he didn't have many options until then, and the fact that the Dodgers bullpen was amazing back then made it hard to mismanage, but looking back on things he was able to make the most of what he had. For example, in 2002 he was able to get a very productive season out of Marquis Grissom while he spelled Dave Roberts and Brian Jordan. If it weren't for Jim Tracy, there's a good chance that we'd have never heard the names Eric Gagne, Paul LoDuca, or Dave Roberts. While there were some moves he did I disagreed with, Tracy for the most part was a pretty good manager. He didn't start doing bizarre things until DePodesta was hired.

BUCS DUGOUT: It seems like when things get really bad, Tracy just throws up his hands and goes nuts. When Randa went on the DL, the Bucs called up Jose Bautista, a third baseman and a middling prospect. Jack Wilson was hurt then, and the offense was struggling. So instead of putting Bautista at third and moving Sanchez to short, he started frigging Jose Hernandez at short and Bautista in right field. His batting orders and lineups sometimes seem half "what I did yesterday," half "I'll draw it out of a hat." They seem particularly random when the team is slumping. He defended his decision to use Doumit at first instead of Wilson by claiming that the team "nothing to lose" by benching the guy with the .909 OPS and the team-leading homer and RBI numbers. Does he always respond to adversity this way? Or is he just wacky?

DODGER MATH: I think the best way to explain this is that Jim Tracy simply isn't that bright. I think the most telling sign of this was the way he'd see a player, make assumptions about them, and assume they were true. Oscar Robles is terribly slow, yet because he's a small middle infielder, Tracy assumed he was fast. Consequently, Robles went 0 for 8 in stolen bases last year. Also, he constantly referred to Mike Edwards as a "youngster" despite the fact that Edwards was 28. It was as though he didn't realize how old Mike Edwards was. Because he lacks the ability to make observations like "this guy is slow," it's not that hard to understand why he can't determine if someone is a good hitter.  

Jeff Kent led the Dodgers in OPS in 2005. The players who had the next four highest OPSes sat on the bench. He doesn't seem to understand that if you take good hitters out of the lineup, runs are hard to score.

BUCS DUGOUT: Finally, what's the over/under on when Tracy starts talking smack about Dave Littlefield the way he did on DePodesta?

DODGER MATH: So long as Littlefield keeps filling the team with "baseball savvy" guys like Randa and Chris Duffy, and he stays away from computers, I'm going to say never.