Bruce Bochy is known as one of the best managers in baseball. He’s probably going to the Hall of Fame. But he’s never been thought of as a darling of the sabermetrics community. Maybe that’ll change ever-so-slightly after this year.
Bochy, who’d gotten a reputation as a guy who for whatever reason believed that the second baseman should hit second, has played around with the top of his order. He wrote Hunter Pence’s name in the “two-hole” many times this year, and stated his belief recently that the best hitters should hit at the top of the order to gain extra plate appearances.
That has changed down the stretch, as Joe Panik’s ascendance allowed Bochy to move the second baseman between Angel Pagan and Buster Posey and hit Pence fifth. But in a discussion about Pence before Tuesday night’s game, Bochy issued a startling revelation.
He pays attention to Ultimate Zone Rating, more commonly known as UZR. Occasionally. In March.
“Yeah, sometimes. Sure,” Bochy said.
“I’m not looking at (defensive metrics) now. Maybe during the offseason or spring training, I have all that available. Some of it’s valuable. I think that there’s a place for it. Certainly not now. Down the stretch here, I’m not looking at that at all.”
An outfielder’s score is calculated via a combination of “range runs,” “arm runs,” and errors committed relative the league average at their position. Double plays turned replaces “arm runs” for an infielder. And Bochy, like many statheads, has questions about the validity of these numbers.
“Whoever’s putting that data in there, I don’t know how accurate they are. Every year’s different, the times you’re going to get your hand on the ball, number of times, that comes into play. I don’t know how much stock you put into it. If there’s a large sample, two or three years that stands out, sure. That should play a part of something you do defensively. In a season or part of a season, it’s hard to get a good read into it,” Bochy said.
He’s turning a blind eye to Pence’s UZR numbers,
which have been negative in each of the last four seasons. (Correction: Pence’s UZR has been positive in each of the last two seasons, but his overall fielding numbers were negative when adjusted for position.)
“I’m glad I’m not looking at (Pence’s metrics),” said Bochy. “I think he does a great job out there. We have the toughest right field to play in baseball. (Pence has) good range, (he’s a) good thrower.”
It’s no shock that Bochy doesn’t pay attention anything trending even slightly negative in Pence’s case, since Bochy starts him in right field every day without a second thought.
“I think our baseball operations, they look at everything. That’s part of it. Evaluating a player, you do have that information. It plays a part in your decision making as you look at a player as a whole. Defense is a big part of this game. You don’t want to neglect that. But I think it’s the toughest read of any of the stats that are out there, and my guess is it’s the least accurate.”
That might explain why Bochy puts Michael Morse in the outfield fairly often. Morse has the range of an unpaid cellphone, but on a game-to-game basis, you take your chances. If the guy knocks in three runs, who cares if he one sinking liner bounces in front of him that Gregor Blanco probably would’ve caught standing up? There’s also the issue of how much a power hitter changes how a pitcher (or manager) attacks the rest of the lineup (the Yoenis Cespedes theory).
There are other factors involved that fans and analysts probably aren’t privy to, including a pitcher’s gameplan, opposing lineups, and minor injuries. But even though certain decisions Bochy makes on a game-to-game basis aren’t always in lockstep with what advanced stats might recommend, he isn’t 100% old school.