Quantifying Lloyd McClendon

by billfer on October 18, 2009 · 29 comments

in 2009 Season,Offense

It’s no secret that the Tigers offense was far from satisfying this year. It was the second year in a row that the offense seemed to perform below expectations, after having a huge season in 2007. Naturally suspicions and fingers start to point towards the hitting coach. Is the criticism of Lloyd McClendon justified?

McClendon and the Tigers offense seems to be following a similar trajectory to Chuck Hernandez and the pitching staff over the last 3 years. Hernandez came in 2006 and the Tigers had a dominant pitching attack. The staff regressed in 2007 and after an awful year in 2008 Hernandez was deemed the reason and he was let go.

McClendon arrived on the job in 2007 which saw the Tigers put up one of the top offenses in the league. The offense struggled in 2008 and in 2009 the offense was the culprit in too many losses and the Tigers were outscored despite being pretty good at run prevention. The offense was 10th in batting average and runs scored, and 9th in slugging and OBP and OPS.

Performance against expectations

Now one of the tough things about evaluating coaches from the outside is that there are considerable unknowns and there are rationalizations or explanations for most of what happens. What we can do is look at what a player was expected to do prior to the season. We can look player by player and see if there is a pattern of players over or underperforming expectations.

In the case of the Tigers there we knew there would be offensive challenges with the lower part of the lineup as the Tigers made a move towards defense at several key positions. The Tigers also had several key offensive components reaching their mid 30’s and offensive decline should be expected as well. With that in mind the table below compares the Tigers expected performance according to the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projections to their actual performance across the slash stats.

image

I’ve applied a color gradient to the difference between actual and projected OPS performance. Of the 12 Tigers with the most plate appearances, 6 outperformed PECOTA and 6 underperformed with 5 of the 12 falling within 20 points of OPS. In other words for the most part the team’s performance followed a normal (not in the strict statistical sense of a normal distribution) distribution without a disproportionate number over or underperforming.

Now the trouble with the Tigers offense is that if you look at those differentials, Miguel Cabrera was the only regular to over-perform significantly while 3 regulars underperformed significantly. So if one were to weight the differences by plate appearance the offense as a group would be shown to have underperformed.

Plate Discipline

In his post season media session Dave Dombrowski spoke of a need for the organization to make plate discipline a point of emphasis. I’m interpreting his remarks to mean more than simply taking walks and not striking out, we can also look at how McClendon’s troops did compared to PECOTA expectations on walk rate and strike out rate.

image

This may be shocking to many, but the Tigers as a team walked considerably more than expected and they struck out significantly less. On the walk front, 5 Tigers significantly outperformed their expected walk rate while only Brandon Inge significantly walked less than expected. On the strikeout side Guillen, Everett, Inge, and Santiago struck out significantly more than expected but 7 Tigers struck out less than expected.

In terms of walks and strikeouts Lloyd McClendon looks to do favorably.

Do the stats tell us anything?

The stats don’t tell us a whole lot. There isn’t a glaring deficiency that can be pinned on McClendon. In terms of overall performance there doesn’t seem to be anything of note with some players underperforming, and some over-performing. There isn’t a lot there to show that McClendon impacted the team one way or the other. We do see that with the team placing an emphasis on plate discipline, McClendon may be an appropriate choice as the team did walk more than expected.

I do wonder though if the team wouldn’t do better with a new voice. The Tigers are going to need big seasons from Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen as well as continued development from Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas, and Scott Sizemore. There are limited resources available to get better players so for the offense to get better the incumbents will need to improve.

 
 

{ 29 comments }

Jeff Molby October 18, 2009 at 7:01 pm

The only problem I see with those numbers is that (presumably) those PECOTA projections take 2007 and 2008 into account. If McClendon was having a negative effect the whole time, this year’s PECOTA would have factored him in to some degree.

Is it possible get a PECOTA projection for 2009 that’s based solely on 2006 and prior?

billfer October 18, 2009 at 9:37 pm

PECOTA is PECOTA. There isn’t a way to take out that data, and I don’t know that you’d want to. Plus if you look at the players on the roster, Laird/Everett were new this year. Raburn/Thomas had limited MLB data (MiLB data is part of model). Cabrera was here just in 2008. And really, 2007 was a very good year offensively for the team.

The bigger question I think is whether or not PECOTA itself is a good use of measuring against expectations. I picked it up because it does factor in age (among other things). The variation in performance isn’t necessarily attributable to coaching and it could be the variation in projections.

But hey, it’s something.

Jeff Molby October 18, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Yeah, I hear ya on the caveats. Like you said originally, even if you came up with perfect numbers, the clubhouse unknowns are still going to be the deciding factor.

Anyways, I was just thinking about how PECOTA can be used to project forward multiple years. I’m not a BP subscriber, so I can’t access it, but I see that they have a 7-Year Projection for each player. I was just thinking that if you could somehow go back to 7-Year Projection that they made for each player after 2006, you’d have a bigger (and McClendon-less) sample size to compare against the actual results.

Steve October 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I think the players, Leyland and McClendon are in this together. I know its easy to blame McClendon but I dont think its fair to hang it all on him. Everyone is to blame here.
That being said we all respond to different teachers and ways of being taught and maybe we need a change in the hitting dept to see if another instructor can get more out of the guys. I thinks its fair to say that we need to improve in a few area’s. I do like Laird and Inge for the D they provide but man if we could somehow get 30-40 points out of them it would be really nice.

Bottom line, while we should be able to win our division as we seem to have the pitching, but Watching the playoffs lately we surely need to improve our hitting if we are going to go any place beyond just getting a flag for the stadium.

I would love to get my hands on a 305 33 122 guy with a set of wheels on him that can play left field.

Steve

Walt October 18, 2009 at 9:08 pm

He looked like a genius when Inge was batting in the first half.

Kathy October 18, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Is there a stat for Lloyd when runners are in scoring position? I have no clue about any of this stuff, but it seems to me, he didn’t do so hot in that department.

Coach Jim October 18, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Does anybody choke up with 2 strikes anymore?

billfer October 18, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Raburn, Inge, Granderson, and Polanco all choke up with 2 strikes. I believe Thomas may also but I’m not sure about him.

Andre in Chi October 19, 2009 at 8:49 am

To be completely fair though, there are few situations where Polanco does not choke up. In fact, none come to mind.

NWO October 19, 2009 at 8:04 am

From the stat’s it seems, one problem was not the hitting coach but the guy filling out the lineup card. Too many of the guys who were putperforming id not play regularly and those who did, disappointed.

More generally, as a fan and based solely on watching games (and without the benefit or burden of relying on “real statistics”) it seemed to me that randerson’s inability to get on base consistently at the top of the order really was problematic. It is one thing that the bottom of the order does not produce consistently, but if the top of the order too often is striking out, that is a killer. I felt all year that Granderson maybe should have been moved down to 5. The problem was that there was no one reliable to bat lead off.

Keith (Mr. X) October 19, 2009 at 12:20 pm

I’d like to see McClendon get promoted to bench coach and see someone take over his job as hitting coach. I wish they could get Alan Trammell back as our hitting coach. I’d also like to see Trammell to get another shot at managing the Tigers when Leyland gets replaced. It would be nice if he could redeem himself in Detroit.

Stormin Norman $ October 19, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Hanging on to McClendon is tantamount to Tigers admitting they have a weak hitting team. I don’t have the stats, but how many times did the Tigers make a pitcher look great who had been pretty much pummeled by the rest of the league?

I think more often than not, McClendon and likely Leyland manage as on a team-basis rather than an individual basis… for example, Inge’s stats (especially in the 2nd half) were horrible if he gets behind in the count – so rather giving him the green light on that first-pitch belt-high fastball, the Tigers have been advised to ‘take a strike’ to work the pitch counts. Now, guys like Ordonez, Cabrera and Polanco have shown they can hit when falling behind on the count, guys like Inge, Laird, Thames have not – so rather than being selective to the individual (tiger hitter) it appears everyone gets the same marching orders… its either that and/or they do a terrible job at scouting opposing pitching – OR (as mentioned before) they have a lineup filled with poor hitters.

Andre in Chi October 19, 2009 at 2:45 pm

“Hanging on to McClendon is tantamount to Tigers admitting they have a weak hitting team.”

I think the Tigers brass publicly admitting they would have a weak hitting team is tantamount to something similar… There was plenty of talk going into ’09 as to what “kind of team” the Tigers were going to be. The focus was going to be defense + pitching, and there was no effort to disguise at what expense (offense) this was going to be achieved.

“Inge’s stats (especially in the 2nd half) were horrible if he gets behind in the count”

This was obviously due to McClendon’s failings and not, for example, Inge’s lack of joints linking his upper and lower legs in the second half.

“Now, guys like Ordonez, Cabrera and Polanco have shown they can hit when falling behind on the count, guys like Inge, Laird, Thames have not”

I’ve seen numbers indicating that Maggs, Cab and Polly are better 1st-pitch hitters, but haven’t seen too much indicating they are better in high-counts. I would be interested in those.

“so rather than being selective to the individual (tiger hitter) it appears everyone gets the same marching orders… its either that and/or they do a terrible job at scouting opposing pitching – OR (as mentioned before) they have a lineup filled with poor hitters.”

It could be a lot of things, including what you mention here. It could also be a combination of off-years and/or age-related decline in what was anticipated as a large portion of the core of the offense (Granderson, Polanco, Guillen, Ordonez).

In closing, I think McClendon can share in the responsibility for this, but I’m not his is any greater than anyone else’s. Granderson, Ordonez and Polanco (to name a few) have all had excellent offensive seasons (beyond their career norms) under McClendon. Inge’s first half, by his own accounts, can be attributed to his finally listening to outside advice…I wonder who that’s referring to?

Andre in Chi October 20, 2009 at 12:36 am

““Now, guys like Ordonez, Cabrera and Polanco have shown they can hit when falling behind on the count, guys like Inge, Laird, Thames have not”

I’ve seen numbers indicating that Maggs, Cab and Polly are better 1st-pitch hitters, but haven’t seen too much indicating they are better in high-counts. I would be interested in those.”

I’m going to retract my end of this, because I read “falling behind” and thought “high pitch-counts” for some reason. As jcm points out, Polly hates the 1st pitch.

Brent October 19, 2009 at 1:16 pm

when do we get playoff refunds?

Joel in Seattle October 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Any way we can convince Inge to opt out of his contract and go home to play for the Nationals?

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/mariners/2010094809_johjima20.html

Stormin Norman $ October 19, 2009 at 6:01 pm

WOW!! …you don’t see many guys walking away from $16M guaranteed (over 2 yrs) – must be a cultural (Japanese honor) thing. Amusing suggestion Joel, but the Tigers will have to endure (and pay) the likes of Inge $7M, Robertson $10M, Bonderman $12.5M and Willis $12M, etc. for only one more year.

Keith (Mr. X) October 20, 2009 at 12:56 am

I’m going to miss those guys when they’re gone. When they are good, they are the kind of players that give a team character. They’ve had some very rough years lately though.

Joel in Seattle October 20, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I agree, Keith. It’s a love/hate relationship with all of those guys.

Vince in MN October 19, 2009 at 6:57 pm

From the position of an outsider, I think there are just too damn many variables to be able to assess the success or failure of any particular coach. Emphasizing sabermetrics doesn’t get one very far. The numbers don’t take into consideration intangibles such as 1. Does LMcL know his stuff and how does he interact (and how much) with the players. 2. Do the players listen or are they even interested in what he has to say (Inge?). 3. Does it matter if LMcL knows and the player listens (Thomas?) 4. Does the hitting coach even need to interact in some cases (Cabrera?).

With a manager, you can at least assess their effectiveness somewhat (and this is even kind of a grey area) based on game/series/season decisions which we are privy to. But with coaches we have no such information. It is almost entirely based on conjecture.

In the case of the ’09 Tigers, the true solution to the problem is likely similar to Agatha Christie’s mystery “Murder On the Orient Express”, where all the suspects had a hand in the dirty deed.

billfer October 20, 2009 at 7:37 am

I agree Vince which is why I didn’t really come out with a strong position. It was more showing that the stats don’t really paint a damning picture of Lloyd. That’s not to say he’s doing a good job, just that what we the public have to work with doesn’t really show him to be doing a bad job.

Vince in MN October 20, 2009 at 3:27 pm

It is probably a case where we just have to cross our fingers and hope that JL, DD, et al know what they are doing. For those fans that find rearranginng the deck chairs on the Titanic reassuring, that might be just fine, while for those who have no fear of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, this thesis may not work so well. As for myself, I just want to say that I firmly agree with all of my colleagues on DTW.

And now on to “Quantifying Rick Knapp”, yes? – Ha ha. Anyway good fun as we slouch towards what looks to be a Yankees-Phillies WS.

jcm October 19, 2009 at 11:18 pm

“I’ve seen numbers indicating that Maggs, Cab and Polly are better 1st-pitch ”
Polanco almost never swing at the first pitch. He always swing at the second
His career Avg. with 0- 2 was .490

Andre in Chi October 20, 2009 at 12:19 am

wouldn’t that be the 3rd pitch?

Andrew in Toronto October 20, 2009 at 7:50 am

It doesn’t seem to be true either. Here’s his real numbers:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?n1=polanpl01&year=Career&t=b#count

The count he really never swings on is 3-0. Only ONCE has he put the ball in play on a 3-0 count in his entire career!

Coleman October 20, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Knapp?

I thought next was gonna be “Quantifying The B.O.O.B.s”…

Chris October 21, 2009 at 1:04 pm

We always try to make some case for a coach..and say he has no impact, well, OK he had no impact…He gets paid a ton..to have no impact? This is the same things they said about Chuck Hernandez. Llyod is terrible and the fact that they never grinded out at-bats..The Number of walks to strikeouts…does not tell the story of how many mail in at-bats or inability to move a leadoff double to 3rd or score a run from 3rd w/ less than 2 outs…They had fringe ML hitters like Inge, Thames, etc. and they refused to hit the pitch the other way, when the situation called for it and it, fittingly, bit them in the end. They never addressed this issue (judging from the approaches these guys took, down the stretch)…They need to replace all their hitting people in the ML and majors. That is as big a no-brainer as getting rid of Chuck..yet, I hear the same appologists for Lloyd that Chuck recieved. One guy tells it all……Grandy can no longer even play against Lefties, that is massive regression.

Andre in Chi October 21, 2009 at 3:04 pm

“One guy tells it all……Grandy can no longer even play against Lefties, that is massive regression.”

Granderson v Lefties

2005 (25 ABs)
.320/.393/1.073

2006 (147 ABs)
.218/.277/.672

2007 (119 ABs) [McClendon takes over as Hitting Coach]
.119/.225/.494

2008 (147 ABs)
.259/.310/.739

2009 (180 ABs)
.183/.245/.484

Its not regression, Grandy just doesn’t consistently hit lefties well (or just doesn’t hit them well in odd-numbered years where he’s had more than 100 ABs).

“We always try to make some case for a coach..and say he has no impact, well, OK he had no impact…He gets paid a ton..to have no impact?”

I agree with what you’re saying here in general, the problem is how to go about showing the lack of impact. There might be a better argument for replacing McClendon just for the sake of a “new voice” (which I’m not necessarily against), but it doesn’t look like there’s too much damning evidence against. Especially not when age and injury could be argued to account for much of the decline in production for players like Maggs, Polanco and Guillen. Basically, if you want to get rid of McClendon to “shake things up”, in the hope that that alone is what’s needed, fine…but lets not kid ourselves that he’s THE issue.

Coleman October 21, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I think it’s a bit silly to say guys like Thames and Inge “refused” to hit the ball the other way…maybe the couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t want to. When teams put the extreme shift on against Thames, you don’t think the guy really really wished he could drive one to right field? And you think if they replace the hitting coach (which I’m all for, by the way), that the new guy (recommendations?) will turn Thames into an Ordonez? Good luck with that.

As for Inge, part of the rationale for his new stance was to be able to wait longer on pitches and hit to the opposite field more often. At the break Inge was the 3rd best opposite field hitter on the team, behind Cabrera and Polanco (or Ordonez, I forget which now), with 3 HR and 14 hits to RF. He finished with 3 HR and 15 hits. Can’t, or won’t? Maybe it’s not so easy to go opposite field if you’re getting zero leg drive? Anyway, it’s a skill Inge never exhibited before, so I’ve got to give credit here to Inge and Lloyd, regardless of what I think of them generally.

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