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The Marlins' Ozzie Guillen, Stats, and the Hidden Advantage

When the Miami Marlins hired Ozzie Guillen, we all knew that the team was getting an old-school manager. Guillen is the same guy who yelled at and demanded a pitcher get demoted because he failed to hit a batter on command. Guillen's batting lineups are as old-timey as they get, complete with speedy players at the top and contact hitters, regardless of quality, batting second. Ozzie Guillen is manager from the gut through and through; he will do whatever he thinks is best for the team without a second thought.

So it is no surprise that in this article by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, Guillen is quoted saying the following hilariously Ozzie-like line.

Ozzie Guillen is not a disciple of statistics because, as he says, "the only good stat is when you win. When you look at stats, there are more negatives than positives."

Read more here:

Now, coming from a blog that spends most of its time analyzing the Marlins using statistics, you might think that I would deride Guillen for being so block-headed and ignoring the advantage of statistics versus managing from the gut the entire time. But as I reflected on this comment more over the previous evening, I realized that this thought process might not be a bad thing for Ozzie after all. Let us explore the article and see why.

Runners in Scoring Position (Again)

This piece was written after the Marlins failed to deliver with runners in scoring position following a 6-4 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies. We mentioned in May that the Marlins should not be worried about this, because adjusting in that situation may only lead to more problems in hitters being unable to bust out of slumps. Since that initial article, the Marlins have pulled their lineup with runners in scoring position up a little, coinciding with an offensive improvement. By May 16, they were hitting .207/.309/.319 in those situations; now the Marlins are hitting a slightly better .228/.329/.337. This mark is still the fifth-worst in baseball (.287 wOBA).

It is here that we hear about the Marlins inquiring about numbers. The wrong numbers.

But after the Marlins went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position in last night's 6-4 loss to the Phillies, including zero for four with the bases loaded, Guillen instructed bench coach Joey Cora to look at the numbers. What Cora found surprised even Guillen.

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These numbers are the exact sort of thing that you don't want your manager to look at. The reason for it is that you are not going to be able to improve a player's swing or approach with runners in scoring position, or in particular situation for that matter. This is especially true when you have such a small sample size to work with that you do not know whether this is a true-talent issue or a real problem. Hanley Ramirez has a career .352 wOBA with runners in scoring position in a whopping 810 PA versus an overall .383 wOBA in almost 4000 PA. With a runner at second, which sample would you guess is more likely to be predictive, the smaller 810 PA sample or the huge career sample? The same goes for Omar Infante, who has a career .315 wOBA with runners in scoring position in 809 PA versus a career .314 wOBA.

The only thing you want your players to do is try and hit their way out of those types of fluky slumps. We are talking about making judgments on players based on 40 to 60 PA within one season. In terms of the numbers, anything can happen in that short period of time, so overly concerning yourself about these numbers is exactly what a bad manager might do.

The Hidden Advantage

And this where Ozzie Guillen's hidden advantage lies: he does not make decisions based on the numbers. Whether the stats are done right, as they often are in analysis on this site, or whether they are improper, like looking at batting average with runners in scoring position or individual matchup numbers, Guillen simply does not listen to them.

When Guillen was asked if he had given any thought to moving Morrison in the No. 2 spot, where he batted .320 as a rookie in 2010, the manager said he didn't think he would perform any better there than he has been in the No. 5 position. On the other hand, Guillen said it's imperative that Morrison break out of his slump.

"We've got to get somebody to start swinging the bat better behind Stanton," Guillen said. "We have to figure out who. But you look around....nobody's swinging the bat well. Nobody."

Here, Guillen basically says that tinkering with the lineup will do nothing to improve a player, which is right in line with what we would expect. He also mentions that the important thing is not that the Marlins find a right slot for Morrison, but rather that Morrison simply gets out of his slump. Later in the article, he basically makes the argument to stay the course and allow the bats to wake up rather than to turn to tinkering with the lineup. This is essentially an appeal to simple regression to the mean, which is exactly what you want to hear from a manager.

This is where Ozzie Guillen's stubborn insistence on avoiding numbers comes to our advantage, as he can easily avoid managing based on small samples and bad numbers that do not give any information. We hear all the time about managers inserting players into the lineup based on them having gone, say, 10-for-17 against a certain starting pitcher. Those managers build lineups based on those numbers, and those managers would be terribly wrong. Similarly, other managers may have panicked and shifted the lineup around or even benched a player for struggling with runners in scoring position. Those managers would also be wrong.

But Ozzie Guillen does none of the above. He listens to none of these numbers. Whether good or bad, statistics are not a part of Guillen's repertoire of managing analysis. And the honest truth is that most managers in baseball have no interest in numbers. Very few managers listen enough to their advanced analysis guys in the front office. Most of them are intent on managing their own style. So what if Guillen does not know how to build a proper lineup? Fredi Gonzalez never knew. Neither did Edwin Rodriguez. Jack McKeon did not either. We lose very little by not building an efficient lineup, because 80 percent of baseball is not doing it either. But any number of those previous managers might have thought that a player who was 1-for-15 versus a pitcher might be worth a benching. Guillen would not even know that, and that's a good thing.