Monday, April 18, 2011

New Stat - Wins Above John Russell

After watching the first 15 games of the season (well, watching and reading about the first 15 games of the season) it seems obvious to me that the Pirates have a different attitude and swagger about them. They had a pretty wretched homestand after losing 3 of 4 to the Rockies and then both games of the rain-shortened series to the Brewers. In recent years, that was the clarion call to begin The Suck.

But the Pirates went to Cincinnati and won 3 of 4 games against the division leader. Repeat -- on the road. The same place where they went 17-64 last year. In addition to the maturation of The Core Four of Alvarez, McCutchen, Tabata, and Walker there is a new man at the helm in the form of Clint Hurdle.

I was a fan of his from the moment I saw his confidence fill the room at the Pirate Fan Fest in January. He is a leader and has already shown that he will stand up for his team. He supports them when necessary and reprimands them when needed. In short, he is nothing like what John Russell was as manager.

After watching Hurdle lease, with the option to buy, space inside of Jim Tracy's head during the 14 inning game against the Rockies (in which Hurdle put McCutchen in the on-deck circle to psych out Tracy), I realized that there was no way in hell that Russell would have ever thought of that move. You could have gone 4 levels down into his sub-conscious like in the movie Inception and you still couldn't have convinced him to do that move.

This led me to conceive a new tracking stat...Wins Above John Russell (WAJR). It even has a cool pronunciation like "wager". Very similar to the widely-used Wins Above Replacement (WAR) which tracks how a player does versus a hypothetical replacement-level player fresh from AAA, WAJR will see how Hurdle does versus a replacement-level manager in the form of John Russell.

Every time Hurdle pulls a pitcher who's struggling, instead of "saving his bullpen" for the potential that he can use his set up man and closer for a mythical situation...that's a partial WAJR. When you start a guy who's hot, even if it's because of your gut feeling...that's a partial WAJR. When you own Jim Tracy in extra innings...that's almost a full WAJR.

By my rough estimate we are at 1.5 WAJR already, which would project to 16 more wins than last year. It's yet to be determined if Russell will lead the Pirates to a championship, but he already has them respecting themselves and giving them confidence. Eventually that will lead to gaining respect from the rest of the league. That might be worth a WAJR or two.

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