Looking for bullshit in Earl Weaver’s “Weaver On Strategy”

Weaver on StrategyADDED 7/4/16: A commenter below missed the point of this piece. The point isn’t that Earl Weaver was an idiot or that he couldn’t manage; that’s clearly not true. The point is that memories are often inaccurate. Nothing that Weaver got “wrong” in his book means that his principles weren’t sound. But I’m always fascinated by what we remember…or don’t remember.

Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager who led the Baltimore Orioles to four World Series and a Series championship in 1970, wrote a book about his craft in 1984 after he retired from the dugout for the first time. In “Weaver On Strategy,” written with Terry Pluto, he laid out his philosophies in all areas of the game and his rationales behind them. It’s a fun read, and especially so 30+ years after it was written, as so many approaches to the game have changed radically since Weaver’s day (for instance, good luck finding a nine-man pitching staff in an era in which teams sometime use nine — or 13 — pitchers in a game).

Earl peppers his yarn with real-life examples…or at least what he remembers them to be. Because I am fond of holding baseball memories up to the light of reality (as I’ve done here, here, here, here and here), I’m going to take a close look at some of what Weaver remembered and call bullshit when need be.

Let’s start with Chapter 1, Spring Training, on page 22 (I’m using the 1984 Collier Books soft cover):

[Boog] Powell often had bad Aprils. He couldn’t stand the cold weather. He would go into May hitting around .100, but you had to stick with Boog until he got going.

Boog

Yeah, I forgot Boog Powell played for the Indians in 1975, even though the image of him in this all-red uniform should have been burned on my retina

VERDICT: Exaggerated, but essentially true. Powell actually hit below .200 in April only once, in 1972 when he hit .121, but he wasn’t much over .200 most of the Aprils he played for Weaver (1969-75). His .229 career average in April was by far his lowest of any month (he hit at least .260 every other month). But in his last April playing for Weaver, 1975, Powell hit an uncharacteristic .440, with four homers in 25 at-bats. (ADDED 7/5/16: Hey, guess what? I get to call bullshit on MYSELF! Yes, Boog hit .440 in April 1975, but as someone pointed out, he did so playing for Frank Robinson in Cleveland, not Earl Weaver in Baltimore. My credibility is shot already.)

On the other side of the coin is a guy like Pat Kelly….I don’t know why, but Pat often would be leading the league in hitting around May 15. Kelly always was a good hitter, but he was especially hot early in the season, and a manager should pay attention to such trends and get that guy in the lineup whenever possible in April and May.

VERDICT: Kinda sorta true. It’s true Kelly’s career April average of .305 was his highest of any month (his highest average in any other was .279). “Leading the league in hitting around May 15”? Well, in 1972 he was second in the American League, just one point behind Steve Braun, on May 15, and in 1973 he led the league by a wide margin on that date with a .426 average. Those two years clearly made a big impression on Earl. Of course, in 1976 Kelly was hitting a robust .152 on May 15. But in 1977, his first year under Weaver, Kelly was hitting .355 on May 15…not leading the league, but close.

Pat Kelly

Pat Kelly

However, Weaver seems not to have followed his own advice about how to use Kelly. Remember, Earl said “a manager should pay attention to such trends and get that guy in the lineup whenever possible in April and May.” But in 1978 — just one year after Kelly had once again gotten off to a hot start — Weaver put him in the starting lineup in just five of the Orioles’ 31 games through May 15. And Kelly started only six of 34 games during that same period in 1979, although in Earl’s defense Kelly hit a mere .217 in that time. Likewise Kelly started only five of 31 games through May 15, 1980, his last year playing for Weaver. Remember, all this happened before Earl wrote the book.

I’ve had rookies slump and I’ve stuck with them. In 1982 Cal Ripken, Jr., was batting .089 going into May. It was getting close to the point that he might have to go back to the minors. But then he got hit by a pitch, and I kept him out of the lineup for a few extra days, but to let him sit for a while and get things in perspective.

VERDICT: True in spirit. Ripken did get off to a horrible start in his first April with the Orioles — but he had three hits on opening day, and even when he stopped hitting after that his average never dipped below .100. He bottomed out at .117 after going 0-for-3 on May 1, and he hit in the ninth spot in the order the next day. Earl also exaggerated how long Ripken sat after being hit by a pitch on May 3…he missed all of one game before returning to action, and he missed exactly one game (the second game of a doubleheader) the rest of the year. His record streak of 2,632 consecutive games played began May 30, the day after he sat out that doubleheader nightcap, and his record streak of 8,264 consecutive innings began June 5.

On to page 23…

In 1977 Rich Dauer started the season at one for forty-four, and we were losing. General manager Hank Peters came to me and said that we didn’t have to keep Rich in the majors. I said, let’s give him a little more time.

VERDICT: Pretty damn close. Dauer had gone 4-for-39 in his first taste of the major leagues in 1976, and things went even worse to start 1977, as Dauer had just one hit in 41 at-bats through the end of May, playing sporadically (he started only 12 of the first 44 games). But the Orioles weren’t losing — they were 26-18 in those 44 games, despite Dauer’s lack of production at the plate. Looking back, it is pretty remarkable that Weaver was willing to stick with a guy who had gotten off to a 5-for-80 start in his major league career. Earl put some faith in the fact that Dauer had led the International League in 1976 with a .336 batting average.

Even though Mike Flanagan started one season at 2-8, I kept him in the rotation.

VERDICT: Absolutely right. Flanagan was 2-8 in 1977, his first full season in the rotation, then won his next six starts and finished the year 15-10.

Now to page 25:

Even good players run into a pitcher they simply can’t hit. For example, Gary Roenicke may never hit Dan Quisenberry. Boog Powell was one for sixty-one against Mickey Lolich. You defeat your purpose when you have guys in the lineup against pitchers they can’t hit. Boog had a miserable time against Jim Kaat, too. So when Lolich or Kaat pitched, it wasn’t smart to have Powell in the lineup.

Boog

Mickey Lolich wasn’t the only lefty who gave Boog Powell fits…Boog’s lifetime average against lefties was 37 points lower than his average against normal people

VERDICT: Sniff…sniff…I smell bull droppings with regard to Boog Powell, although again the spirit is pretty much correct. As far as Roenicke is concerned, Earl seems to have rushed to judgment. Before the book was written Roenicke had all of five plate appearances against the Royals relief ace during Weaver’s tenure (Earl stepped down after the 1982 season), with one walk, no hits and no strikeouts. That’s just not very much to base an opinion on, one way or the other.

But as far as Powell is concerned…if “it wasn’t smart to have Powell in the lineup” against Lolich, why in the world would Weaver have let him hit against him 61 times?

Despite the fact that Weaver thought Powell couldn’t hit Lolich, Boog did face Lolich more often that any other left-hander (Powell hit left-handed), and there were only five righties Powell went up against more often. And while Boog certainly struggled against Lolich, he wasn’t anything close to 1-for-61. (And by the way, on page 58 Weaver writes that Powell was 2-for-61 against Lolich. Still not true.)

Boog was actually at his worst against Lolich before Weaver took over as Baltimore manager, going 3-for-23 with two walks and no homers. Once Earl was in charge, here’s how Powell did:

Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
1968 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 .333 .500 .333
1969 8 3 1 0 1 2 0 1 .375 .375 .875
1970 17 5 0 0 1 4 1 6 .294 .316 .471
1971 21 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 .048 .048 .048
1972 11 1 1 0 0 1 0 5 .091 .091 .182
1973 6 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .333 .333 .333
1974 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
TOTALS 67 13 2 0 2 8 2 16 .194 .214 .313
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2016.

As bad as this is, it’s still a long way from 1-for-61. Boog’s 2-for-32 performance against Lolich in 1971-72 clearly left some scars on Earl’s memory.

It took a while for a Weaver to give up on Powell against Lolich.

Lolich starts vs. Orioles Powell starts vs. Lolich
1968 3 2
1969 4 2
1970 5 5
1971 6 5
1972 5 3
1973 6 2
1974 5 0

Note that in 1970 and ’71 Powell started 10 of 11 games against Lolich, but by 1973 Weaver had finally figured out how things were going, and Boog started just three out of 14 games against Lolich after that.

As far as Jim Kaat was concerned, Weaver was much quicker to shut down Powell. Boog was 9-for-46 against the Twins lefty before Weaver became manager, and in the 22 games Kaat started against Weaver’s teams Powell started only five, none of them after 1970…meaning the last 15 times Kaat went up against the Orioles Powell started the game on the bench. Boog had five hits (all singles) in 18 at-bats against Kaat under Weaver, with two walks; that includes a pinch-hit appearance and a time when Kaat faced him in relief. Boog was in the lineup in the 1970 American League playoff series game that Kaat started and stroked an RBI single his first time up; it was the first run of the game and held up as the game-winning hit.

Next we turn to page 41, and a discussion about Tom Shopay as Weaver writes about why he likes players who draw walks:

Shopay was a base-on-balls man. His record in the minors showed it. But when he did get into the lineup with Baltimore, he didn’t do one of the things he did best: take pitches and draw walks….I’d play him against Nolan Ryan, because I figured he could draw a walk and start a rally, assuming he wouldn’t swing at all those pitches Ryan would throw outside the strike zone. But Tommy would press and keep swinging at those bad pitches.

VERDICT: You know how many times Weaver started Shopay against Ryan? One…and while it’s true he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, he did draw a walk. Shopay had four other plate appearances against Ryan off the bench, and walked in one of them. Two walks in eight appearances isn’t too shabby, even against Ryan.

But the real bullshit here is that Shopay “was a base-on-balls man.” He never walked more than 49 times in a minor league season, and his Class AAA walk rates were nothing special.

PA BB
1967 590 37
1968 490 21
1969 279 26
1970 408 49
1973 536 46
1974 400 41
1976 202 24

(Shopay spent all of 1971, 1972 and 1975 in the majors, playing very little.) Seems like walking in 25% of his plate appearances against Ryan was pretty good for a guy who walked in 8% of his AAA plate appearances from 1967-76. Maybe the reason Weaver remembers being so frustrated with Shopay was because he mis-evaluated him in the first place.

Now to page 44:

I remember a game in 1976 when Reggie Jackson was playing for the Orioles. Reggie had pretty good speed and he could steal a base. In this instance, Reggie was on first with two outs. A left-hander was pitching to Lee May. May hit a lot of home runs off lefties in his career, but Reggie decided to steal second. He made it, and he thought he made a good play, but the pitcher promptly walked May. I had wanted Lee to have a chance at winning the game in that spot, but the stolen base cost him the opportunity.

VERDICT: Bullshit. And in fact, something completely contrary to this did happen.

I looked at all the games in 1976 — the only year Reggie played for the Orioles — in which Jackson stole a base (he stole 28, including four games in which he stole two bases) AND May walked (he had 41, including three games in which he walked twice). I found May never walked after Jackson stole a base.

Reggie

Reggie Jackson’s career high in stolen bases came when he played for Earl Weaver in 1976

But on September 4, in the bottom of the seventh inning against the Yankees, Jackson drew a two-out walk off lefty Ken Holtzman with the Orioles trailing 2-1. Jackson then stole second. Holtzman didn’t walk May with first base open, perhaps because it would have meant putting the go-ahead run on base; May singled to score Reggie and tie the game, although the Orioles went on to lose, 4-2.

Maybe Weaver remembered the right incident with the wrong runner…maybe Reggie wasn’t the one who stole the base to take the bat out of May’s hands? Well, not in 1976…I looked at all eight of May’s intentional walks that year, and none of them came after a stolen base.

Perhaps something similar to this happened at some point in Weaver’s career and in his mind he put the blame on Reggie. But this event, as described, never occurred.

Here are a few from page 59:

Mark Belanger hit well over .300 against Jim Kern and Nolan Ryan, but he was barely a .200 hitter against the rest of the league.

VERDICT: There’s some bullshit in there. Belanger, a .228 lifetime hitter, went 10-for-16 against the hard-throwing Kern, but against Ryan he was 12-for-48 (including playoffs) for a .250 mark. Belanger did draw 10 walks off Ryan for a .367 on-base percentage.

Another unbelievable statistic was that Pat Kelly was six for eight against Detroit’s Dave Rozema — with four of those hits being home runs. If Rozema was in the game, I’d do everything in my power to get Kelly up to bat.

VERDICT: Kelly was indeed 6-for-8 with four homers against Rozema. But the bit about doing “everything in my power” to get Kelly to the plate against Rozema is a bit of a stretch. Rozema started only three games against the Orioles during Kelly’s years with the team (1977-80)…Kelly sat out the first, in 1977, then started and hit two homers in 1978 and another homer in 1979. In 1980 Rozema faced the Orioles in relief three times when Kelly wasn’t already in the lineup…and on two of those occasions Weaver chose not to use Kelly, including once when Weaver left right-handed hitting Lee May in to bat as DH against the right-handed Rozema rather than use Kelly, a left-handed hitter, to pinch-hit. But on September 10, Weaver brought Kelly in to hit for Benny Ayala against Rozema with the bases loaded, and Kelly launched a grand slam that provided the wining runs. (Kelly was hitting in the designated hitter’s spot in the first game in which Weaver used his “phantom DH.”)  At any rate, keep in mind that Kelly’s outstanding stat line against Rozema was compiled in just three games.

In my early years with the Orioles Curt Motton was three for five off Rudy May. The three hits were home runs.

VERDICT: Earl actually undersold this one. Motton faced May only four times…with homers in both at-bats in a game in 1969 and one homer in two trips to the plate in a game in 1970. But Weaver didn’t take full advantage of Motton’s seeming mastery of May, as May started five other games against the Orioles during Motton’s time with the team in which Motton did not appear.

Two of the players who gave [Jim] Palmer fits were Craig Reynolds and Doug Griffin. Palmer would say late in a game, “Griffin is coming up, and don’t let me get in trouble. Griffin is hitting about .400 against me.”

VERDICT: True. Griffin hit .362 against Palmer (17-for-47), and Reynolds was 5-for-6 and singled the first five times he faced Palmer, albeit those hits came in just two games a week apart. He went up against Palmer only once after that and struck out.

On to page 60:

This is something I did in September of 1975. Mark Belanger was a .220 hitter for me for most of his career, but he was also the greatest defensive shortstop I have ever seen. I spent some time trying to figure out how I could get the best of both worlds —  a good bat and Belanger’s amazing glove. I came up with this plan, which is still legal.

When my team was on the road, I would list someone else as our leadoff hitter and shortstop. Often it was Royle Stillman, a young outfielder we had brought up from Rochester. Stillman would bat in the top of the first, and then Belanger would go in to play shortstop in the bottom of the inning….Stillman was four for nine in those games. That’s .444, which isn’t too bad. His on-base percentage was over .500.

Stillman

His full name rolls off the tongue: Royle Eldon Stillman

VERDICT: Essentially true, but several things here aren’t quite right. Weaver did use this tactic with Stillman, but when he writes, “Often it was Royle Stillman,” that implies he used other players in this role in 1975. He didn’t; Stillman was the only one. And Stillman was not 4-for-9 in those games; there were only six of these games, and Stillman had three singles in six at-bats for a .500 average. Also, Stillman hit leadoff in only three of the games and batted second in the other three. Before using Stillman as his “shortstop,” Weaver used him once as a “center fielder,” having him bat in the top of the first before putting Paul Blair in the game (Blair’s .218 batting average in 1975 was actually lower than Belanger’s .226). Stillman was a left-handed thrower, and while he never actually appeared on the field as a shortstop, his appearance at the position on the lineup card earned him a mention in my review of left-handed shortstops, second basemen and third basemen.

Page 65:

Say it’s the eighth inning of a close game and the bases are loaded with one out. Rick Dempsey is hitting for the Orioles against Fergie Jenkins. Dempsey has a batting average just barely over .100 against Jenkins, and Fergie’s slider gives Rick all sorts of trouble. If a manager has Terry Crowley sitting on the bench and doesn’t use him to hit for Dempsey, there’s something wrong.

VERDICT: Again, Weaver undersold this, although he’s presenting this as a hypothetical. Dempsey never got a regular season hit off Jenkins, in eight plate appearances. Of course, that involved just two games Dempsey started, and in the first one (in 1977) Weaver pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning with Tony Muser (the Orioles were behind by four runs with the bases empty). In the second game (in 1979) Weaver let Dempsey hit in the eighth inning with the O’s down by four. What’s funny is Weaver twice used Dempsey as a PINCH-HITTER against Jenkins, although Baltimore was way behind on both occasions.

Ahead to page 77:

I also use my statistics to decide on changing pitchers. Let’s say it’s a crucial part of the game, and Jim Palmer is pitching to Graig Nettles. Nettles is a .375 hitter against Palmer, but my stats show that he’s only two for twenty-one against Tippy, so I’ll bring in Martinez to face Nettles. The decision is made for you.

VERDICT: Again this is presented as a hypothetical, but the faint whiff of bullshit is in the air. Nettles actually hit .243 in his career against Palmer, although in the first three years he faced Palmer (1969-71) he was 12-for-35 (.343), including the 1969 playoffs. But Weaver is close to the mark concerning Martinez; Nettles was 3-for-23 against Tippy while Weaver was managing the O’s.

Page 81:

I remember a game when Aurelio Rodriguez was with the old Washington Senators and I had Mike Cuellar pitching. In the first inning Cuellar threw Rodriguez a fastball, and he homered. The next two times up, Cuellar got Rodriguez with screwballs. In the ninth inning Rodriguez batted again. Mike got two strikes on him and figured that Rodriguez would be looking for the screwball….So Mike crossed him up and threw a fastball. Rodriguez hit it over the center-field fence to beat us.

VERDICT: True in spirit, but with some notable errors. Rodriguez hit only two home runs in his entire career against Cuellar, and they came in different games. But the first of those homers, in 1970, clearly triggered this memory. Aurelio (the original A-Rod) doubled in the first inning, then struck out and lined out his next two times up. His next time up, in the eighth (not ninth) inning, with the Senators trailing 3-2, Rodriguez hit a three-run homer for the margin of victory. I’ll give Earl a pass on this one.

And now page 106:

There was an episode with Doug DeCinces in 1978 when the Orioles were facing Cleveland in the first game of  a doubleheader. DeCinces was playing second base, and there were runners on first and second with one out. A ground ball was hit, and Mark Belanger had to range far to make the play. He caught it and threw to DeCinces at second for the force. The throw was to the outfield side of second, and Doug held on to the ball for quite a while. What Doug didn’t notice was that Buddy Bell kept running and scored all the way from second base….I took DeCinces out of the first game of that doubleheader, but he was back in the lineup for the second game.

VERDICT: Wow. Earl absolutely nailed this one. It happened on May 28, and I wonder if the reason the details are so accurate is because book co-author Terry Pluto was covering the game as the Indians beat writer for the Akron Beacon Journal and had his own scorebook or game story to refer to (I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect Pluto was working in that role at the time). DeCinces did indeed play in the second game of that doubleheader — but at third base, not second (Earl didn’t say he played second base in the game, I just thought you’d want to know). In fact, DeCinces played second base only once for Weaver after this (he was the Orioles’ primary third baseman through 1981).

None of my nit-picking is meant to denigrate the book; Earl imparts a lot of baseball wisdom in an entertaining way. It’s just a reminder to take baseball memories with at least a few grains of salt.

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2 thoughts on “Looking for bullshit in Earl Weaver’s “Weaver On Strategy”

  1. John Dougherty

    I made it to the Ripken comments. I hope you hold this up as a shining example of profound Truth in Journalsim! Gotcha! HaHa! You sure showed everyone what a genius you are! Earl managed for many years and was considered by EVERYONE to be an excellent tactician. You WRITE about baseball. Earl MANAGED a Major League Baseball Team to a World Championship. Those who CAN do. Those who CAN’T, write about it with wordpress. Trash.

    Reply

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