Book excerpt: Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: Pat Moran

For the next few weeks, THT will publish excerpts from Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, 1876-2008, which is scheduled for release in December, but can be ordered now. (I should note I make considerably more money if you order directly from the publisher, but if you want to get it from Amazon or another source that’s your call.)

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(The following excerpt comes from Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, Chapter 5: Rise of the Fundamentalists, 1893-1919. Moran is one of 16 managers profiled in this chapter).

Pat Moran

W/L Record: (748-586 .561)
Managed:
Full Seasons: Philadelphia (NL) 1915-18; Cincinnati 1919-23
Majority in: (none)
Minority of: (none)
Birnbaum Database: +510 runs
Individual Hitters: -23 runs
Individual Pitchers: +276 runs
Pythagenpat Difference: +107 runs
Team Offense: +140 runs
Team Defense: +10 runs
Team Characteristics: Moran rode his starting position players and main pitchers as much as humanly possible, only using his bench when the situation forced it upon him. He preferred veteran hitters. Like Fielder Jones, Moran relied on hitters who took pitches, pitchers who worked the strike zone, and fielders who caught everything.
LPA: 2.27
LPA+: 63

Pat Moran might be the most underrated manager in baseball history. The Birnbaum Database loves him and he had a tremendous record, yet few have heard of him. It is understandable why he has been forgotten – he managed only nine seasons before dying over 80 years ago. However, in that brief stretch Moran was clearly on pace for Cooperstown. To whit, in his career:

- From the dawn of time until 1950, the Phillies only claimed one pennant. That came in 1915, during Pat Moran’s rookie season as manager.

- From creation until 1939, the Reds nabbed a sole pennant. That came in 1919, when Pat Moran took the reins in Cincinnati. He also won that year’s World Series, one of only two the franchise had prior to 1975.

Nice tidbits to have on the resume. Aside from his two pennants, Moran had a quartet of second place finishes. Alas, Moran was an alcoholic (nicknamed “Whiskey Face”) whose liver gave out before his 50th birthday. Otherwise he would be in the Hall of Fame.

Moran made the most of the talent he had. Though his teams featured only one legitimately great player, Pete Alexander, they consistently competed. The Phillies improved by sixteen games when Moran arrived. When he left, their winning percentage dropped by over 100 points. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s winning percentage improved by 150 points his first season, and their record declined by 7.5 games after his liver failed. Moran helmed only two losing seasons. One came in 1918 after Philadelphia’s owners sold superstar Pete Alexander. In response to that deal, Eppa Rixey, their second best hurler, left to help the US war effort. Moran’s other dismal season came in 1921, when his three best hitters – Heine Groh, Jake Daubert, and Edd Roush – all suffered injuries.

Moran put his own distinctive stamp on his ball clubs, which largely caused their success. As a backup catcher in the early century, Moran had played under Frank Selee and Frank Chance. Those men prioritized sound play and fantastic defense. Moran adopted those ideas, demanding attention to detail and thorough practice. When he became Phillies manager in 1915, he made his players walk to and from the playing field, two miles from where they stayed, for extra exercise. He sometimes held two-a-day practices, making his players walk twice as much. His spring trainings consisted of endless hours of practicing plays – pickoffs, cutoffs, bunt fielding, backing up teammates. He did not want to lose because of the details.

His techniques paid immediate dividends. In 1914, Defensive Efficiency Ratio, Fielding Win Shares, and fielding percentage all agree the Phillies’ defense was horrible. For example, their .666 DER was almost 30 points behind the second worst squad. Under Moran in 1915, they topped the league in DER. They also committed 108 fewer errors than the year before while leading the NL in Fielding Win Shares. They remained no worse than average in DER and Fielding Win Shares his entire time there. As soon as he left, Philadelphia fell to last place in both categories. Cincinnati had been seventh in DER for three successive seasons before Moran arrived, but he vaulted them atop the league in 1919. They experienced a similar surge in Fielding Win Shares and fielding percentage. The Reds committed 192 errors in 1918′s war-shortened 129-game season. With Moran, they committed barely an error a game.

This improved defense had a pronounced impact on his hurlers. Philadelphia’s team ERA went from worst to first from 1914-15, dropping nearly a full point along the way. Every pitcher’s ERA dropped. Seven of the eight hurlers who spent all year with the Phillies set new personal bests in ERA. Of the seventeen seasons Pete Alexander qualified for an ERA title, three came under Moran: they were the first, second, and fourth best ERAs of his career. When Moran went to the Reds in 1919, the scenario repeated itself. Despite having several veteran pitchers, a majority of the hurlers posted new career-best ERAs.

It was not just defense causing this improvement, either. Moran involved himself preparing his pitchers. When pitchers warmed up before games, he stood behind the catcher and yelled situations for the pitcher to imagine himself in. Moran began the practice where catchers flashed a series of signs to the pitcher instead of a single sign.

Not only did Moran improve the performance of his pitchers, he did it while making them throw more innings. As noted in Chapter 3, his aversion to leveraging stemmed from a desire to get as much production as he could from his most important hurlers. The 1916 Phillies possessed three of the NL’s top nine leaders in innings pitched. Pete Alexander threw over 375 innings every year he was under Moran. He never did that in any other seasons. In Philadelphia’s first 32 years of existence, its pitching staff led the league in complete games once. They did it in both of Moran’s first two seasons there.

When the liveball caused pitchers to throw fewer innings, Moran could no longer have one man throw nearly 400 innings, as Alexander had. Moran still worked his horses as hard as anyone, though. Moran’s 1921 Reds contained half of the league’s 300-inning men. By the end of his career, he essentially adopted a four-man staff, plugging in his main starters as often as possible. Here are how many innings each NL team gathered from their four main pitchers in 1922-23:

Team	1922	1923	Total
CIN	1080	1124	2204
BRK	962	1042	2004
PIT	945	982	1927
CHC	871	908	1779
NYG	830	829	1758
STL	867	873	1740
PHI	869	761	1630
BOB	799	828	1627

Furthermore, Moran, like so many managers before and since who centered their game on run prevention, prioritized pitchers with control instead of those who could overpower hitters. The fielders would make outs, pitchers were just to avoid putting men on. A third of Moran’s teams led the league in fewest walks per inning. Another third came in second place. Alternately, most of his teams came in the bottom half of the league in strikeouts per inning.

Slim Sallee‘s 1919 season embodied many of the characteristics Moran’s teams based themselves on. With a 21-7 record and 2.06 ERA, it was the best season of Sallee’s career. He set a new personal best by completing 22 of his 28 starts. In the process, Sallee racked up some of the strangest peripherals in baseball history, ending the season with only twenty walks and 24 strikeouts. A heavy workload, superlative control, reliance on defense, and success at run prevention were the classic hallmarks of a Pat Moran pitcher.

With his hitters, Moran loved using his front line talent. Few prominent managers in baseball history were as disinclined to use their bench as him. Six times his starting players gobbled up the highest percentage of team plate appearances of any NL squad. In 1916, half the Phillies starters missed eight games or fewer. Two years later, five starters missed a combined seven games. Under Moran, Philly first baseman Fred Luderus put together one of the decade’s longest consecutive games played streaks. When Cincinnati won the 1919 pennant, four players missed eight games between them. In 1922, three played in every contest.

This tactic for using players stood in stark contrast with the practice of platooning, which reached its zenith in popularity when Moran managed. Moran’s disinclination to platoon revealed two key strategic traits he held. First, position players were more important for their defensive value than their offensive. His best fielders were the same no matter the handedness of the opposing pitcher.

Second, his indifference to platooning reveals what he thought won games. It was the preseason drilling and endless fixation on sound fundamental play that determined winners. For Moran, as had been the case for his mentor Frank Selee, the in-game tactics, and lineup card calculations were not terribly important. Managers earned their pay with the prep work before the games getting their charges ready to play, not during the game with Napoleonic tinkering. His almost complete disinclination toward pitcher leveraging might be the best sign of this way of thinking. Train your players as best as you can, put the best ones out there as often as possible, and trust them to execute what they learned. That was how Moran won.

References & Resources
LPA+ is essentially the same thing called Peer Number in this column. I figured as long as I called the base stat LPA, I may as well keep a similar stat for the era-adjusted one. I should note one key difference: the column linked to two sentences ago was based on looking at around 70% of all starts from 1876-1969. Now, I’ve looked at 91% of those starts.

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Comments

  1. gbewing said...

    This is an excellent breakdown and analysis. I assume the Birnbaum data is explained in the book so we know exactly what we are talking about. I am a lover of this older seasons and guys like Moran don’t get discussed enough- this is good stuff, always get a book at Christmas and this will be it

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