Larry LaRue may have been the first local columnist to suggest it, but this sort of season begs the question: will Bob Melvin be fired? (LaRue says Melvin's firing is both guaranteed and undeserved.)
There isn' t a whole lot of consensus about objective ways to measuring managing effectiveness. How much is a won-loss record influenced by a manager? We can't measure how much a manager affects his players' productivity at the plate, on the mound or in the field. Any attempt at keeping records of strategic errors and converting them into runs-that-would-have-scored would be hopelessly speculative and subjective.
(If you don't want to read the details, skip to the bottom for the conclusions)
One tack may be to look at how efficiently an offense or defense operates, as Tom Tippett of Diamond Mind did after the 2002 season in this article. To sum that article up, Tom looked at how efficient teams were at converting total bases + walks into runs, and called it the Run Effiency Average (REA). Take the opponents numbers, and you measure how ineffiecient your team made your opponents. Tippet also took the widely-held view (within the sabermetric world) that Bill James' Pythagorean method is a good way to translate runs scored and runs allowed into expected wins . Using all these measures Tom attempts to answer this question: based on the raw offensive production of a team, how efficient were they at converting that into wins?
So I ran the numbers for the Mariners from 1999-2004, with the idea that one way a manager might have a measurable influence on a teams' performance is translating that teams raw numbers into wins. (I excluded the 2001 season, which I felt wouldn't give Melvin a fair shot, and I couldn't get TB allowed numbers for before 1998.) This should allow us to see how Melvin's teams compare to Piniella's at effiency. Here's a table comparing wins above expectation, using both the Pythagorean method, and the two Run-Effiency (offensive and defensive) methods:
|Pythagorean Wins||Offensive REA Wins||Defensive REA Wins||Total Bonus Wins|
1) Piniella's teams seem to have been consistently better at converting runs scored into wins.
2) This year's team has the most inefficient offense of any in recent history.
That's about it. Derek Zumsteg, among others, thinks the Pythagorean method is suspect, and so we might not want to put too much stock in those figures. If the Pythagorean method measures anything, it may overlap with REA expected wins. Tippet adds them together, but that may be faulty reasoning.
So does Melvin deserve to be fired? Well, he's got a lousy offense of which he's making poor use--which is what we'd expect with all the bunting. There are other factors which could contribute to ineffiency, of course--an out-making bottom of the order, for example--but there certainly isn't anything to support his cause. Given all the additional anecdotal evidence against him--making absurd bullpen substitutions, failing to pinch-hit in obvious situations, championing Willie Bloomquist and Ron Villone--I think's it's time ol' Bob was shown the door.
If there's an upside, it's that the last time the M's lost so many games to inneffiency (though that was on the defensive end), they rebounded and made the playoffs the next year. Of course, they also signed good free agents that year (Arthur Rhodes, Kaz Sasaki, and John Olerud). Ol' Bill needs to be given a quick exit, too, if this ship is going to right itself.