Fail: John Farrell Theory

I read an article a few weeks ago about faulty results being recorded because of the pressure put on researchers by journals that only print articles on successful experiments. For example, if I set out to discover if Rockstar energy drinks cure cancer, and they don’t, a scientific journal probably isn’t going to be interested in my results. Because this is in the back of my mind while I’m calculating data, it could, and likely does, affect my findings.

A lot of times, when writing about baseball, I’ll come up with a hair brained theory as to why something is done the way it is, but when I look it up, I’m either completely wrong or it isn’t actually done that way in the first place. As you can imagine, I usually keep these findings to myself.

Well, today’s your lucky day.

In an attempt to understand why Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell is so enamored with an aggressive running game, I wondered if it wasn’t as Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler commonly suggest, because it supposedly distracts the pitchers and fielders. While this has never been proven to in fact be true, and there is an argument to be made that a base runner threatening to steal would also force the batter to take pitches at which he’d normally swing, thereby cancelling out any advantage that might occur from distraction, it reminded me of a Cito Gaston trait.

Update: Farrell, during Wednesday’s pregame scrum:

Any time you have to contend with more, rather than being single-thought and of the single mindset on the mound, it can possible cause some distraction. Does it mean we’re going to run at will? No. But if it forces them to be a little bit more split in the controlling of the running game, does it possibly create a mislocated pitch in the strike zone, that’s the other by-product of it, and there can be an effect in that way. I think we’ve seen some pitchers spend more time concentrating on controlling the running game than we might have seen otherwise.

Remember how the Blue Jays former manager would stubbornly refuse to change the batting order no matter what the results were or the availability of certain players, claiming that the guys in the lineup were most comfortable batting in a set position? Well, as our very own Drew Fairservice pointed out back in 2009, Gaston believed this to be true because it was true for him. At least for a year, anyway.

After digging around a bit more on BR, I’ve come up with a conspiracy theory worthy of the Patrick Ewing Draft Lottery. Cito’s best season as a player came in 1970, when he hit 29 home runs with an OPS+ of 144. That season Cito hit from the number 3 spot 133 times! He never again approached that level of power nor that consistency in the lineup.

Well, I wondered if, similarly, John Farrell might believe that aggressive runners provide a distraction, because he himself had trouble focusing while runners were on base, back when he was a pitcher in the Majors. However, a quick look at his career splits reveals only a little bit of trouble.

Opposing batters had an OPS of .734 against Farrell when there were no runners on base. With runners on, his opposing OPS goes up to .771. A .037 difference likely isn’t large enough to drive a point home, but if I were to stretch the limits of credibility to make my original way of thinking more valid, I would point to the last season in which Farrell pitched at least 90 innings.

In 1993, his worst as a professional, the difference was much more pronounced. With no runners on base, Farrell’s opposing OPS was .884, but with runners on, it skyrocketed to 1.014, a difference of .130.

Are memories of that one awful season burned into his psyche? Does he still have nightmares of giving up fourteen stolen bases in games he pitched that year? It would take some serious assumptions to say either way. So, instead, we’ll be left to wonder why it is that Farrell is such a fan of a running game that continues to bring up more questions than answers.

Thanks to the National Post’s John Lott for the Farrell quote.