Touch ‘em all Johnny O! Maybe we just rewrote history…

Touch ‘em all Johnny O! Maybe we just rewrote history…

I remember them as WAMCOH, but you could sell me on WHAMCO or even HWAMCO, which doesn’t make for a great acronym, but does make for a very good line up. Actually, HAMOCW makes a lot of sense to me now as I look back and dig through statistics from that insanely good team. Of course I am referring to the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays and the absolute monster mashing unit that was their offense.

Pick your order, but the 6 players specifically being referred to as WAMCOH are; Devon White, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Joe Carter, John Olerud and of course, the larger than life Rickey Henderson.

We all remember Joe Carter (the C) having a big hit in ‘93. But do we also remember that;

  •  Johnny O, Mr Olerud if you will – had himself a year. .363 BA, .473 OBP, 1.072 OPS and according to baseball-reference.com, finished 3rd inoffensive WAR that year, behind a couple flash in the pans named Bondsand Griffey Jr.
  • Roberto Alomar had a .359 batting average vs righties, a .408 OBP, stole50+ bases and according to baseball-reference.com was 5th in MLB offensive WAR, with only Frank Thomas (AL MVP) between him and Johnny O
  • Olerud, Molitor and Alomar finished 1,2 and 3 in the AL batting title race (that is insane )
  • Five players (Henderson, Alomar, White, Molitor and Tony Fernandez) all stole more than 20 bases, with Alomar (55) and Henderson (53) combining for 100+
  • Of the 8 positional players starting Game 5 in Philadelphia, 3 of them were Hall of Famers (Molitor, Alomar, Henderson)
  • ●  In the 4 games the Blue Jays won vs the Phillies, they scored 8, 10, 15 and 8 runs. Another way to say that is the Blue Jays averaged just over 10 runs per game in their 4 wins, during the ‘93 World Series.I could go on.

Safe to say, the ‘93 Jays could score runs when they needed too. Also safe to say that Manager Cito Gaston had options each day when filling out the lineup card.

My reason for flashing back to those glorious, offensive days started on Sept 29th, 2020 – 1 hour before our beloved Jays were to take the field vs Tampa Bay for Game 1 of the MLB wild card round. It was a simple text from a buddy named Mike that said; “Gurriel 5, Teoscar 6?”

Of course buddy Mike was referring to the fact that Blue Jays Manager Charlie Montoyo had just released his game 1 lineup and what caught some (maybe a lot?) of Jays fans off-guard, was that two players who appeared to be two of the Jays best hitters were not in the top half of the lineup.

With no disrespect to Randal Grichuk and Vlad Guerrero, (hitting 3 and 4 respectively) there is no argument to make that says either one of them had a “better year” then Gurriel or Teoscar. All four of those guys hit right handed… So what gives? Why Charlie, (or whomever is setting Charlie’s lineup for him) does your card have Grichuk, Guerrero, Gurriel and Teoscar, in that order?

PlayerAt BatsOBPOPSHR’sSB’s
Grichuk216.312.791121
Guerrero221.329.79391
Gurriel208.348.882113
Hernandez190.340.919166

(​2020 reg season stats​)

Unfortunately this article today won’t answer that question for you, because truthfully – I don’t know and haven’t found anyone willing to talk with me who does.

I want to be upfront when I say that I am not disagreeing with Charlie’s (Atkins?) order. What came to my mind was that I really don’t have an understanding of how to set a major league batting order, because from the 60 games I saw this

year, both Gurriel and Teoscar would hit in front of Grichuk and Vladdy, but smarter baseball people than me obviously disagree.

We have theories, people have mentioned that Grichuk had the best numbers of the group vs Snell in a small sample size. People told me that sometimes guys are set in spots to see more fastball counts (in Vladdy’s case, maybe it’s less fastballs) or guys get moved down to help lengthen a lineup. Whatever the reasoning, I’m sure it’s analytics based and i’m sure it was well thought out. I don’t think the game 1 batting order cost the Jays the series and I haven’t lost sleep about it since.

What I have thought about a lot since that day was Cito and WAMCOH and what analytics would tell us today on how to roll out that fearsome group. Charlie’s lineup in late September prompted me to pull up the box scores from October ‘93 to see how Cito set his lineup vs the Phillies for the ‘93 World Series.

Specifically I wanted to see if I could convince myself that if analytics were practiced and followed in ‘93, like they are today, would Joe Carter be slotted to bat in the 9th inning of Game 6 and hit the homerun that almost blew the roof off the Skydome and has haunted Mitch Williams since?

So let’s dig in and find out.

In game 5 of the Series, with Toronto leading 3-1, Phillies sent right hander and legend Curt Schilling to the mound. Cito countered with a WAMCOH lineup that was;

PlayerAt BatsOBPOPSHR’sSB’s
Henderson481.432.9062153
White598.341.7791534
Alomar589.408.9001755
Carter603.312.802338
Olerud561.4731.072240
Molitor636.402.9112222

If buddy Mike had a cell phone back in ‘93, I can almost guarantee I would have received a text that read; “Olerud 5 Molitor 6?”

In Game 6, with the Jays now leading 3-2, lefty Terry Mulholland took the mound for the Phillies and Cito countered with a very similar lineup, flipping only Alomar and Molitor between the 3 and 6 spots.

It should be noted that although Alomar had incredible numbers overall in ‘93, his batting average vs left handed pitchers that season was only .245. (.359 vs righties.)

Even though buddy Mike and I agree that Johnny O and Molly should be moved up in the game 5 order, and that maybe the great Devon White shouldn’t have been in the 2 spot for either game, we needed to source our theories with people who might actually be in the know.

This is what we found out.

Gregg Zaun​ – Gregg needs no introduction here. He had a 16 year MLB career with 9 teams as a catcher. He played in Toronto for almost 5 seasons and understands baseball better than most of us. Here is some of the insight and things I learned by talking to Gregg.

  • Speed is a real threat to a defense. (that helps justify Devo)
  • Zaun talked about needing great bat control being in the second spot.Shooting balls through holes when infielders were holding on runners being a key skill. We reminisced about names like Boggs, Brett, Molitor, Lansford, Gwynn, Ichiro and Alomar. We talked about how “the best” hitters used to hit in the 3 spot automatically, but how there has clearly been a shift to moving those guys even higher. Hearing Gregg talk about Ichiro and how he could have been a homerun hitter was really interesting (I believe the direct quote was “he would hit 30 of 35 balls out in BP whenever he wanted”)
  • Zaun played with Roberto Alomar in Baltimore and referred to him as the ultimate 2 hitter
  • Side tangent – when describing Alomar, Zaun said he could do whatever was needed in a situation, when he stole a base it wasn’t to pad his stats, it was because the moment called for a stolen base. Gregg told some very cool stories about Alomar having 2 different approaches when hitting. One from the left side and one for the right side of the plate. My eyes and probably your eyes agree with Zaun’s analysis, Alomar was elite amongst the elite and didn’t have many (if any) holes as an all around complete player.
  • Zaun differs from some of the moneyball philosophers, especially with the thought that “an out is an out.” Gregg is a believer in a two strikeapproach, of shortening a swing and putting a ball in play with 2 strikes vs staying with a homerun approach in any count (I found this to be an interesting conversation with Gregg, because Rowdy Tellez and other Blue Jays talked this year about getting back to a 2 strike approach with new hitting coach Dante Bichette. When and why did baseball get away from a 2 strike approach?)
  • When I told Gregg that Cito had Devon White in the 2 spot for both game 5 and 6 of the ‘93 World Series (vs a Righty and then a Lefty) and that Alomar and Molitor would rotate between the 3 and 6 spot, his response was simply ​“That’s wild to me.”
  • Gregg talked at length about finding a way to have Molitor and Olerud hitting back to back higher up the lineup, suggesting that year in particular they might have been the most feared RBI machines in the majors, especially if Henderson and Alomar were batting 1 and 2. It was conceded that with today’s focus on analytics, Olerud would (and should?) bat ahead of Carter. (​was speed or Johnny O’s lack thereof a concern for Cito, not wanting to put a below average runner in front of Joe?​)
  • Zaun also did not agree with all of Montoyo’s lineup this postseason and took issue with both Vladdy in the 4 spot (​“he should be moved down, somewherebetween7-9”)​ andTeoscarinthe6thspot,whomhebelieved had earned the right after a big season to be moved up the lineup.Another interesting conversation point for me was having Gregg provide his insight on the inner workings of a clubhouse and relationships between players, managers and GMs. We talked at length about the impact and consequences that could result internally when players don’t have the same analytics approach and

philosophy as management. Suffice to say, just like at my job and probably yours, when everyone is on the same page and united in their approach, a company and a baseball team is in a better spot.

This year’s playoffs have given us lots of examples of managers and pitchers having to work through issues of perceived quick hooks and following a predetermined plan.

I brought up Montoyo pulling Matt Shoemaker in Game 1 this year. Shoemaker appeared to be cruising after 3 innings, but the plan was obviously to have him go once through the lineup and call it a day. 3 innings, 2 hits and 35 pitches later, Shoey was done. Could he have gone a 4th inning? Should he have started the 4th?

Definitely, maybe.

We compared that situation to Dusty Baker and Zack Greinke having a conversation on the mound, a conversation which appeared to show Greinke talking Dusty into letting him stay in the game and work himself out of a jam.

When I asked Zaun whether he thought Montoyo would even be allowed to go with his gut instincts over an agreed upon plan set in place by his boss, the short answer was “No.”

To be fair to all sides in this argument, in game 7 of the ALCS, we saw Rays SP Charlie Morton cruising along through 5 innings, (1 baserunner through 5) but with 2 outs in the 6th and runners on the corners, manager Kevin Cash pulled him, even though Morton had only thrown 66 pitches. Was Morton upset? Did he disagree with the move? I don’t know. Did it work?

It sure did.

Post game, Cash made reference to sticking with their gameplan and that Morton was going through the order for the 3rd time, something Tampa Bay recognizes as an advantage for hitters and not pitchers.

That topic sparked several really cool stories Zaun witnessed as a catcher throughout his 16 years in the majors. Stories of managers coming to get their

pitchers and pitchers having a different idea. Another fun side tangent conversation – according to Zaun, Roy Halladay was not just a tremendous pitcher, he was also someone who wanted to finish what he started. I was led to believe that Roy could make it difficult for then manager John Gibbons to pull him during a game. Maybe what I thought was Gibby being a players manager, was actually just fear of getting Big Roy upset.

My takeaway specific to the question of the ‘93 batting order after chatting with Gregg was that he would have set it a little differently than Cito. Of course we both agreed that WAMCOH in any order would score some runs, but I don’t think Zaun would be upset with me if I suggested that Devo wouldn’t be hitting second in his lineup and that he would be trying hard to get Molitor and Olerud hitting back to back, probably in the 3 and 4 spots.

Kyle Sarazin – ​I also had a chance to bounce my ‘93 WAMCOH questions off Kyle Sarazin, who was the Director of Baseball Analytics at Elon University and is now the Director of Player Development for the Virginia Tech baseball team.

Talking through email, the first thing Kyle told me was; “​This is a massive rabbit hole.”​ Thanks Kyle! We love a challenge. Kyle was also quick to recommend that I educate myself on two key stats, to help understand how to go about setting a batting order.

The first stat is ​wOBA​. Kyle was good enough to send us a link to the FanGraphs website ​where all the information we were searching for was laid out cleanly for us.

The following wOBA explanation was taken directly from the FanGraphs website. I strongly recommend if you are interested in baseball analytics you make FanGraphs a regular read.

wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base such as walking or being hit by a pitch. Slugging percentage weights hits, but not accurately (Is a double worth twice as much as a single? In short, no) and again ignores other ways of reaching base. On-base plus slugging (OPS) does attempt to combine the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but it assumes that one percentagepage7image5779024

point of SLG is the same as that of OBP. In reality, a handy estimate is that OBP is around twice as valuable than SLG (the exact ratio is x1.8)​ . In short, OPS is asking the right question, but we can arrive at a more accurate number quite easily.

Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.

The second stat recommended by Kyle was ​wRC​. In Kyle’s words; “​wRC stands for weights runs created. I like to say it takes wOBA a step further.”​

Once again we headed to the FanGraphs site and this is how they define wRC.

Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, “Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year.” While the idea was sound, James’ formula has since been superseded by Tom Tango’s wRC , which is based off W​ eighted On-Base Average (wOBA).

So, let us add wRC and wOBA to our WAMCOH lineup and see what those analytics tell us;page8image5843712

PlayerwOBAwRCTotal
Henderson.404111515
White.34691437
Alomar.398121519
Carter.34590435
Olerud.454151605
Molitor.401130531

OK, so what jumps out to me is that Devon White, who was an amazing centre fielder for Toronto, probably would not get to hit in the 2 spot on most teams today. That said, there are other things to consider when we wonder how Cito Gaston came to his final order.

Player loyalty​ – Devon White was Cito’s leadoff hitter for several years, before the Jays acquired Henderson late in the season. Was Cito trying to show some loyalty to a player who had performed well for him but lost his spot through no fault of his own? Maybe. Cito had a reputation for being loyal to veteran players. I can’t confirm that reputation is true, but maybe keeping Devo in the 2 spot was partly based on that. ​(Can analytics factor in player performance based on a relationship with a specific manager? Did Devo over produce in Toronto because he enjoyed playing for Cito?)

Speed​ – As Zaun mentioned speed is a threat. Back in the day, leadoff hitters were almost always speed guys. Maybe Cito thought if one fast guy at the top of the lineup was good, then 2 is even better. Devo wasn’t the base stealer that Alomar was, but he was a faster runner and maybe Cito thought he could score easier on balls put in play. Maybe Olerud in the 5 hole is based around his lack of speed. Was Cito concerned that Johnny O (0 SB’s in ‘93) was just too slow to put in front of some of these hitters, including Carter?

Split stats​ – What I haven’t done for us with this article is dive into the stats each player had vs Lefty and Righty pitching. We touched on Alomar not hitting left handers particularly well in ‘93. Are there more hidden gems for us to consider when we break down player stats vs left and right handed pitchers? Probably there is. The Jays that year had 3 players who were switch hitters. Devon White, Roberto Alomar and the late great Tony Fernandez. Do I think splits from both sides of the plate will provide an obvious theory as to why Paul Molitor would bat 6th vs right handers and that John Olerud would bat behind Joe Carter vs right handed pitching? No. I really don’t think the numbers would suggest that.

Lastly, I should address the 2020 Blue Jays and their line up vs Tampa Bay from a wRC and wOBA standpoint. Is there something about those analytics that will help me understand Gurriel and Teoscar batting behind Grichuk and Guerrero these playoffs?

PlayerwOBAwRCTotal
Grichuk.33432366
Guerrero.33834372
Gurriel.37238410
Teoscar.38437421

This one puzzles me even more than our WAMCOH debate. At first glance the analytics jump off the page in favour of Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez. The eye test through 60 games showed Jays fans the same thing. Grichuk and Guerrero make a lot of major league rosters this year and I will admit that Guerrero grading out better than Grichuk when you look at the wOBA and wRC analytics surprised me. However, Gurriel and Teoscar had better years and at this point in time, they appear to be better hitters.

Again, this doesn’t make the lineup wrong obviously, it just makes me wonder what the thought process behind building it was. Ultimately, vs Snell and Tyler Glasnow, I don’t think there was a batting order that was going to get the job done this year.

I do think however, with hindsight as our friend, on Oct 23, 1993, with Henderson and Molitor on base, and the Blue Jays trailing by a run, instead of the iconic Touch ‘em all Joe Carter call every Blue Jay fan remembers so fondly, maybe, just maybe it would have been someone else coming to bat.

As a fan of that team at the time, there is no doubt in my mind, whether it be Johnny O, Roberto Alomar or someone else, that whomever came to bat would have delivered in that moment because somethings, including batting orders, just can’t get in the way of destiny.

And it feels to me like that team, with that roster, was destined for greatness, no matter how Cito played his cards.

Touch ‘em all Johnny O, I think we just rewrote baseball history.

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