Davey Johnson on Baseball Stats


Your career spans a great deal of time. What would you say is an essential thing that’s held true throughout your period playing and managing? Well, I mean, the transformation of guys that get on base and guys in front of run producers. Earnshaw Cook wrote “Percentage Baseball” when I was a player in Baltimore. He said if you hit your highest on base percentage guy first and descend on down, that’s the best lineup you can possibly get. But he didn’t put in there the extra base power. And I said, that’s just part of the game. They’re going to that more, and they’re using other stats, too. Sometimes I think, nowadays, they put too much in there. You were an early adapter in this stuff, and there’s some really great stuff in the book where you as a player in your early 20s go in to see Earl Weaver with a lineup you’ve made up, and being like, “Hey, maybe you want to try this out.” Which—how badly did you get cursed out? Real bad. Where were you hitting in that lineup, out of curiosity? Second, I would hit second. All right, interesting. He threw it out in the garbage can. I know he got ’em out later, but he threw ’em away. But I tried to tell him, you know, there’s a thing called percentage, how to use percentages to your advantage. And you need +/- 500 chances to be within +/- 5% to predict. –That’s a statistically significant sampling. Right, and he didn’t know that. He would use four. You talked in the book- there’s some really interesting stuff in there about the Earnshaw Cook book, which was, it seems, way ahead of its time in some ways. But then in other ways, because of the fact that this is a mathematician or statistician and not a baseball player, not a manager, that there was a lot of stuff in there that you thought was way beyond the pale. When you’re trying to integrate this stuff, ’cause like ballplayers are people, too, how do you get them to, not just to buy in, but to understand your decision-making process? They just need to know you’re right. –All right. And as long as you make a whole lot of right decisions on talent, they know where they should hit in the lineup. You think that some of this stuff has gone too far. When you say too far, like, what would you, and not—you don’t need to call anybody out. When I was doing programs, my programmer said, “Well, should we separate the night games from day games? Should we separate the travel from the home games?” I said, “No!” If you start doing that, now you’re gonna have a whole new set of statistics that can change just through happenstance.

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