- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005


Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson said numbers don’t win you ball games and darned if Antonio Osuna didn’t prove him right.

When the Nationals signed Osuna to an $800,000 contract this winter, they didn’t expect to have a reliever who, after his first four appearances, would have a 42.43 ERA. When they looked at the 31-year-old’s numbers after he came back from groin and elbow injuries last year, they saw a pitcher who posted an 0.53 ERA in 13 appearances when his team, the San Diego Padres, was making a bid for the postseason.

There was nothing in those numbers — or his career record of 36-29 with 75 holds, 21 saves and a 3.50 ERA — to lead anyone to believe he would give up nine hits, seven walks and 11 runs in 21/3 innings pitched this season, including a grand slam to Juan Encarnacion in yesterday’s 8-0 loss to the Florida Marlins in the series finale at Dolphins Stadium.

“We’ll have to find a spot where he will have some success and get his confidence back,” Robinson said.

The Nationals manager won’t do that by crunching numbers into a computer or by any of the other seamhead methods that fascinate the new generation of general managers.

Instead of “Moneyball,” he will be using “Frankball” — 52 years of baseball experience.

“I don’t even know how to turn a computer on,” he said.

Robinson acknowledged there is a culture clash in the game between the young general managers who believe every decision should be made based on numbers and the managers they hire to carry out those decisions.

“In the past, experience in the game used to mean something,” Robinson said. “You went after people who had experience and put them in these jobs. Then, all of a sudden with the computer age coming in, we became dinosaurs, and experience didn’t count. You could get what you needed from a computer and read the charts.”

But Robinson, 69, believes the opposing manager yesterday turned the tide back toward experience. Jack McKeon, at the age of 72, led the Marlins to the World Series championship in 2003.

“One of the reasons they have gone back to understanding that experience means something and appreciating that is because Jack had success,” Robinson said. “If he had fallen on his face, I think things would have stayed the same. There was the feeling that if you were in your 40s or older, you didn’t belong in this game, because you couldn’t relate to young players. But with Jack having success, it made it easier for the more experienced, older guys.”

Experience is the data Robinson relies on, along with the instinct he developed through that experience.

“This game, to me, is done on sight and feel and knowing your personnel and having some idea of the players you are competing against,” Robinson said. “Numbers have some value. But I don’t think it should be the whole deciding factor.

“Numbers don’t win you ball games,” he said. “Many times in a game it comes down to what is here [pointing to his heart], here [pointing to his gut] and here [pointing to his head]. Numbers don’t mean a thing a lot of times out there on the field. When a situation goes against the numbers, you don’t hear anything about it. But when you have a situation when the numbers are crying out for something that you should do and you go against it and you don’t have success, that is when you hear about it.”

In Baltimore, Robinson played for one of the first managers who began to rely on numbers — Orioles manager Earl Weaver. But he said that is a misconception, at least when he played for Weaver.

“Earl Weaver almost had a set lineup, and he had one or two guys he could maneuver by the numbers,” he said. “He didn’t look at any numbers when I was there, me hitting against a pitcher or Brooks [Robinson] or Boog [Powell]. Come on. He didn’t care what we were hitting.

“The core players, the best players that you know you need, guys like [Jose] Vidro and those guys, I don’t worry about what they hit against certain guys,” Robinson said. “I know when they are struggling against certain pitchers or whatever, but they are going to be in the lineup because sooner or later, you know they are going to get the big hit for you.”

He’s not so sure yet about Osuna getting the big out. But he won’t need a computer program to find the answer.

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