Dave · October 4, 2004 at 8:11 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Derek’s breakdown of the candidates is quite thorough and well done, and I believe the commenters mentioned every person with a pulse who has ever been involved in baseball. Reading through all the suggestions, though, I noticed one common theme;

As a fanbase, we don’t have any idea what we want as a manager. We know what we don’t want, but ask for specific strengths, and the answers are all over the board. Complicating matters even more, the few things that we would like in our new skipper, we have no idea how to evaluate ahead of time. The analysis supporting most suggestions hinges on a winning record with the last team that fired him. However, we’re ignoring the fact that the guy we just fired had a winning record last year, and we all clearly agree that it wasn’t an indication of good managerial qualities.

Rather than supporting Cito Gaston because he won a few world series (even Bob Brenly won one…), Larry Dierker because he’s a good writer (whose players hate him), or Dan Rohn because we liked what he did with Tacoma, I’d like to see people explain how their candidate will help the Mariners. Be specific. What traits does your candidate possess that is actually going to improve the team, and how do you know he has those traits?

Evaluating managers is mostly beyond our grasp right now. I’m of the opinion that we’re basically just guessing, and we really have little idea who would or wouldn’t make a good hire. Personally, I’m just rooting against Larry Bowa and Jimy Williams and am ambivolent on just about everyone else. Sometimes, it’s okay to plead ignorance. When it comes to figuring out which managers are going to be successful at the major league level, even the teams haven’t figured it out, and they have exponentially more information than we do. Barring an obvious debacle (like Bowa), I’m just giving Bavasi the benefit of the doubt on this one, and let’s all hope it works out.


55 Responses to “Managers”

  1. Bela Txadux on October 6th, 2004 5:06 am

    Comment to Eric, #37,

    Actually, I did _not_ have a specific person in mind in my post regarding the Ms FO potential intentions re: a managerial sign, just a matrix of probabilty. Just as a guess, I suspect that the Ms will dial up Tom Kelly and possibly White Herzog, and make an all-out effort to talk them into taking the job. These are the kinds of guys the Ms would dearly, dearly love to sign. But take a look around, Eric: How many managers who have actively worked in the last five years and not currently under contract (Torre, Cox, LaRussa) of that gauge are there? Zero. Davey Johnson and Lou Pinella are the only two with a track record of success, but their personalities disqualify both of them by the matrix of probability I tossed around. The Ms FO types have a long history of convincing themselves that players and other signs are better than they evidence suggests, so I think they’ll try for someone ‘close to’ these kinds of guys, i.e. someone with experience and known around the game with some continuing solid respect who can be touted to the public here as ‘seasoned,’ perhaps like Terry Collins or as a better guess Frank Robinson, but those are no more than wild guesses. I think that they will sign a ‘marketable name’ with big league experience, but whoever it is will likely be some favorite son of Bavasi. Yes, Bavasi. I think it’s pretty clear that Lincoln wants to keep his own name as far away from responsibility for what could well be several years of floundering by the organization, so Bavasi is now set up to take the fall for the Ms losing season in ’05. If Bavasi is to take the blame for everything that goes wrong, ideally his name should be stamped on every major decision, so the managerial hire is going to be his, this time. Sez yer ‘umble scribe. : )

  2. Bela Txadux on October 6th, 2004 6:10 am

    Comment to Dave, blog-maven, #33 and thread topic,

    I’m quite willing in principle to sign my initials along with you and say that until a guy has a half season in the books as a MLB manager no one _really_ knows how he’ll do. I don’t think that what makes for success in this job can be quantified. Someone who succeeds with one group of players does not necessarily succed with another. There are 4-6 principle attributes to being successful in the job (which I’ve spoken to before), and almost no one is uniformly strong in all of them, which is another way of saying that every manager has one or more significant weaknesses, and wether said weaknesses are fatal or of minor import is so context-dependent that the outcome can only be grossly modeled, with two exceptions in my view which I will speak to below.

    Having said that, I think that there is one good way to determine in a potential managerial hire can cut it _in general_ prior to signing that person: evaluate their prior record managing professional baseball teams. That’s right, I think that hires as baseball managers should have prior managing experience, three-four years to be exact. This means that a team either signs someone who has managed in the majors and shown their worth the risk, or hires someone with managerial experience in the high minors. The latter route used to be the tried-and-true course for getting a big league job. It’s much tougher now because MLB organizations push the talent through the system so fast a minor league skipper often can’t hold onto real talent long enough to show what he’s got, in sort of the way that Dan Rohn’s ’04 season unfolded in Tacoma. A much bigger problem for experienced minor league managers is that they have very little media visibility no matter what their track record, and so many organizations are reluctant to stick a person like that in the middle of the team’s marketing strategy; this is why so may FAMOUS ex-players get hired, and why more than one organization has hired their manager OUT OF THE BROADCAST BOOTH (yes, Toronto did too along with Arizona), what a silly putty approach to molding a team, arf-arf-arf. Still, I think that hiring someone _without_ managerial experience is a decision to take a totally blind leap rather than getting some relevent facts on a person from which to make an informed decsion. It should go without saying that I think FO types who take blind leaps are damn fools who should be dis-employed. For my money, the best new managerial hire of the last five years is probaly Eric Wedge. I say that without detailed knowledge of many important things, but it is manifestly evident that his man management skills are sky high, both in how decisively he handled Milton Bradley while making sure that he and the organization where as close as synchronized watches on it, and how he has gotten a very young team of guys without much prior success at the big league level to play hard enough in their division to put the hurt on some of their immediate competition. Wedge had a strong track record in the minors as I recall, hence my perspective on the utility of prior managerial experience.

    Regarding what qualities a big league skipper should have, I think that there are two absolute essentials, and unless an individual has a superior track record in both areas they shouldn’t get any significant attention. Those are man management and handling a pitching staff. The reason why these and no others are sine qua nons is that someone who fails in either respect will be a failure over several years and usually immediately so.

    Some guys can manage other people; some guys can also manage men. This is not necessarily quantifiable, but it is certainly observable. And it doesn’t matter whether they are managing a group of people, specifically a group of men to cut sugar cane, take a machine gun nest, sell more widgets than any other franchise, or win the pennant. Accountability, respect, competence, commitment to group goals, preparation, etc., etc., there are other qualities but anyone can make a list. The point is some guys can manage PEOPLE, and guys who can’t will fail as baseball managers because managers manage people. Larry Bowa, for example, manifestly should _never, ever_ have been hired, and certainly should have been gone after two years because he nas manifestly been unable to manage people in any way ever; Ed Wade has no one to blame for ’04 except the guy who looks back at him out of the bathroom mirror. Bobby Cox, by contrast, whatever his faults is clearly a big, big success at managing people and has been from the very beginning in Toronto. Joe Torre was abysmal at managing people with the Mets and in Atlanta, and merely thoroughly poor in St. Louis; I don’t know whether he went into therapy or kick some kind of monkey off his back, but from the second he was hired by the Yankees he has been superior, very superior in managing People, and by this point he’s become masteful, details for some other post, but I thinks its freakin’ obvious.

    Whether or not a guy can manage _people_ can definitely be assessed if the guy has prior managerial experience in the minor leagues. *hint, hint*

    As mentioned in other posts, very, very few pitching coaches succeed as managers, and indeed quite few are hired. This means that most guys getting a job are non-pitchers, yet the most important day to day and in-game decisions they make all revolve around the use and deployment of the pitching staff. Since the development of the modern bullpen game, this has become doubly important. Some of this is managing use of pitchers, especially for starters, and while we all know that there is NO certain system for doing all this which radically avoids injuries and ineffectiveness, enough is known that the basics of ‘good governance of use’ here are known, and it can be known whether or not a guy with PRIOR experiene has shown ‘good governance,’ so to speak. The bullpen game is largely about getting guys assigned to specific roles for which they intensively prepare, and secondarily about getting favorable in-game matchups. None of this is rocket science, and much of it is talent-dependent, but having said that there are basics which work, and manifest bonehead talent utilization, and a track record can show which side of the divide in general someone comes down on. Pinella was good at getting guys in roles (one of his few strengths as a manager), but a real stiff at utilization in-game. Melvin was so-so at both. Torre is good at both. Dave Duncan and Leo Mazzone are outstanding at both and their long-term partners get the credit. The point here is that guys who can’t manage their pitching staffs effectively will ‘manage’ their way to losses that could have, and at times should have, been wins, and this tells out over time. I would never hire Dusty Baker, no matter how good his man management skills, because his thoroughly disastrous handling of pitchers cancels out anything else he brings to the bench. Again, a prior record on pitcher usage can be assessed in not especially complicated ways, and while individuals CAN learn and develop a history of prior _failure_ is something that it would be foolish indeed to ignore.

    Outside of these two issues, I don’t think there is any one thing a manager must be good at. Way back when talent assessment and talent development were absolutely necessary skills for a big league manager, and I don’t mean at all to imply that they are of negligible importantce now. I think that a manager who is good at these things is a tremendous asset, no question. But consider, ML coaching staffs are now assemblies of specialists. There are hitting coaches, guys who coach the running game, guys who do the fielding drills, even catching specialists, to say nothing of pitching coaches. A manager who is not particularly good at somethings can and should surround himself with others who ARE good at those things _whose assessments he trusts_. This is what good managaing really is, not being the genius on everything. Furthermore, it is evermore the case the FOs are taking the lead in talent evaluation, not only in the offseason, not only _in season_, but even game to game. Who do you think is a better talent evaluator, Theo Epstein or Terry Francona? Billy Beane or Art Howe? Pretty obvious. This is the trend of the future, because the FO now has enough statistical information and enough ‘talent evaluation specialists’ other than the manager on the payroll that decisions about how players are to be utilized game-to-game will increasingly be guided, not to say dictated, by front office conversations with the manager rather than the other way around. Everyone will put their head together, but if the manager persists in thinking that Player X should hit against lefties when he has no stated capacity to do so, or that Player Y should get a defensive sub even though the defensive sub has no great capacity for _that_ position despite being a better athlete and can’t hit at all, then the manager will get canned and the FO will get someone who agrees with the factual information on such matters. This was going to get Grady Little fired until he generated a more salient reason with his manifest inability to wisely manage his pitchers (and it wasn’t just with Pedro, although that was ugly). The point here is that talent _deployment_ decisions are already being moved out of the hands of managers, and this will only continue to be more and more the case in my view, and so there is no point in making superior ability in this regard an essential for a managerial hire as opposed to a desideratum.

    What other things would I _like_ to see a managerial candiadate to be strong in? I think that clever managers understand the tremendous importance of defense. This is a subject for another post, but simply put nothing makes a team better faster than good defense, and good managers in my view do everything possible to get good defensive players or to deploy the ones they have effectively. This isn’t a matter of playing ‘defense over offense,’ a team _must_ have offense, but more a matter of pushing the FO constantly to bring in better defensive players with comparable offensive talent; stressing good positioning, preparation with the scouting report, and especially taking good routes to the ball; and making sure that incompetent or even simply bad defenders are moved out of critical positions on the field such as CF, SS, C, but also 1B in my view.

    I also think that the value of good base-running is generally not appreciated, and that good managers insist on smart, aggressive base-running. A manager can’t ‘coach’ HRs beyond a basic level that the hitting coach can help hone, but base-running shows immediately that players are focused on game conditions and are using every edge _during the game_, and this is something that carries over into other aspects of play between the lines.

    ‘Nuff fer this ‘un, fellow blog-cloggers. : )

  3. jc on October 6th, 2004 9:25 am

    I guess letting kerfeld get away is another blackeye for bavasai.Do they think anyone can go find these indy guys for cheap and have bigleaguers?What a joke this org is going to hell in a hand basket!!!!I guess they will hire Dan Evans next!!!That was the guy that brought bavasai back to the dodgers.what ever happened to taking care of your own good ones!!!IM THROUGH!!!

  4. Gregor on October 6th, 2004 10:20 am

    Comment to Bela, #52:

    In fact, Bavasi said so himself in the press conference on Monday. Quoting from an article in today’s Times (

    “In his news conference Monday, Bavasi admitted there probably was not enough talent to win this season, and if he can’t create a turnaround, “you’ll be talking with someone else this time next year.”

    Trouble is, if the worst-case-scenario for 2005 comes true, we’ll be stuck with some large bad contracts for years to come even after Bavasi makes his exit.

  5. eponymous coward on October 6th, 2004 10:46 pm

    That’s kind of the problem- the M’s don’t want to rebuild…even though arguably what’s killing them is the lack of productivity from their farm system, and the way to fix that is draft high (Bill James did a study and found that there’s a pretty high dropoff in major league productivity first round picks just from 1st overall to 10th).

    So they are going to shovel money out- which is OK. If it works. If it doesn’t, and the contracts are complete anchors, this team is going to be in a rotten place- bad and not drawing, but spending money on salary anyway.