And I’m Back

Dave · October 17, 2006 at 10:41 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Transcontinental flights suck. Just so you know.

Anyways, I’m back on the east coast and trying to get caught up on life. Since I haven’t posted anything here in a little while, let’s just recap some of the news in the past week.

  • Lou Piniella has been hired to manage the Chicago Cubs, signing a three year deal to try and win with a club that doesn’t have enough talent to win. Good luck with that, Lou.
  • The A’s fired Ken Macha amid criticism from a significant amount of the players. Multiple players made their complaints public, and the A’s didn’t really have much of a choice, considering the way the clubhouse was being portrayed at the end of the year. However, the ’06 A’s should be another data point for the idea that a manager’s motivational ability to get his players to perform better is highly overrated. By all accounts, a large segment of the team didn’t particularly like their manager, and they still overachieved, winning the division with a pretty mediocre roster. I’ve said it a few hundred times, and I’ll continue to say it; by and large, the effects a manager can have on his ballclub are overstated.
  • One more managerial note, before moving on: Mike Hargrove made some bad strategic moves during the season, but man, did anyone watch Jim Leyland in the ALCS? He not only started Neifi Perez in game two, but hit him second. In that same game, he used Alexis Gomez as his DH, a move that was made at least partly due to the decision to leave Chris Shelton off the playoff roster. Games 3 and 4, he stuck Craig Monroe and his .301 OBP in the #2 hole. In the final clinching game, with a tie score and a chance to end the series and give his team a significant amount of rest before the world series, he used Jamie Walker, Jason Grilli, and Wil Ledezma to get through the 8th and 9th innings. Because the Tigers played well and the A’s did not, Leyland is hailed as a genius, but strategically, he made some lousy moves that turned out for the best.
  • Juan Uribe, shortstop of the White Sox, has an arrest warrant issued for him in the Dominican Republic after he shot two men last week. I wonder if he was hanging out with Ugueth Urbina.
  • The Arizona Fall League and Hawaiian Winter Leagues are underway, for those who need a baseball fix. Michael Wilson is off to a good start down in Arizona, but as I say every year at this point in time, the stats mean less than nothing. Don’t get excited or despair over fall league performances. The stats don’t matter at all.
  • Comments

    82 Responses to “And I’m Back”

    1. JMHawkins on October 17th, 2006 3:59 pm

      My impression is that Billy Beane does believe that managers don’t really matter. He ditched Howe without a 2nd thought after a 103 win season. I think Beane looks at the manager as a minor functionary, easily replaced if he creates too much trouble. News articles about a lousy clubhouse climate were too much trouble.

    2. Allen McPheeters on October 17th, 2006 4:00 pm

      What’s the win expectation of a mediocre roster?

      I think Macha’s A’s overachieved less than it appears at first glance. They were .574 overall (93-69), but they only played .531 (76-67) when they weren’t facing the M’s. If the M’s had played the A’s as well as the rest of the league, Oakland would have ended up with 86 wins.

      (Oh, and switching 7 wins from the A’s to the M’s gives Seattle 85 wins for the year, and we all know how mediocre those boys were.)

    3. eponymous coward on October 17th, 2006 4:05 pm


      Let’s put it this way. Luck or talent level as a factor in who wins ballgames can easily swamp a managerial decision, or even a series of them in a short series (and luck becomes an even BIGGER factor in a short series- the 1973 Mets beat the Big Red Machine not because they were a better team, but because anyone can win a short series).

      The Tigers are a good team because their pitching was half a run better than anyone else’s in the league in neutral parks, and they led the league by quite a bit in defensive efficiency- and they play in a ballpark that already depresses run production. I’m not surprised at all to see them win out in the AL.

    4. joser on October 17th, 2006 4:07 pm

      Perhaps Beane believes that managers don’t matter, so he may as well get one who will be more popular with players, just as a matter of convienence? If this is true, then Beane is apparently certain that his next manager will be as “successful” as Macha was in staying out of the way of winning. Since nobody can measure the degree to which a manager can pull that off, how does Beane know if the next manager will indeed be as “successful” as Macha?

      I don’t know, maybe because Beane will have a huge say in who the next manager is and he has a pretty good track record at evaluating talent (or an organization that does a generally excellent job at that, which as long as he pays attention to it amounts to the same thing)?

      The A’s once again won the division and once again didn’t advance to the WS. Once again the naysayers crank up the volume. Maybe Beane has a “system” that somehow works during the season but not in the postseason; maybe the A’s have been unlucky; maybe they’re not as good as they appear, since they inflated their record by feasting on the hapless M’s all season. But disappointed fans expect something to change. And given the public dissent expressed by the players, that was going to have to be Macha. Beane appeases the players and at least some of the fans with one relatively easy move. And I’m sure he’s confident he can find another manager who can “stay out of the way” of a winning team. As off season moves go, it’s really a no-brainer.

    5. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 4:15 pm

      #52: Fair enough. I would just add that if manager’s effect on the win column defies measurement, then I guess we’ll never know if it was a no-brainer.

      Makes one wonder why the A’s, or some other pioneering team, shouldn’t just stop employing a manager altogther. The GM could just dictate guidelines to a few coaches. Since managerial decisionmaking doesn’t matter, why have a manager?

    6. eponymous coward on October 17th, 2006 4:18 pm

      It’s a lot easier to fire a manager than fire a lot of players, simply put, and it’s not surprising at all that Beane’s reacting this way instead of doing a complete roster makeover to reduce the personality conflicts, seeing as he already is going to have to replace Zito…

    7. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 4:20 pm

      I wasn’t suggesting that he fire a lot of players. I was just wondering if the change really needed to be made.

    8. eponymous coward on October 17th, 2006 4:26 pm

      The GM could just dictate guidelines to a few coaches. Since managerial decisionmaking doesn’t matter, why have a manager?

      The Cubs tried that – the “College of Coaches”. It didn’t do very well.

      Also, Dave didn’t say “doesn’t matter”. He said “by and large, the effects a manager can have on his ballclub are overstated.” That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or they don’t matter over the long term (read: a 162 game season or series of seasons). A strategy that gives you a 51%-49% break as opposed to 50-50 has a 11.7% chance of failing 3 consecutive times (as oposed to 12.5% for a 50/50 strategy) , but OVER TIME it could make quite a difference. This is why casinos ban card counting and make money the longer you play if the rules are in their favor…

    9. joser on October 17th, 2006 4:27 pm

      Because if you don’t have a manager, there’s nobody to fire to get an easy fix in situations like this. Even a ship that can steer itself needs a Captain — both to stand on the bridge to look good when the weather’s sunny and to go down with the ship when it hits a reef and everyone else is jumping into the lifeboats.

    10. JMHawkins on October 17th, 2006 4:27 pm

      I think Macha’s A’s overachieved less than it appears at first glance. They were .574 overall (93-69), but they only played .531 (76-67) when they weren’t facing the M’s. If the M’s had played the A’s as well as the rest of the league, Oakland would have ended up with 86 wins.

      Oddly enough, the M’s were also 76-67 when not playing the A’s. Identical records against the rest of the world, completely lopsided against each other. Not sure if managers play a role in that or not. Since the results were so lopsided, I started looking at the season series game-by-game. I’ve made it through the first series (A’s win 3 games to 1), and basically, the a’s just out-pitched the M’s. Moyer and King Felix pitched decent games, but threw too many pitches, didn’t last through the sixth, and went up against Blanton and Zito, who simply stiffled the M’s bats. Meche and Pineiro were terrible, but Meche had the good fortune to pitch against Loaiza, who the M’s beat around like an NL pitcher.

      Blanton in particular was brutal to the M’s. Looking at the pitch location charts, it really seemed he had a scouting report and knew how to use it. When he came into the strike zone, he put the ball in a distinct location for each M’s batter. The grouping were very tight. I don’t know if credit for that goes to Blanton, Macha, the Pitching Coach (I should look him up…) or what.

    11. eponymous coward on October 17th, 2006 4:35 pm

      As for Lou, he’s not a miracle worker and needs a pitching coach to manage the staff (and physically restrain Lou from sending guys out in the 9th after 145 pitches), but he’s a good manager in terms of not leaving guys to rust on the bench (I’m looking at YOU, Hargrove).

    12. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 4:43 pm

      #56: Pretty sure I wasn’t quoting anybody in particular when I said managers don’t matter. I know I don’t don’t want to get into a “Quote The Dave” contest, that’s for sure.

      Anyway, is it not true that Macha had at least a non-negative effect on team wins, over the long term? Dare we say he had a positive long-term effect?

      If so, then I still don’t get the Macha firing, if 1) personality/chemistry/people-skill issues aren’t supposed to affect wins, and 2) Macha actually DID have a neutral-to-good long-term effect on wins.

      If he got fired because of the personality issues, then didn’t *somebody* believed that such things do affect wins?

    13. joser on October 17th, 2006 4:59 pm

      No, there are several ways “personality/chemistry/people-skill issues” can be indirectly detrimental to the team. If Beane can’t get players to sign, no how no way, because they’ve been hearing from current A’s players (or just reading in the news) what a pain Macha is, don’t you think that would be enough reason to get rid of him even if it has no effect on the current team’s ability to win? Beane has enough constraints to deal with when trying to acquire/retain talent without having to contend with a poisoned clubhouse atmosphere, whether they’re winning or not. Assuming competitive offers from two different potential employers, do you want to go to work where everyone is fairly happy, or where everyone openly hates the boss? And your decision has nothing to do with whether the company is going to succeed (and you may very well help it succeed in either case).

      And there’s the PR issue. Somebody has to be held accountable. Macha’s gone, end of that story. Even if Beane doesn’t believe the buck stopped anywhere near Macha (in fact, especially if he thinks that), the right thing to do is to throw the figurehead to wolves and let them feast while you go about the business of fixing what you think is really wrong out of the spotlight.

    14. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 5:01 pm

      TBS got the TV rights to the LCS games for 2007-20013. They get the NLCS in odd years, and the ALCS in even years. That seems unusual to me, but I don’t have TV, so what do I know?

      Does anyone know who TBS’s TV broadcasters will probably be? The Carays and Sutton?

    15. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 5:01 pm

      20013. Jeez, that’s quite a commitment. 2007-2013.

    16. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 5:08 pm

      #61: In the first case, I am not sure that the players Beane usually goes after are much inclined to quibble about managerial style. Also, once again, the only players complaining (on the record) are not major cogs.

      However, the sacrifice-Macha-for-PR-purposes point is well taken, and probably true. I just don’t see how it jibes with the results-focused analytical position to which Beane would presumably adhere.

    17. dw on October 17th, 2006 5:10 pm

      I’m saying Leyland’s moves did have little impact. He made some statistically poor tactical decisions, and his team won in spite of them, because tactically bad managerial decisions don’t mean much when your team is just outplaying the other team.

      But one of those poor decisions was to start Alexis Gomez, who belted a homer to give the Tigers the lead. Yeah, they had a bullpen to cement that win, but that move, random as it was, made a difference. Neifi Perez was just noise.

      I think what I’m unclear about is whether a single bad managerial decision in the playoffs has the same meaning as, say, the same bad decision made 100 times during the regular season. Leyland ran Ramon Santiago and Neifi out there as starters that much in 2006, and yet the team still won. Hargrove ran Bloomquist out as a starter 60+ times, and the team lost. In essence, do lineups really matter? Or do they only matter when a far superior player isn’t playing while a middling guy is?

      It seems like, from a talent perspective, a successful manager will:
      1. Know what talent is available on the 25-man roster at any given time
      2. Assemble that talent into a lineup and rotation and bullpen that will maximize winning potential
      3. Keep the talent happy as best as possible

      I wasn’t trying to criticize Leyland, who, by most accounts, is really good at the people aspect of managing a team, and not so terrible at the tactical aspect to discount his overall usefulness. I was just pointing out that even the glaring obviously poor tactical decisions aren’t bad enough to doom a team that plays well, so when people start saying things like “this team can never win with Hargrove at the helm”, well, they’re just wrong. Bob Brenly has a World Series ring, after all.

      Bob Brenly had Schilling, Johnson, and a shock Mariano implosion. Hargrove, OTOH, had far more talent and couldn’t win the Series in ’95 or ’97. So, what is the point of a manager?

      I almost feel like asking Jeff to comment on Derrida and deconstructivism vis-a-vis the managerial position.

    18. MKT on October 17th, 2006 5:14 pm

      33. But if players you value have said they will NOT come back if Macha stays, and if you believe those players and you want them back, and if you believe that managers are largely irrelevant, then it is a no brainer, Macha had to go.

      Lots of other good comments, I just want to add to this one. Suppose a ballclub for some reason kept the clubhouse at an infernal temperature of 95 degrees all the time? Or had plain lousy food in the clubhouse? Bad enough conditions that the players complained about it.

      Would these conditions cost the team victories? Except maybe for an occasional player sensitive to heat stress, probably not. These are simply not things that are highly relevant to team victories, in the short run at least.

      But just as sometimes a manager needs to go, a team needs to make sure the clubhouse is not at 95 degrees, and provide food for the players (have you ever taken the tour of Safeco Field, and seen the visiting players’ clubhouse and food facility? And the Mariners’ digs are presumably even more lavish).

      These are not small expenses, but a club which fails to do the minimum acceptable effort at making its players comfortable is going to find itself with some mighty unhappy players. It might not matter over the course of a season, it might not be measurable (I don’t know of anyone who uses “clubhouse comfort” as a factor in won-loss record), but at the same time it is, as Abodacious said, a “no brainer”: you gotta spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If nothing else, eventually the players with choices of where to go will walk.

      Managers are probably much more important to victory than clubhouses are. But even then their influence can be very small, in terms of determing wins and losses. Yet it is still an important act, to have the right manager (or more precisely, to get rid of the wrong managers), and to have an acceptable clubhouse.

    19. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 5:16 pm

      I almost feel like asking Jeff to comment on Derrida and deconstructivism vis-a-vis the managerial position.


    20. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 5:26 pm


      I guess I’m just wondering how Macha’s neutral-to-positive long-term effects on wins were suddenly trumped by whining from some semi-valuable players.

      In the case of Sauerbeck and Payton…are those guys so valuable that they can’t be allowed to walk?

      If we’re going to sit here and say that it’s so easy for managers to screw up and cost the team wins, yet so difficult for them to do the opposite, then why was Macha let go? He clearly didn’t demonstrate a tendency to negatively affect the win column, over four years. Why dump a guy who can “do” what most other managers cannot?

      Because guys like Payton and Melhuse didn’t like him?

    21. joser on October 17th, 2006 5:31 pm

      I just don’t see how it jibes with the results-focused analytical position to which Beane would presumably adhere.

      Beane’s not Mr. Spock, operating purely from analytics, and Mr Spock would be a lousy GM. There’s a huge touchy-feelie political/marketing/PR component to a GM’s job that has nothing to do with statistics (Bavasi is really good at it, as Dave has said more than once, and while giving it consideration drives a lot of us armchair GMs crazy, it’s an absolutely necessary component out in the real world). In that domain, perceptions matter even if they can’t be measured in any rational way. Beane clearly understands that aspect of the job, and he’s not going to neglect it just because it doesn’t jibe with a results-focused analytical position.

      I almost feel like asking Jeff to comment on Derrida and deconstructivism vis-a-vis the managerial position.

      I think perhaps he’d fall back on Wittgenstein: “What we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence.”

    22. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 5:36 pm

      Beane’s not Mr. Spock, operating purely from analytics, and Mr Spock would be a lousy GM.

      It’s lines like that one that keep me coming back to read USSM. Funny.

      I would love to observe a year of Mr. Spock as GM. The pressers would be hilarious.

    23. The Ancient Mariner on October 17th, 2006 5:39 pm

      Simple — “neutral-to-positive” doesn’t need to be trumped. Being in the Earl Weaver/Joe McCarthy stratosphere of managers, now that would need to be trumped, because those guys are rare; but “neutral-to-positive” just isn’t hard to find, and if you have a guy sparking that much animosity, his “long-term effects on wins” aren’t going to be neutral-to-positive much longer. Fact of the matter is, just because a guy like Beane knows how to calculate OBP doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to ignore the human element. (Which is why this obsessive “how does this jibe with results-oriented analysis” bit is off the mark. Whether your bench players want to kill the manager is part of the results, too.)

    24. joser on October 17th, 2006 5:40 pm

      He clearly didn’t demonstrate a tendency to negatively affect the win column, over four years.

      We don’t know that. Perhaps another manager, who was able to stay more “out of the way” than Macha, could have seen the A’s win one or two more each of those years.

      Why dump a guy who can “do” what most other managers cannot?

      Lou won 116 games with the M’s, and had consecutive losing seasons with the Devil Rays. What did Lou “do” with the M’s that he didn’t “do” with the Rays? Maybe he was just spending less time at the ballpark because home was so close. Or maybe it had more to do with the teams than the managers.

      If you believe managers have little effect on the record, then replacing one with another will have little effect either. You then have to look for other, non-winning related reasons. Whether it’s making it easier to woo free agents, to clear the decks in an effort to appease the fans, to offer up a sacrifice to appease ownership (lest you find your own neck on the block), or just to put an end to a lot of bad press that couldn’t be pleasant to endure, there are no end of plausible reasons that have nothing to do with the performance of the current team.

    25. Joe on October 17th, 2006 5:52 pm

      Spock might make a hell of a pitching coach. Is the guy on the mound starting to walk guys? Have Coach Spock go out and do the Vulcan mind meld on the mound. Suddenly he is a strike-throwing machine. (Recall the episode where Spock was able to convince the rest of the crew that the bullets at the OK Corral weren’t real? Compared to that, the focusing a wild pitcher should be a piece of cake.)

      Kirk, on the other hand, would make a pretty good manager — though it would help if ownership gave him a Prime Directive to keep him from meddling too much (not that that would stop him). And occasionally he’d be off trying to seduce the Phillie Phanatic and any other vaguely green-alien-girl creatures that might wander past.

      Bones McCoy, of course, would manage pretty much exactly like Lou. And would even sound like him in the press conferences.

      Jesus I’m a geek (or at least I was in my childhood — I couldn’t tell you word one about any character on any of the sequel series).

    26. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 6:02 pm

      #71: I say “neutral-to-positive” only to cast a wide berth around overstating Macha’s record as a manager. IMO, I think it’s safe to say that he has been a “good” manager. Not exactly going out on a limb there.

      The comments in this discussion seem to indicate that bad managers that cost a lot of wins are easy to find, and good ones are not so easy to acquire. I’m basing my question on that sentiment. If you believe that most managers suck, or that it’s easier for managers to make sucky, win-costing decisions, then managers like Macha clearly have more value than most others. If you think that a manager is just some tool to be placed on the chopping black when you need to placate players, or press, or the public, then I agree that there’s nothing to discuss.

      As I said before, if it had been guys like Swisher, Harden, and Chavez complaining about Macha, that’d be different. But, really, We’re talking about a few utility-type guys.

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wonder why Beane would fire a good manager over what is essentially a “chemistry” issue.

    27. IvaryCoast on October 17th, 2006 6:04 pm

      I meant chopping block.

    28. Abodacious on October 17th, 2006 6:05 pm

      For God’s sake Grover, don’t make me send Mateo out again. I am a pitching coach, not a miracle worker . . .

    29. BelaXadux on October 17th, 2006 9:36 pm

      The decisions Leyland made in the Detroit-Oakland series are absolutely in context with his entire career: he has always managed like that. I used to tear my hair (when I had enought to lose) with his handling in Pittsburgh, where, for example, he _insisted_ on batting Barry Bonds lead off almost the entire time he was there, and kept Jay Bell at SS despite sub-mediocre defense and no ability to get on base. His bullpen choices there, too, were continually of the wtf variety. Leylands manages on personalities first, hunches second, and names-from-a-hat for everything else. He’s a good guy, and a good man-manager, so that most of his guys like to play for him; very straight up and to a guy’s face. That said, Leyland is living proof that the manager position impacts performance by the 25-man far, far LESS than commonly assumed, yes.

    30. Deanna on October 18th, 2006 12:16 am

      I had an odd epiphany about managing effecting the playing tonight while watching the opening night of the production of Sondheim’s _Company_ at the 5th Avenue Theater.

      I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but there’s one actor or actress who I thought was absolutely positively abysmal. I mean, I think this character gets some of the best lines in the play, and they just killed them. I also thought that said person couldn’t sing, and not even in a good comedic way, but in a simply couldn’t sing sort of way.

      Now, the funny part is, I sort of was trying to figure out… how much of this character sucking was blamable on the person, and how much of it was blamable on the director? Because I mean, in theory, the director should have been watching rehearsals and figured out that this person sucked and done something to correct it or at least lessen their impact on the show. But maybe this person was just incorrigible and/or a prima donna and went on sucking at the role regardless?

      And so I sort of was thinking of that like in baseball terms. I mean, a manager can only do so much, but the players have to be the ones to get out there and make the plays and hit the ball. And a director can do so much to impart knowledge and concepts to their actors, but the actors are the ones out there on stage making or breaking the production, not the director. And sometimes the director doesn’t even have full reign over choosing their roster… err.. cast. And when the actors break a leg, what can they do about it?

      Err, anyway, sorry for the tangent. Welcome back, Dave!

    31. ConorGlassey on October 18th, 2006 7:22 am

      Deanna – wouldn’t this be the casting director’s fault? They would have to be the GM in the theatre-to-baseball relationship. So, if the person that sucked was an important piece to the play, that would be like a GM giving a manager a team with a crappy shortstop, or something. Then – what can the manager do? All he can really do is play with the cards he’s dealt…
      Ultimately, this is why I believe that roster construction is soooo much more important than who the manager is. I mean, just look at Hargrove’s old Cleveland teams. From ’92-’99, the years that he was the full-time manager there, the Indians went 689-538 (.562), winning the division 5 times and going to the World Series twice. Does that make him a good manager? Not necessarily…he teams that were freaking stacked! Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar, Eddie Murray, Brian Giles, Matt Williams, David Justice, Roberto Alomar, Travis Fryman, David Bell, Richie Sexson, Bartolo Colon…holy shit, those teams were AWESOME!

    32. gwangung on October 18th, 2006 7:32 am

      Now, the funny part is, I sort of was trying to figure out… how much of this character sucking was blamable on the person, and how much of it was blamable on the director?

      Director, for casting the actor. 90% of directing is casting the right person in the role.

      So too is managing, I’d say; 90% of managing is using the right person in the right role. Which means Willie Bloomquist should be seen only in late inning pinch running, Mateo only in low leverage situations…..

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