The Gillick rings
I’ve been pondering a much longer piece on Gillick and his time in Seattle after this year’s Phillies championship. But I wanted to throw this out: check out his Baseball America executive database page. His GM stints:
Blue Jays, 1978-1994
In each stint, here’s his playoff teams:
1985, Blue Jays
1989, Blue Jays
1991, Blue Jays
1992, Blue Jays (World Series win)
1993, Blue Jays (World Series win)
2008, Phillies (World Series win)
What interested me particularly is the way they did it. Looking at their raw ranking, you see some big contrasts. The 92-93 Blue Jays, for instance, had great hitting and decent pitching and defense. That’s a lot like the 96 Orioles. In 1997, though, the Orioles had a great run-prevention year and their hitting was close to average. The 2000/2001 Mariners were amazingly good defensive teams that also hit with the best teams in the league. The 08 Phillies had close to league-best hitting and pitching (but not defense), improving from 07 on the run-prevention side to spark a World Series run.
I’ve always thought one of Gillick’s great strengths is reflected there. He was flexible about where he got his wins in a way that he doesn’t get enough credit for. He played an unconventional outfield lineup to get stellar defense and good production in 2001, and he wasn’t afraid to get his pitchers on the free agent market or the scrap heap (Paul Abbott in the starting rotation!).
It’s also interesting that Gillick’s success disproves all the traditional cliches about “pitching and defense win championships”. Gillick repeatedly won pennants and a couple of World Series with teams that played decent defense, and that didn’t pitch all that well. They beat teams that had better pitching and defense, too: in 1993, for instance, if you put a ball into play against the Blue Jays you’d get a hit 30% of the time — they were the 21st-best team in raw defensive efficiency. But they beat the White Sox (6th in that stat) for the AL Championship and then the Phillies (who were a little better defensive) to take the World Series.
The Gillick aftermath, though, is equally interesting. Here’s the five year post-departure records for the franchises he’s left.
Blue Jays (1995-1999) .477
Orioles (1999-2003) .436
Mariners (2004-2008) .443
I don’t know that five years is the best measure, but I figure that the traditional turnaround window is 3-5 years, so if Gillick was really cratering teams, they’d be able to climb out after five at most.
It’s strange to look over his career like this, too, because it illustrates part of why it’s so hard to figure out Gillick’s last couple of jobs. In Toronto he did an absolutely stellar job of building an expansion franchise into a powerhouse. It was a success on the same level as the sustained contention run the Braves had in the 1990s, in which Gillick played a key role in developing modern international player development. And now, and with good reason, he’s regarded as a hired gun, someone a team might bring in to take a decent franchise into the playoffs for a few years, knowing that there might be a long hangover afterwards.
It makes me wonder why he hadn’t been approached by owners looking to put together some playoff teams to gain support for a stadium deal. As we saw here, winning helps hugely in lobbying, and once they’re in a new home, it’s a lot easier to keep winning with all the new revenue streams.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to digress there. But I find the career of Gillick, and particularly his swing through Seattle, pretty fascinating.
* I’m tempted to list 2004 here for reasons we hashed over back through that season, but I didn’t want to distract from the larger point.