In Defense Of Wak

Dave · June 9, 2010 at 7:25 am · Filed Under Mariners 

In a season of disappointments and struggles, no one has taken more of a beating than second year manager Don Wakamatsu. The manager is always an easy target to blame when a team starts losing, so its no surprise that the reactionary fans who call into sports radio are calling for Wak’s head. That’s just the nature of the beast.

But it doesn’t stop there. We try to be a bit more measured around here, but we’ve criticized a lot of the things Wak has done this year. His bullpen management has been curious at best, disastrous at worst. His line-ups have generally not been anything close to ideal. He’s shown questionable talent evaluation skills, including a far-too-strong emphasis on spring training performance – his infatuation with guys like Matt Tuiasosopo can be easily understood when you realize how much stock the manager has put in March performances the last two years.

However, most managers are going to make curious to bad decisions from time to time. In general, all you can hope for from a field general is that he’s more good than bad and that his players respect him and work hard for him.

It’s that last point that offers potential to be the biggest problem. In the last few weeks, the team has seen Griffey retire with something less than grace after Wak benched him, Ian Snell speak with frustration about his manager’s comments about his tempo, and Chone Figgins publicly push back against the line-up changes that saw him moved down in the order. On their own, none of these things might be all that big of a deal, but there is certainly a growing feeling among those around the team that the clubhouse is anything but the unified fun house we saw a year ago, with a good amount of blame being shoveled Wak’s way in the process.

I’m not saying he’s handled everything perfectly, but I’d like to suggest that it’s highly unfair to lay the perceived ills of the clubhouse at Wak’s feet. He didn’t sign Ken Griffey Jr, who made a lot of statements about being perfectly content playing “any role” on the team but showed that to simply not be true once he was finally removed from a regular job. He didn’t anoint Junior as some kind of sacred cow, a hero to the boys in the locker room who could not be treated as the player that he was – not one worthy of a big league job. And he didn’t cause Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, and Casey Kotchman to hit like Double-A rejects, sinking the offense and the team’s chances at winning in the process.

This entire situation reinforces a point we’ve been making for years; chemistry is a byproduct of winning, not the other way around. The team is losing, so frustrations that would have been washed away in victory celebrations are now coming to the surface. Griffey’s lifeless bat was okay when his teammates were covering for him – once they fell down on the job, his inability to perform became the elephant in the room, and Wak was left with the decision of putting the best team on the field or angering those who worshiped a guy who shouldn’t have had a job in the first place. It took him too long, but he finally made the correct decision, and now he’s taking heat for it.

Wak’s not perfect. I’d probably argue that he’s had as bad of a start to the 2010 season as some of the underperformers in the line-up, and he’s made mistakes that he needs to learn from. But just like we’re not abandoning Michael Saunders as he struggles in his second year on the job, neither should we bail on Don Wakamatsu just because he’s had a rough few months. Instead, the organization needs to learn from yet another failed attempt at winning by chemistry, rather than focusing on putting the best major league roster on the field.

Last year’s leader is this year’s petulant divider. Last year’s joy is this year’s frustration. Rather than trying to fix the clubhouse, the Mariners should focus on fixing the team, and once they’ve done that, the off field stuff will work itself out. The only thing predictable about clubhouse chemistry is that it follows winning around. If you want harmony in the clubhouse, win games.

Wak shares in the blame for why the team hasn’t won games. The clubhouse stuff, though – there’s not much he can do to ease the frustration causing the problems. That will get taken care of when they start playing well again. Or, maybe at this point, if they start playing well again.


78 Responses to “In Defense Of Wak”

  1. spankystout on June 9th, 2010 11:43 am

    I would rather see a few deserving players get the hook. But if its Armstrong, or Lincoln getting canned, I’m all for it. They are one of the constant themes in a perpetually bad organization.

  2. Liam on June 9th, 2010 11:52 am


    1) Previewing the 2010 Season

  3. Westside guy on June 9th, 2010 11:53 am

    Dave, thank you for a post that hopefully helped people like me to put things into a little better perspective. Sometimes it’s a little too easy to focus so hard on the negative stuff that any positives are forgotten.

    Regarding the Figgins move – maybe we should take Wak at his word for the moment, and believe it wasn’t so much about Figgins as it was about Bradley. I don’t know, I think this particular action was one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situations. If it ends up being perceived as having worked, all will be forgiven.

  4. spankystout on June 9th, 2010 11:59 am

    What is up with the ‘Griffey and Wak’ not talking rumors? Geoff Baker has a story up about Jr, his retirement and Wak. So is there any merit to this? If a manager stops taking to his clubhouse leader, who then decides to retire, that is a bad, bad sign. Hopefully this is just more of Baker’s inflammatory drivel usually meant to incite, not convey insight.

  5. G-Man on June 9th, 2010 12:16 pm

    I’m pasting in Dave’s list from “Previewing the 2010 Season”:

    “It really is that simple. This team is a contender if:

    Milton Bradley stays healthy, stays sane, and hits well.
    Cliff Lee recovers from this injury quickly and suffers no lingering effects.
    Casey Kotchman remembers that he used to be a pretty good hitting prospect.
    Ian Snell figures out how to throw strikes and get lefties out.
    Felix, Ichiro, Gutierrez, and Figgins all avoid the disabled list.

    If all of those things happen, this team has a great shot at the playoffs. If two or three of them happen, they have a shot, but they’ll need all three other AL West clubs to struggle. If less than three of those things happen, they may finish below .500.”

    As of now, only #2 and #5 are happening.

  6. Leroy Stanton on June 9th, 2010 12:16 pm

    Hopefully this is just more of Baker’s inflammatory drivel usually meant to incite, not convey insight.

    Baker’s just hurt because Griffey left without saying goodbye.

  7. jonw on June 9th, 2010 12:35 pm

    If Wak was managing the New York Yankees right now he would have a great record and people would be saying what a great manager he was. The only blame that can be placed on Wak is what was the extent of his involvement in putting this roster together.

    I could not agree more. There is enough acrimony and blame to go around for this season. If half of the frustration boils over in the clubhouse as is let loose in the comment threads this team would be even worse than it is now. Let cooler heads prevail think long term and build a winning team.

  8. CCW on June 9th, 2010 12:37 pm

    This team has suffered more heartbreaking losses in 2 months than most teams suffer in an entire season. Or in 2 or 3 seasons, really. This has been a complete downer of a season in just about every way. The fact that the players are still playing hard, still have each others’ backs, and still exude any optimism at all at this point is a testament to all the things Wak does extremely well.

  9. maqman on June 9th, 2010 12:50 pm

    Well put Dave!

  10. rick m on June 9th, 2010 12:59 pm

    The Mariners aren’t going through anything that a few three run homeruns by uh, uh, somebody, won’t cure.

    Well, on the plus side, I’m told that first base and dh, the two sucking holes in our lineup, are the easiest positions to fill. Well, I’m told that anyway. Having watched the Mariners fail repeatedly and painfully in that task over that last 7-8 years, I’m starting to wonder.

  11. LongTimeFan on June 9th, 2010 1:08 pm

    Thanks for the link, Dave.


    Really, only #2 in Dave’s list is working. #5 really implies that Ichi, Felix, DTFT, and Chone don’t just stay healthy, but play at their normal levels, which Felix and Chone have not done.

    Dave did a great job of laying out the things that this team absolutely needed to go right, and 2 months later all but one of them are not working out. The one positive has been Cliffton and I hope we are slow to trade him because we could be near unwatchable without him in the mix every 5 days.

  12. thurston24 on June 9th, 2010 1:12 pm

    I look forward to the ‘In Defense of Z’ post…

    Turning J.J. Putz, Jeremy Reed et. al into Frankling Gutierrez (The best CF in baseball)

    Turning 3 middling prospects into Cliff Lee

    Turning Mr. Beaver (Jarrod Wasburn) into Jarrod Washburn 2.0 (Luke French who is younger and cheaper) and Mauricio Robles

    Getting a first baseman for next to nothing (Bill Hall who was released for Casey Kotchman).

    Not to mention being the reason the Brewers have Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, etc.

  13. CCW on June 9th, 2010 1:27 pm

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there have been two problems in 2010 which together account for 98% of the M’s woes:

    1) Players not playing as well as projected (Chone, Bradley, Felix, Lopie, Lee (through injury), Kotch, Griffey, Byrnes), Aardsma, Moore. Yes, some of that you could see coming, and yes, some players have played better than expected, but overall, the players have been worse than their weighted mean projections.

    2) Bad luck.

  14. Brzeczyszczykiewicza on June 9th, 2010 1:36 pm

    It’d be one thing if it was just an occasional bad decision, but Wak consistently makes bad decisions in every facet of managing.

    Bad lineups giving the wrong players playing time, bad bullpen management with wasting good relievers in blowouts or using bad relievers in close games, bad in-game decisions like excessive bunting or excessive hit and runs or using the wrong pinch hitter or not pinch hitting when he should or pinch hitting when he shouldn’t, and bad leadership with his lack of fire and seemingly complete apathy and indifference.

    What else is there for a manager to do? No excuses, certainly he’s far from the only problem with this team, but he literally doesn’t do anything right, and that’s why he needs to go.

  15. TomTuttle on June 9th, 2010 1:55 pm


    This post hits it right on the head, Dave. As does Steve Kelley’s column today.

    Until Wak loses Game 7 of the ALCS and pulls off a Grady Little for us due to bad bullpen management, then one shouldn’t blame the bullpen management a lot for the team’s misfortunes.

    Blame the underachieving roster.

    Z needs to go to town, get better players in here for next year and pretty much blow up the entire roster with the exception of 5 players or so.

    And it begins with a Cliff Lee trade.

  16. Breadbaker on June 9th, 2010 1:56 pm

    I always consider “don’t blame the manager” arguments, like “blame the manager” arguments, to be straw man arguments. The real question is not whether a manager is “good” or “bad” but whether he’s the best manager for the team you have or expect to have.

    Wak, like everyone, has strengths and weaknesses. Until this season, we couldn’t see how he would deal with adversity, and how he’d deal with increased expectations. He’s obviously doing both, and in an OJT situation, so properly the jury is still out.

    Last year, he showed he was pretty adept at juggling lineups, particularly with a revolving door on the left side of the infield. He also juggled the bullpen well, replacing Morrow with Aardsma before it was too late. This year’s challenges are bigger.

    I think Wak overestimated how good this team would be in fundamentals, and probably didn’t emphasize them enough in spring training, and underestimated how much difficulty would be caused by asking Figgins to both change position and lineup slot at the same time (Lopez, too, and with even less excuse because if the Mariners don’t understand the flatness of Lopez’s learning curve, they have one themselves). Putting pressure on the other team by aggressivenes is only a positive if it doesn’t lead to outs, then it becomes a serious negative. In retrospect, it might have been better to leave the swagger in Peoria and play sound, fundamental baseball rather than try to push the other team into mistakes they did not in fact make.

    Too much has been said about the Sean White fetish and the Jesus Colome fetish. Lou had such fetishes, too, but he also had Edgar, A-Rod, Griffey and RJ. And some underperforming seasons.

  17. georgmi on June 9th, 2010 2:32 pm

    Re: Steve Kelley’s defense of Wak:

    Even Rob Johnson catches the ball once in a while.

  18. CCW on June 9th, 2010 2:43 pm

    I always consider “don’t blame the manager” arguments, like “blame the manager” arguments, to be straw man arguments. The real question is not whether a manager is “good” or “bad” but whether he’s the best manager for the team you have or expect to have.

    This is what I refer to as a “double straw man”. Very few people are saying flat-out “blame the manager” or Wak is “good” or “bad” in the abstract. They are, in fact, arguing over exactly what you say they should be – whether he’s the best manager for the team. Maybe they don’t couch it in precisely those terms, but that’s clearly the gist of the discussion.

  19. lalo on June 9th, 2010 2:44 pm

    which is the possibility that the Yankees sent Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee?

  20. Jon on June 9th, 2010 2:50 pm

    I’ll get killed for this, but the best case for keeping Wak seems to be that firing him would be change for change’s sake, i.e., no manager could turn this sorry group into a winner. Unfortunately, I am not persuaded that Wak is the right guy even if our roster magically improves. That’s too bad, because it would be reassuring to know that at least one aspect of our on-the-field personnel (players and coaches) is capable. I fear our line-up will improve only to find out later that Wak is not up to the task. Nice to see, I guess, that a lynch mob for Wak isn’t forming here at USSM, if only to avoid (for now) the unproductive scapegoating that deflects blame away from many of the players and the front office that assembled this mess.

  21. Leroy Stanton on June 9th, 2010 2:52 pm

    which is the possibility that the Yankees sent Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee?

    That’s who I want. I can’t wait until Dave does a post on that subject.

  22. NV M's fan on June 9th, 2010 2:59 pm

    As a long, long-time high school coach I will affirm that clubhouse principle set out here by Dave. He really said it all and my players and their parents are given lectures and readings, etc., etc. regarding this on a regular basis. Naturally they don’t always agree but it still doesn’t make it any less true. There is a very small window at the beginning of a season where you can have a tiny impact in “team building” toward a good atmosphere but it all pivots with the very first game’s results — as well as each subsequent one. I’m also a PLU grad and none of Frosty Westering’s EMAL rah-rah would have been possible without the recruiting and the winning — it was never the other way around, despite what I’m sure people there are saying since he’s been gone.

  23. MrZDevotee on June 9th, 2010 4:00 pm

    Great post. I’d been highly critical of Wak this season, but then came the realization recently that if a good portion of this team was NOT going to be here in the foreseeable future, then what was the point of evaluating Wak’s management skills as they pertain to players that can’t perform and won’t be here much longer?

    Maybe like evaluating a guy’s ability to make a gourmet dinner when his pantry is filled with marshmallows, pixie sticks, and a tin of sardines.

    Or, throwing out the map when your car blows a head gasket. The map might still be wrong, but I think the car needs to be running first before we can make a decision on that one.

    I think typically a manager gets the axe because it’s the easiest way to threaten an entire roster with the idea that everyone’s job is on the line, and they better pick it up. But with this roster, that would seem like a silly threat that wouldn’t accomplish much.

    But then again, it does still feel like Wak is living on borrowed time– sort of like Junior’s 2010 season.

    At this point, I’ve come full circle, and now I hope he survives this season so we can see him manage a better roster down the line.

    (PS- My pendulum of blame for this season is quickly swinging towards the bullpen. It wasn’t even on the radar of concern when the season started, but it’s looking more and more like 2009 was a fluke of success for those guys– a bunch of young hard throwing guys that other teams hadn’t faced much, until now.)

  24. KaminaAyato on June 9th, 2010 4:07 pm

    I’ve been willing to give the Z and Wakamatsu time simply because I figured this was a long-term rebuild and both needed time to settle into their positions.

    But hearing from the snarkist callers on the radio, plus certain posters here, and people at the stadium – and I’ve been getting fed up not necessarily at the team, but at the fans.

    Unfortunately, it comes with the territory of a losing team.

  25. Badbadger on June 9th, 2010 4:29 pm

    It does seem like people (and I don’t necessarily mean people on this board) like to have an extreme view of a manager or GM. They’re either shockingly brilliant or hopelessly stupid. Wak and GMZ are both probably above average but not infallible.

  26. JMHawkins on June 9th, 2010 5:52 pm

    Realistically, there are three ways a manager could impact the game (“tools” if you will):

    1) somehow creating better Team Chemistry so that guys perform at their best. I don’t really believe this happens, but Wak got credit for this last year – Salk tagging him “The Dog Whisperer.” Well, to whatever extent he deserved credit for the good chemistry last year, he deserves blame for the terrible chemistry this year. If you believe Team Chemisty creates winning instead of vice versa, you have to conclude Wak isn’t a great chemistry guy. If you don’t believe in it, it’s nothing to care about. Either way, Wak is marginal at best.

    2) Effective use of players, putting together optimal lineups and deftly juggling the bullpen. These are the faults most people blast managers for, rightly or wrongly. I certainly can’t give Wak above average scores on this front – his lineups and bullpen usage have been awful, even discounting for the skewed perception Dave mentioned. As Dave said:

    Wak’s made some mistakes, but no more so than every other manager in the game.

    No less so either. Though I’d probably be less charitable than Dave. It looks to me like Wak doesn’t really havea good handle on his player’s skills and talent levels. He seems to form hunches about guys and sticks with those hunches for a long time regardless of results. That’s what his “belief system” looks like to me, and it makes me think he’s guessing most of the time. Maybe I’m being unfair, but even if that’s the case, at best he’s average in this catgegory.

    3) A manager could execute brilliant in-game strategy that gives his club the edge in close games. I give Wak average marks on this, he bunts more than I’dlike, but less than other managers, and that same analysis applies to most of the other strategy decisions he could make.

    So if I was doing a scouting report on him, I’d grade him below average on the “three tools” at this point in his career. I wouldn’t quite agree with Dave on the “we wouldn’t give up on Saunders” comparision, because I think Saunders has shown enough potential to be patient.

    The team has bigger problems than Wak, but another way to look at it is that Wak is making unnecessary mistakes. It’s not like he’s being baffled by a nasty slider, or getting bad jumps on fly balls. He’s making mental mistakes. It’s the equivalent of Byrnes pulling the bat back on a suicide squeeze, not Figgins hitting into a double play.

  27. GoldenGutz on June 9th, 2010 5:56 pm

    I usually tend not to listen to callers on the radio because most of the time, they have no clue what they are talking about. Although I do tend to yell at my radio calling the caller a dumbass every once in a while.

  28. Swungonandbelted on June 9th, 2010 6:24 pm

    I want the guy who seemed to have a clue last year back.

    Wak made questionable decisions about not using pinch hitters last year, and got lucky on some of his bullpen decisions because Aardsma pulled his tail out of the fire on more than one occasion. When things work out great he’s a solid managers, when those same decisions don’t he’s an idiot.

    I don’t seem the M’s turning that position over though, face it, they haven’t seen stability at the manager position since Pinella left…

    And on the topic of Sweet Lou, he was probably one of the greatest coaches/managers in Seattle Sports history… but I still shudder when I think of his pre-Brian Price pitching management skills….

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