Lloyd McClendon: Leader Of These Men
For FanGraphs, right now, I’m writing about a new trend around MLB toward hiring managers with little or no managerial background. Mike Matheny didn’t have a track record when he was hired by the Cardinals. Neither did Robin Ventura when he was hired by the White Sox, and neither did Walt Weiss when he was hired by the Rockies. Recently, the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus, and the Reds promoted Bryan Price, and the Nationals hired Matt Williams. It feels to me like six is meaningful — it feels to me teams around the league are less afraid of inexperience than ever before. Word is the Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon. He’s been the only guy linked to the Mariners who’s managed much before. He was in charge of the Pirates for five years at the beginning of the millennium, and the Pirates totally sucked.
On this basis alone, it’s beyond easy to be cynical. It was probably going to be easy to be cynical, regardless, since cynicism is our Seattle Mariners battle station, but here the team is visibly going against a new trend. It’s hiring a guy with a history, and whose history wasn’t successful. The Mariners are passing up an opportunity to try something new and different, something which might really shake things up.
We can do better than that, though. For one thing, I don’t know if there’s evidence that the trend toward inexperience is good, bad, or neutral. It’s new, and new is different, but new isn’t always an improvement, and it’s not like Mike Matheny was a tactical wizard in the playoffs. And while McClendon managed some bad Pirates teams, we can’t allow that to automatically color our impression of McClendon as a leader. Jason Kendall played for a lot of those Pirates teams, and he didn’t suck just because the team sucked. Maybe McClendon was a good manager. Maybe the situation was too utterly hopeless. Maybe McClendon wasn’t a good manager then, but he’s learned a lot more since.
Let’s construct a hypothetical manager WAR. Let’s say the hypothetical manager WAR is perfect, with all the right inputs and all the right weights. For those Pirates teams, we can say that manager McClendon was worth x WAR, where x could be basically any number. We have absolutely no idea if McClendon was good. We have absolutely no idea, in turn, if McClendon was bad. Even if we were to know something about McClendon back then, we’d have absolutely no idea if McClendon stood to do well with these Mariners, with this roster that isn’t even close to complete.
It all comes back to the reality that we’re dealing with things we don’t know about. There’s no shame in admitting that — better to be up front, than to pretend like any of us is insightful. It seemed weird that the Mariners talked to Dave Valle about managing, but, who knows? The Mariners are hiring Lloyd McClendon, and that seems kind of lazy, but, who knows? You’re allowed to have an opinion when you don’t know anything. I have an opinion here. But you have to understand it’s just an opinion, and there isn’t any actual substance. They’re feelings based on feelings.
Maybe it’s meaningful that McClendon didn’t get hired by the Tigers, for whom he’s long been the hitting coach beside Jim Leyland. McClendon has coached with the Tigers since leaving the Pirates, and he’s probably learned from Leyland, and he got himself an interview after Leyland announced his resignation, but the Tigers went with Ausmus, who’s never managed before. Maybe the Tigers know that McClendon wouldn’t make for a good manager today. Or maybe they just like Ausmus better. Or maybe they messed up. Or maybe, for whatever reason, McClendon wouldn’t be a great fit in Detroit, but he’ll be a better fit in Seattle.
This is all to say the same thing: no idea. I’ve got no idea. This post could be one sentence: Mariners hiring Lloyd McClendon. But I will now touch on my feeling. Among the Mariners’ managerial candidates, McClendon intrigued me the least. He seems like an old-school guy, a retread, a safe selection in that he’s an uninteresting selection. He’s probably got old-school ideas and old-school methods, and he’s probably not what you’d refer to as the “thinking type”. Lloyd McClendon has never managed the Mariners before, but he’s probably going to feel pretty familiar, and at some point he’s probably going to get fired. Lloyd McClendon isn’t going to challenge anything but those dog-gone entitled vets in spring training, who think they’ll just be handed a job, but no, everyone’s got to fight, everyone’s got to earn it. McClendon, actually, is probably going to sound a lot like Eric Wedge, and people didn’t like Wedge much.
But that’s a feeling and it doesn’t matter because it’s not based in evidence. Maybe Wedge was a fantastic manager during his time! Again, no idea. We can’t say anything about Wedge and McClendon as managers except that they have been managers, and their teams have lost more games than they’ve won. Some of you might have particularly strong opinions about the McClendon hire. They probably aren’t warranted. Most of you are probably more negative than positive, but we’re all negative about the Mariners, and managerial hires are like tofu, in that they absorb the flavor around them. I think there’ll be a negative response to this move because we’re all prepared to be negative about this team. It’s going to take a lot to turn that around.
There’s nothing about Lloyd McClendon that excites me. I don’t know if I would’ve been excited about Tim Wallach or Chip Hale or Joey Cora and the answer is probably not, no. This move feels safe and predictable and lazy and bad, but there’s not actually any evidence to back that up, and unless we’re way off in how we think about coaching staffs, the fate of the Mariners going forward will be determined for the most part by the players on the 40-man roster. If McClendon’s going to have any chance, the Mariners need a lot more talent. And if they get so much talent McClendon can’t possibly screw it up, then we’ll all love him in the end. Get to work, front office. You’ve made the move we can’t criticize. Now for everything else, all the moves we can. That’s the important bit, and you’ve got a whole team to make better.