Jeff Sullivan · November 15, 2013 at 2:23 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I don’t have much to say about this — I just found it an interesting paragraph. Not long ago, I mistakenly identified the Cardinals as less of a sabermetric organization. In doing so, I casually cited outdated reputation instead of really thinking about it, and the truth of the matter is that the Cardinals have long been one of the more forward-thinking organizations in baseball. That was just a stupid error on my part, as my fingers got ahead of my brain. Someone who worked for the Cardinals for a long time is Jeff Luhnow, the current general manager of the Astros. Luhnow recently had something to say about the process of hiring a manager. The Mariners recently hired a new manager in Lloyd McClendon. All right, that’s the connection. This is the excerpt:

Luhnow, a former CEO who leans on analytics perhaps more than any other general manager, called hiring a manager the most important job of a front office. In hiring Porter, the Astros were “not looking for someone we could dictate how to do their job,” he said. But he demanded a candidate “curious enough to listen and bright enough” to be open to new ideas.

It’s funny how a word, or the absence of a couple words, can change everything. If Luhnow called hiring a manager one of the most important jobs of a front office, it would be an easy paragraph to ignore. That would just be interpreted as a statement of little substance. Instead, it’s very matter-of-fact: hiring a manager is the most important job of a front office, according to Jeff Luhnow. He didn’t give himself any wiggle room. He made a statement, asserting it as fact, and Jeff Luhnow is very smart and good at baseball.

And, you know, okay, maybe he’s wrong. Nobody’s right all of the time. But my inclination is to give baseball people the benefit of the doubt with most baseball questions, and Luhnow’s a hell of a baseball person. This is something he’s thought about before, at length. And while it’s obviously important to hire the right manager, it’s an interesting situation to have a manager be considered this important, when fans by and large don’t know and don’t care. Fans care about the roster. Fans care about the manager only when they have reason to complain about him.

Two points, to summarize what we’ve got here:

(1) according to at least one smart GM, there’s nothing more important for a front office than hiring the right manager

(2) we might not ever have any idea how well or poorly a given manager did with a given team in a given year

It’s maybe the most important thing, and we know nothing about it. Even when we think we do, we don’t for sure, but if Luhnow is to be believed, the Mariners just made a very significant decision in bringing on Lloyd McClendon. Of course, I don’t know if that’s a good decision or a bad decision, and there’s little sense in analyzing the quotes since McClendon’s just making a first impression and everybody’s positive, but let it not be suggested that the Mariners’ offseason isn’t underway. McClendon’s here now, and he’s going to try to develop a new and better team culture. For all I know that’ll be the biggest thing of all. Never underestimate what might be hidden in your blind spots.

As for the end of the excerpted paragraph? We’ll see about McClendon’s curiosity, and we’ll see if he’s provided with new ideas. Or, probably, we won’t see that, directly. But we’ll see if the team looks different. The person who knows the most about Lloyd McClendon is Lloyd McClendon. The people who know a lot are the Mariners. The people who know nothing, aside from what they’ve been fed, are us. We might never know whether the Mariners made a good move or a bad move, but I sure would welcome good moves. I’d like for this to be one.


17 Responses to “Excerpt”

  1. PackBob on November 15th, 2013 3:30 am

    Sometimes people will use “the most important” more as a way to emphasize than to actually mean the most important. Another possible meaning is that no other decision carries as much weight by itself taken as a single decision. Player development, as a collection of decisions, may hold as much or more importance.

    No matter what he meant exactly, choosing the leader of the team, where the buck stops for on-field play, seems intuitively like it should be a big deal. Whether a manager turns out to be good or bad, and who really knows, is on a different level.

  2. maqman on November 15th, 2013 4:07 am

    I doubt if the choice of any coach or player is as important as the selection of a manager but it’s still all on the players to execute. As for McClendon the fact that Jim Leyland trusted him is good enough for me.

  3. casey on November 15th, 2013 8:59 am

    I loved this part of the quote:

    a candidate “curious enough to listen and bright enough” to be open to new ideas.

    I never got the impression that this was Eric Wedge – for a fairly young guy he seemed to have his mind made up about a lot of baseball things based upon how they have always been done (from the value of veteran goodness to sabermetrics being a menace to his players and the game).

  4. Westside guy on November 15th, 2013 9:53 am

    We indeed may never know for sure if this was a good move or a bad move – but we can probably make an intelligent guess based on the other moves the organization makes this off season.

  5. McExpos on November 15th, 2013 10:07 am

    The uncertainty surrounding Lloyd McClendon makes me think of a line from True Romance: what the Mariners have to offer us, this is as good as it’s gonna get. And it won’t ever get this good again.

    I’m not pessimistic about the hiring – I’m solidly in the neutral category – but that first off-season with a new manager is always fun, even if it turns out that they’re awful. What I don’t know is a lot more fun than what I do know!

  6. dantheman on November 15th, 2013 11:10 am

    If (and it may be a big “if”) this is true, what does it say that Jack Z is now hiring his 3rd manager in 5 years? How well has he done “the most important job” of a GM? And why should anyone believe this time he would do any better?

  7. casey on November 15th, 2013 11:56 am

    whole range of possibilities re third manager in 5 years from he doesn’t have a clue what he is doing to he is learning as he goes and knows more about what he wants from a manager / business partner.

  8. Badbadger on November 15th, 2013 12:00 pm

    Unless I totally misunderstand what the role of the manager is then I think Luhnow is clearly wrong. Roster construction is more important than selecting a manager.

    It’s important to have a manager who isn’t a total screw up, but having cleared that low bar it seems obvious to me that getting good players to play on your team is more important than anything else the manager will do.

  9. Prosser Steve on November 15th, 2013 12:11 pm

    And in Moneyball Billy Beane states that Art Howe is the 1st manager ever hired to manage a team under direct orders on how to do so from the front office. Billy said it doesn’t matter who the manager is. I’m going with Billy.

  10. bermanator on November 15th, 2013 2:42 pm

    “Jeff Luhnow is very smart and good at baseball.”


    He’s smart and good at baseball, but are we sure he’s good at being a general manager?

    Luhnow gets a lot of rope because he just started and he’s doing what a lot of analytic types dream of. But tearing a team down is easy, once you make up your mind to do it. Building it anew is the hard part. That’s going to determine how good of a GM he is.

    Put it another way — if he wasn’t a darling of the sabermetric crowd, would we really be referring to Luhnow as a smart GM based on his brief track record thus far?

  11. Flaco on November 15th, 2013 2:46 pm

    @Prosser Steve just because my manager doesn’t matter to Billy Beane doesn’t mean a manager is not important

  12. mrb on November 15th, 2013 3:08 pm

    This post, for the first time has made me consider the ethics of being a sabrmetric baseball critic (in the literary sense).

    One hand, since Bill James the message has been essentially Outsiders versus Establishment; New vs Old; etc. But this assumption relies on the idea that outsiders and insiders have similar goals.

    It can be said with irony that sabrmetric analysts – from General Managers of organizations to the crankiest blogger with a readership of 5 – have and end goal of trying to win games; and that the disagreement between old school baseball men and sabrmetricians was the route towards generating wins.

    “It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”

    Consider, however, another and perhaps more important battleground: The players, managers may place more value in how they play the game rather than if you live or die. This would be why the hold to the values of “chemistry” (not wanting to work with assholes); playing the game the “right way” (wanting the same system of rules to apply to your coworkers) and a host of other hackneyed baseball sayings – that they occur not because of a peculiar type of baseball superstition, but as stand ins for the desires of workers everywhere. If that is important or not depends on if you consider the final product – the game – athletics, or entertainment.

  13. MrZDevotee on November 15th, 2013 3:23 pm

    Managers are the equivalent of NFL kickers. You only notice them when they either “make the winning kick” (Girardi’s memorable pinch hit of Ibanez for A-Rod in the playoffs) or have a bad night.

    I think the inference is that the WRONG manager can do more damage than good.

    I definitely think the players on the field are more important than the manager. For the most part, teams full of high WAR players do well, and teams full of league average players are the Astros.

    A manager can’t make average pitchers with average stuff into ace’s. And no matter how bad his decisions, he can probably only negatively impact an ace pitcher a small %.

    I’m interested to see what McClendon can do, because he seems much more like a “nuts and bolts” guy whereas Wedge was a “make sure you have the right mindset while sitting in the dugout” kind of guy. McClendon seems like a “understand the fundamentals through drilling the hell out of them” kinda guy, while Wedge seems like a “fundamentals through a slideshow” kinda guy. “Hey, wake up back there!”

    Especially given how quickly we’ve rushed some kids to the majors, I’d love to see a guy who isn’t afraid to drill, drill, drill them. If you make your players focus on the actual mechanics of what they’re doing, and give their bodies a healthy dose of repetition, they resort to that training during the games, instead of deer in the headlights “why do I suck so bad” looks of confusion, because they’re thinking too much (see: Smoak and Ackley most at bats last season).

    But I’m full of crap and just making this up. It would definitely be a change from the cruise ship Wedge was running. “Everyone meet by the pool so I can give you guys a lecture about not taking your opportunity seriously enough. And listen for it in the media too. If I’m emphatic enough about my message you’ll get better.”

  14. diderot on November 15th, 2013 5:54 pm

    “Especially given how quickly we’ve rushed some kids to the majors, I’d love to see a guy who isn’t afraid to drill, drill, drill them.”

    Amen to that.

    Beyond continuing development, I think a good manager makes the players think two things:
    1) He’s the boss
    2) He’s fair

    I like the fact that McClendon is reportedly out visiting with players individually. That seems unorthodox to me–and a good thing.

  15. Longgeorge1 on November 15th, 2013 6:10 pm

    Baseball is still baseball. The team that hits best, pitches best, catches, throws, and runs the bases the best wins. Nothing else matters. I started organized ball over 50 years ago and I can still remember a shout from the dugout “a walk is as good as a hit”. Get on base anyway you can is still the most important thing you can do as a hitter. Get the hitter out anyway you can is still the pitcher’s most important task. Billy Beane deals in market efficiencies, he finds strengths that are undervalued and buys. He identifies skills that are overvalued by the market and stays away. He is just a commodities trader who studies and understands better than most which is why he wins on a small budget. Even Beane admits that his method will rarely produce a championship because of the play-off system and the fact that efficiency may produce the most bang per buck, but not necessarily the biggest bang. There still is no substitute for well spent money. Boston may use analytics very well, but they also use their money very well most of the time. Even they have a 2012 once in awhile. There is a lot of talk about playing team ball. Modern analysis identifies the way games are actually won rather than using mythology. To get professional athletes to perform in a certain way they have to be rewarded or recognized for accomplishing the goals set by management. An interesting indication would be whether Hernandez or Iwakuma is the opening day starter. Do you reward accomplishment or is it status quo.

  16. Eastside Suds on November 18th, 2013 1:18 pm

    I truly believe that managers can and do make a difference, but strongly based upon the personnel they are leading. Show me a strong bunch of veterans who know how to win and have exceptional leadership skills and I will show you a group who can overcome mediocre (or worse) field management.
    If you have a bunch of kids, lack of clubhouse organization and a negative “vibe” will most certainly have an adverse effect on the younger, less experienced players.

    And, then we see the Joe Madden’s and Bob Melvin’s of the managerial world keeping their low payroll teams near the top year after year. They must be doing something right and, if you ask their players, they will get nothing but praise.

    Good managers aren’t the be all and end all, but they can have an effect. I’ve been a Varsity High School Coach for 30 years and I’ve seen the full spectrum. Managers can surely mess things up. The good ones, stay out of the way, don’t mess a good thing and let the good teams do what they do best. PLAY WINNING BASEBALL!

  17. Chasbo on November 27th, 2013 12:15 pm

    Taking everything that has happened, including the hiring of McClendon, internal hiring of most coaches, (easy to jettison the whole bunch) retaining Z for one year and now Chuck Armstrong retiring and the fact Howard is in his 70’s indicates to me the Mariners are getting the house in order to transition to new ownership.

    I hope I’m right.

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