On the afternoon of April 15, the Mariners were 7-5, having the day before beaten the Rangers by six runs. Out of the gate, Dustin Ackley was hitting well at the bottom of the order. Lloyd McClendon spoke to the media.
McClendon also said that he doesn’t see himself moving Ackley or Zunino up in the lineup this year. Thinks it is good for them to get a yr
— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) April 15, 2014
Lower in the lineup. When asked if it could get hard to resist the temptation McClendon said “For me? No. I have the pencil.” — Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) April 15, 2014
On the afternoon of April 21, the Mariners are 7-11, having over the weekend been swept by the Marlins. Brad Miller hasn’t found his stride at the plate. Lloyd McClendon drafted a lineup.
Ackley up to # 2 in the order today…
— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) April 21, 2014
Is there even a criticism here? I don’t think there’s a criticism here. You could say, okay, maybe Lloyd McClendon is a flip-flopper, but another way of describing a flip-flopper is saying the person has an open mind and is willing to change. McClendon liked the original setup. If he didn’t, it wouldn’t have been the original setup. But now he’s responding to something — maybe it’s just early success and struggles, or maybe there’s more to it, I don’t know. Clearly, McClendon doesn’t think Ackley will be overwhelmed batting higher, and maybe the sense is that Miller has been pressing in front of the lineup core. If you even want to call it a lineup core, but that’s a different story.
The surface point here is that it took Lloyd McClendon one six-game losing streak to change his mind about something he suggested could last all year. The broader point, as Matthew has written about before, is that while managers talk to the media pretty much every day, they’re under no obligation to be entirely truthful, and what a manager says one day might not be what he says the next. They change their minds, because the season’s long and unexpected issues can crop up. McClendon isn’t a liar or a hypocrite or something. He’s a baseball manager who makes decisions, and when managers are asked about their decisions, they explain they were made with conviction, because that’s a part of leading. Leading is making tough choices, and believing in them, and possessing a willingness to do something different if circumstances demand. The Mariners were probably due for a lineup switch, so here’s a lineup switch. It will work or it won’t and there will be a lot more different lineups in the next five and a half months.
Don’t judge a manager by what he says, and don’t freak out if he seems to verbalize too much of a commitment. Judge a manager by what he does, and understand that they know what’s going on. They want to win even more badly than you do, and they’re constantly conceiving of all possible combinations. There were reasons McClendon said he wanted to keep Ackley low. There are reasons now he’s willing to move Ackley up. We don’t even know for sure whether this is better — it could be that Ackley isn’t ready to hit second, that he could really benefit from more time at the bottom like McClendon preferred. But let’s just take this as a sign of open-mindedness. Don’t judge someone as being closed-minded until you have sufficient evidence. It’s easy to say something’s going to last a while before a while happens. The circumstances of a baseball team change literally every single day, and no manager can know what things are going to look like a few days down the road. A manager can only make the best decision he can make at the time, and then, we’ll see. We’ll all see.