Scott Servais and Vertical Integration
Jerry Dipoto had a problem in Anaheim, and his selection of trusted advisor Scott Servais as the M’s field manager illustrates an interesting solution of it. As Jonah Keri and others have ably documented, Dipoto’s baseball operations team could come up with all manner of potentially useful information to help the Angels win games, but they could not get Mike Scioscia to use it. The result was a ton of wasted effort and increasingly adversarial relations within the team. The brains trust could not test their own theories and implement their own strategies, because they were overruled by the manager.
With the hiring of Scott Servais as M’s manager, Dipoto has opted to improve the coordination between his brains trust and field staff by placing a member of the brains trust in uniform as manager. There’s a lot of talk about the trend in the majors of hiring ex-players without a lot of managerial experience as big league managers: Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus, Robin Ventura and Kevin Cash are recent examples. Does this suggest that front offices may actively avoid people who’ve managed for years, either in the big leagues or the minors? In the M’s case, I think the answer is obviously yes, and it’s at least a possibility in the other cases. Both Dipoto and Servais have talked about strikeouts and the strikezone as keys to the M’s improvement. This idea won’t just inform scouting and player development, though – it pretty clearly has an impact on line-up construction. It’s possible that very experienced managers may agree on how best to deploy the batters at their disposal, but I bet Dipoto saw that Mariner leadoff hitters had a lower OBP than the 2nd-through-6th hitters and decided not to take a chance.*
So that all makes sense, and we won’t see a repeat of the ugly war of words between the outgoing Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik. Winning will paper over any disagreements, and losing will bring all manner of disputes to the surface, as we saw with Angels. But Servais’ job *cannot* be a uniformed mouthpiece. Larry Stone’s column notes that Servais himself is aware of this, and will focus on gaining the players’ trust and focusing on helping young players improve. In this respect, he seems more similar to AJ Hinch, another ex-player development guy who became a big league manager without much experience. Beyond the players, though, Servais needs to use his relationship with Dipoto to provide honest and if necessary, critical feedback about what he’s seeing. I’ve been pleased with the hiring of Dipoto, and I can’t find fault in the hires of Servais and player development chief Andy McKay, with the caveat that it’s really, really hard for any non-front office employee to have anything meaningful to say about the latter two. But now that Dipoto has a front office he trusts, how does he avoid the trap of groupthink and conformity? Hiring people with really strong beliefs about player development helps in this case, but to what extent do they overlap?
I’m not suggesting that it’d be better to have someone in the organization actively working against the processes McKay and then Servais are trying to implement. What I’d like to know more about is how those processes are evaluated, by whom, and what happens as a result. That’s a much broader issue than the new M’s manager, I realize. And there’s a lot to be said for an org that has broad buy-in as opposed to mutual distrust. Servais familiarity with statistical information in Anaheim is a plus, and I feel pretty confident saying the M’s in-game strategy won’t be worse than it was under Wedge and Lloyd McClendon. But ideally, the manager can all manner of qualitative filters about the data the team’s quant team collects, and a great org figures out how to wring some information out of it. Here’s hoping Servais can help with that, and that Dipoto asks as many questions of Servais as he gives directives and reports.
* Mariner hitters in the 2 spot had the second lowest OBP in that group, tied with the 6th hitters. The 7th-through-9th hitters were worse, obviously, thanks in part to Zunino’s awful year.