Scott Servais and Vertical Integration

marc w · October 27, 2015 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


17 Responses to “Scott Servais and Vertical Integration”

  1. Westside guy on October 27th, 2015 5:47 pm

    It will be interesting to watch how this plays out next season – I’m actually looking forward to it.

    I wonder what Howard Lincoln thinks about all this? And, can he resist meddling?

  2. LongDistance on October 28th, 2015 12:36 am

    Yeah, it’ll be interesting. And maybe more interesting, because it really IS different, than the usual next-year hopefulness we get every few years with manager changes, or decade, with a new GM. Considering that year-round Mariners fans generally only feel long stretches of hopefulness or bliss during the off season.

    Oh… thanks for mentioning Howard “The Shadow” Lincoln. He’s been remarkably absent since those disastrous interviews he gave in Fall 2013 implying that enjoying a baseball game wasn’t necessarily what was represented in buying a ticket at Safeco Field. (We already knew that.) I think he finally realized he a) really doesn’t know all that much about baseball, and b) (thus) really doesn’t have anything sensible to say about it. And has become a silent 1 percenter.

  3. Notfromboise on October 28th, 2015 4:29 am

    I’m far from a Lloyd/Jack apologist but let us not forget what we had as options to put in the leadoff slot.

    Brad Miller – A no-brainer as a leadoff man in his rookie year, sophmore slump and other forms of regression eroded his batting average/obp and he hit himself out of the leadoff slot.

    Austin Jackson – A protypical 9hole guy, with speed and a bit of extra base pop. Completely allergic to taking pitches, but by default was thrust into the leadoff role. Actually had a lower OBP than Brad Miller (.312 to 329).

    Seth Smith – Had a higher OBP than the previous two options. Best dresser in a nudist colony trophy is in the mail, Seth.

    James Jones – There’s college teams out there that wouldnt bat him lead off. Probably led the league in getting picked off of bases he didnt hit or walk safely to in the first place, negating most of his value as even a pinch runner.

    Those were the main options all year. So bad its almost amusing in hindsight. Ketel Marte looked plausible in his limited stint, albeit in the same way Chris Taylor looked like a solid choice the year before in a September-to-Remember. Stefan Romero? O’Malley? If Marte is not your guy, its going to need to be a serious priority to find someone in free agency, and quickly.

    FWIW – Dipoto seems overwhelmingly competent, and that is inspiring in its own right. I’d rather rebuild into a proven model that works than talk myself into another year of Jack Z slamming a square peg into a round hole.

  4. ck on October 28th, 2015 7:50 am

    Hope. New front office, new field staff, a plan to have entire system on the same page, and a competitive attitude: The next round of Mariner commercials….
    ” Who are these guys ?”

  5. Longgeorge1 on October 28th, 2015 8:21 am

    The M’s problem seems to be rooted in player development.
    You state a problem, low OBP, but offer no solution. Are you going to put Cruz #1 in the line-up?
    In last night’s broadcast it was noted that the Royals’ lead-off hitter had a low OBP, but the R’s just seemed to win when he hit lead-off. Unfortunately our #1 hitter did neither for us.
    The emphasis needs to be in AA and AAA. It is hard sometimes when a young player who is successful in Jackson to convince him that his approach is not going to work in Seattle. The priority needs to be Major League ready, not success in AA. Sometimes long term success requires taking a step backwards.
    We know for example if a player can’t hit off-speed stuff he might continue to succeed in the minors because the pitchers he is facing are there can’t control their off speed pitches.
    It get’s old watching a Zunino or Montero blister lower level pitching and then chase balls in the dirt when they get to the “show”.

  6. davepaisley on October 28th, 2015 8:24 am

    Great interview with Servais on KIRO last week. Talked about increasing walks being vital, having a good 2-strike approach at the plate, all things that Jack Z and his not so merry band of the last 5 years (I’m excluding the first two as there was some hope there) never had a clue about.

    He talked a bit about helping Zunino, being a young catcher having a hard time hitting early in his career, much as he did when he started.

    I didn’t hear anything to concern me at all, and lots to be optimistic about.

    Thinking back to the Jack Z hire and the excitement, it only became obvious later that he wasn’t at all a stat guy, whereas we know a lot more about DiPoto and Servais and the fact that they value both analytics and scouting.

    None of this means we definitely have a great year next year, and building a great team is far from linear, but it will be nice to not have the Jack “just another year” Z and Lloyd “let’s see if I can burn all my bullpen for the third straight day and then complain when nobody’s available on day 4” McClendon frustrating us on a daily basis.

  7. Dennisss on October 28th, 2015 8:37 am

    It seems to me that if your leadoff hitter has a lower OBP than the 2-6 hitters, you have 5 better options right there in you lineup already. Cruz would probably be the worst of those options, because that would result in too many solo homers, but I could easily see Cano batting first.

    I have thought for years that MLB managers, at least for the Mariners, have represented a weak link in the organizational strategy, with Lloyd’s insistence on trying to find a speedster like Almonte or Jones to lead off, regardless of their inability to get on base, as a glaring example.

    So I think it makes sense that teams will gravitate toward managers who are brought in to work with the GM to incorporate organizational strategy into on-field decisions. Honestly, the idea seems overdue, but maybe that’s just an M’s fan’s perspective.

  8. Longgeorge1 on October 28th, 2015 2:34 pm

    There are two ways to deal with 2 strike hitting.
    One is to put strike one in play like the Royals.
    Two is to strike out a lot like the Cubs who just about set a record for striking out this year. It is a RARE talent that can be successful in two strike counts. The numbers just show in OBP vs count. I don’t want to hear about BABIP with two strikes, strikeouts count.
    The Mets pitchers showed the fallacy of getting “deep in the count” against the Cubs. If your team is facing 1-2 counts all night lots of luck. It is the reason The A’s fail against Felix.
    Yes there are a lot of marginal pitchers out there that you can work the count against. If you get to ball four before you get to strike two fine. I have yet to see how a batter can turn a pitched strike into a ball.
    A measured approach where contact is more highly valued than power and good plate discipline is the direction I prefer.

  9. Ralph_Malph on October 28th, 2015 10:15 pm

    No mention of LoMo as lead off hitter. I had the impression that was a result of someone (Jack Z?) suggesting that Austin Jackson wasn’t the best option at lead off. After a week or so of LoMo leading off, Lloyd said “you see? I tried it your way for a week and look how that worked out.”

    Kind of like Lloyd sticking with Rodney at closer to show the front office.

  10. Westside guy on October 29th, 2015 12:32 am

    Yeah, I think even if the only “new” thing some of these traditionalist guys learned was “a week is not statistically significant”, that would be huge. (Welington Castillo, anyone?)

    I can’t disagree with much of anything that’s been posted in the comments. I hope Cruz continues to defy the aging curve, but it’d be great to have some higher-OBP talent hitting ahead of him, Seager, and Cano. And I always love good defensive outfields – I still remember Cammy, Ichiro, and Winn roaming the outfield in 2003.

  11. LongDistance on October 30th, 2015 5:13 am


    Not to return to endlessly beating a dead horse … but “traditionalist guys” — and by that meaning mostly those who inhabit and glory upon their appurtenance to the National League although they certainly exist in one form or the other in the AL — are exactly those who will never let Edgar Martinez enjoy a spot in Cooperstown. (I’m not trying to open an HOF debate here, but just use its inconsistencies to support a different point.)

    In other words, a mindset of group thinking, which places a set manner of doing things ahead of overall performance.

    Sound familiar?

  12. Longgeorge1 on October 30th, 2015 2:43 pm

    Traditionalists? Everyone needs a title. I probably might be one of who you are speaking of although I don’t know. Edgar belongs in the HOF. He was the best ever at his position. DH, it is a position. Do I like the DH? No. Not out of tradition. No DH forces the manager to manage. The entire roster gets used. It is a much more cerebral approach. It is why Joe Maddon will be an even better manager than ever with the Cubs. Playing percentages is what managing is about.

  13. wabbles on October 30th, 2015 3:53 pm

    Lou got traded for Randy Winn because he kept saying he needed one more arm and one more bat and NEVER got either. So hopefully the manager and general manager being in lock-step will prevent that. Of course, Lincoln or the Nintendo owner always could interfere but let’s be optimistic. It’s also really cool that we are getting back to the stats-type guys we had in Jack’s first two years, before he started getting rid of people and declared “Now we do it MY way (Dingers! Yeah!”

  14. Westside guy on October 30th, 2015 5:11 pm

    Regardless of the stats stuff, I’ll be glad to see a focus on outfield defense. Good defense is fun to watch.

  15. Dennisss on October 30th, 2015 7:14 pm

    And bad outfield defense has been kind of excruciating to watch.

  16. Breadbaker on October 30th, 2015 9:24 pm

    marc, the best argument against Groupthink is the hiring of Andy McKay. He was hired because Dipoto liked what he heard in an interview, not because he was a part of a clique. For a job that important to hire someone because they were giving you a perspective you respected, instead of someone you knew, tells me a lot about Dipoto. I think it’s positive.

  17. PackBob on November 3rd, 2015 8:55 am

    I agree wholeheartedly with Westside Guy about the defense. I like baseball best when every aspect of the game is in play. I really disliked the lumbering home run-hitting lineup with awful defense and little base running. Hopefully the M’s will improve their OBP throughout the lineup, not just leadoff, as it creates more opportunity for innings to continue and something good to happen.

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