Don Mattingly was nearly fired in the middle of this season. John Farrell showed precisely zero magic while leading his un-bearded charges in Toronto for two years. Jim Leyland and Mike Matheny are two of the most absurdly old-school managers, tactically, in the game. Yet these are the managers who… er… managed to get their teams into baseball’s final four this season. It sort of flies in the face of all kinds of things, doesn’t it? Turns out magic is bullshit. Pulling teams to victory by strength of will is bullshit. Winning before the gift of Yasiel Puig is bullshit. Tactical perfection is bullshit.
It’s all kind of bullshit, isn’t it? And yet, through the sheer force of lazy metaphor, baseball managers are “generals” who “take” a team to the playoffs, or “take” the previous year’s version of a team to some kind of new strata of achievement.
Of course, it’s not entirely bullshit. Those of us interested in data and the scientific method and tangible understanding and the quantification of as many aspects of the game as possible– i.e. those of us who’d rather think like those in the game’s front offices, as opposed to those willing to accept laughable spoon-fed legacy narratives– often get accused of not believing in things that can’t be quantified, but that’s hardly the case. Yes, the endgame of many advanced statistical pursuits is assigning appropriate value to something, and that does tend to marginalize some of the more abstract, or superstitious, notions about how the game works, but that doesn’t mean anybody thinks we’ve boiled down a manager’s potential impact to its bare essence. On the other hand, though– on the side of those who need to open their bloody minds to their thorough, hilarious lack of understanding of how it can all possibly work– when assessing a manager’s impact, in addition to questioning that which we know we don’t know, we all probably need to think a little bit more about what we think we do know.
Sorry to get all
Dick Cheney Donald Rumsfeld on you there. What I mean is, not only is it important to ask questions about the absurdities– like about Farrell’s sudden gain of managerial magic, or how it’s possible that tactically inept managers can manage to “lead” their teams so deeply into the postseason– but some of things that we take too easily for granted.
That, I think, needs to be in mind before we can embark on anything resembling a reasonable assessment of the season that John Gibbons had with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013. Because, on the surface, assessing his job is easy: he wasn’t magic, he wasn’t able to use superior tactics to overcome the ill health and underperformance of his players, and he didn’t “get the best” out of some of his players who were entirely healthy– that is: Mark Buehrle (for a few weeks), Emilio Bonifacio, and, of course, J.P. Arencibia.
Everyone else was either hurt or performed to at least some kind of a reasonable expectation. Hey, but fire Gibbons, amiright?
Except– hang on a second! “Gibbons ran a country club in Spring Training,” say the absolute most lazy fucking morons imaginable! He should be fired just for that! Right?!? Didn’t prepare his team at all!!!
I mean… sure, J.P. Arencibia was great in April. And Encarnacion, Bautista, and Reyes all had wOBAs of .360 or above. And Lind and Rasmus were above league average at the plate. And the bullpen was great. And J.A. Happ was decent.
But, y’know, Dickey had a back issue, Buehrle started slow, Johnson, Morrow, and Cabrera were hurt, and Bonifacio and Izturis– it turned out– kinda suck. So, obviously, FYRE GOBBONS!!!!!!!1!!!!
Not only that, but let’s– in August, September, and still in Oc-fuckinggoddamn-tober– still let shit dribble out our mouths about the country club atmosphere in Dunedin sinking the club. Right??? Because, y’know, not only were the healthy players on the club pretty much playing as well as you’d expect coming out of Spring Training, but whatever supposed failings of the coaching staff were occurring at that point, they still fucking “got” the club to 38-36 by late June.
OH, BUT IT WAS THE “COUNTRY CLUB ATMOSPHERE” IN THE SPRING THAT MADE THEM GO 36-52 FROM THAT POINT UNTIL THE END OF THE SEASON!
Just dumb. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.
Granted, that post-win-streak record hardly does Gibbons any favours, apart from making the country club narrative look abominably fucking stupid. Unless… y’know… you’re actually capable of understanding how racked by injuries the team was in the second half.
Hey, but the Yankees had injuries too, right???
OK, tough guy, so would you have thought Gibbons some kind of genius-wizard and Girardi a worthless sack of shit if the records of their two clubs had been reversed? Yes, I understand that they weren’t, but if you honestly attribute that solely to the difference between Girardi and Gibbons, clearly there’s something bordering on zero fucking hope for you.
That doesn’t mean that that– or anything in this abysmal season– suggests Gibbons is great, or even good, but there certainly isn’t anything to suggest he isn’t either. Not that we can see, at least.
In that way, the consternation about Gibbons coming back is almost exactly like the nonsense I wrote about earlier this month, after Chad Mottola was ousted as the club’s hitting coach:
It’s hilarious– hi-lar-i-ous– to hear people bemoaning this like they have anything close to the slightest clue about what these guys actually contributed or what Mottola did to justify keeping his job. We don’t know what he did to justify losing it either, but that doesn’t mean we can simply point to some batted ball luck for Colby Rasmus, or Brett Lawrie making the most obvious changes to his setup in the universe, and then say that he’s some kind of genius who the dummies running the club have now thrown to the curb. Not any more, at least, than we can point to the staggering regression of J.P. Arencibia, or the lack of success of Anthony Gose in Buffalo to say that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Life is bloody complicated. Ignoring that and trying to reduce its complicated questions into the most dull-headed binary ones imaginable does nothing to bring you closer to The Right Way. Posturing like you’re damn sure you know what’s going on in a room when you’re only able to look in through the keyhole is ridiculous.
In other words, you can’t possibly be fucking dumb enough to think results alone are enough to tell us whether a manager has done a good job or a bad one. Can you???