Dodging Bullets

I don’t have much more to write about the Manny Ramirez retirement. It’s unfortunate that such a great and beloved player had to end his career in the fashion that he did. I don’t know the degree to which performance enhancing drugs actually enhance performance, but I do believe that using banned substances, as set out by Major League Baseball, is cheating. I just find it difficult to believe that those getting caught are the only ones that are using them.

With that said, I think that the last days of Manny can be used as a lesson for some of us.

This offseason began with several rumours suggesting that Ramirez would be joining the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2011 season. It started innocently enough: Manny was friends with new manager John Farrell and he had publicly expressed a desire to play for him. A short time after that Ramirez was spotted in Toronto at a sports bar, then at another event, then at the airport. Before too long, Manny mania had hit the dormant Jays fans and a great many were hopeful of his joining the team.

I was hesitant to embrace the idea at first, but reason, or so I thought, eventually won me over. With Adam Lind transitioning from designated hitter to first base, and with the departures of Shaun Marcum and Vernon Wells, the Blue Jays had a hole to fill. Manny seemed like the perfect solution. He could come in as the team’s designated hitter and supply above average offense while also winning over some of the more casual members of the team’s fan base who had been put off by the recent departure of some of the bigger names on the Blue Jays.

Instead, the Blue Jays went with Edwin Encarnacion as their DH, thinking that he would be able to play first base for Lind from time to time and even proved the occasional cover at third base. Meanwhile, for the exact same amount of money as the Jays guaranteed Encarnacion, Ramirez signed with their American League East rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays.

It was a frustrating moment considering that even a Manny in decline was still able to get on base 42% of the time in Chicago. And that seemed like an ability that was in short supply last season. But now, months later, Jays fans should be thankful that Alex Anthopoulos was able to look past merely getting on base.

I remember being critical of the Toronto GM following the press conference announcing Jose Bautista’s contract extension. Instead of talking about the tangible things that Bautista brought to the team, Anthopoulos went on and on about what the slugger meant to his teammates, the leadership he provided and overall, what kind of person he was. I couldn’t help but think that the very same justification that Anthopoulos was using for locking Bautista up could also be used for reasoning not to bring Ramirez aboard.

In hindsight, thank god that he did.

I still believe that trying to play psychologist and pretending to have any insight into intangibles is foolish, but there certainly is something to be said for instincts. Too often, we in the baseball nerd business are quick to forget that teams are comprised of real people being managed by other real people. While I’ll stop short of praising Tony LaRussa as the greatest manager of all time, I think I need to remember that building a team does go beyond mere statistics. And just because there are factors that aren’t as easily measurable as numbers, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. An ability to spot future problems and avoid potential train wrecks is every bit as important as properly analyzing a player’s numbers.

I don’t pretend to know or understand the particular details involved with Manny Ramirez and the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, but I think it’s safe to say that if Alex Anthopoulos truly wanted him on this team, he’d be here. Fortunately, he was clever enough to see beyond the mere numbers and understand the risks involved in bringing him aboard. It’s a risk that the Tampa Bay Rays became all to familiar with this weekend.

Comments (14)

  1. i would argue that from an armchair perspective, its better to focus on stats and ignore personality because we really dont know anything about how they mesh together in the locker room, except in the very obvious cases (the end of 2009 for the Jays, Gibbons/Hillenbrand, etc.) trying to meaningfully discuss their personalities would be like trying to rate offensive players having access only to their RBIs.

    do I want AA (and more importantly, Farrell,) worrying about it? of course i do. (i would call this the most important ability of a MLB coach – by the time they’re up here they don’t need to ‘learn’ much and the hitting/pitching coach can handle their mechanics. if he sucks at in-game managing, you can just bring in a bench coach who doesn’t and can ‘advise’ him. you can’t cover ‘relating to people’ with another member of the staff because the players will start treating Mr.Popular like the pseudo-coach and then you have a problem.)

    • Agreed. I think we end up talking a lot about statistics on this blog because talking about other stuff normally calls for a lot of assumptions. But I think it’s still important to remember that intangibles, even though we can’t measure them, do play a role.

  2. In that vein – should we be extra worried about Riveras intangibles and what it may do to the team if left unchecked? I’m not talking PED’s with Rivera, I am talking about (at least outwardly) not seeming to be part of the group or wanting to be, or in other words – no hustle or heart.

  3. Personally, I can’t wait for a lazy columnist to use Manny’s positive test as a prompt to yet again accuse Bautista of using PEDs.

  4. I don’t know if “intangibles” is even the right word for this kind of stuff, cliche as it may be. Yes, from the fan’s perspective, a player’s personality/work ethic are intangible, but it seems that they’re something that could be easily measured (at least qualitatively) by people around the team. “Intangible” implies that those things can’t be seen/measured at all, which I think is a bit inaccurate with regards to AA and his process.

  5. Especially since the so-called intangibles like work ethic and team chemistry have an effect on those tangibles arm-chair managers love so much.

  6. Every year it seems there are stories about players making breakthroughs with the help of sports psychologists. There’s no doubt there’s a major mental component to the game, both in a pretty direct way, such as your mindset during a given at bat, or ability to handle frustration, and more indirectly, day to day mental health.

    In a similar vein, the business section at your friendly local bookstore is chock full of writing about optimal group or team dynamics. I don’t think there’s any doubt coaches and managers, and perhaps to a lesser (greater?) extent players can foster a dynamic that encourages optimal performance withing a group, but who knows how to quantify it? Maybe some kind of analysis that compares performance based on statistical projections to actual performance? Would that be at all useful?

  7. Some excellent points Parkes. I think in the end, individual character and team chemistry is a much needed component that may have lost some of its lustre or pushed to the background in the age of stats and sabermetrics. I would not suggest that everything needs to be touchy-feely, but it certainly helps along the way to a potential championship run.

  8. Manny quit on Boston and LA, his power evaporated after his 50 game suspension in 2009 and he was never a team player or someone you wanted your young players to emulate… and why would the Jays want this piece of garbage? I can’t believe somany people saw Manny as anything more than a me-first cancer in the clubhouse!

  9. Quatre-vingt cinq, I personally dislike making assessments about a player’s focus, commitment, and attitude based on their outward appearance. There are so many examples of elite performers of any kind that simply don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves, but are clearly hyper-intense in their focus and drive based on their results and what others closer to them report.

    In fact, one could argue that in some cases wearing your emotions on your sleeve can be a weakness.

  10. See, the thing is, when people talk about players being “clubhouse cancers” and stuff like that — you can’t possibly know that. Even if we’re pretty sure we’re right, it’s not good enough because none of us are in the clubhouse and none of us know.

  11. There aren’t a myriad of examples. i don’t know where this obsession with the quantifiable comes from, but the world is more complex than that.

    • Good teams have good chemistry. Good teams have bad chemistry. Bad teams have both good and bad chemistry.

      Good teams have good players. Bad teams have bad players. That much rarely changes.

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