URL Weaver: The Hot Seat

Atlanta Braves v Toronto Blue Jays

There is no easier way to appease the braying masses than with a managerial firing. Teams bad? Fire the manager. Team underperforms? Fire the manager. Pitching staff is populated with corpses and cadavers? FIRE THE MANAGER!

Heads will roll and the beatings will continue until morale improves. Baseball management with a thirst for blood, the only way we know how.

The two managers facing the most scrutiny here in 2013 are John Gibbons of the Toronto Blue Jays and Mike Scioscia of the Angels. Both teams spent big and brought in talent with title contention the main, or only, goal. Both teams stumbled and bumbled and fell right out of the gate and both teams can claim just 59 wins apiece just days before the start of September.

The pressure on Scioscia has been constant, as reported strife between himself and general manager Jerry Dipoto suggests one, if not both, are on the outs. John Gibbons was a controversial hire for the Blue Jays, a man who was ousted from the very same just just four years prior.

The problem with judging managers on their results is obvious: they don’t go out and play the games. When a team like the Blue Jays suffers through on of the worst pitching performances in franchise history, it seems foolish to pin the bad record on the manager.

A similar story holds true for Mike Scioscia or Davey Johnston of the Washington Nationals – sometimes players just don’t play as well as they can. Take a look through the recent performances of the man voted Manager of the Year in each league by the BBWAA.

Year Manager of the Year (record) Follow-up year record
(games behind division leaders)
2012 Davey Johnson (Nationals 98-64) 66-65 (13 GB)
2012 Bob Melvin (Oakland 94-68) 74-57 (2.5 GB)
2011 Kirk Gibson (Arizona 94-68) 81-81 (13 GB)
2011 Joe Maddon (Tampa Bay 91-71) 90-72 (5 GB)
2010 Buddy Black (San Diego 90-72) 71-91 (23 GB)
2010 Ron Gardenhire (Minnesta 94-68) 63-99 (32 GB)
2009 Jim Tracy (Colorado 74-42) 83-79 (9 GB)
2009 Mike Scioscia ( Angels 97-65) 80-82 (10 GB)

Either these guys forgot everything they once knew or the actual impact a manager can make on a ball club is minimal! So much happens beyond the manager’s control that ascribing blame/credit to the one year of performance is foolish.

It isn’t too say there aren’t good managers and bad managers, guys who manage the in-game stuff well (like Joe Maddon and Bob Melvin, the king of the platoons) or field bosses renowned for their ability to get the most out of their charges, like laconic Blue Jays legend Cito Gaston.

Sometimes firing the manager is necessary. Bobby Valentine should not have been the Red Sox manager in the first place, as he appeared to get the worst out of many of his players, alienating the clubhouse as well as failing to demonstrate even a basic competency in his job. A good manager does not exist in a vacuum, more often than not a manager might be a good fit for the constitution of the club their given. Bo Porter is a young, energetic manager keen to teach his Astros the finer points of the game and aid in their professional development on and off the field.

Would he make the right fit for the veteran-heavy Red Sox or the iconoclastic Dodgers? Probably not. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez do not require daily pep talks and extra infield practice. They need time, space, and comfort. Don Mattingly can deliver that with credibility and even HE was on the hot seat earlier this season.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous stood behind his embattled coach in a media scrum yesterday, saying Gibbons will be back in 2014. It is the right decision as the notoriously friendly players manager was not hired to teach bunting to lost cause busted prospects and quad-A guys player above their tools. He was hired to lead a veteran team through the ups and downs of a long season, just as Gibbons did when he lead the veteran Jays of the late aughts to consecutive winning seasons.

It’s about fit, not pixie dust. When things work in the managers favor one year, it seems easily ignored when reality kicks in and the tide turns the following season. See Showalter, Buck. “No luck, just Buck” and his Orioles feature a bullpen that ranks towards the bottom in baseball for win probability added one year after leading the league in WPA. Unsurprisingly, the Orioles record in one-run games fell from 29-9 in 2012 to 14-23 in 2013, one of the worst marks in MLB.

If the manager has worn out his welcome, burned bridges and turned off key parts of the clubhouse, then it time to make a change. But if the the problem is too many bad players with no viable alternatives in sight, it is hard to pin that on the man tasked with filling out the lineup card. Hard and dumb, frankly.

And the rest

The Mets traded outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck to the Pirates for prospect Dilson Herrera, a 19-year old middle infielder from Colombia. The Mets demonstrate admirable patience in dealing Marlon Byrd for a reasonable return, as the 36-year old outfielder is putting together a career year in the aftermath of a 50 game PED suspension. Oh, you totally forgot about that? Weird how players like Byrd escape scorn, isn’t it?

John Buck was good for a few weeks there and gives the Pirates a better, more experienced backup catcher than The Fort, Michael McKenry, who is out for the season. Byrd is an upgrade on the high variance youngsters giving the Pirates next to no production from their corner outfield spots.

Great night for humongous home runs. First Hunter Pence

Then Mike Napoli

Special mention to, of course, Mike Trout for this Tropicana Field bomb.

Speaking of special mentions and Mike Trout, after the Angels celebrated their 6-5 come from behind win over the Rays in Tampa Bay, Trout took some time to sign autographs for a handful of Angels fans sitting behind the dugout on his way off the field. He literally stopped at the top of the stairs and started signing. I can’t recall seeing this, though I’m sure it happens all the time.

trout signs tampa

Speaking of classy individuals taking time out of their days, Mariano Rivera is just the best. [National Post]

Derek Jeter isn’t a good defender any more. This Ben Lingbergh piece breaks it down, without resorting to the usual ad hominem attacks on Gold Glove voters and Derek Jeter’s legacy. [Grantland]

Weee, Arizona Fall League rosters! [Baseball America]

Adding more situational context to the “batting runs” framework because clutch, skill based or otherwise, matters. [Fangraphs]

The Braves bullpen is good at bullpenning. [Brisbee Nation]