It’s a song that keeps playing in my head. A classic from the 1970s. At the risk of showing my age, I admit it rang in my ears once more after seeing Wilson Valdez batting in the 9th Friday night. And again, after seeing Wilson’s place in the batting order last night. I could hear it when Tony Cingrani, after being nothing short of dominating, was lifted because righty-righty always trumps performance, don’t’cha know. Nor did it stop as I considered the role of Chris Heisey, missing and back on a milk carton while the Drew Stubbs Experiment rolls on.
How long has this been goin on?
We are not supposed to be worrying about this stuff. Higher powers have got this, yeah? Leave the strategy to the experts, Nation. This in-game stuff is minutia. Players win games. Keep calm and let us carry on, say the powers that be with every #dustyslineup tweet.
Then, I came across “What the Insiders Say Makes a Good Manager”, by C. Trent Rosecrans for Baseball Prospectus.
Meant to help us unlock that most mysterious of questions—no, not where those stone figures on Easter Island came from—we’re talking serious doggone stuff now—What Makes a Manager of the Year. The insiders in question were a GM (Walt Jocketty), a manager (Dusty Baker), a star player (Andrew McCutchen), a catcher (Ryan Hanigan), a veteran player, a closer, a bat boy, the guys who roll out the tarp, and, of all people, Miguel Cairo.
Barely into the piece, I was ready to give up on it. It seemed our local sleuth, Mr. Rosecrans, who I like reading very much, was not going to get us any closer to solving this mystery. Much obvious stuff was unraveled:
1. Players like managers who have their backs.
2. GMs like managers who are good communicators.
3. Miguel Cairo, unsurprisingly, likes managers who play all 25 guys.
4. Closer Joel Hanrahan thinks the fans and media know virtually nothing.
Then, I read the following quote by Pete Mackanin, bench coach for the Phillies and Charlie Manuel’s right-hand man:
I think [in-game strategy] is more than (10-15 percent), I think a lot of people discount that. Certainly, if you have a lot of good players, they make it easier and the players make that decision for you. It’s certainly more than 10 percent. You can get away with going any way you want if you have the right talent.
Well, THAT got my attention. Game management could be worth more than 15%? The right players can, under some circumstances, make poor game management superfluous? Could lineup construction be important too, after all?
How long has this been goin on?
Okay, I confess: I’ve always felt this way. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was a big, fat 1 for me. As revelations go, it certainly didn’t rank up there with discovering the ingredients of a Krabby Pattie.
But, I’ve never heard an INSIDER say this so plainly and decisively before. The implications are huge, are they not? It means that if your team wins a lot of games, your manager may not only be less of a shoe-in for MOY than you think he is, he may in fact, have less to do with a talented team’s success than we previously thought. [You can get away with going any way you want if you have the right talent]. It also means that if your team is flawed in any significant way, your manager better know what he is doing on a daily basis, because a lot of wins are at stake in a 162 game season.
That’s what I took away from Mackanin’s moment of candor. Did I get that right?
I confess I’ve been fond of Pete Mackanin ever since he took over for Jerry Narron and transformed a team that was 31-51 and went 41-39 the rest of the way. I thought it had earned him a shot at managing the team for a full season, but the owner thought otherwise, opting to go with a big name former player. I admit I know little about Mackanin. I don’t know how he feels about advanced metrics. I don’t know how much he values that manager’s favorite security blanket, the Closer. I don’t know if he would gleefully bunt in the first inning. But, he voiced a view I’ve always suspected was true—one that most of major league baseball doesn’t share or won’t admit. And that was a revelation to me.
Now, if I could only solve the mystery of that Dixie Chili recipe.