When did it all get so crazy that a vote of confidence from your manager became the kiss of death with regard to your job? Bob Melvin told the media that he was behind Jim Johnson 100-percent and the following day, Johnson was removed from the closer job in Oakland. Cubs manager Rick Renteria pulled the same move on the North Side with Jose Veras, Bo Porter said he was leaning towards Chad Qualls in Houston and most recently, Mike Scioscia did it to Ernesto Frieri. Now obviously, none of the aforementioned names were lighting it up at the time. In fact, all were actually being lit up themselves. But what prompts a manager to announce to the world that he has complete faith in a guy only to remove him from the job within a few short days?
Sometimes studying managerial tendencies can be just as important to your fantasy baseball prep work as studying the players can be. It comes back to the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” For example, if you’ve studied the Braves since Bobby Cox left and Fredi Gonzalez took over, you’ll notice that the number of steal attempts and successful stolen bases have both dropped. Fredi doesn’t like to run. And because of that, the value of Michael Bourn, when he landed in Atlanta, immediately went down. Those hoping that, one day, B.J. Upton gets it and starts swiping bases left and right for the Braves are going to be waiting an awfully long time for that to ever develop. Well, the same concept works for closers. Sort of.
To understand just how fickle a manager is really takes time. Just like we talk about a small sample size leading to inaccurate assessments, it’s the same for managers. You have to study them for a while; look at their history. Is he a knee-jerk reaction guy? Is he reserved and patient? Is he known for highly unconventional moves? It’s not an easy thing to ascertain as there’s no formula to tell you the answer and I doubt that some nerd living in his mom’s basement is writing an algorithm right now to help us out with this. So the best you can do is look at how they’ve handled the position before in the past and use your people-assessing skills to figure things out.
Let’s take Scioscia, for example. He’s been the Angels manager since2000 and is currently the longest-tenured manager in Major League Baseball. We know that he favors his veterans, as evidenced by his refusal to ever give prospect Brandon Wood a legitimate shot and his having to be forced by upper management to use Mike Trout regularly over the likes of Vernon Wells. We also know that he is often criticized for numerous in-game decisions, particularly with the way he handles pitchers.
With regard to his closers, the purpose of this piece, it’s pretty obvious that it takes a lot to gain his confidence and unless you’ve proven yourself, you’re walking on eggshells the entire time. When he first took over, Troy Percival was his guy. Percival was an established closer and considered one of the best in the game. Even with a few minor bumps in the road, there was no question as to who had the job and what kind of ironclad job security he had. When Scioscia made the decision to go with Francisco Rodrigez as his guy in 2005, K-Rod had already proven himself at the major league level for a little more than two years while working as a reliever in the Angels pen.
However, when K-Rod left the Angels prior to the 2009 season, the closing job for the Angels has been a total mess. We’ve seen the likes of Fernando Rodney hold the job for a year (and then yanked after two weeks in his second year with the team) and Ernesto Frieri do the same, but really, over the last five-plus years, there’s been a revolving door in the ninth inning and Scioscia hasn’t really landed on someone he trusts regularly. We’ve seen Scott Downs, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Brian Fuentes, Ben Weber, Al Levine and Jordan Walden all come and go and none of them had lasted a full season. So when you’re looking for a closer, perhaps using someone from a team led by Scioscia isn’t the best place to look. You can say that Frieri was still a respectable choice because he was the closer all year last year, but let’s not forget his nightmarish July and the subsequent mediocrity that he provided. You know that isn’t cutting it with Scioscia.
How about Joe Maddon of the Rays? Joe is actually a Scioscia disciple and we’ve seen a number of in-game similarities between the two. Maddon used both Rodney and Percival, but if you look at his revolving door you’ll see that he too is very fickle when it comes to his ninth-inning guy. He blew through Kyle Farnsworth, Rafael Soriano, and J.P. Howell amongst others but none of them held onto the job for a full season. Each was removed from the job at somepoint and it wasn't injury-related. Sure, they got their job back, but not until after fantasy owners had their panic attacks. And given the committees he’s implemented over the years, how high is the faith in Grant Balfour right now?
Reds manager Bryan Price, on the other hand, seems to be someone you can trust. When Aroldis Chapman went down, Price implemented a committee and once Jonathan Broxton appeared to be ready, he immediately installed him in the job. Yes, he backed off his initial statements to keep the rest of the guys in the pen happy and confident, but he followed through with Broxton and we haven’t heard a peep out of Cincinnati since. We did talk about small sample size with regard to assessing managers, but Price had been with the Reds as the pitching coach since 2009 and we watched how he tried to guide a seemingly clueless Dusty Baker in his waning years as the Reds manager.
In looking at some of the other tenuous situations around the league, the question is, are these managers trustworthy or do you not try to patch up your bullpen woes with these guys calling the shots?
In Oakland, Melvin had a shaky Fuentes and then Balfour, so his uncertainties with Johnson were somewhat to be expected. You could tell he wanted to keep Johnson in the role and he’s now giving it back. He’ll need consistency to start trusting but it’s obvious that he can stick with a guy for a full year before worrying about another change.
Rodney could be on thin ice with Lloyd McClendon who never seemed to have a particular guy locked while he was with Pittsburgh and as a bullpen coach for Detroit in 2007, he was dealing with a declining Todd Jones and was eager to mix and match.
Bo Porter has never been a manger before and even as a base coach in the years leading up to his first managerial gig, his teams always seemed to have a path-work situation in the ninth. With no one really stepping up, he should be changing closers more than he does socks.
Terry Collins once had Billy Wagner in Houston and then Percival in Anaheim, so you know he’ll continue to search until he finds someone truly reliable. He went with Farnsworth for the experience, but you could also tell that he’s leaning towards Daisuke Matsuzaka. As soon as Farnsworth stumbles, you know Collins is making the move.
Again, this isn’t some proven science here. It’s about using your skills to read people. There are backgrounds to check, common sense things to factor in and, of course, player performance from which the manager reacts. But having a greater understanding of who you’re dealing with as far as the decisions go can be even more important than knowing some of the pitching stats. And when a manager comes out and gives that dreaded vote of confidence to your struggling closer, be aware that his time has just about run out.
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