Archive for The Manager’s Perspective

Manager’s Perspective: Analytics-Driven Non-traditional Coaching Staff Hires

One great thing about the baseball Winter Meetings is that you have access to all 30 managers (this year that number is 29, as the Baltimore Orioles are currently sans a manager). A formal media session is held for each, and with 30 minutes of allotted time, a multitude of questions are asked by the collection of writers on hand.

I asked the following question, using roughly the same words, to a dozen of the managers: “We’ve seen some non-traditional coaching staff hires as of late, with pitching and hitting analytics being the driver. What are your thoughts on that?”

Here is what they had to say (answers edited slightly for concision and clarity):


David Bell, Cincinnati Reds: “I love having different perspectives in everything we do in this game. Having different opinions and perspectives, from people with different backgrounds and expertise, helps the decision-making process. You’re creating an advantage for yourself. I think it’s an exciting time in the game because of that. And it’s a great time to be a player, because you have all these different resources to pull from to make adjustments a lot faster. You can maximize who you are as a player.

“I do see it as a balance. There are certain parts of this game we all love that aren’t going away. The competition. The hard work. The teamwork. We just have more resource to make all of that work better. It’s important to communicate, and to work together with all departments, and really have no ego, and be able to work really well together.”

Bud Black, Colorado Rockies: “I like the creativeness of thinking from the people who were making hires. I think it shows that it’s not a closed box; it’s opened for whoever might have a skill set that a certain team is looking for, to give it a shot. I think that’s great. Read the rest of this entry »

The Manager’s Perspective: Josh Bard on Process and the Distillation of Data

To date, Josh Bard’s managerial experience consists of a single game. In early September, he assumed that role while Aaron Boone was serving a one-game suspension. Don’t expect it to represent the end of his time in that capacity for a big-league team.

Currently in his first season as Boone’s bench coach with the New York Yankees, Bard is viewed by many as a future MLB manager. And for good reason. The 40-year-old former journeyman catcher has long been lauded for his interpersonal skills, and he’s been honing his analytics chops for years. Prior to joining the Yankees, the Texas Tech product spent five seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, initially as a special assistant to the general manager. More recently, he served as the forward-thinking NL West club’s bullpen coach in 2016 and 2017.

Where will Bard be employed in the years to come and in what capacity? Multiple teams will be interviewing managerial candidates this offseason, and Bard’s name is certainly being bandied about in front offices. While he’s happy in New York, other opportunities surely await.


Josh Bard: “My biggest role as bench coach is being a translator from the analytics group down to the dugout. I’m making sure that all the information we have is distilled down to the simplest way to understand it, not only for the staff, but also the players. My role is more pregame. It’s postgame review. What can we do better?

“Zac Fieroh is one of our analytics guys, and he’s with us every day. I give Brian Cashman and Michael Fishman, and that whole group, a lot of credit. They really pushed for him to be in there, and he’s done an awesome, awesome job.

“It’s funny. When you look at Oakland, or at L.A., or at Tampa, you think they’re these analytics juggernauts. That’s the perception. They are very good at it — don’t get me wrong — but when you look at us, that’s not really the perception. Well, when I came here from L.A., the information here is as good, if not better, than anywhere I’ve been.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Fredi Gonzalez on Embracing Change

There are expected to be a number of managerial openings this offseason, with no shortage of candidates in line to replace those being jettisoned (or leaving of their own volition). And while there has been a recent trend of hiring young — no previous experience necessary! — a handful of former MLB managers will certainly be considered. Fredi Gonzalez is among them.

Currently the third-base coach for the Marlins, Gonzalez has had a pair of mostly successful stints as a big-league skipper. The 54-year-old native of Cuba was at the helm in Miami from 2007 to -10, and in Atlanta from 2011 to -16. Under his leadership, the Braves had back-to-back 94- and 96-win seasons before things went south.

Gonzalez has grown a lot since he was named to replace Bobby Cox following the 2010 season. In December of that year, an interview I did with him for Baseball Prospectus led with the following: “Fredi Gonzalez is no stat geek — at least not yet — but he clearly recognizes the importance of data.”

Eight years later, that recognition has increased exponentially. Gonzalez still trusts his gut — every experienced manager and coach does, to a certain extent — but he’s smart enough to have evolved with the game. Baseball is embracing analytics more and more, and so is Fredi Gonzalez.


Fredi Gonzalez: “I think a lot differently now than I did back then. I remember we talked about sacrifice bunting. I’ve kind of gone away from that line of thinking. We’re a National League team — I’ve always been in the National League — and while I think the pitcher is more productive when he can bunt a guy over, that’s usually not the case for a position player. I’ve changed my mind on that.

“I’ve changed my mind on closers. I was spoiled when I first came up, because I had Craig Kimbrel. It was easy to plan out my ninth-inning strategy. Now I’m starting to question why you’d spend a large amount of your payroll a guy who is only going to pitch 80 innings. I still believe that the ninth inning is the ninth inning — it’s still a special inning — but I also believe in putting guys in spots to be successful. If there are two or three left-handed hitters coming up in the ninth, you can use your left-hander there. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your closer.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Mickey Callaway on His First Year in the Big Apple

Mickey Callaway’s first season as a manager hasn’t gone as planned. The Mets team he was hired to lead was expected to contend in the National League East, and that didn’t happen. Things looked rosy after a 11-1 start, but five months later, the Metropolitans are limping to the finish line, currently at 11 games under .500. All in all, Citi Field hasn’t been a happy place this season.

Callaway came to Queens from Cleveland, where he served as a pitching coach for a club whose culture has helped cultivate multiple playoff appearances in recent seasons. Led by a strong front office and manager Terry Francona, the Indians have been, in many ways, a model franchise. Conversely, the Mets had devolved into what could reasonably be called a dysfunctional one.

The 43-year-old Callaway wasn’t about to change that on his own, certainly not overnight. But he is expected to help move the Mets in the right direction, and he feels that’s begun to happen. Despite the disappointing season, he believes that progress is being made.

The same can be said for his growth as a manager. Callaway acknowledges that there has been a steep learning curve. Moreover — and this is to his credit — he also admits there are a few things he should have done differently over the course of the summer. His job is by no means an easy one. Not only is he the rookie manager of a team in transition, he’s at the helm of a team that plays in The Big Apple.


Mickey Callaway: “As a first-year manager, you come into the job with an idea of who you want to be and what you value. As you get into it, that quickly becomes, ‘OK, those were the things I thought about; now I have to implement them.’ The challenge is to continue to believe in all of those things. You have to make sure you stay in a good spot with the way you communicate, and the way you react to situations, both good and bad.

“All of these things you learn or get educated about from other managers… information is just information until you have to utilize it in your own experiences. Sticking true to certain things can be difficult. I’ve tried to do the best I can at being myself and believing in, and implementing, the things I’ve learned.

“I’ve tried to [bring aspects of Cleveland Indians culture], and not just because of Tito and the Indians. It’s because it’s what I believe is right. I’ve learned in different cultures. I’ve taken things from Buck Showalter, from Mike Scioscia, from Buddy Black, from Joe Maddon. Obviously Tito. All of those guys. They were always prepared and very thoughtful in everything they did. It makes sense to bring some of that over here.

“You learn pretty quickly that New York is a different animal. For a lot of reasons. You have to adapt some of the thinking you had when you were with a smaller-market team. You have to make sure you understand that this is a different situation, and you might have to implement things differently. The ideals can stay the same, but the implementation of things you want to do probably has to be a little different.

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The Manager’s Perspective: John Gibbons on His Long, Crazy Career

John Gibbons is in his second go-round as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. The 56-year-old former catcher skippered the A.L. East team from 2004 to -08, and he’s been back at the helm since the beginning of the 2013 season. There have been a pair of postseason berths along the way — in 2015 and 2016 — and he heads into the waning days of the current campaign with a managerial record, exclusively with Toronto, of 789 wins and 782 losses.

It’s no secret that this will be his last year on the job. While nothing has been made official, the Blue Jays are expected to replace Gibbons once the season concludes. He won’t be fading into the sunset, though — at least not right away. Gibbons hopes to stay in the game, in one capacity or another, for the foreseeable future. As for his pair of tenures in Toronto, and the roads he traveled to get there… it’s safe to say that he’s enjoyed the ride.


John Gibbons: “In 1990, I was in Triple-A with the Phillies and kind of at the end of my rope as a player. Being a catcher with a little big-league experience, you can always find a job, but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. My original organization, the New York Mets, called. They wanted to know if I was interested in being their roving catching instructor. I debated whether I wanted to keep playing a little longer or get into coaching. I decided to go into coaching.

“After I roved for a couple of years, the Mets gave me a managing opportunity in Kingsport, Tennessee, in the Appalachian League. That was actually the first league I’d played in, back in the day. Things just kind of took off from there.

“I ended up with the Toronto Blue Jays when J.P. Ricciardi was hired as the general manager. I was originally in the bullpen, but then they made a couple of changes and I was the first-base coach. A few years later they made more changes, and I was the manager. So it’s been a long, crazy career. It wasn’t a very good one as a player, and from there it’s been what it’s been.

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The Manager’s Perspective: A.J. Hinch on Bullpens

Managing a bullpen is one of the biggest challenges a big-league skipper faces. Starters are going fewer and fewer innings, multi-inning closers have gone the way of the dinosaur, and roles have begun to blur. Matc-ups have thus become increasingly important, and determining them isn’t as simple as scanning a stat sheet. This isn’t Strat-O-Matic, it’s real life, and workloads and psyches need to be factored into the equation.

A.J. Hinch has done a good job with this balancing act. Having quality arms at one’s disposal obviously helps — and the Astros clearly have some quality arms — but optimizing their usage is nonetheless an art form. The numbers suggest that Hinch is more of a Rembrandt van Rijn than a Jackson Pollock (no disrespect to the latter, the reference is to technical proficiency). Houston relievers have both the best ERA and best FIP of any team in the majors, while their walk and strikeout rates are things of beauty. By and large, Hinch knows which buttons to push… and when to push them.


A.J. Hinch: “It’s definitely changed from my playing days to now. We’ve been softly eliminating perfect roles. I think there will always be a closer. There will always be setup guys. There will always be guys who are long men or lefty specialists. I’m not taking about those roles. It’s more that I’ve watched the game evolve to the point where managers are using their relievers creatively.

“There’s how Terry Francona used Andrew Miller a couple of years ago. There’s how we used the bullpen in the playoffs last year. Closers are being used on the road more often. Lefties are getting righties out if the numbers suggest you don’t have to play a perfect matchup. I think the creativity within organizations has grown, and that’s impacted the manager role, how we utilize our weapons.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Lance Parrish on Embracing Opportunities

Lance Parrish embraces the opportunity to help young players chase their dreams, and he’s doing so in the organization where he made six of his eight All-Star appearances. The 62-year-old former catcher manages the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Low-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Parrish broke into the big leagues with Detroit — the Motown home of Aretha Franklin — and went on to play for 19 seasons.

Parrish joined the coaching ranks shortly after hanging up his shinguards, and he became a minor-league manager soon thereafter. As fate would have it, he later found himself on the outside looking in, wondering if he’d ever get back in the game. He was skeptical that would happen, but then the Tigers came calling. He couldn’t be happier.


Lance Parrish: “When it was getting toward the end of my playing career, Sparky Anderson told me that if I had the desire to stay in the game, his recommendation was to go right into it as soon as my playing days were over. I think he was trying to give me a heads up that it’s not that easy to stay out for any length of time and then get back in whenever you feel like you want to get back in. He said, ‘If I were you, I’d jump right into it and see if it’s something you want to do.’ I took his advice.

“At first, I kind of moonlighted as a minor-league catching instructor with the Kansas City Royals, when Bob Boone was their manager. That was in 1996. Then I went to the Dodgers. In 1997 and 1998 I coached in San Antonio, Texas, in Double-A. My first year there, Ron Roenicke was managing and we won the Texas League. That got me off on the right foot, and I learned a lot from watching Ron manage. Ron is very astute when it comes to details. I learned about managerial style, how to relate to players, structure — he’s a very structured guy — things to work on throughout the course of a baseball season.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Derek Shelton on Managerial Philosophy

Derek Shelton is a bit of an outlier in this series. Unlike the 11 subjects who preceded him, he isn’t currently a manager. Shelton is the bench coach in Minnesota, and outside of filling in for two games while Paul Molitor was in Cooperstown last month, he’s never been in that role at the highest level. His only full-time managerial experience is in A-ball, from 2000-2002 in the New York Yankees organization.

That may change. Shelton would like to manage in the big leagues some day, and he’s on a path to do. After serving as the hitting coach for the Cleveland Indians from 2005-2009, and the Tampa Bay Rays from 2010-2016, the 49-year-old former catcher spent last season as the quality control coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. A multi-faceted job, it segued well into the bench coach position that he now holds.

What type of manager will Shelton be if he’s able to take that next step? He did his best to answer that question when the Twins visited Fenway Park a few weeks ago.


Derek Shelton: “First and foremost, the game is about the players. It’s about communication and how you interact with them. With the way the game has changed, particularly in terms of all the information that’s available, you have to make sure you’re communicating what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it. You want an open dialogue with not only your staff, but also with the players.

“I would hope that [having a good understanding of analytics] would be a plus. I worked in Cleveland, at the forefront of analytics, with Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti. Then I had the opportunity to work for the Rays, who are obviously not afraid to look outside the box on anything. And one thing the Rays do a very good job of — especially between their major league coaching staff and the front office — is having a very open dialogue. There’s kind of a no-ego relationship where you’re free to ask questions. Read the rest of this entry »

The Manager’s Perspective: Gabe Kapler on Staying the Course

Gabe Kapler’s first season as a big-league manager is going well. Following a tumultuous 1-4 start that had more than a few Philadelphia fans in a tizzy, Kapler’s club has gone on to become one of baseball’s biggest surprises. Considered not yet ready for prime time by the vast majority of prognosticators, the youthful Phillies instead lead the National League East under his guidance.

Kapler himself was viewed by many as not yet ready for prime time. The 43-year-old former outfielder’s previous managerial experience consisted of one year in the minors, and that was back in 2007 in the South Atlantic League. He spent the past three seasons as the director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he furthered his reputation of being innovative, if not a bit unorthodox, in his methods and approach.

He’s been a rock in his current role. With the month of August upon us, and his team firmly in contention for an unexpected playoff berth, Kapler has shown that he’s very much ready for prime time. He’s also proven — and this is something he expects from his players — that he can take a punch and get back up to fight harder and smarter the next day.


Gabe Kapler: “As a player, you don’t have a choice but to live and breathe the phrase ‘control what you can control.’ Baseball can be a brutal game. You square up every ball and nothing drops for a hit for two weeks straight, and every day you watch your average drop further with no end in sight. You feel sick, but you know, because of how many times you’ve done it before, to stay the course. You’re confident that you can recover.

“As a manager, I find myself leaning on that phrase even more than I did as a player. I trust in it, especially with recent exposure to the natural ebbs and flows. I’ve seen it work for people I trust and respect. While this season has been enlightening on many levels, my belief that our commitment to preparation, process, and constant iteration and improvement is the one constant, controllable aspect of this job. Read the rest of this entry »

The Manager’s Perspective: Matt LeCroy on Mentoring in the Minors

Matt LeCroy played for Ron Gardenhire back when the former was a slugging catcher-first baseman for the Minnesota Twins in the early 2000s. Today, he shares many of the veteran skipper’s attributes. LeCroy is now a manager himself — he skippers Washington’s Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators — and there’s a lot of ‘Gardy’ in the way he goes about his business. Equal parts engaging and nuts-and-bolts baseball rat, he’s adept at balancing the variety of responsibilities that comes with the job.

Managing in the minors obviously differs from managing in the big leagues. The focus is more on player development than it is on winning, which LeCroy learned after being hired to lead Low-A Hagerstown in 2009. Now, 10 years after that first managerial gig, he’s using his experience — including what he gleaned from Gardy — to mentor the likes of Carter Kieboom and, earlier this season, Juan Soto.


Matt LeCroy: “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to put players in positions to be successful. Preparing guys for the big leagues is a lot harder than I assumed it was going to be. When I first started out, I had goals, too. I figured that if I won, I may have a chance to go coach or manage in the big leagues. But that’s not why I’m here. My main job is to make sure I maximize everybody’s abilities to the highest level possible, so that they can go to the next level.

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