Craig Counsell on Decisions and Collaboration

The Milwaukee Brewers have reportedly hired David Stearns to be their new general manager. What that means for Craig Counsell is yet to be determined. The 45-year-old Counsell has been the club’s manager since May, and his contract extends through the 2017 season.

On the surface, Counsell and the Harvard-educated Stearns look to be a good fit. Counsell was an accounting major at Notre Dame prior to playing 15 big league seasons, and he spent three years as a special assistant to former GM Doug Melvin before moving into his current position.

Counsell talked about his decision-making process, and the collaborative relationship between a manager and the front office, when the Brewers visited Wrigley Field last month.


Counsell on his first season as a manager: “Part of what working in the office did for me was provide a lot of exposure to the analytics side. That was valuable, because every day it plays a part in your decision-making. You’re challenged by what your eyes are telling you, you’re challenged by what the information is telling you, and you strike a balance. That’s managing. That’s the essence of the decisions you make.

“At some stages, given where we’re at as a team, there’s development to take into consideration. It’s important that we get our players to the next level. That plays into my decisions, occasionally. This is a fascinating job. It’s a true challenge, but I’m enjoying every bit of it.

“With any job, you go in thinking that you know what the job is, but there’s always more to it. The in-game stuff… the bullpen decisions are the biggest decisions you have to make during the game. When your starters pitch into the seventh inning, your decisions tend to be a little easier. When they’re six innings or less, you have to make several decisions and it’s hard to get them all right.”

On match-ups and thinking outside the box: “We’re in a match-up era of the game. There’s no question about it. We’ve become… I’m asked about it all the time: ‘Why did you do that, because the numbers say this.’ Even if the sample isn’t very big, the numbers say this and that’s what your decision is supposed to be. The easiest decision is always to go with the handedness match-up, but overall talent level matters, too. The overall talent of the players involved in a decision is always a factor.

“I think we’re in a place where less is seen as being outside the box – crazy and outside the box. Everything has been talked about a lot more, and is out in the open, so we’re kind of past a lot of that stuff. Today, when I think of outside the box, it’s something we haven’t even thought of yet. When I make a decision, I’m not concerned with any criticism I might receive. All I’m concerned with is the effect it could have on the game.

“I talk to my coaches all the time, and some things we shoot down. There has to be thought and solid reasoning behind a decision. Your job is to parse through ideas. Like with most walks of life, you try to figure out what the good ones are, and you shoot down the rest.”

On the relationship between a manager and the front office: “The general manager is selecting players in a way that he thinks they’re going to succeed if they’re used in (a certain) manner. It’s important to put them in a position to succeed, and that’s my biggest job. Organizationally, there has to be synergy in those types of decisions.

“Ideally – this goes for any good organization – there is communication. You want to be able to provide reasons, and you want to be able to understand the other person’s point of view. I haven’t experienced being on a totally different page with a decision yet – the rationale behind it – but I’m sure it will happen at some point. Understanding people’s perspectives… a great thing about working in the front office was that it gave me a different perspective. You see the game differently. When you’re in the forest every day, you always don’t see it.

“There is emotion in the dugout and in the clubhouse. You need to use emotion – you try to use it in a good way – but I understand why it can sometimes make decision-making difficult. That’s where the perspective of your front office can help you at times. That outlook is valuable, and as a manager you need to recognize it.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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7 years ago

Excellent piece.