David Ross: Future Big-League Manager

David Ross would like to manage in the big leagues some day. According to several of his peers, he’ll be a worthy candidate. The 38-year-old Chicago Cubs catcher was by far the most popular choice when I asked a cross section of uniformed personnel: Which Current Players Are Future Managers?

What will Ross’s managerial style be, when and if he’s given an opportunity to lead a big-league team? In a followup to yesterday’s column, Ross shared several of his philosophies.


Ross on what his managerial style would be: “I’ve gotten to play for some great managers. Bobby Cox, Dusty Baker, John Farrell, Joe Maddon. Jim Tracy was phenomenal. Terry Francona. Bruce Bochy. A lot of great ones.

“One thing I see from the best managers is that they let the players be the players. They have a rule or two, but as long as [the players] work hard and do the right thing, they mostly let them do their thing. They let them be men. The manager manages the game on the field and lets the veterans on the team police the clubhouse. And if they do need to talk to someone, they do it behind closed doors. They don’t show them up.

“I think it’s important for a manager to keep things relaxed and to be the same guy every day. Be cool, calm, and don’t let adverse situations affect you. Make the same moves in the heat of battle. That way, as a player, you know what to expect.”

On strategy and working with the front office: “I don’t know if there is such a thing as thinking-outside-the-box anymore. There’s so much information available now. What you’re doing is weighing the balance — your history with the game, the data, what you’re seeing in front of you — and making moves accordingly. Decisions are more calculated now than they’ve ever been.

“In today’s game, the GM and front office people have more input than they used to. You’re going over scenarios and almost managing the games before a series even starts. You’re looking at the match-ups, including the key match-ups you’re expecting to see.

“In Chicago, we’d hit-and-run with Starlin Castro, because he hit the ball on the ground a lot. In order to stay out of the double play, Joe Maddon would put on hit-and-runs. Little things like that. I think the best organizations are run that way — the front office, the manager, and the coaching staff are all on the same page. You’re putting together the experiences of the coaches with the data, and the manager is managing the in-game adjustments.”

On in-game adjustments: “The game is so detailed. You look at the scouting report, and from there your eyes are going to tell you when an adjustment needs to be made. There are times where you’re going to go against what the scouting report says, because of what you see and what your experience tells you.

Jon Lester likes to pitch in to righties, and he was really pounding inside during the [2013] playoffs. In Game One of the World Series, the Cardinals had their hitters way off the dish. All of a sudden, as the catcher I had to start bringing in the backdoor cutter earlier than I like to. You’re making the same kind of in-game adjustments as a manager. Scenarios you didn’t plan for will come up, maybe because the opposing manager did something he doesn’t normally do. A lot of things come into play, and you have to get to know your team — what your players are capable of doing.”

On pitch counts and letting the game play out: “Not all pitch counts are the same. There are grinder innings. Jon Lester is a good example. He’ll have this tough first inning. Maybe he gives up one run, but he throws 35-40 pitches and leaves the bases loaded. Then he’ll cruise for the next five innings. He’ll be over 90 pitches, but he’s found his rhythm and is controlling the game. But if that stressful inning is happening later on, and guys are hitting line drives all over the place, that should be a red flag.

“Some managers seem to already have their minds made up. I feel that Joe Maddon does a great job of watching the game. He’ll let it dictate what he’s going to do. A lot of times, the game will spell out your decisions for you. If a guy is giving up rockets, you might want your bullpen up a little earlier. If he’s cruising through easy innings, whether it’s your ace or your fifth starter, you let things play out for as long as the game allows you to do that.”

On pitchers going through the order a third time: “There are going to be scenarios that come up where you’re going to go with the numbers. It’s going to be, ‘Hey, third time through the lineup doesn’t work for this guy.’ In a tight ballgame, you take him out. When you have the ability to give someone a longer leash — say you have a four- or five-run lead — you can let him go through the lineup that third time and see if he has success this time. If he does, he will gain some trust, both in himself and from the manager.

“You build a trust with your players over the course of a year. They’re gaining your trust and you’re gaining their trust. Overall, I think you address this on an individual basis. You rely on the experience you’ve had sticking with a certain guy, and on what the numbers are telling you.”

On bullpen leverage and using your closer before the ninth: “I’m big on getting the big outs when you need them, but at the same time, it’s a different situation. I’d have to talk to my closer and make sure he was comfortable doing that. I like guys in roles, and if a role changes, I think you need to talk about it. That goes back to what I was saying about trust and knowing what your players can do. There are guys who handle a clean inning better than coming in with men on base. Personality trait comes in, as well as the numbers and how the lineup is stacking up.

“There are going to be days where your closer isn’t available and you have to go with match-ups in the ninth. But I’d rather save my closer for the end of the game. I can more easily manage his innings that way, and I think it helps the flow of the game, not having to make pitching changes in the ninth.”

On defensive shifts: “I like shifting. I believe in it. Anything where the numbers show you have a better chance of getting someone out, you do it. I actually don’t think the outfield gets shifted enough. I think it should be moved way more than it is. When I’m behind the plate calling a game, I know that certain guys can’t drive the ball to the opposite field against certain guys I’m catching.

“Those things are constantly being tweaked. I have a couple of ideas about shifting guys who bunt. I’ve come up with a few secrets, although I don’t want to divulge them yet. A lot of pure pull hitters are slow, and there are some things you can do to mess with them.

“I don’t care if Albert Pujols hits a ground ball to the right side of the infield for a base hit. If a pure power hitter like that wants to hit a 10-hopper the other way, that’s fine with me. When guys are changing their approach from what they do best, because of how you aligned your infield, it’s usually a positive.

“I’m a big believer in defense in general. When you don’t give teams extra outs… look at St. Louis and how they play clean baseball. That’s winning baseball, the cleanness of how they make the plays you’re supposed to. And when you hit the ball hard and someone runs it down in the gap, that’s demoralizing. Same thing with shifting. If someone hits a rocket right where you’re shifted, and takes a hit away from you, it demoralizes them.”

On lineup construction: “That’s something I haven’t thought as much about, but I can say that, with the teams I’ve been on, I like speed at the top. Obviously, your one and two need to be able to get on base, but their speed helps your three-four-five hitters get more fastballs. They can cause a little more chaos when they’re on the bases, and I love that.

“What your options are is part of it. If I have a fast guy who doesn’t get on base much, I might hit him behind the pitcher. That’s maybe the only scenario where I’d hit the pitcher eighth. I’d have him in the nine-hole as kind of an extra leadoff guy whose spot doesn’t come up as much. I’d put him there and have the guy who isn’t as fast, but gets on base a lot more, in the leadoff position.

“Overall, I think you need to put your best hitters near the top of the lineup, and your worse hitters near the bottom. You want your best hitters to get more at-bats.”

On giving up outs: “I’m probably one of the few guys left who likes the sacrifice bunt. I wouldn’t always use it, but there are scenarios where I like it. For instance, if I have a runner on second with nobody out in a close game, I like moving him to third. If the best way to do that is with a bunt, I’m willing to do that.

“A lot of the time, I’ll want to let my guys fire away. But I’ll also want to be a well-rounded team. I want to be able to play small ball if need be. There comes a time when having that aspect in your game is important. Some people believe in not sacrificing until you need it, but that might mean asking someone to bunt who hasn’t done it all year.”

On his future: “I’m playing one more year, but beyond that I don’t have a timeframe in mind. For anyone to give you an opportunity to run a baseball team, or to help run a product on the baseball field, is one of the highest honors you could possibly receive.

“I love the game — I’m passionate about the game — and I enjoy trying to figure out a way to beat the other team. That’s the aspect that’s the most fun for me. If someday I’m given an opportunity to do that, to manage a team and help them win, hopefully I’ll be good at 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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formerly matt w
6 years ago

“Jim Tracy was phenomenal.”


6 years ago

Heh. I thought that would draw some reactions from Pirates fans.

Paul Swydanmember
6 years ago

He was definitely phenomenal at leaving in Huston Street to face Ryan Howard in the most critical at-bat of the 2009 NLDS when Joe Beimel was standing and waiting in the bullpen to come in and pitch. I’ll give him that much.