The annual managerial carousel has started. Little more than a week after the completion of the regular season, there are already openings in Chicago [Cubs], Cincinnati, Seattle and Washington. Don’t be surprised if there are more.
Who will step in to fill these positions? Speculation abounds, with no shortage of names being bandied about. Some have previously managed in the big leagues, while others are looking for their first opportunity. Joe McEwing, who just completed his second season as the White Sox third base coach, is among those in the latter category.
The 40-year-old former infielder has been viewed as a future MLB manager since retiring after the 2006 season. “Super Joe” managed in the White Sox system for three years prior to joining Robin Ventura’s staff, and is highly-regarded thanks to his people skills and knowledge of the game.
In the first of a series of interviews with up-and-coming managerial candidates, McEwing discussed the approach and philosophies he would bring to the job.
McEwing on what his managerial style will be: “I’m fortunate to have been around a lot of great managers and players, and I’ve taken bits and pieces from every single one of them. I played under guys like Tony LaRussa and Buddy Bell, coached with Robin [Ventura], and was mentored by George Kissell, I mold what I got from them into my own style. On top of that, a lot of how you go about managing depends on the makeup of your ball club.
“In life, we learn every single day from every single individual we come across. Speaking about Robin, this guy was exposed to everything throughout his baseball life. He was the best player in college, went 0 for 41 as a rookie, was an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, an Olympic Gold medalist. He played 16 years in the big leagues and the end was a bench guy. So he knows what every player in that clubhouse is going through. He knows the game of baseball, he knows personalities, and he knows how to deal with those personalities. I’ve learned a lot from him.
“Being a communicator is huge. As a manager, you’re also a psychologist. You’re a psychologist dealing with 25 different personalities every single day, finding out what makes each guy tick and putting them in the best possible position to succeed. You want everyone to be on the same page and you want to put it all out on the table. There will be times you’re going to disagree, but at least you know where everybody is coming from. There’s no grey area.”
On setting a lineup: “There are a lot of variables that go into a lineup. Who is on the mound that day? How is the guy in your lineup feeling? And it’s great to have flexibility to where, on any given day, you’re able to switch around a lineup and feel comfortable with it. You want guys to know what they’re doing when they come to the ballpark every day, but then there is that communication factor again. If they’re not in their usual spot, you have to let them know the reason why. Players are creatures of habit. They like to be comfortable in their environment. If they come to the ballpark knowing what they’re going to do that day, they can better prepare mentally and physically.”
On the sacrifice bunt and probability: “I love the sacrifice bunt. It puts pressure on defenses, gets infielders moving. Of course, you need to have confidence in the guy behind him doing his job, So yes, I totally agree with the sacrifice bunt. It’s old school baseball. And who knows if it’s going to be a free out? They have to execute to defend it and nothing in this game is a given.
“There are so many variables that go into every single pitch, every bunt play, every hit-and-run, every move you make in the bullpen. Nothing is for sure in this game. You have 25 guys that you put together with your front office, 25 guys that give you the best chance to win. You’re going to go to war with those guys every single day, and you’re going to have confidence in those guys, or they’re not going to be on your ball club. That’s the way I approach it. I have faith and trust in every single guy that goes out there. At the end of the day, if you leave it all out on the table, you’re going to live with your decisions.”
On defensive shifts: “I’m a little old school on this. I really don’t believe in over-shifting. If you’re going to play a guy to pull, play him over two steps. If you’re going to play him to the opposite field, do it two steps in that direction. Think about the teams who were in the World Series last year. Did they shift anybody? They played everybody straight up.
“Look at Adam Dunn. If you break down his tendencies, he’s changed to where a lot of teams aren’t shifting anymore. He’s hitting the ball to the other side of the field. But he doesn’t hit a ball down the right field line on the ground. You could play the first basemen off the line, because his ground balls are straight up at second base. But I disagree with a lot of shifting. Unless, it’s extreme extremes, where numbers are going to show me that, then I wouldn’t do it.
“In today’s game, if you go by some of the information that’s out there, you could shift seven guys if you wanted to — extreme shift seven guys in the lineup — and I disagree with that.”
On pitcher usage: “Pitch counts in the minor leagues are to the point where guys get to the big leagues and you’re expecting six-inning pitchers. They’re not built to go deeper into the game. Throughout the minor leagues, you should learn how to get through situations and extend pitch counts. And it also depends on how the game is going. Are they taxed innings? If a guy goes out and goes seven innings and was never in any trouble, there’s no wear-and-tear on that arm. There’s no stress on that arm, but he’s taken out and doesn’t learn how to finish a game in the eighth inning, the ninth inning. When you’re in a pennant race, you want that guy to be able to go and there and want that ball in the late innings.
“To me, usage is common sense and communication. You talk with a guy, and through communication you know how he’s feeling. He may not necessarily tell you the truth, but you’ll usually know. And again, are they stressful innings? Did this reliever come in and throw two pitches and get out of the inning? If he does that three days in a row, do you say, “OK, he needs a day off,’ when he threw 10-12 pitches as opposed to 30 in one inning?”
On sample sizes and commitment: “You make decisions based on numbers, and you’d obviously rather have more history than say, a hitter being 4 for 6. You’d rather have 20 for 60. But in today’s game, you often don’t see that.
“You go with your hunch, and you go with numbers. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to answer the questions. Why didn’t it work? You need to have an answer, and you need to have commitment in your answer, just like you had commitment in your decision. I‘m out there with my 25 guys, and they’re going to know I have their back. Whether we‘re playing no-doubles — whatever the decision is — that‘s going to be the preference of the manager.”
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.