The Padres fired their manager Monday, saying goodbye to Bud Black, who’d been around since 2007. It’s not that the Padres blamed Black for what they’ve considered to be a disappointing start. That’s always the idea whenever any coach gets the axe, but that’s a gross oversimplification. It’s not that Black was the whole problem. It’s that the Padres thought Black was *a* problem, the kind of problem they might be able to fix midseason. Easier to do that than to find a whole new front office, or a whole new group of players.
As we all observed, the Padres put together a roster they thought could win in 2015. It hasn’t happened yet, not consistently, and with the trade deadline a month and a half away, A.J. Preller might be thinking about the pieces he has to sell off. There’s still plenty of time for the group to turn it around and mount a charge toward the playoffs, but if the Padres do end up a midseason seller, this would be the first step toward admitting the plan didn’t work out. The first step, that is, if you don’t count losing as often as you win.
With Black let go, baseball men everywhere are insisting that Black is a good baseball man. We have to take them at their word. Consensus appears to be that Black won’t be out of a job for long, and he might currently be the best available managerial candidate. It seems the Padres first discussed letting Black go last summer, and while he survived that conversation, it’s not a shock the Padres lowered the axe when they did. He was on thin ice, organizationally, and running a team to a 32-33 record provided sufficient reason. It’s impossible to know for how much Black was responsible.
We know he lasted a while with the Padres, and he was well respected. He was said to be good at bringing people together, and that’s not the kind of trait that just leaves a person, but for all we know, Black was cut out for an old kind of Padres clubhouse, and he’s not the best fit for this new variety. The Padres obviously went in a new direction last winter, and maybe they need a different voice. That they talked about this last year, before the spending spree, makes one wonder, but we’re left to just wonder about everything. When a manager gets fired, there are precious few known facts.
One fact we do know: while the Padres might be underachieving internal expectations, they’re not that far off from what they were projected to be. The Steamer and ZiPS projections never completely bought into the Padres, and here’s a comparison of actual winning percentage and preseason projected winning percentage. In the plot, the latter is subtracted from the former.
Yeah, the Padres are negative, so they are technically underachieving, but it’s not by much. One or two games. Doesn’t seem sufficient for a dismissal. At least, not just based on performance. On the other hand, this might be more interesting, or at least as interesting — here’s preseason projected winning percentage, subtracted from current BaseRuns winning percentage:
By BaseRuns, the Padres have been bad. By BaseRuns, they’re lucky to have as good a record as they do. They’ve had a below-average offense, a below-average rotation, a below-average bullpen, and a below-average defense. Maybe, based on this, a dismissal is justified. On the other hand, some people like to say that over- or under-performing BaseRuns is evidence of managerial skill. That would make Black look good. Kind of bad and good, at the same time.
Pretty clearly, it’s tough to blame Black for what’s taken place on the field. Get into the details, and it shouldn’t be Black’s fault that Matt Kemp has sucked. Everyone understood the defense would be an adventure. It’s not on Black that the Padres bid farewell to quality catcher defense. It’s challenging to evaluate the impact that’s had on the pitching staff, which to this point has allowed way too many home runs. Maybe that’s on the pitchers. Maybe that’s luck. Maybe that’s on pitch-sequencing. Maybe the pitchers are trying to be too fine, knowing the defense they have behind them. Why has James Shields given up 16 dingers? Why has Ian Kennedy given up 13? Why has Andrew Cashner given up 12?
Could be, that’s looking too closely, though. Perhaps, more broadly, the Padres just haven’t had the right vibe. Maybe they haven’t had the right leadership. Maybe that could improve if they hire, say, Mark Kotsay, or Pat Murphy, or whoever. The next part is the most important part.
What lies ahead? How might the Padres expect to do, now that they’re replacing their manager in-season? Back in February 2008, David Gassko couldn’t find an improvement effect. Let’s look at it a little differently. I’ve noted before I have preseason team projections stretching back to 2005. So, let’s consider the window between 2005 – 2014. I identified 22 cases where a team hired a new manager during the year, and the new manager was in place for at least 40 games.
At the time of the original manager’s departure, those teams had an average winning percentage of .405. That’s bad — that would be a 66-win season, over a full year.
Over the rest of the seasons, though, those same teams had an average winning percentage of .468. That would be a 76-win season over a full year, so that’s a step forward. More wins under new managers.
But, you could probably guess this part. Those teams had an average preseason projected winning percentage of .480. That would be a 78-win season over a full year. The teams underachieved with the original managers, and then after the fact, just like you’d expect, they regressed to the mean. It’s a perfect example of bias, where the only teams that fire their managers during the year are teams who are perceived to be underperforming. Those are teams that, as a sample, are unlucky. You expect them to be not unlucky moving ahead.
That’s the actual explanation for the honeymoon period. Maybe it’s not all regression. Maybe those same teams wouldn’t have regressed to the mean under the original managers, because, I don’t know, the clubhouses were too toxic. Could be things would’ve spiraled out of control. But as the Padres look ahead to the remainder of 2015, they know what they’ve been, and we can see what they should be expected to be. Right now, over the remainder, the Padres have a projected winning percentage of .513. That would leave them with an 82-80 record. They’d be about five games out of the second wild card. They’re four games out now.
When a team falls short, the explanation is usually that it just wasn’t good enough. Now that Black is gone, the Padres will need to seriously evaluate what they really are. It seems likely they’re more or less what Bud Black made them.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.