The Marlins, Managers, and the Changing Game

On Sunday, the Marlins fired manager Mike Redmond. It’s what teams do when they find themselves performing worse than expected, even if expectations of contention were probably less realistic than the hype would have suggested. The manager is the fall guy when things go badly, though, and things are going badly in Miami, so Redmond was shown the door. It’s how baseball works, especially baseball in Miami, and Redmond certainly knew what he was signing up for when he took the job.

On Monday, though, things took a turn away from the norm. Instead of promoting a minor league manager, or one of the team’s remaining coaches, or even turning to a former player who was being groomed as a manager-of-the-future, the Marlins just put their General Manager in charge of the clubhouse. Dan Jennings, the guy who built this roster, is now tasked with trying to turn it into a winner on the field. After years of ranting that analytical GMs were undermining the value of the manager’s role, it turns out to be an old-school scout who is going to try to run everything all at once. The irony is delicious.

But while I’m no big fan of the Marlins organization, I’m also hesitant to cast too many aspersions against this decision. The narrative is really quite easy and lends itself to scorn and ridicule, but I remain convinced that we, as outsiders, have very little to evaluate the quality of a manager even after we’ve seen them perform at the job, so when it comes to evaluating managerial prospects, I just don’t know that we can say anything with any kind of credibility.

Does experience managing in the minors help? You would think so, but then again, you would also think that pitchers vary dramatically in their rates of hits on balls in play, or any other number of logical-sounding things that have been exposed as untrue through the lens of data. Will players respect and play hard for a guy who has spent his career on the road and in the office instead of on the field? I would think not, but then again, I don’t know Dan Jennings or his relationship with any of the Marlins players; maybe the fact that he has the power to trade or cut them at any moment will engender enough respect on its own? I feel like the only thing I can say about this is maybe it will, maybe it won’t, and I don’t have enough information to hold a strong opinion either way.

The reality is that the background of today’s manager is dramatically different than the previous generation, and almost every recent hire has skewed away from experience in favor of perceived intelligence or outside-the-box thinking. The Marlins might be going down a new path, but that path is traveling in the same general direction as everyone else, as they are the latest to acknowledge that perhaps the way baseball managers have been selected previously was not ideal. This shift in managerial candidates is among the most prominent changes in the game, and the Marlins aren’t alone in betting on a guy who wouldn’t have been considered a candidate even a couple of years ago. This is MLB now, and it doesn’t look like MLB used to.

All around the game, things are being done differently. A half dozen teams are running bullpen-by-committee right now, and it’s probably not a coincidence that the closer role is losing its hold as new types of managers are being hired. Teams are positioning their infielders in non-traditional locations, even against hitters who never used to get shifted against. The Rays and Astros took a lot of heat for starting and expanding aggressive defensive alignments, but now, it’s weird if a team isn’t shifting aggressively. Maybe Jennings will turn out to be a pretty decent manager — as best as we can tell, anyway — and having a front office guy in the dugout will turn out to be a net positive when it comes to organization cohesion. I don’t think I’d bet on that being the most likely outcome, but are we really going to say it’s not possible?

The Marlins have done a lot of silly things over the years, and Jeffrey Loria is far and away the least likable owner of any Major League team, so it’s easy to criticize any unusual thing the Marlins do. Giving Loria and this particular organization the benefit of the doubt has turned out poorly in the past, and Occam’s Razor with this franchise is generally just that they’re being intentionally cheap in order to maximize profits; that may even be true here, as expanding Jennings role might be cheaper than promoting someone from the minor leagues.

But if the move was primarily driven by cost-reductions, then the team wouldn’t have fired Redmond in the first place, since keeping him is cheaper than replacing him. And while I don’t trust Jeffrey Loria to do the smart and/or ethical thing in almost case, I also don’t think it’s particularly fair to assume every move he makes is dumb and/or shady simply because he makes it. So while I retain a healthy skepticism for Loria’s ability to run a quality baseball franchise, I just find that I don’t have enough information to really come down on the Marlins for this move.

Baseball teams are doing new things when it comes to selecting managers, and this isn’t a Marlins-specific revolt against the traditional candidate. Jennings may not be qualified, but I don’t think we’re really in a position to judge who is or isn’t capable of running a clubhouse from an outsider’s perspective. Baseball has been doing things the same way for a very long time, so I think it’s actually a sign of progress that teams aren’t just sticking to the same old formulas they had used for a very long time.

Is this a weird hire? Sure, but baseball is doing some weird things now that the adherence to traditional decision making is losing its influence. And so I’m not really up for crucifying the Marlins for blazing their own path; the old path wasn’t working, and it’s not clear anyone has really figured out the right way to find consistently great managers, so trying something new isn’t so crazy. Jeffrey Loria has done plenty of things that deserve criticism; I’m just not sure we know enough to say this is one too.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Kevin
Guest
Kevin

Dave, can you reconcile this article with this tweet from yesterday:

David Cameron @DCameronFG ยท May 17

Congratulations to Mike Redmond, who no longer works for a clown shoes organization.

Teej
Guest
Teej

Give the article a quick read.

Stuck in a Slump
Guest
Stuck in a Slump

Why would he need to when the article pretty much matches up with his tweet? Also, your tweet in response pretty much makes it clear that you don’t understand the level of shenanigans the Marlins have pulled the past few years:

Kevin W ?@K_Town19 May 17
.@DCameronFG hating on the Marlins, I see. I didn’t see this coming but calling them a “clown organization” is dumb.

Captain Tenneal
Member
Captain Tenneal

That’s a clown tweet, bro.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

That wasn’t my tweet. There is more than 1 Kevin on Twitter, I’m sure. But nice effort, Sherlock.

On the other hand this article preaches a reluctance to judge the Marlins too harshly, while his tweet reflects that same rushed judgment, calling the Marlins a clown shoe organization.

The two positions are diametrically opposed.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Member

Not really Kevin.

And I thought Dave made it clear in his article. He does view the Marlins as a clown shoe organization. But as he says clearly in his article, that does not mean everything they do is stupid and silly.

Basically, he is saying, for this particular decision, our knowledge of managerial moves is still very nascent, if not still in the process of birth, and thus we can’t just call it a dumb move just because a clown shoe organization made the move. But he’s not calling it a good move either, he’s just being open minded that this could go either way.

Teej
Guest
Teej

He literally linked to the tweet you’re talking about, then explained his thought process.

It’s not a “rushed judgment” to say the Marlins are run by skeevy people with a history of being cheap and short-sighted and embarrassing themselves and the organization. That shouldn’t be news to anyone. Dave’s just saying he’s reserving judgment on the decision to move the GM to manager. Showing some restraint there doesn’t invalidate previous criticisms of the organization.