Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Rookie Managers Making It Look Easy

Alex Cora and Mickey Callaway must have their feet up in their respective manager’s office thinking that this managing malarkey is easy.

Cora’s Red Sox sit astride the Major Leagues with a 12-2 record heading into Sunday’s games, with Callaway’s Mets close behind on 11-2 having had their nine-game winning streak brought to an end by Milwaukee yesterday.

Meanwhile, it turns out the Phillies’ manager Gabe Kapler might not be completely clueless – as some declared after his first three games – as his team have won five games in a row to second behind the Mets on an 8-5 record.

The Nationals’ Dave Martinez (7-8) and Yankees’ Aaron Boone (7-7) are holding steady in the early going too, which just leaves veteran Ron Gardenhire among the new managers for 2018 for whom the start of the season is proving to be a struggle.

Gardenhire has been in the game long enough not to be too envious of those whippersnappers. There are only 30 MLB manager jobs at any one time and even being in charge of a rebuilding Detroit Tigers is a post to be proud of.

However, it is interesting that so many potentially plumb positions ended up in the hands of rookie managers.

Sport teams generally will change a manager when things have gone badly, with the manager holding responsibility for the team’s performance and being the easiest big part to change as opposed to making significant changes to the playing staff.

That often leads to an ‘opposite ends’ approach to the recruitment of managers, especially in football.  If a ‘back-to-basics’ experienced British manager gets the boot then a younger continental manager is just what’s needed.  If relegation looms with said younger continental manager’s brand of ‘tippy-tappy’ football not working in England, well of course you need a ‘back-to-basics’ experienced British manager to shake things up.

It’s not quite the same in baseball as the manager here has a different brief to work towards (accepting manager/head coach roles vary among football clubs too), yet you still see that approach being taken and, to varying degrees, that goes for the six new managers in MLB this year.

The situation in Washington was the most extreme. Ex-manager Dusty Baker has his critics from previous managerial stints, yet it’s difficult to see quite what he did in his two years at the helm with the Nationals to deserve to be pushed aside over the off-season rather than to continue with the team. They won 95 and 97 games in 2016 and 2017 and whilst consecutive 3-2 Division Series exits were bitterly disappointing when expectations of a World Series were so high, in the cold light of day there wasn’t much about those series defeats that you could pin on Baker.

His departure was a classic case of the team wanting to change something to get over the Division Series hump and Baker being the easiest option.  They changed from a 68 year-old with 22 MLB managerial seasons of experience to Dave Martinez, a 53 year-old who is taking on his first MLB managerial job after serving an apprenticeship under Joe Maddon at the Rays and Cubs.

The changes in Boston and New York were more understandable.

The Red Sox won 93 games and the AL East before being knocked out of the play-offs by a formidable Houston Astros team, so it was hardly a disaster on the field last year. However, it never seemed like a happy camp under John Farrell and so bringing his five-year reign to a close and moving on to the dynamic young Alex Cora looked like a shake-up move at somewhere that needed a shake-up.

The same could be said for the Mets, although in their case the 2017 season undoubtedly was a disaster.  Terry Collins had outstayed his welcome so bringing him back for 2018 was never going to work. Mickey Callaway’s glowing reputation from his five years as pitching coach under Terry Francona in Cleveland made him an obvious candidate to take over at a team whose fortunes are so heavily invested in the form and fitness of their starting pitching.

Aaron Boone was a left-field choice for the Yankees, yet fits into the ‘opposite ends’ idea by virtue of his excellent communication skills – shown to all in his work with ESPN – being cited as a crucial factor in his appointment. Joe Girardi had served a decade as the Yankees’ manager and many on the New York beat had started bemoaning his increased willingness to say very little in his managerial briefings long before it was announce he would not be returning for 2018.  It wasn’t simply the New York press wishing for someone more quote-worthy – although I’m sure that makes their lives much easier – but more that their experience was indicative of what they were picking up from players too: that Girardi was failing to inspire his team any more.

Those four situations are all about winning now, which is different to the roles that Gabe Kapler and Ron Gardenhire are taking on. In Philadelphia, they are firmly on the way up with a young team and so switched the 66 year-old Pete Mackanin for 42 year-old rookie manager Kapler.  In Detroit, they are at the start of a rebuild and decided that the experienced head of Gardenhire was what was needed at this point to move on from first-time manager Brad Ausmus, whose four-year tenure produced mixed results.

These are early days in the 2018 season and none of us can be certain how the six managerial appointments will pan out over the next few years, but it is likely we can take a good guess at the type of manager they will be replaced by when that time comes.

That is, someone the opposite of who they are replacing.

The Sunday Smasher

The Bangles sang that “It’s just another manic Monday”.

In MLB the song goes: “It’s just another Shohei Sunday”.

The Angels’ Japanese star is back on the mound today and after he went six perfect innings against the A’s last time out, he now gets to face the Kansas City Royals who have the worst record in MLB so far this season.

In other words, this has ‘potential no-hitter’ written all over it.  Or it will produce a big shock of the Royals being the line-up to knock Ohtani out of his stride. Either way, it will be worth watching.

First pitch from Kauffman Stadium is at 19.15 BST and the game is available to watch on MLB.TV.

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3 Responses to Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Rookie Managers Making It Look Easy

  1. Metallian61 April 15, 2018 at 5:51 pm #

    I’m not yet convinced by Gabe Kapler, the Phillies current success has come against the Marlins, Reds and Rays. I reckon Philadelphia has a couple of players with the wrong attitude too, they stopped playing for Mackanin. I think Ron Gardenhire was a strange appointment by the Tigers, surely a young manager who could grow with the team would’ve been a better choice – by the time Detroit is any good Gardenhire will be ancient! I also believe that Joe Girardi, who would have stayed, is an excellent skipper. There were a lot of little things he did within games, under intense scrutiny, to help the Yankees win in my observation. More often than not the team outperformed its Pythagorean W-L. I already see signs that Aaron Boone will be an apologist for his players, too soft.

    Girardi will likely be high on the list, having had some rest, of teams who fire their current manager in season. Who might be early candidates for the chop? Kevin Cash (Rays) has been dealt an even weaker hand this year but he hasn’t proved he can win and Chris Archer, for example, is a player who has deteriorated under Cash’s stewardship. The position of Rick Renteria (White Sox) is questionable, to my eye his ballclub is not gelling, it looks like a collection of individuals. There is sentiment attached to Ned Yost in Kansas City but he often gives the impression he doesn’t know what’s going on (didn’t realise his pitcher had a no hitter going). As your Athletics look set for another losing season, is it time for a change of voice in Oakland, Matt?

    In the NL, Mike Matheny (St Louis) always seems to be on the hot seat in the eyes of the fans but his fellow Central Division pilot Bryan Price has never convinced me. Certainly, the Reds have had bad luck with offensive injuries early on, however, the club seems no nearer to improving its pitching than it was five years ago – and Price is the former pitching coach. Whose bright idea was it to chuck $750,000 at Yovani Gallardo for him to throw 2.1 innings of relief and an ERA north of 30 before quickly releasing him?

    On a different point, so much for starting the season earlier to afford players more rest days! In fairness, like the UK, America is experiencing a severe weather Spring and rearranged games, including Double Headers, are beginning to pile up in every nook and cranny left in the original schedule. I can’t recall so many games having been postponed by this date.

    And a few bullets: big test for a promising looking Atlanta team in how it reacts to throwing away a game in Chicago; the Yankees are already 5 games adrift of Boston and the Red Sox appear solid in all areas so NY is playing for the Wild Card; similarly the Dodgers will not make up 6.5 on Arizona who firmly have their number. LA’s problem is that Justin Turner is the glue that holds its offense together.

  2. Metallian61 April 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm #

    Well, that didn’t take long! Price and pitching coach Mack Jenkins have been fired, Jim Riggleman to be interim manager – I think he’ll do well enough to see out the season. Girardi, who is working for MLB network unlikely to be interested in the mess on the bank of the Ohio.

    • Matt Smith April 19, 2018 at 6:47 pm #

      Yes, we’ll have to see who wants the job. They’re an interesting team as they do have some potential over the next few years, but I think it might be a case of a good manager wanting to be the one after this one (i.e. letting someone else take the pain for a couple of seasons and joining when they may be closer to getting back to contention)

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