SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Since the end of the regular season we’ve seen Jim Leyland retire, Dusty Baker fired, and Clint Hurdle named NL Manager of the Year by the Sporting News.
We’ve seen a changing of the face of the MLB manager.
The position of baseball manager has been one of the last vestiges, last safe harbors, for baseball’s old school orthodoxy. Since the publication of “Moneyball” in the early 2000s — which may or may not be the best marker of baseball’s entry into its information age — many managers have remained dependent upon instinct and gut feel to make decisions while data-driven, analytical thought has grown more influential in front offices.
There has been a divide. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon was for so long an outlier.
But that is changing.
The Reds have hired pitching coach Bryan Price this week to be their new manager, Price who seems to be polar-opposite in his approach to Baker.
Price: ‘you have to use statistical analysis…’ #Reds
— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) October 22, 2013
Said Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo to USA Today about Price: “He’s as organized as anyone in the game, he holds people as accountable as well as anyone I’ve seen. He doesn’t buy into stereotypical things in the game, things that other people buy into that I don’t feel are relevant. Price looks at evidence. He’s a freaking smart guy, he makes his decision on reasonable evidence. Sometimes in baseball we go by hunches, what someone else said or they way things have gone in the past. He doesn’t do that.”
It sounds like the Reds got better Tuesday.
Then consider Hurdle. To become the Sporting News NL Manager of the Year on Tuesday he had to evolve. After being fired by the Rockies in 2009, Hurdle noted he began investigating and embracing sabermetrics.
“It was definitely a transformation in understanding the game. It has been for me for the last 10 years, especially the last five years,” Hurdle told me earlier this year. “You have to get involved in the information. You’ve got to read. You’ve got to study. You can’t just stick your head in the sand and just say, ‘It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t count. It doesn’t make sense.’ ”
In 2013, the Pirates used the fourth most shifts in baseball — a product of advanced, data-driven scouting reports — and that played a large role in the Pirates’ defensive improvement. Hurdle meets with the clubs analytics dept before every series. This is what Hurdle called “growth” when speaking with me Tuesday.
Yes, Hurdle still makes some “instinct” driven in-game decisions. But at a macro level, he’s very much bought into the 21st century and it gave the Pirates a competitive advantage in the NL Central against the non-shifting Cardinals and Baker-led Reds.
Yes, there is still a human element to the game, don’t misunderstand me.
Managers and their staff still have to be teachers and communicators. The Pirates’ defensive plan doesn’t work if the players and coaches don’t buy in. It doesn’t work if Ray Searage is not able to teach his pitchers how to effectively throw two-seam fastballs.
A manager must manage people, which means he must manage personalities. Players need to respect and trust a manager to buy into coaching. Leyland managed thousands of game because he had such talents.
“If they don’t trust you they are not going to let you coach them,” Hurdle said. “I think we’ve gotten to a good place there.”
I don’t think a computer is going to replace the manager in the 21st century but managers have to embrace the data and technology available to them. The manager is becoming more and more an extension of the front office. They have to be open minded. That has changed.
TINY TIM’S BIG DEAL
San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum reportedly reached an agreement on a two-year, $35 million contract Tuesday, according to reports.
That seems like a dramatic overpay considering the once elite Lincecum had fallen to a level of production that produced a combined 2.5 WAR over his 2012 and 2013 seasons.
That’s a $17.5 million annual average value, a dramatic overpay even if you believe a marginal win is really worth $7 million in free agency and not $5 million.
Maybe the Giants are just giving Lincecum a golden thank you for his past work. Or maybe they are predicting starting pitching will dramatically overpriced.
How can AJ Burnett retire when looking at those dollars?
If reaffirms the idea that Pirates should offer Burnett the $14.1 million qualifying offer, if he accepts he’d be a relative free agent bargain.
Burnett produced 7.0 war from 2012-13 and despite his advanced age, his velocity and stuff has not been in decline as much as Lincecum’s.
It’s another reminder of why it’s so important for the Pirates to develop their own starting pitching because the starting pitching market is only growing more expensive and you can’t count on identifying the NL Comeback Player of the Year every season.
If you throw for a living it’s a good time to be living.