Monday, June 23, 2008

The "Boost" From A Managerial Change

  • Is it the new manager or is it the stability?
The Mets have played and looked much better and more relaxed under Jerry Manuel than
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they did under Willie Randolph since at least the middle of last season and Manuel is going to receive credit for that with his different take on running his ballclub, but is that fair? Is the improvement a function of the new manager or is it that the players wanted some finality and an end to answering the non-stop questions about the manager's job security if they lose one or two games?
There have been many cases where a team just wanted a manager out of their sight because they couldn't stand him and subsequently went on a tear. It happened twice with former Astros and Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams; with the Marlins when they dumped Jeff Torborg; and with the Red Sox when they fired John McNamara. While it's easy to give credit to the successors----Cito Gaston and Phil Garner replacing Williams;
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Jack McKeon replacing Torborg; and Joe Morgan (the veteran New Englander, not the inept broadcaster) in replacing McNamara----it's not that easy to automatically think that the new manager was the reason things turned around.
The perception of playing for a manager's job on a nightly basis can't be easy. Most managerial changes don't just come out of the blue; there's usually a series of leaks to the newspapers mentioning that it's possible (sometimes that's done to gauge the temperature of the situation, the fans and the players and see how they're going to react); many times management wants to get a feel as to whether or not the change is actually going to do any good on the field.
Amid all of that, even the Mets players who didn't particularly like Randolph or pitching coach Rick Peterson and wouldn't have minded them being gone don't want to be seen as responsible for getting the manager and pitching coach fired. It wasn't necessarily that the
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players had simply stopped performing for Randolph on purpose, but it can't be easy for a reliever to come jogging in from the bullpen with runners on base and a one-run lead and all the factors he has to worry about in that situation to be thinking that if he doesn't do the job, he's getting someone fired as well. It gets to a point where even the wins are tinged with the repeated questions about the status of the manager; once the idea of a change is in the air, it's going to be there and fall on the players until the matter is resolved.
There's no question that Randolph had lost his effectiveness as a manager, and if the team turns things around Manuel is going to get the credit, but it might have little to do with what he does as the manager and more to do with the players not having to worry about every loss possibly resulting in the manager getting fired.
  • Brewers 7-Orioles 3:
The Brewers turnaround has a great deal to do with Prince Fielder finally hitting some home runs, but it also has a lot to do with Salomon Torres taking over as the closer and not coughing up the games as Eric Gagne was. Russell Branyan has provided a big boost as well, but he's only been back in the big leagues for three weeks; time will tell whether this is
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just an opportune hot streak for a veteran professional player or if he's found his niche in Milwaukee. If I had to guess, I'd say Branyan's going to come back to earth sooner rather than later.
The Brewers took a reasonable chance on Gagne last winter signing him to a one-year deal hoping that a return to the National League would revert the pitcher into what he was with the Dodgers and with the Rangers early last season. Instead, they got the pitcher who imploded for the Red Sox on a nightly basis. They turned to the quirky veteran Torres out of desperation more than anything else and, in a prime example of how finding a successful closer is a flip of the coin, Torres has been excellent. For a guy who was a closer off-and-on for the past few seasons and lost the job as a member of the woeful Pirates last year and also had some bizarre incidents in his career (walking away from the game for five years, etc.), Torres might be remembered as the man who saved the Brewers from 78-win season and a major restructuring. The Brewers are still within striking distance of the NL Central and right in the middle of the Wild Card race. If they hit as they're capable, Ben Sheets stays healthy and Torres continues to perform as he has, they could hang around in both races for the duration and that's a far cry from scanning the want-ads for a closer who wouldn't blow games they should be winning.
  • Twins 5-Diamondbacks 3:
The expectations for the Diamondbacks were at least as high as that of the Mets this season, but they find themselves with an almost identical record and saved by the unexpected wasteland that the NL West has become. With a starting rotation fronted by two
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legitimate aces; a deep and diverse bullpen; and a lineup that, despite it's youth, should be a force, the Diamondbacks find themselves at 39-37 and stumbling along despite hanging onto first place.
Brandon Webb has been getting raked around so regularly that I would be concerned about the pitcher's health; granted it would've been impossible for him to continue pitching shutouts every night, but he's gotten knocked around in three of his last five starts; it could be a mid-season slump, but it's not something to ignore out of hand. Their rotation, which was supposed to be a strength, is looking short. Dan Haren has been everything advertised, but Micah Owings got off to a great start and has been pretty much terrible since late April; Randy Johnson has been more bad than good; and Doug Davis, for all the courage he's shown in coming back from thyroid cancer, is a back of the rotation starter who can't be counted on to pick up for the top of the rotation.
Out of the Moneyball school, Josh Byrnes is probably the closest GM to Billy Beane in
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terms of temperament, playing his cards close to the vest and making decisive moves. Even though they're in first place, this could mean one of two things: 1) Bob Melvin might be in trouble if they continue sleepwalking; or 2) a big trade is going to be made to shake things up. I don't think Melvin deserves to be fired (for what that's worth), so I would think that Byrnes is scouring the trade market and other teams in need to make a quick and decisive strike to loosen the cobwebs.
  • Tigers 5-Padres 3:
I'm aware of the payroll disparity between the Padres and the Mariners and why the Mariners are a laughingstock because they look like they're going to lose 100 games after being a trendy pick to win the AL West, but the Padres expectations were higher in many
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circles than the Mariners; the payroll shouldn't factor in if the Padres were taking credit for being smart and frugal while being almost as bad. No one seems to be flogging the Padres with a similar enthusiasm as they are the Mariners. There's even talk of the Padres crawling back into the race for the division. They're not crawling into any race; the race is tumbling to them and it's not going to last. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are going to right their ships enough to bury the Padres, but will anyone notice, or will they continue to protect the "smart" Padres management team, which may not be all that smart after all?

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