19 September 2018

Moving Away from Buck: The Orioles Next Manager

One point five times.  That figure is burned into my head.  I cannot remember where I acquired that figure, but it has to do with the ideal age of a leader given the average age of his employees, followers, whatever.  Studies, ones I have actually found, tend to suggest age is a factor, but maybe not something that should be a primary focus.

Why does any of this matter?  Well, after years like this, people tend to be fired and a common target for getting fired in the manager.  To be precise, Buck Showalter only has a couple weeks left to be fired.  That is a highly unlikely occurance.  More likely is that Buck will not be offered another opportunity to manage the Orioles.  With that vacancy, the Orioles are in need of a new skipper.

The Orioles tend to focus on big names: Buck Showalter, Mike Hargrove, Leo Mazzone, and Davey Johnson.  Organizational favorites have also popped up like Dave Trembley, Sam Perlozzo, and Ray Miller.  You also have Lee Mazzilli.  Eh.

Recent trends have been pushing younger and younger managers.  In 2012, the Cardinals and White Sox seemed to welcome a new era when they respectively hired Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura.  Since then, twenty six first-time managers have been hired with over half of them without any managerial experience.  Last year, four of six managerial openings were filled with individuals 44 years old or younger: Alex Cora (42), Mickey Callaway (42), Gabe Kapler (42), and Aaron Boone (44).  Managers have become less the captain of the clubhouse and more a conduit to deliver front office interests to the field, to bring front office direction to the players.

The Orioles did not subscribe to that organizational structure these past several years.  Buck Showalter was hired against Andy MacPhail's wishes and was a major reason why he walked away from the Orioles.  The Orioles original offer to Tony LaCava to head the club was undermined by his lack of authority over Showalter and other employees in baseball operations.  Dan Duquette was able to weather it all, but the team was often referred to as a two-headed monster by opposing clubs who would often become confused as to who exactly made decisions.  The answer: both with ownership being a tie breaker, or whoever was more empowered by ownership at any one time.

If the Orioles want to modernize their franchise, then the first thing they need is a manager who is an extension of the front office instead of a foil.  Change appears to be best accepted by young, charismatic, transformational leaders.  However, with a multicoach setup, you can look at a couple of different leadership structures.  One would be an older, more stable manager with younger, more analytically inclined assistant coaches.  Another route would be a younger more analytically incline manager with more of a mix of older and similarly aged assistant coaches.  The problem with younger leadership though is with buy-in.  If you go too young, then the players may not accept the authority of their manager.  This can also be a problem with the assistant coaches and manager.

Given these ideas about management, approaches by other clubs modernizing their structure, and the talent that is currently out there, what options do the Orioles have?  The following is not a listing of various candidates, but solutions for each spot in the roster.

Manager - Joe Espada (Houston Astros, bench coach), Age 43
When Alex Cora was swiped by the Boston Red Sox as their manager, Joe Espada slid over to the bench coach position for the Astros from being the Yankees third base coach.  Espada is from Puerto Rico, is known as a communicator, and is well acquainted with the use of analytics from his time with the Yankees and the Astros.  He would be an asset to any front office.

He would be an asset in that he would likely be controllable where Buck Showalter enjoyed a more traditional sense of control, free of daily contributions from the front office if he decided their help was not needed.  Espada, used to structures with considerable input from up top, would be looking at his first big league gig, which would be helpful.  Also, as a younger manager he may well be a better communicator with the younger players who will now have a larger role.  Buck was never known as a great developer of talent, but as a maximizer of existing and accepted talent.

Pitching Coach - Brian Bannister (Boston Red Sox, assistant pitching coach), Age 37
The quickest way to getting back to respectability in the AL East will be to somehow be able to target and adjust the pitchers available within the Orioles' system.  Bannister might be that guy.  He is known to be one of the main drives behind the Red Sox pitching analytics push and is credited to being a player who was on the tip of the spear. He was Brandon McCarthy before Brandon McCarthy, if that helps.

Bannister is credited with finding the right mix and approach for Rich Hill, blossoming him at a very later stage in his career.  It is uncertain what his new responsibilities might be after the change over from Farrell, but he might wish to get into a position of more control to implement his ideas.  And while analytics are becoming more accepted in clubhouses (the Orioles are not one of those clubhouses), a young, former player with coach and communication experience makes Bannister a potentially ideal fit for Baltimore.

Hitting Coach - Jeff Livesay (Pittsburgh Pirates, assistant hitting coach), Age 52
To be honest, I do not know much about Livesay.  What I do know is that he has spent 15 years with the Pirates.  He has experienced the transition from a traditional operation to one that is very analytically focused.  That experience is something that I think would be useful.  He likely has experienced the rough spots and may be a useful coach who can understand obstacles in the transition.  At 52, he certainly is young enough to last a while.  He could also be paired with a younger voice like reupping Howie Clark.

If you want someone more on the tip of the spear, then you would probably want someone like Severna Park's own Mark Budzinski, a jack of all trades pre- and in- game coach for the Cleveland Indians.  He might be more on the nose if you want a wholesale change to a more modern operation.

First base Coach - Jerry Hairston, Jr. (SportsNet LA, First Base Coach), Age 41
You may better remember Hairston as the player the Orioles decided to send on and dedicate themselves to Brian Roberts and to bring in Sammy Sosa.  One of those worked out.  Hairston went on to have a long career as a role player until a hip injury ended it.  He then transitioned into the broadcast booth for SportsNet LA.  He has no coaching experience, but he has a whole lot of playing experience and communication skills.

It is uncertain if Hairston would consider a role like this, especially after he was a finalist for the New York Yankees manager gig a year ago.  Is a collaborative role acceptable when so close to a managerial position.  It may not hurt to ask.  If that does not work out there would be other names I would want to kick the tires on: Jose Hernandez, Brian Roberts, Tom Goodwin, Reggie Willits, or Mark Kotsay.

Third base Coach - Bobby Dickerson (Baltimore Orioles, Third Base coach), Age 53
I really like Bobby Dickerson.  He is not a make or break coach, but he is great at infield instruction and is a solid third base coach.  Fans often get upset when players get thrown out at home, but that is more or less an emotional reaction to a poor outcome.  If a third base coach was 100% successful when sending a guy, then you are talking about a whole lot of runs left at third base because that next guy to the plate is going to get out a lot.  Third base coaches tend to be very conservative because you do not look bad when holding a guy.  Dickerson feels alright looking bad and that increases run scoring.

If you would want to clean the slate (which I do not think is needed, but Dickerson may wish to go if he is the only mainstay), then I think the Red Sox's Tom Goodwin or the Dodger's George Lombard could be decent options.  I could also see the next guy I mention moving into this position, Will Venable.  In that case, I would probably look to someone like the Tides' Ron Johnson to be a familiar face as Bench Coach.

Bench Coach - Will Venable (Chicago Cubs, First Base Coach), Age 35
Venable was a bit of a leap when the Cubs transitioned him from a front office assistant last Fall to a first base and outfield coach this year.  He was brought on to freshen up the on field instruction with a younger voice.  By all accounts, it was a success.  The Cubs are a highly analytical group and Venable has been a useful way to communicate data to the players.  Espada could utilize that kind of coach on the bench and help provide Espada with information need for managing situations.

This is one path for the future.  It may not be a path for success, but it is a path with intent.  With the current multi-headed, multi-objective, multi-style environment the Orioles currently employ, maybe it is a better path forward.  It calls back to the Oriole Way that Paul Richards employed and that Earl Waever followed.  Maybe the Orioles, like in the 1950s, were in a dump with a poor farm system and not much at the major league level to shake a stick at.  However, being at the bottom means having opportunities to take risks and to try to be at the front of the next innovation.  Introducing management and coaches who are open to exploration and new ways of doing things may be able to get the Orioles out in front of the pack.

Maybe they take this track.  Maybe they find some success in a different one.


Pip said...

I doubt you can answer this, but although I don’t know the specific duties of the various coaches( what does the bench coach do, for instance?) I wonder how often they make suggestions to Buck about this or that and Buck overrules them? Good lieutenants are useless without a wise Captain, and Buck seems committed to questionable moves such as batting Davis fifth and bunting at every opportunity despite not having a team that bunts well.

Pip said...

BTW, Do you know why Andy McPhail opposed hiring Buck?

Jon Shepherd said...

Bench Coach is a term that can have a great deal of different meanings depending on what the manager requires. Generally, a bench coach takes on responsibilities that manager wants to delegate. It often includes some organizational needs as simple as knowing transportation times. It can be conveying messages to grounds crew or players. Some run and organize Spring Training.

Bench coaches can also be valuable in-game for the manager to bounce ideas off of or to handle/control applicable data/information given certain scenarios.

A manager will sometimes use a bench coach to get a read on how his players are responding to his instruction or to have the bench coach directly work with certain guys who may have trouble personally working with the manager's approach.

Jon Shepherd said...

My understanding is that MacPhail preferred Eric Wedge because Wedge would listen to him while Buck was seen as someone who would circumvent the front office to get things he wanted directly from ownership...which is exactly what happened.

Jan Frel said...

Jerry Hairston Jr. had future coach written all over him.

I would very much like to see a statistical review if in fact O's over the past 12 years have a significantly lower percentage of successfully developed pitching from Minors than other teams, and then hear out of the box theories as to why.

Pip said...

Jon,is it a fair assumption that Buck endorsed this roster?
Last year during a Rangers radio broadcast, Eric Nadel Pointed out that the only rotation worse than the 2017 Orioles was the 2002 Texas Rangers conducted by Buck Showalter.
I thought that was very interesting because, when they were going over all the awful pitchers who had thrown for the Rangers during that year, I could not help but see a lot of similarities to the Orioles. If the 25 man rosters of the last couple of years have been made with bucks endorsement instead of over his objections, then there’s no way he should return.