The Dodgers parted ways with Don Mattingly yesterday after five years, and the reaction understandably ranged from thrilled to unaffected. That’s expected, as the worst parts of Mattingly’s managerial skills were the ones on display during games, and since the Dodgers have had World Series aspirations for a while now and haven’t gotten it done, nobody was gonna be shedding tears over this split. I get it.
Of course, I also get that the takes in reaction to this move have to be scorching and plentiful, but personally I’ve always leaned to the unaffected side of things when it comes to retaining or firing Mattingly despite my criticism of his in-game decisions. Seeing the reality of how most managers do things around the league, and thus not exactly seeing exponential room for improvement, has led me to value a stable clubhouse, which is something Mattingly somehow managed to provide despite an admittedly difficult composition of personalities. Mattingly deserves credit for this.
Mattingly also doesn’t deserve blame for the Dodgers not making it to the mountaintop in the playoffs, as he doesn’t win or lose games by himself, at least not more than the front office and players do. However, while those who pretend like firing Mattingly will solve the Dodgers problems are amusing at best, equally comical are the suggestions in the vein that Mattingly lacked autonomy and thus can’t be blamed much at all.
Today's "If you give MGR info, how can he be held accountable for lineup?" was last year's "Who answers phone when other GMs call?"
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) October 22, 2015
My favorite part of Mattingly's tenure was the media straining to imply that he never made any decisions for himself
— Daniel Brim (@DanielBrim) October 23, 2015
In the wake of the mutual parting between Mattingly and the Dodgers, much has been written in defense of Mattingly from similarly couched viewpoints. The problem with this theory is that his in-game decision making problems are not anything new and have only improved with the new front office, so to attempt to frame this like these new saber-fiends framed him after robbing him of his autonomy is bizarre. The reality is that problems with his in-game management have been at the top of the list of complaints since almost literally his first day on the job, and that’s been across about a half dozen combinations of ownership, team presidents, and general managers that diverged immensely in approach to baseball decisions. On top of that, any adjustments Mattingly has made since Stan Kasten has arrived can only be described as positive ones (less bunting, more shifting, more platoons), so if that was robbing him of his autonomy for wanting to do more dumb stuff, then … good?
Regardless of whether you feel this decision was for the better or worse, Mattingly is now in the past, and the speculation regarding who the next manager of the Dodgers can begin. The future will be arriving shortly, and there are a ton of candidates to sift through, but I’ve come up with a handful of candidates who are either most likely to get looks or who should get looks to be the next Dodgers manager.
Black was fired by the Padres 65 games into the 2015 season, after which the team went from one game under .500 to 14 games under. Black pitched for 15 seasons in the majors and had a career ERA+ of 104, but you know him best for being the manager of the Padres since 2006. Black was the 2010 National League Manager Of The Year, but it’s an award that Matt Williams has recently proven means next to nothing.
Rather than playing career or accolades, the real case for hiring Black is that he provides experience and a knowledge of the divisional opponents, draws praise for managing the clubhouse’s internal workings throughout multiple regime changes, and he grades out as one of the best handlers of the bullpen in baseball. Say what you want about Mattingly improving, but I’ve always thought his bullpen usage and the odd double switches that would accompany them was the actual glaring area of weakness, and with Black the Dodgers may actually improve significantly from a tactical perspective.
If Black is open to front office input, and he’d have to be to score the job, then this appears to be the minimal downside move that still allows the possibility to improve demonstrably in the area that the previous manager was weak. Black’s probably not the sexiest or trendiest pick on the list, but for a team that doesn’t have time to work the kinks out for a year, he may be the best option for a seamless transition.
Roenicke came to the Dodgers in August in a seemingly sudden move to replace Lorenzo Bundy as the third base coach. This came after being fired three months earlier from the Brewers after four plus years on the job there.
I know less about Roenicke’s managerial tendencies, but I do know that the Dodgers may not want to lose him as an assistant. Since he came on board with the Dodgers in August, the team posted a baserunning rating of +0.6 runs. Prior to that, the Dodgers ranked near last in the league at -15.6 runs on the bases. Perhaps it was coincidence, but almost immediately after Roenicke joined, the Dodgers basestealing efficiency improved, egregious baserunning mental errors were reduced, and the previously much-maligned baserunning generally stopped being an area that was talked about as a major problem.
The ideal situation would appear to be one where Roenicke would remain with the Dodgers, but not as the manager.
By almost all accounts, Wallach is respected and a quality communicator in the clubhouse, but I’m not sure what the point would be of the Dodgers going in this direction. If the Dodgers wanted to go a different direction than Mattingly, then hiring his bench coach probably isn’t the best way to get a fresh look at the team.
Yes, Wallach would be the safest of the options and would probably ruffle the fewest feathers, but I’m not sure that’s what the Dodgers wanted. Plus, from the few instances we’ve seen him manage games in Mattingly’s stead, I haven’t seen much tactically that made him different from Don.
The Dodgers newly hired Director Of Player Development has had speculation swirl of an eventual move to the dugout since he was hired, and things certainly seem to be lining up for those rumors to come true. Kapler had a 12-year journeyman type of career in the majors, and he has in fact manged before in A-ball with the Greenville Drive, though he does lack any experience on an MLB staff.
Yes, many teams have elected to go with a younger former player manager who has made the leap to the MLB managerial post, but I would question whether the Dodgers really need to go that radical or not. I don’t see why, for instance, Kapler couldn’t be brought along slower as a a bench coach first rather than throwing him into the fire and hoping he emerges unscathed with a team that really can’t afford to have elongated adjustment periods.
To be clear, I loved Kapler’s hire, and I absolutely think he could do just about anything he wanted in baseball, but throwing him into the Dodgers situation almost seems unfair to him. At this point, I’m hoping he can continue to either improve the team’s player development or would help out in the dugout as a bench coach or something like that (also make everybody lift weights like him).
Martinez has been the top managerial candidate in waiting for years now, and he has served as the bench coach for the Rays from 2007 to 2014 under Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, and followed Maddon to the Cubs in 2015.
The rave reviews he got from the Rays have carried over the Cubs and their players this year, which would seem to indicate that he could step in a be a positive clubhouse leader regardless of situation.
The question then becomes tactics, and in this interview with David Laurila of FanGraphs, he gives a general idea of what he might be like. For starters, similar to Maddon seems accurate.
DL: Do you and Maddon differ on anything philosophically?
DM: I’d have to say no. We pretty much hit it on the nail. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot over the last five years with the way Joe thinks, and the way he does things. He’s opened my eyes to a lot of different things. From what I know from playing, from dealing with players, and from what he knows about basically everything in the game, we do a great job together.
If we disagree on something, it’s usually more about feel. When that happens, my first question is always, “Why?” I ask because I want to learn. He’s been an unbelievable teacher, so when he goes against something I think we would normally do, I want to know why.
But like Maddon, they are not necessarily going to make the sabermetrics-approved moves in regards to reckless abandon to baserunning (addressed in same interview) and bunting.
DL; Earlier this year you had the most sacrifice bunts in the American League. Do you maybe bunt too much?
DM: We do bunt a lot. We take all of the information and if we deem it’s necessary to bunt, we do. A lot of time, the situation of the game will dictate that. You see more bunting in the National League, because of the pitchers, but do you know what? This team is built on pitching, defense, and occasional home runs. Joe and I look at it as us needing to do all of the little things right in order to be successful.
But in terms of working with a lot of information from the front office, like Maddon, Martinez would be used to that.
DL: Information is a big part of how the Rays do things.
DM: Absolutely. We have a great source of people upstairs providing information. They give us a packet before each series and we take what we deem necessary. As the bench coach, I get everything for the outfield, the infield, and hitting. Tom Foley, our third base coach, gets all of the infield preparation. George [Hendrick] gets all the outfield preparation. Shelton gets all the hitting. [Jim] Hickey gets all the pitching information. When Joe needs something, we have it.
There are situations in the game where something pops up, and I try to be a step ahead of Joe in his thinking. During the course of the game, he’s thinking about pitching, he’s thinking about match-ups, he’s thinking about pinch-hitting. Everything.
There might be a situation where I say, “Hey Joe, next inning we might need to run for so-and-so if this happens.” Or we might need a pinch-hitter for a certain guy, so I’ll say, ’Hey Joe, this guy matches up better with this guy.” I’ll give him the information and he’ll say yea or nay. He has a lot going on during a game, so I’ll try to stay ahead of him with any information he might need.
It’s all quite positive in terms of his reputation and for the way he deduces what the right move is, and my main question would be how he’d handle the bullpen.
Acta managed the Nationals for three years from 2007-09 and the Indians for three years from 2010-12, never making much headway at either stop, though to not much fault of his own.
Notably, Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus wrote about mourning the loss of Acta back in 2012 after he was fired by the Indians.
If Acta’s job security were tied to his tactical skills, Sandy Alomar, Jr. might still be his bench coach instead of his interim replacement. Acta has talked about reading Baseball Prospectus and mentioned Mind Game as his favorite book. He stressed the importance of preserving outs as opposed to sacrifice bunting. He valued efficiency in stealing, and he said strikeouts weren’t so bad. He understood how to properly leverage relievers. He referred to BABIP by its acronym. He was, by all accounts, us, but with a better personality and experience as a professional player and big-league coach.
Many managers pay lip service to saber-savvy strategies just after they’re hired. When they get to the dugout, they go by their gut. But Acta’s teams walk the (unintentional) walk. Nothing annoys the average blogger more than a sacrifice bunt, but Cleveland fans haven’t had much cause for complaint. Acta’s Indians have attempted 15 fewer this season than the next-most sac-averse team. They’ve issued the ninth-fewest intentional walks. And while we can’t necessarily attribute the platoon advantage to Acta, Indians batters have faced same-handed pitchers in a lower percentage of their plate appearances than any other team.
That basically perfectly sums up his tactical awareness, and perhaps most importantly, Acta has never been given a chance by a quality team.
One still has to wonder. Five seasons later, we haven’t seen Acta as the skipper of a successful team. And that brings us to the numbers Acta probably doesn’t like to look at: 372 and 518. Those are his teams’ combined wins and losses, respectively. That’s not just bad, it’s historically bad, and there’s no way to avoid it. It’s right there in the first paragraph of his Wikipedia page: “Only two managers in Major League Baseball history have managed more games than Acta and had a lower winning percentage than Acta’s .418 mark.”
Clearly, Acta has failed to turn poor teams into contenders. He inherited a Nationals team that had just finished 71-91 and he was fired three years later after finishing 59-103. He inherited an Indians team that had just finished 65-97 and was dumped after the same number of seasons by one that went 65-91. If you think turning poor teams into contenders is a skill possessed by good managers, then the only possible conclusion is that Acta is an utter failure. But it’s quite a stretch to think that. It’s just too easy to find examples that say otherwise.
Here’s an obvious one: in 12 seasons with Casey Stengel as skipper, the Yankees’ winning percentage was .623. They won seven World Series and missed the playoffs just twice (once when they won 103 games). But in 13 seasons with other teams—both before and after his stint in New York—Stengel’s winning percentage was .397, worse than Acta’s is so far. None of his non-Yankees teams ever came close to a pennant. He finished with a career record just a shade over .500. And he’s in the Hall of Fame. If a good team ever gives Acta a chance, he has plenty of time to turn his record around.
So hypothetically, Acta is like a sabermetric dream manager, and the Dodgers could be his Yankees that change the perception of him forever.
But it’s not exactly all roses. I admittedly get nervous whenever there are rumblings about communication issues or losing a clubhouse or a lack of energy/passion.
NatsNut: Dave, I’m not looking for a bash-Manny-fest or anything, but generally speaking, what would sportswriters, insiders, players, etc. say was the one weakness of Manny’s that needed replacing? You know, besides the losing.
Dave Sheinin: There were a lot of things I liked about Manny, including (most of the time) his game management and handling of pitchers. This may seem too obvious — but the one thing everyone would change about him is his lack of obvious passion. That doesn’t mean he didn’t care. It just means he needed to argue a call once in awhile, or hold a couple more clubhouse meetings, or simply show some emotion in a news conference if only to make it clear the losing was tearing him up inside.
…to his time with the Indians in Lindbergh’s own article…
There is one area in which Acta may have fallen flat. When he was hired, the Plain Dealer reported that the Indians liked “Acta’s multicultural background and his ability to relate to their Latin American players.” But some sources say that some of the Indians’ American players resented him and believed that he favored the Latinos on the team. Acta was certainly aware of that danger—when asked about the difference between Latino and American-born players in his 2010 interview at BP, he said, “from day one you have to get your point across that everyone is going to be treated the same.” Maybe he failed to convey that point.
…there’s definitely an undertone that he doesn’t get his vision across to players or that he doesn’t get the players to buy-in, and despite whatever tactical genius may lay inside Acta, if he can’t reach players, it’s a major cause for concern.
That is, of course, not to say Acta couldn’t fix the mistakes he’s made in the past, but if the Dodgers were to hire him, it would be an interesting gamble indeed.
Renteria played as an infielder for five years in the MLB before becoming a coach and manager in the Marlins and the Padres systems. Eventually, he scored a managerial job with the Cubs, but was unfortunately ousted after a year in favor of Maddon.
At the time of his hiring by the Cubs, he was described as a type who would reach players.
Renteria is known as a hands-on teacher and a strong communicator. His ability to speak Spanish is believed to be a plus for the Cubs.
Renteria obviously never got a fair shake in the role, and while he seems like a long-shot to secure this job with the Dodgers, it would seem like he might at least be in the running.
Montoyo is probably the least-recognized name on the list, but he managed the Durham Bulls in AAA with the Rays under Friedman, and was promoted to the MLB squad in 2015. He played just four games in the majors before retiring, but has managed in every year since retiring, except 2015 when he’s been with the Rays.
The Friedman connection is the main reason he’s being mentioned here, but that’s a lot of managerial experience on his resume, and he could be a strong candidate that we just don’t know a ton about.
Geren is the current Mets bench coach, and he’s a five-year MLB veteran as a catcher, and he managed the A’s from 2007-11. That means Geren managed the Athletics while Zaidi was in the front office, and for the Mets he’s the analytics guy in the dugout.
Geren is the statistician among the coaches on the staff, and a student of advanced metrics who provides meaningful data to Terry Collins in-game.
The area of concern is that while the Athletics manager, he had Huston Street and Brian Fuentes (relievers) absolutely trash him in the media, and whether you feel their complaints were valid or not, it speaks to management in some form.
In September 2008, Street had to be separated from Geren by shortstop Bobby Crosby after getting pulled from a game in Detroit. Calling himself “selfish,” Street later held a meeting to apologize to his teammates.
On Tuesday, Street, now with the Rockies, offered his harshest public criticism of Geren in a text to Chronicle reporter Susan Slusser:
“Bob was never good at communication, and I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but it was a sentiment reflected in many conversations during the two years I spent in Oakland, and even recently when talking to guys after I left. For me personally, he was my least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports from age 6 to 27. I am very thankful to be in a place where I can trust my manager.”
Brian Fuentes rips into Bob Geren: “Unorthodox managing. I thought it was a NL thing. But tonight was pretty unbelievable.”
Fuentes on how much Geren communicates with him: “zero.”
When Fuentes got call in 8th inning in 1-1 game today: “I thought he misspoke. I thought it was a mistake.”
Ranking Geren with his other managers, Fuentes said, “It’s a pretty drastic difference.”
Fuentes said it’s not just him when it comes to Geren: “I don’t think anybody knows what direction he’s headed.”
Time for a clear-the-air session with Geren? Fuentes: “At this point, I have nothing to say.”
So, uh, yeah.
Cora is a former Dodgers player and had a 14-year career in the majors. He’s consistently by baseball people as potential managerial material, and he also carries a reputation as an excellent communicator despite the fact that he works at ESPN as an analyst.
Cora does have managerial experience in the Puerto Rican Winter League, though it’s rather terrifying that he cites Jim Tracy as a mentor.
Those are 10 candidates that I either think will be major factors in this managerial search or should be. And as quality as most of those candidates are, I also see some other suggestions for the manager job that keep popping up on my Twitter timeline that make me want to use that ‘Men In Black‘ flashy thing and forget I ever saw the idea pushed forward.
Baker is basically the antithesis of the direction the Dodgers want to go, and where baseball, as a whole, is going.
The snarky side of me wants to say that at least if he’s the manager, the Dodgers will have Clayton Kershaw throwing every pitch for the team in the playoffs.
Why is this a thing for some fans? I dunno. But Kennedy provides almost daily evidence via Dodger Talk that I would never want him to manage the Dodgers.
Scioscia might be a fit with the Angels, but let’s be honest here, he basically does more of all the bad things Mattingly did, would 99.9% clash with the front office, and he thinks he’s above the GM. Yeah … no.
Despite all the words you just read, the reality is that media, bloggers, and fans still don’t know much of anything in regards to evaluating managers, primarily because they don’t know much about the inner workings of an organization and everything that goes into becoming a successful manager.
As such, it’s difficult to feel too certain about which managers will work and which managers will not, but based on their pasts, what others have said about them, and what they’ve said about themselves, we can try to cobble together a semi-cohesive picture of what they might be like in the role.
After going through this whole exercise myself, the only thing I’m sure about is that I’d like Gabe Kapler in a bench coach role and Ron Roenicke to stay at third base, and either Bud Black, Dave Martinez, or Manny Acta as the Dodgers next manager.
But that’s just me, what say you?