The Dodgers will be interviewing former Angels player Darin Erstad for the vacant managerial position, and while it certainly seems like a confusing choice at first, there’s at least some sense in it.
Of course, initially I had a similar reaction to most people, which was complete dismissal of Erstad as an option. After all, I didn’t even know he was still involved in baseball. But I actually think that was the entire problem, as the more I read about him and what he was doing, the more I understood.
Erstad is now 41 and he’s been the head coach at the University Of Nebraska for the past four seasons. After the school missed the NCAA Tournament for three years in a row and went 82-79-1 over those seasons, Erstad came in and led them back to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and has a 139-97 record in his four seasons. I wouldn’t say he’s exactly been a revelation or anything, but he’s certainly been an improvement so far and they’ve gotten significantly better as he’s had more of the players he recruited on the roster.
But Erstad won’t recruit in the MLB, so how is he tactically?
@ChadMoriyama I think he's one of the better tacticians in the college game, which might be damning with faint praise.
— Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann) October 31, 2015
Yeah, that’s bittersweet and I get what he’s saying.
“We need to address our on-base performance,” Erstad said Monday. “We’ve been solid on defense and had good pitching and decent hitting. But we did not run the bases well and, frankly, we’re not getting on base and that’s on me. I will have to take responsibility and get that worked out.”
“We don’t second-guess, but we have to make adjustments and in order to put pressure on the other defense, we have to get people on base and run the bases better next year. We hit more homers than the previous season, but you have to get people on to do what we want to do.”
…and he’s apparently known for preaching fundamentals and defense. All of that is cliche when writers use it as a narrative to hype up an otherwise solid-average player (like Erstad), but it’s quite important for a coach to instill attention to detail in his players. That said, the other side of college baseball tactics is the extreme amount of sacrifice bunting and the managing of the pitchers being completely different, so he’d probably have to make major adjustments on those fronts.
As far as the clubhouse goes, Erstad’s leadership and work ethic is well documented, and hardly anybody has anything bad to say about him. That led to the annoying “grit” hype that surrounded him as a player, as seen constantly on Fire Joe Morgan. But none of that ignorance seemed to come from him directly, and though anecdotal, it does seem like those around the Nebraska program and their fans do love the job he’s doing.
Furthermore, if he is open to working with information from the front office, it would be hard to argue that a guy like Erstad would be a “puppet” for anybody.
Nice attempt by Zobrist but if they let him play straight up that's a routine out! #saberbaseball
— Jimmy Rollins (@JimmyRollins11) October 31, 2015
Accusations of a manager being a “puppet” of the front office matters not at all coming from media, fans, or bloggers, but if the players thought it was true, then it’s a problem regardless of reality. With Erstad, it would be hard to believe players would stick a strong-minded, player’s player guy like him with similar accusations.
So while Erstad would certainly seem like an odd candidate at first glance, if he adjusts to MLB tactics once out of college baseball (less bunting, lower pitch counts, etc), then it’s not all that crazy. Of course, he runs into many of the same problems Gabe Kapler does, and I’ve already said I would prefer for him not to be the manager in 2016, but the interview is understandable. Even if Erstad doesn’t score this position right now, he might end up in a another position within the organization or the interview could be used later on down the road.
Probably a good move to add stability for 2016 and beyond to the one part of the team that has been reliable throughout all the changes. I’m not necessarily a fan or anything, but I see no reason to mess with it.