Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holy Resurrection! John Gibbons redux

Fired manager returns to the Blue Jays

Anthpolous and Gibbons in the ceremonial jersey giveaway
Rene Johnson / TorStar
Everyone in the baseball world was taken aback by the hiring of John Gibbons as the new manager of the Blue Jays. Even John Gibbons himself seemed to be out of words when he spoke of his hiring. And clearly, as much as when Cito's rehiring was out of the blue, this hiring was as well. Reviews of the hiring have been mixed, with an overwhelmingly positive bias in Toronto but a negative bias elsewhere.

In my opinion, Gibbons had his chance to manage the Jays and he failed. He went to a bench coach for the Royals for 3+ seasons and then ended up managing the AA San Antonio Missions last year.

The Jays and those who are happy about the hiring gloss the incidents with Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly. And there are probably other incidents out there that were unreported as well. His record as manager was 305-305, but his record should have been better than it was. Whether that's due to poor managing or bad luck is unclear, but his pythagorean win-loss should have been led to more actual wins.

2006 was by far his most successful year. With five regulars batting .300+ and nine players with an OPS over .800, (Overbay, Glaus, Catalanotto, Wells, Rios, Hillenbrand, Reed Johnson, Zaun!, and Hinske), and Roy Halladay, AJ Burnett and Lilly on the mound, the Jays were indeed formidable, and they wound up 87-75 but finished well out of a playoff spot 8 games back of the Detroit Tigers.

2007 should have been a better year for the Jays. They ended up 83-79, but the hitting went significantly downhill and the pitching went significantly better.

But 2008 is telling. The Jays started under Gibbons going 35-37 and finally, in Milwaukee, Gibbons was unceremoniously fired and replaced with Cito Gaston, who had a very veteran friendly management style. After that point in time, the Jays went 51-37 and despite an 86 win season, finished 4th in the AL.

People point out that Gibbons knew how to manage a bullpen. My experience is that he pulled pitchers too soon. The pythagorean win-loss was always higher than the actual results, and usually, I attribute that result to managing over pure luck.

And while the Hillenbrand battle might have been necessary, the Lilly one was not. Clearly both player and manager might have been frustrated blowing an 8 run lead in the 3rd inning, but the end result of a fight in the dugout tunnel was not the correct result.

And no one hired Gibbons once he was gone. His career went downhill. There are far more successful managers with colorful histories, such as Billy Martin, who could both get into fights and successfully manage a team. And there are other experienced managers out there who were capable of managing the club.

So, while the Sportsnet and some other Toronto outlets paints this in a positive light, I just can't. this guy is just mediocre, at best. 

People who are negative on the deal state that management really can't affect wins and losses anyway, and I don't buy that. Managers make critical decisions in lineups, bullpen matchups, pinch hitters and runners, defensive shifts, steals, hit and runs, and other in-game decisions.

Cito, for example, never used the running game and favored his veterans, while Farrell used stealth and the running game to generate runs. That is why the Jays did so well in converting runs despite the poor batting average and OBP. In another example, Farrell utilized the defensive shift extensively in order to save runs, and as a result, the Jays finished 2nd in MLB in defensive runs saved.

I'm not sure Gibbons managed his lineup very well either. In 2006, it was pretty consistent, in that the lineup usually was Johnson - Catalenotto - Wells - Glaus - Overbay at the start of the line up and Hill / McDonald-Adams at the bottom of the lineup.

But in 2007, the lineup was a hodgepodge. Rios - Wells - Johnson at the top of the order and just an irregular lineup throughout. I wonder how the players performed as a result of that. Well, it seemed like the team just couldn't put it together hitting-wise in 2007 as Wells, Overbay, and Johnson had significantly worse seasons.

It will be interesting to see what Gibbons brings to the table in 2013. He has been given alot of tools. The team has already pretty agreed that the top four of the lineup will be Reyes - Cabrera - Bautista - Encarnacion, with Lind, Lawrie, Rasmus, Arencibia (Buck), and Bonafacio / Izturis wrapping the lineup. Of course with Lind, Rasmus, and Arencibia being inconsistent, that part of the order will undoubtably change. Gibbons clearly has the tenacity to move the lineup around based on performance and will undoubtably ruffle sensitive feathers (think Rasmus) in doing so.

Certainly, Gibbons personality is much much different than Farrell. John Farrell seems to be an accountant out there, uncomfortable with his emotions, very much under control and not really having the ability to manage a large group of players. Gibbons on the other hand, even by this press conference, seems to be quite emotional and passionate. The players will need to get used to his style of leadership and passion.

It will be interesting to see how Gibbons manages the running game with speed being an incredible weapon this year with Reyes, Bonafacio, and Davis on the team (and Gose late in the summer). Both Gibbons and Gaston underutilized the running game, while Farrell might have overexploited it. I expect to see Rajai stay put a fair bit more and expect to see alot more discipline on the basepaths. Still, I hope to see about 120 stolen bases in total from the club next year, with Bonafacio, Reyes and Davis leading the pack. I hope to see Davis utilized late in the game for running speed especially if a Lind, Rasmus, or Arencibia gets on base.

It will also be interesting to see how Gibbons utlilizes the defensive shift, which John Farrell used extensively in 2012.

Who will Gibbons bring to him as coaches? Don Wakamatsu (bench), Dwayne Murphy (hitting), Bruce Walton (pitching), Rivera, and Walker (bullpen) remain on the club right now.

I suspect that only Bruce Walton will remain (he was bullpen coach under Gibbons), but that Murphy and Wakamatsu might be gone. That wouldn't be terrible news. Wakamatsu was fired from the Mariners reportedly for a fracas between him and Figgins. Who will Gibbons will bring in as base coaches. Will the Jays see Ernie Whitt return as bench coach? Maybe see Roberto Alomar on the field as a base coach? With Anthopoulos at the helm, one never knows, but in the press conference, he promised an answer in the next couple of weeks.

Well, the transformation seems to be mostly complete. The Jays have depth at catching which I think they'll use to hire their final bench player, another starter, or even an experienced 2nd baseman. The AAA minor league seems sufficiently stocked in the outfield with Gose, Sierra, Perales, and Nanita. D'Arnaud will catch. Hughes, McCoy, Goins/Woodward, and Cooper will be in the infield. The pitching staff will be a mixed bag to be sure, but expect Jenkins to start in AAA.

The "why" behind Anthopolous' move is pretty clear. Anthopolous, in securing the mega-deal and hiring a manager he knows quite well, is pretty much putting the season and the success of the Jays on his shoulders. By hiring someone who is a known, Anthopolous cannot blame anyone else but himself if the Jays do not succeed next year. He's putting that on himself, and that's an admirable thing.

What's clear is that there are more moves to come as this crazy off-season continues.

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