Ron Gardenhire becomes the 38th manager of the Detroit Tigers after being introduced at Comerica Park, Friday, October 20, 2017.
Major League Baseball’s unemployment line of managers is impressive.
There’s John Farrell, who won the 2013 World Series with the Red Sox and most recently led them to back-to-back American League East division championships. There’s Dusty Baker, who won at least 95 games in each of his two seasons with the Nationals and received a pink slip for early postseason exits. And then there’s Joe Girardi, whose contract with the Yankees was not renewed earlier in the week after 10 successful seasons in New York and taking a young team within one game of a World Series this year.
The trend towards younger, more analytics-inclined managers began a long time ago. But with the managerial moves this off-season, it has finally reached a head-scratching level where teams appear to be trying to re-invent the wheel of what a manager should be.
With only three years experience covering baseball, I can merely provide educated opinions on the process. Many of the men making these decisions have been in high-level baseball positions longer than I’ve been alive.
But I’d venture to guess the teams disposing of the Bakers and Girardis of the world will find that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and that experience in the manager’s chair is much greater than an ever-evolving knowledge of analytics.
There is certainly a large place for analytics in this game played by human beings. It’s evident in the World Series, in which the Astros and Dodgers – teams which have wholly adapted to analytics – are vying for the top prize. (The Dodgers also have one of the top payrolls in baseball.)
But from my perspective, analytics are of greater use in player development and talent acquisition than in a managerial role.
First and foremost, managers need to be leaders of men. They need to set the tone in the clubhouse with accountability and put out the small fires that pop-up on both winning and losing teams.
And experience counts. Nothing can take the place of games inside the manager’s chair, which the Tigers saw first-hand as former manager Brad Ausmus took more than a year’s time to get up to speed on the job.
There is something to be said about expectations and change and fresh starts, but at some point, those three factors can work against an organization.
The game of baseball has been played for over 100 years. There are certain aspects of the game, like defensive positioning and run expectancy and bullpen usage, that can be aided by the vast numerical data now calculated by teams. But to present those aspects as the most important for a manager is overlooking the human nature of the game, which reigns superior.
There is no metric that accounts for communication, which is arguably the most important job of a manager. No metric for motivation, a natural byproduct of leadership in a managerial role.
I agree with the Tigers’ current philosophy of beefing up their analytical department with an eye to the future, while bringing in a proven, experienced manager like Ron Gardenhire to usher their young players through formative seasons. At the Tigers’ stage – still years away from competing – the human side of things far outweighs the analytical side of things.
Analytics are but a piece of the puzzle in building a winning organization, one that should be respected as much as any other. But with the way things have gone this off-season, with proven winners out in managerial roles all over the league, it’s fair to wonder whether managers as we know them are a dying breed.
And I don’t think that’s a positive development for baseball.
Contact Anthony Fenech: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.