Baseball Analysts - The HR Files
Two days before Game 1 of the World Series, three managerial moves dominated the Major League Baseball headlines. The San Diego Padres officially announced Jed Hoyer as their General Manager, the Cleveland Indians named their new Manager, Manny Acta, and the St. Louis Cardinals made Mark McGwire Hitting Coach.
Hoyer is 35 and as some may recall, a friend of Baseball Analysts. In 2007 he was kind enough to discuss with Rich and me his background and how he thinks about personnel evaluation, among other topics. I'm not sure there's a more comprehensive look at Hoyer's mindset anywhere else so if you're interested, check it out. Here's an excerpt:
Pat: Do you have any regrets about trading Hanley Ramirez?
Jed: Do I wish that Hanley was still in our organization? Absolutely. But I don't have any regrets about trading him for Josh Beckett. While Josh didn't have the kind of year he had hoped for in 2006, that certainly hasn't changed the way we look at him as a pitcher. Pitching in the AL East is a challenge and the fact that Josh was eager to sign a long-term deal in Boston tells us that he is excited about meeting that challenge head-on. You can't acquire extremely talented 25-year old starting pitchers cheaply. We don't have Josh Beckett without trading Hanley Ramirez. And we are very excited to have Josh Beckett.
Jed's just a total pro, and we wish him all the best as he endeavors to rebuild a San Diego Padres organization that is currently in tough shape.
In hiring Manny Acta, the Indians have given the reins over to a Manager with a career .385 win percentage. So, how and why is he qualified? What does General Manager Mark Shapiro see in Acta? Terry Pluto's report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer may offer a glimpse:
I asked Acta what were his favorite stats, and he gave an answer right from the Tribe's playbook: The on-base percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Ah, yes. "The on-base percentage."
This interview with Squawking Baseball also confirms Acta's philosophy:
SB: You’re obviously a very statistically-inclined manager. How do you think that gives you an advantage over managers that aren’t as progressive?
MA: I want to win. More than being statistically-inclined, I’m very open minded. If someone can show me things that I didn’t already know, I am willing to change. I’m not stubborn. If the statistical evidence shows I’m wrong, and it helps me and my team win baseball games, then I would be a fool not to listen.
SB: Looking back, have there been any decisions that you made that perhaps you wouldn’t have if you had not been so aware of sabermetrics?
MA: I would have bunted less when I managed in the minors. I still would have had the minor leaguers run, because winning isn’t the most important thing down there, and most players have the green light to work on their baserunning skills.
Acta seems to say all the right things and it's not hard to see why Shapiro might like him. Now that Acta takes over a club that was just a game away from the World Series in 2007 (albeit without the two Game 1 World Series starters, but still...), Acta should have a chance to prove his open-mindedness can generate results.
The St. Louis Cardinals' choice to bring on McGwire as their Hitting Coach has predictably drawn criticism and also some wisecracks.
I'm inclined to give McGwire a chance. He saw a ton of pitches every season and his career 114 walks per 162 games played screams of precisely the sort of approach that I would want my offensive attack to adopt. Whether he will be able to teach inferior sluggers to focus on pitch recognition and patience, or if he even realizes that such a philosophy was much of what made him a great hitter, remains to be seen. But if the way he took to the plate is directionally where the Cards want to head as an organization, that would be good news to me if I were a St. Louis fan.
The common thread in these three personnel choices is that there is a progressive approach that Hoyer, Acta and McGwire take in their respective roles. Hoyer is a Wesleyan grad who has worked alongside Theo Epstein his whole career in baseball, Acta speaks openly about sabermetric principles and McGwire's patient approach over the course of his career reflected many of these same principles. Baseball continues to evolve.