The Jays Gamble on a Neophyte
John Farrell was named Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday, a great choice for a team with a young and promising pitching staff looking to compete in the brutal American League East. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman felt differently, however, and took to his Twitter feed with the following:
new #bluejays manager farrell well-regarded but theyre gambling on neophyte in division with francona, girardi, showalter, maddon
We have been tough on Heyman here at times, I admit it. We think he’s been pretty obtuse in his belief that Bert Blyleven doesn’t belong in Cooperstown, and Rich wrote the definitive Heyman takedown over his Scott Boras servitude. With this in mind, I want to try and be cordial towards Heyman despite my frustration with his reaction to Farrell's hiring.
First, there was Heyman's use of the term “neophyte.” A “neophyte” is a novice. One example someone used when I asked whether others on Twitter considered the term derogatory was that Meg Whitman is a political “neophyte”. That sounds right to me. It’s not necessarily derogatory in that light. It’s just a fact. But when applied to someone like Farrell, who has spent his life in baseball, I think it’s misapplied.
In the narrowest sense, yes, Farrell is a “neophyte” as it relates to Major League Baseball Managing. But he appeared in eight separate Major League seasons as a pitcher, so he’s capable of relating to the day-to-day life of a Big Leaguer. Players value that. He also spent six years heading up the Cleveland Indians’ Player Development organization from 2001 to 2006, a time during which they turned out some awfully good players. He’s an excellent evaluator, and has a track record of getting the most out of talent. Finally, in his latest gig, he’s been pitching coach for a team that has won 375 games in four seasons. Player, front office guy, coach. I’m not sure you could come up with a more seasoned professional to take the reins. As far as his overall baseball experience is concerned, he’s anything but a "neophyte".
My wife thought I was nitpicking by isolating that word, however. “A neophyte is someone who is new to something, and Farrell is new to Managing,” she reminded me. Fine, that’s true. We’ll set that aside. She then said, “it’s the world ‘gambling’ that would offend me if I were Farrell.”
As I think more about it, it’s a fantastic point. Who are the better, more experienced Managerial options for Toronto? Would Art Howe or Don Baylor or Jimy Williams or Mike Hargrove be better? And if so, why? Joe Girardi had all of 162 games of Manager experience before the Yankees hired him, and he ended up leading New York to a World Series title last year. That seemed to work out ok. So where exactly is the “gamble”? Who's to say Bobby Valentine wouldn't be a "gamble"?
I think Farrell's the perfect choice for the Jays, a team whose future hinges on its young pitching staff's continued improvement. Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow and Marc Rzepczynski will average 26 years old for the 2011 season. Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart and Brad Mills aren't far behind. Farrell will be able to lean on all of his professional skills - his MLB player experience, player development expertise and pitching coach track record - to help strengthen Toronto's biggest asset, its young pitching.
There may be others like Farrell around the league, but I can’t imagine a better extended apprenticeship than the one Farrell has served leading up to this moment in his career. I don’t mean to pick on Heyman, but I found his remarks to be unfair. Farrell has too much experience in baseball to be considered a “neophyte” (except in the narrowest sense), and his hiring is both sound and the byproduct of a long and drawn-out process by the Jays. They’ve done their diligence. If only Heyman would do the same prior to taking to his keyboard.
Joe Maddon had all of 51 games experience as an interim manager in Anaheim before the Rays hired him. Francona had four seasons in Philadelphia, sure. In which he never won more than 77 games, and lost more than 94 twice. Heyman's a bit daft.
Posted by: Fred at October 26, 2010 7:10 AM
Farrell was one of the smartest non managers in a baseball dugout last season. He has front office experience and pitching coach experience. He was clearly the best managerial candidate this offseason in my mind. He has experience as a scout and with sabermetrics. The only problem I see here is that he might be related to Colin Farrel, besides that there's absolutely nothing not to like! And we already know that Heyman never has anything intelligent to say.
Posted by: Ari Berkowitz at October 26, 2010 7:27 AM
As noted, Farrell has a superb baseball resume. I suppose Heyman would go to the recycling bin and pick one of the usual suspects from the pool of mediocre ex-managers.
Posted by: Al Doyle at October 26, 2010 11:18 AM
It doesn't feel "right," but I find myself somewhat in agreement with Heyman. However poorly he phrased his concerns there can be some validity. Personally, as a Cleveland fan I've felt that coaches get experience on their first stop and then go win on their second or subsequent try. Sure, that feeling is colored by Belichik's success in New England. I'll admit there are recent examples of guys doing well on their first managerial jobs. Some would cite Joe Maddon. However, he had considerable experience as a bench coach which is sort of an assistant manager. Another knock against Farrell is the perception that pitchers struggle as managers. Right or wrong, it is felt that catching is good training to manage but pitching is not. Bud Black did alright this season, but there are many more pitching coaches that failed as managers than succeeded.
In a year or two when we are praising his success or wondering who his successor will be, his success or failure will mostly be a by product of the talent he's given to manage. A manager may cost his team game or two a year, but no manager can win without talent. John McGraw would not have won with this years Indians.
Posted by: Largebill at October 26, 2010 1:49 PM
Trying to read too much meaning from phrasing in a tweet is probably only going to lead to frustration.
Looks like his point was (taking the whole 'sentence') is that Farell is well thought off, but new (to managing) so it's a gamble in the AL East (tough division) with 2 WS winning managers, and 2 other experienced guys.
Don't think it's totally unreasonable position, and then taking into account that posting slightly controversial stuff which gets reposted and commented on etc.. only raises his own publicity
I get the knocks on Heyman, feel it is sometimes overdone...i mean he even came out (early) in support for Felix in the CY this year
All he did here was post a fact, then implied an opinion that had he been the boss, he would've chosen an experienced manager - not much to get upset about really
By the way 'Neophyte' great word :)
Posted by: Paul at October 27, 2010 2:19 AM
I hear ya, Paul. I just thought the tone and substance were both a bit off, and did a disservice to Farrell's stature.
Posted by: Sully at October 27, 2010 7:09 AM
I don't know if Farrell will be a good manager; it's so hard to predict that it's really an exercise in futility, because actually being the manager is a lot different from preparing to be the manager. All of the positive qualities you mention about Farrell -- career as a player, apprenticeship as a coach at the ML level, experience in big markets with high expectations -- could be applied to Willie Randolph. (I actually think Willie got a bit of a bum deal with the Mets, but funny how he's persona non grata now.) My point is there is no way to predict with any degree of confidence how good a manager someone will be. We've had great players (Joe Torre) become excellent managers, and we've had guys with essentially no ML experience (LaRussa, Leyland) do the same. There is no formula.
Posted by: Mike at October 27, 2010 2:05 PM
The writers on this website have a bizarre and unhealthy obsession with Jon Heyman.
Posted by: Anthony at October 27, 2010 7:21 PM
Heyman has endorsed Pettitte for HOF in several of his tweets and continues to knock Blyleven because "nobody thought of him that way" when he played. Even if that were true, no rational thinking person should base a performance award on public perception. And did anybody think Andy Pettitte was a HOF player at any point in his career? I think the percpetion of Pettitte was that he was a solid pitcher but never a dominating presence. But Pettitte's case is in the mold of Jack Morris, so it is no surprises that Heyman endorses Pettitte but still doesn't understand Blyleven's case.
It's also interesting that Heyman has endorsed Felix for CY this year over Sabathia. He has cited low run support as something that has held Felix's Wins down and so he's willing to look beyond that stat. So...if he really understands that Felix was the best pitcher this year regardless of Wins, this makes his lack of awareness of Blyleven's greatness even more mind-boggling.
Posted by: Tuxedo Timmy at October 31, 2010 8:26 AM
Why do you guys always employ a "Fire Joe Morgan"-style critique of Jon Heyman, dissecting and skewering his every word, but do not employ this approach with any other main stream baseball writers (for example, Rob Neyer, Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, Tom Verducci, Dan Shaughnessy, etc.).
I agree that John Farrell is not a "neophyte" and actually seems like a terrific choice to lead the Blue Jays. But would you guys have posted this column if Neyer had used the word "neophyte" in a tweet describing Farrell? Of course not.
It seems as if you guys scour Jon Heyman's columns for anything that can be used to ridicule and lambast him, and the end result is that this comes across as a nasty personal vendetta against one individual rather than informed commentary on another baseball writer's opinions.
Posted by: Anthony at October 31, 2010 9:48 PM
Hi Anthony - Heyman's name turns up 3 times in 2010 on Baseball Analysts. Today is November 1st.
And you might check around our archives to see if there is any material on Shaughnessy.
Posted by: Sully at November 1, 2010 7:27 AM