Schools of Management

There is a reason the position of “head coach” is called Manager in baseball. If you broke down the responsibilities, or areas of influence, for a MLB manager, it may look something like this:

10% coaching/instruction
15% strategy and game-related decisions
75% personnel management

These are entirely unofficial best guesses by yours truly. I am quite certain that extensive statistical studies have been done to determine just how many wins a MLB manager can add or subtract to a team by his performance*. My guess is that those studies are not able to properly quantify a manager as having a significant impact on a club’s performance. The reason for that is that his impact comes in the form of metaphorical actions like massaging egos, patting a back, or kicking a butt when necessary. Most of all, the manager must be the emotional leader from which his 25-man team can draw strength, direction, and motivation.

*A quick google search reveals this belief to be true. Chris Jaffe has written a book entitled Evaluating Baseball’s Managers. You can read an interesting interview with Chris here.

The reason I am pontificating on the role of a MLB manager was sparked by the current opponent of the Texas Rangers, the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine this offseason to replace Terry Francona, who was reported to have lost control of the clubhouse. The first two weeks of Valentine’s tenure has got me comparing him to the Rangers own manager, Ron Washington. I have to say, it certainly makes me glad to have Wash standing at the top step of the dugout for my favorite team.

One of many great “Wash-isms” is to “do what the game asks you to do”. This is another way of saying that it’s important to play the game the right way. Washington exudes this attitude through his in-game management style, which is at times to the chagrin of some of the best armchair managers in the D/FW metroplex. Wash will put a struggling reliever in a tough situation, or leave a slumping hitter in his lineup, all because he believes in playing the game the right way. This results in two key outcomes as a manager: (1) Wash builds trust with his players. He doesn’t yank them around or shatter their confidence by managing scared. He puts them in a position to succeed or fail, and the rest is up to them. (2) The players feed off of this mentality in their approach on the mound, at the plate, or in the field. Always, this Rangers club is looking to play the right way with fundamental baseball that lays the foundation for this talented club to mount up victories.

Washington can at times be a bit of a punch line for his sentence structure, but much like Yogi Berra, grammar and subject/verb agreement should not stand in the way of the wisdom behind the words. “That’s the way baseball go” is fun to say, but is also insightfully relevant to a baseball team. If the Rangers had been on the receiving end of an 18-3 loss last night, or if a player had started the season in a slump the way Kevin Youkilis has, I’m certain the message from Washington would have been along the lines of “that’s the way baseball go”. Inevitably, over the course of 162 games, bad stuff is going to happen. Wash understands that, and makes it clear that there is no reason to get too down on yourself just because the game of baseball can be cruel at times.

Along the same lines, Washington also preaches that it is important to “respect the game”. For an elite team like the Rangers, this means that despite what the pre-season rankings say, the games still have to be played, and any team is capable of beating you on any night. This holds true when playing the Twins, or the Mariners, or on the day after a 15-run victory. You still have to respect the fact that the other team certainly can, and will, beat you if you don’t put forth your best effort.  

I am not inherently familiar with Valentine’s management style. But just this week he has publicly criticized a slumping Youkilis, and has given his bullpen a vote of no confidence by refusing to pull starter Daniel Bard from the 7th inning of a 0-0 game in which he was clearly tired. The repercussions of these decisions manifested themselves in Bard walking in the winning run of that game, Youkilis striking out in all 4 plate appearances last night, and the bullpen surrendering 11 runs in 7 innings. I don’t know what Valentine’s message to the Red Sox after last night’s loss, but I doubt it was along the lines of “that’s the way baseball go”. I’m skeptical it was even a “pull your head out your butts and let’s go play ball tomorrow”. While I am not familiar with Valentine as a manager, I can say with confidence that Washington would never have done any of these three things, to his credit and his team’s benefit.

After just 11 games, Valentine is doing damage control, while Washington simply has to sit back and “do what he do”. He has so finely managed his ball club that they are firing on all cylinders, fully aware of the expectations placed on them and the roles they are called on to complete. No matter what the statistical analysis says, that means something to a ball club. As a fan, that means something to me. I’m glad I have the old school brother at the steering wheel. He is executing his job in his own way, at the highest level imaginable, and is getting the results to once again affirm that he is one of the best in baseball at the Manager position.


Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @Peter_Ellwood
Peter Ellwood

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