As just about everyone in the baseball media has pointed out there has been a move towards hiring managers without a lot of managing experience, especially in the minors, but in every case the players were known as good not great players who were hard-nosed and hard-working. The best player of the bunch – Gibson in Arizona, remains the only MVP Winner who never made an AS game (that stat still amazes me). Mathany in STL and Ventura of the ChiSox were also solid players but like Walt Weiss, were never THE guy on their team, or even the #2 guy. But they were leaders on their teams, they listened and obviously learned a lot from their managers. Mike Redmond in Miami (wonder how longer before Miami demands they go back to being the Florida Marlins) is probably the least regarded player, but again well-respected by his teammaters (how badly did he want to be a manager for him to take that gig?). Listening to a discussion here in COS on the radio and newspaper about Glenallen Hill, the new Sky Sox managers and former Rox base-coach, I can see why there may not be a lot of value in being a minor-league manager. He is doing a great job for the Rockies system – playing left-handers against tough lefties so they can see what they can do. He sends out pitchers to get their work, even if they are not doing well. You know…seeing what the team has in their farm system – great service to an organization but not much value when it comes to learning how to manage and the big stage.
So what guys like Weiss bring to the table is their reputation. They are also viewed as “player’s coaches,” but unlike what that has meant in some places (“do what they heck you want”), in Arizona, Chicago and St. Louis it has meant a minimum of mickey mouse as long as you work your backside off every inning, every AB, every pitch. Now you have to have a certain amount of talent. Kirk Gibson’s first season he got great pitching from Ian Kennedy and others, plus he still had JUp. Is there still enough talent there? Ventura took over a team with good talent but got more out of it than I thought they had. They were a week from winning the division. That team played very very hard everytime I watched them for 9 innings. StL of course was the defending WS champs, so you could say that Matheny under-performed (ha) by not-repeating, but he had a lot of changes to deal with (including the loss of the team’s long-time pitching guru). Again, StL was a team that pressured teams every inning. I actually think last year’s team may have been better than the Puljos Cardinals because they knew they were not getting bailed out by King Albert.
Which brings us to Walt Weiss. People, like in the Ken Rosenthal have stressed that he learned the idea of competing from LaRussa. Maybe so. But guys like Walt Weiss were winners and successful as they were because they knew they could not take ABs or innings off if they were to stay in the bigs (maybe less so guys like Ventura and Gibson). So yes, LaRussa may have taught him that but it was reinforcing what made him who he was by nature. Yes you have to have talent but you also have to have will – unless you are just massivly talented (here is good question – would JUp be having the start this year if he had not been challenged by the DBacks dumping him?).
So who is Walt Weiss as a manager 15 games in? Well, his hire of Dante Bichette was a great insight. Dante has taught the guys he coached in Florida to be both agressive and smart – to have a plan – in their ABs. I knew he had success there and I always thought his 2-strike approach was super smart, more like baseball in its glory years rather than in the “Rise of the K” era since 1990. But could he coach and get professional hitters to buy into the idea? So far…so good. The idea was bold and it spoke to what Walt himself must have seen, that if you grind out every pitch as a hitter, you will get more positive outcomes than if you just go up and hack. So far, and again its 15 games, the choice of Dante has been a big positive.
We have seen the team more aggressive on the basepaths, as he said. So far that has been mixed. EYJr has not been smart on the basepaths, which is problematic because his speed is his best asset. But 4 steals for Rutledge and 3 now for of all people Wilin Rosario? CarGo has run more. I think it will end up making team’s make more errors and be a net positive for the team’s offense. But will it outweigh the negatives of throw-away outs? We need to see. But at least he has stuck to his guns on that.
The first win of the season – the 2nd game against the Brewers, the team ground-out of win when they didn’t get good pitching. The Saturday night game in San Diego and of course Tuesday night in the frigid cold was another example. I said it before – last year they loose all three of those games. They would have just given up, because last year this team didnt compete, didnt grind-out ABs. Now people say that Jim Tracy was a “player’s coach” – but in the three seasons after the great 2009 come-back, the team didnt win close games. Great players like CarGo and Tulo would have big games, but rarely did the team as a whole battle, keep the pressure on, and make team’s make mistakes (yes, the Mets did make a lot of mistakes on Tuesday night, but those mistakes mattered because the Rockies kept getting on-base, kept making pitcher’s work, and thus made the opportunity for their fielders to make bad throws or bad glove-work). I think Jim Tracy is a good man. I think he is a good interview. But he didnt make people accountable? He let them hold-each other accountable. Really? That is going to work when you have 25 millionaires on a team? When you have several nationalities? Maybe it happens if you have Derek Jeter or someone like that. But most team’s don’t have that. Would it have mattered last year? No – too many injuries and too many not-ready for prime-time players. But a tougher-minded, work-your-tail off manager who is not a dictator, who was a good player, who guys like playing for as well – that would have added maybe as much as many 10-15 wins last year. Just a guess. Last year’s DBack team had injuries as well, though not to as many talented players, and still was close to .500 all-season long in part I think because of Gibson. Now in Arizon they will have to see if losing JUp lost too much talent that hard-work cannot make-up. Will be interesting to watch (starting Friday).
What we are all worried about has been the pen management. The first game of the season was blown in part because of the Matt B pulled after 1 pitch, Lopez left in too long, no-one warming-up, and relying on Adam Ottovinio to keep the game tied. We have seen some similiar issues since. Now, on the plus side, he is sticking with his guys – both starters and relievers until he knows they are spent. This tells guys that he will stand behind them if they give them all they have. That is huge over the course of a season. And for those relievers and starters knowing he believes and trusts them may just make them believe and trust themselves as well. Would I trade those few losses for that over the course of the season? You bet I would. We will simply have to see.
So, 15 games in, I think we all are experiencing Walt as a breath of fresh-air. His interviews are a lot shorter and sure are…not going to make you stop and record them. But really….who gives a stink? The reason I was positive all off-season long was that I knew this team had loads of talent if they were healthy. More than I think many of us fans really appreciate. We see CarGo and Tulo and forget how really great they are. We are slowly seeing Dex possibly take that next step. How good a catcher is Wilin Rosario? How good a hitter? Can a pitcher like Chacin become a true #1? These questions are ones that can be answered this season, and a manager who gets the most out of a player’s talent (who can help a great player who is too much in their own mind get out of there, or a player who needs motivation, or….there are many types) by creating the right atmosphere. Well, those are the kind of managers – guys like LaRussa, Torre, Socioa, and Bochy who win pennents and have their team’s playing meaningful baseball at least every August, most Septembers and at least some Octobers. Fifteen games in Walt Weiss has been true to himself and has shown the potential to be, if not this year in future years, that kind of manager. All off-season many of us said the most important signing was Mark Wiley (I still think that). By the AS break, we may change that to Walt Weiss. Or, by then we may wonder he, like Mike Redmond, took a job in a bad situation. The answers start tommorow.