Friday, August 17, 2007

Gibbons should be here to stay

Not too long ago a friend and I were discussing the days of yesterJay. He welcomed a return to the days of ignorance. A time when Joe Carter's career .770 OPS was disguised by that fact he "had a knack for driving in runs." A time when Jack Morris' 102 ERA+ in 1992 wasn't average because he won 21 games, something the Dave Stieb had never done. My friend was pissed those days had passed. It had made being a baseball fan so much fucking easier. I argued that those days haven’t passed. I logged on to the daily newspaper and pointed out a douche bag columnists weekly mailbag in the Toronto Star, reading aloud the venomous diatribes directed at our team. Things had not changed. People are as ignorant and obstinate as ever. But something is different, as much as there is a broader knowledge amongst a certain fan base (lets call them hardcore) there is also a sense of entitled disillusionment by the majority of spectators.

After going back and forth for some time we realized one thing. Joe Carter and Jack Morris were viewed with rose tinted glasses because the Jays were winning. We agreed a team is easy to evaluate when they are winning. However, this brought forth a new argument. When a team is losing, how do you evaluate them? We are both satisfied with the use of statistics to evaluate player performance for offense. Although defense is a little trickier, the naked eye and BP’s Rate2 will suffice for now. When it comes to managers however, a problem ensued. How do you successfully rate the potential of a manager?

There are a lot of people calling for the head of John Gibbons. Is this justified? Is he a bad manager, a good manager, or something in between? What makes a good manager? It’s easy to point out success as a standard for quality, and futility as a standard for ineptness. But even that simple conclusion has flaws. Joe Torre won a division exactly once in his first 12 years as a manager. The next 11 years saw him win 10 division titles. Of course this streak coincided with his arrival to the powerhouse Yankees. Bobby Cox’s record reads similar. It took him 8 years to win his first division; he then went on to win 14 in a row. They are now considered two of the greatest managers of our time, if not all time. Could Bobby Cox or Joe Torre lead this Blue Jay team to a better record? Who knows? What are they doing different than John Gibbons? It is a comparison that is impossible to answer. What needs to be asked is what has John Gibbons done to be deemed a poor manager?

People point to the Shea Hillenbrand incident from a year ago as reason for his dismissal. If it was any other player than Shea Hillenbrand it might have gotten Gibby canned. But Shea is a fuckwad who has been DFA'd again this year. He called Theo Epstein a “fag” to force his way out of Boston. Complained about playing time in Arizona prior to becoming a Jay. I have to believe the players were behind Gibby on that one.

The Ted Lilly fiasco is a little different. Although both have seemed to put it behind them, it is still a strike against the manager, and the biggest one.

As for this year, Gibby has been criticized for player performance (which he has no control over) but not praised for pitcher performance (which he has no control over) He runs a clubhouse with tremendous player camaraderie. The team record has definitely been hurt by injuries but he does not use that as an excuse. Besides, the team ranks third in the AL in third order wins. Regardless, articles like this one by douche bag extraordinaire Richard Griffin insist he should be gone, even though Griffin writes that Gibbons performance so far “has not really been a bad stint as skipper”.

It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly Gibbons should be fired. His managerial record is slightly above 500, while playing in the hardest division in baseball. He handles the bullpen extremely well. He keeps his bench players fresh and is willing to ride the hot bat. You can argue that the batting order is poorly constructed this year, although that was never an issue in the past. I think that issue has more to do with the offensive struggles of the club this season. There are countless batting order permutations that fans can offer up and argue for or against, but in reality there is no one solution that he is obviously missing.

Even though these faux fans dedicate a blog to firing the man, it is really hard to find a solid criticism of Gibby.
One criticism, that in my opinion is both asinine and egregious, is that Gibbons doesn't do anything special to win games. First off, in the last 10 years give me 20 “special” things any or all managers have done to win games. Baseball is not a sport with a playbook. You don’t come up with a new scheme or ploy. It is not like football, basketball and hockey, from a managing perspective. The things being done today, like the defensive shift, the double switch, and the stolen base, have been happening for years.

Another argument is that Gibbons doesn’t do the “little things” to win a game. No he doesn’t sacrifice bunt. And as this study shows, it’s not outrageous to value outs over bases. He doesn’t steal bases (see argument against bunting). But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do the little things to win. Because last night Gibbons did a “little thing” that went unnoticed in the print media and from the inept ginger fuckface announcer Jaime Campbell. (Credit for term goes to Jays blog Drunk Jays Fans) I’m sure it was also missed by all you assholes calling for Gibby’s head.

In last nights game Gibbons brought in Matt Stairs to pinch hit for light hitting Ray Olmedo in the 8th inning. Stairs promptly got himself out. So too did the next batter Reed Johnson. Instead of sending Johnny Mac out to replace Stairs in the line-up, Gibbons pulled off a double switch (something unheard of in the AL). He replaced Reed Johnson with Johnny Mac and then had the inferior defender Stairs play left field in the top of the 9th. Trailing 4-1, Scott Downs managed to retire the side in order and the Jays started the bottom of the 9th down three runs. After scoring 2 runs and advancing runners to 1st and 3rd it was time for the ninth spot in the order to bat. Instead of having light hitting, right handed Johnny Mac up to face the right-handed K-Rod, the left-handed, superior bat of Matt Stairs was up. Although Stairs flew out to center to end the game, Gibbons managing foresight gave them the best chance to win the game.

Besides John Gibbons being a personable and capable manager, he also has two particular coaches that are invaluable to the team. Their infield/3rd base coach Brian Butterfield is arguably the best in the game and the highly successful pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who’s “pound down” pitching philosophy is centered around inducing groundballs and limiting walks, has worked wonders for the staff. Admittedly Mickey Brantley has not done anything to improve the hitting and most likely will be let go at season’s end. It is important to remember that if the Jays were to fire Gibbons they could not replace him with another rookie manager. The Jays would have to bring in a retread that in turn would bring in an entirely new coaching staff. The way the Jays are playing, the abilities of their coaches and the prospect of the exact same team returning next year is reason enough to stick with Gibbons. Because if he somehow makes the turn in his career that Cox and Torre have made, hopefully, unlike the two greats, Gibbons won’t have to go to another team to do it.

No comments: