Rookie Review: Brad Mills

HOUSTON - APRIL 11: Houston Astros manager Brad Mills double checks his lineup card before Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Minute Maid Park on April 11, 2010 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Brad Mills was not our first choice here at TCB. Manny Acta was the number one choice for a majority of us who frequented the site back when the managerial search first began. Tim Bogar and Phil Garner followed Acta in popularity. Mills didn't get much attention until the managerial job was between he and Good ol' Scrap Iron. A lot of us quickly jumped on board though when Mills was tagged with the Manager title.

Before we continue with Mills let's take a quick look at how Acta has done in Cleveland.

Acta took over an Indians team that wasn't going to compete. That has not changed. The Indians finished with a 69 - 93 record that saw two of their key players Grady Sizemore and Carlos Santana go on the disabled list for an extended period of time. Like the Astros the Indians are going through a rebuilding phase, but when two of your best players go down with injury it can be a tough season (especially if you were counting on Sizemore for your fantasy team).

That all doesn't really tell me much about the man Acta though. Ryan over at Let's go Tribe graciously responded with his impressions of Acta's first season at the helm of the Indians:

Thinking back on the season, I didn't have any major problems with how Manny Acta managed. He didn't overwork the starters, he did a good job giving everyone on the roster playing, and flexible with his bullpen usage. There was absolutely no chance the Indians were contending, so he could afford to be patient and play prospects who were struggling. But you could tell there was a plan in place to bring those young players along; I guess we'll see how that plan worked out over the next couple of years.

Compared to Eric Wedge, who didn't really say anything in his press conferences, Manny Acta was a breath of fresh air when it came to the media. Most of the time he spelled out exactly what he thought of how a player did, explained why he made a move, and would delve into philosophical matters. He was very prepared coming into the job; just after he was hired, he did several interviews on local TV and radio stations, and if you didn't know any better, you would have though he'd had been in the organization for at least five years.

 

There are no Fire Manny Acta Indian fan sites so he's done something right so far.

Like wise there are no Fire Brad Mills sites. He and his coaching staff have obviously impressed the front office enough that not only did Mills option get exercised and option year was added for 2013. The rest of the coaching staff was given a two year extension, all have accepted minus one Jeff Bagwell, who is weighing the option of coaching verse being at home with his family. I'd love for him to return, but I want him to be 100% committed, and I wouldn't blame him if he wanted to stay at home with his family. All indications point to him making a decision this month so stay tuned.

As for the subject matter of this article I have overall been impressed with him. He's certainly a breath of fresh air in both the club house and in the dugout. 

The 76-86 record is not great, but when you take into account where the Astros came from it makes it astounding. A positive eight games in the Pythagorean record is the best among the managerial candidates. Unfortunately he falls short in the injuries he had to deal with and the head to head to match-up.

He dealt with fifteen injuries this season. The most notable Lance Berkman started the season on the disabled list which contributed to the awful start. As for the head to head record he was 14-30 against the other managers, which is the worst record of the bunch.

As far as my subjective opinion goes, I haven't been overly pleased with his lineup selection, but as I discussed in an early article this year I see the method to his madness.And I kind of like the fact that he's managing like he does have a winning team, putting the best players on the field. I still don't understand why Brett Wallace isn't given the opportunity to play against left handers when that appears to be his best side, but he's going to have to produce against right handers so the grip is nit picky.

I think he can tend to run his pitchers a little long, Bud Norris being an example. Through out the first half of the season Bud Norris seemed to tire between 90-100 pitches. Mills attempted to go past that on several occasions, but as the season wore on, Norris actually showed an ability to actually succeed past that level. Wilton Lopez is another pitcher to worry about , but Mills and the front office recognized his workload and gave him quite a bit off time off in September.

His in game strategy is certainly an upgrade over Cecil Cooper who you'd find yourself a little more balder after watching a game in which he managed. There's still those times with Mills, but they're far and few in between, and nit picky at best. I just wish he wouldn't use Tim Byrdak so much.

In the club house is not something I care particularly all that much about, but him having a positive effect on the players in the club house is certainly nice to hear. We've heard a lot about his communication skills, which is something I hold as very valuable in the workplace, not just the dugout. Overall the improvement in record was probably more about the replacement of certain players, but Mills should certainly get some kudos for holding the ship together through rough seas.

Manager evaluations are fairly subjective, so I've decided to enlist the help of my fellow writers here at TCB to give you their impressions of how Mills did this year:

Stephen:

I have no strong feeling on Mills, and because of that I like him more. Mills isn't dominating the conversation when we reflect on the success and failures of the Astros in 2010, and that seems to be a factor of what we heard about him prior the season: quiet, meticulous, hard-working.

Mills seemed to be able to buoy the team when it was sinking in the first third of the season; he helped weather the turbulence of the trade deadline; and he lead a club with uncertain make-up to great success in the second half. I feel quite confident knowing that he will man the helm over the next two seasons because I trust that he can help orient the club in the right direction. Essentially, I guess, my feeling is that if he did the job as well as he did in 2010, anything else has got to be a piece of cake...right?

There were few moments when I wanted to hug Brad Mills for his strategical brillance, but there were also few moments when I wanted to wring his neck for the strategical blunders. Maybe it is because I stopped watching the Astros from a perspective of "oh dear lord they need to win this game" and instead watched most of the second half from the perspective of "well, I wonder what this guy/team can actually do?" that I am not praising or criticizing Mills. But, I generally feel like Mills is a neutral strategizer who runs a good clubhouse.
Clack:

I feel like Brad Mills has turned out to be one of the better managerial hires in the majors over the last couple of years.  I put Mills up there with Bobby Heck as a foundation type hire for the future of the Astros' organization.  The way that Mills kept the Astros' boat steady during that April/May debacle period, and then provided the leadership to turn things around for the second half of the season probably is worth putting him into the conversation for manager of the year.  I think Mills' strategic thinking probably is typical or average for modern managers.  But I appreciate the fact that I don't have any real "WTF?" moments on his decisions, like I did with the previous manager.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with specific decisions, at least you can discern the rationale for his decision. Mills sometimes appears to stay too long with a starter in a game, but the positive side is that the attitude probably plays well with the pitching staff, even if it doesn't work out in the short term.  I also like the trust that Mills showed with the two young starters, Paulino and Norris, even if there was some risk in doing so. The areas where Mills appears to excel is maintaining a good clubhouse and having a good nuts and bolts understanding of baseball.  I think the latter ability gives me some confidence that he can make good judgements about players' abilities and provide the instruction that the young players, in particular, will need. So, I give Mills' first season a thumbs up.

OremLK:

For me, the best thing about Mills is how steady and communicative he seems to be with the players.  You get the sense that he's not too swayed by emotion; when he sees a problem, he makes an effort to fix it and helps the player understand where he made a mistake.  Of course, this is from an outsider's perspective, but there are lots of little clues if you follow the media narrative which I believe add up to this conclusion.

In the general sense, his approach seems sound.  He emphasizes getting "good at-bats", but at the same time demonstrates trust in his players and doesn't try to hold them back from aggressive play.  You get the sense that he wants the right aggressive play, and the patience to wait for that opportunity then seize it.  In terms of his approach to the pitching staff, I actually prefer the general idea that starters should stay in games longer, even though I have criticized Mills on specific occasions for leaving in young, injury-prone power arms too long.

On the flip side, he does make many baseball decisions I disagree with, in the specifics.  This season I think he over-emphasized platoon advantage and matchups, and too often I found myself saying "really?" when he would post a lineup without Brett Wallace because there was a lefty on the mound or bring in Tim Byrdak when Mark Melancon was rolling, just because a lefty was coming up to bat.  Sometimes, he left the younger starting pitchers, Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino, in games too long, and I have to wonder whether that contributed to the injuries they both suffered this season.

Most frustrating of all was how he handled Brett Wallace.  An occasional game off would have made sense to keep the rookie from getting buried, but it felt like toward the end of the season, Carlos Lee was playing first base more than Wallace.

Still, I don't think Mills is a bad manager.  I'm not ready to call him a good one, yet, but we'll see.
Overall I think the entire fan base has been fairly pleased with how Brad Mill's has run this team. Some of the constants I continually hear brought up when discussing Mill's are his meticulous work ethic, and his communication skills. This is his rookie season so there are some situations he's likely learned from, and hopefully improves upon for next year.



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