Astros Manager Candidates: Saber Edition

Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco #11 makes his first appearance in an Astros uniform as he comes out of the lockeroom at Minute Maid Park on August 19, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

We know that the front office likes analytics. So, you figure it has to be a plus if a managerial candidate understands and uses sabermetrics, and is willing to use data provided by the analytical staff in on-field decisions. I'll try to suggest some managerial candidates who fit welll with sabermetrics.

But one problem: for several of the candidates, we don't know their personal views on sabermetric questions; it's not like we can conduct our own interview. So, we have to speculate a bit. For purposes of identifying candidates, I will lean on work experience with sabermetric oriented organizations. You have to figure that employees of these teams will be most familiar with the influence of analytic data, plus they were obviously hired by saber baseball teams. And, from the informal research I've done on manager selection processes, it appears that coaches from sabermetric teams are more likely to get interviewed by sabermetric teams which have manager openings. This article by fangraphs ranks teams based on sabermetric influence.

Joe Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays' manager, is regarded by many as the most innovative saber manager in baseball. And his career path as the Rays' manager might be a model for the Astros: his young team struggled to win games in 2006 and 2007, but broke out in 2008 with an American League Championship.

Tony DeFrancesco

Because he is the interim manager, he has already been mentioned as a manager candidate. But, based on his background with the A's, he has to be near the top of the list for saber candidates. A former minor league catcher, DeFrancesco was the Oakland A's Triple A manager for six seasons and third base coach for the A's major league team in 2008. He won three Pacific Coast League championships with the A's and was Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year. Fangraphs ranks the A's as No. 1 in sabermetrics (the Astros are 2d). During DeFrancesco's tenure, the A's employed several techniques in their minor leagues to promote OBP and walks in their farm system. He has a .558 W/L record in 9 seasons managing AAA teams.

Ken Macha

A former major league third baseman for the Pirates, Expos, and Jays, Macha served as Oakland A's manager for 4 years (2003 - 2006) and the Milwaukee Brewers' manager for 2 years (2009 - 2010). He was Art Howe's bench coach in Oakland prior to his promotion to manager. (An actor, Michael Gillespie III, played Macha in the movie Moneyball.) He led the A's to two division titles, but was fired after the 2006 season when the A's were swept by the Tigers in the playoffs. He has a .541 record as a major league manager. Macha's name seems to show up when saber oriented teams have managerial vacancies. Macha had some issues dealing with Braun and Fielder, the Brewers' hitting stars, which may have led to his dismissal in Milwaukee, but Macha said that he had a good relationship with most of the team's players. An oddity: Ken Macha's second cousin is Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser, the Astros' scout who resigned because the Astros disregarded his advice to draft Derek Jeter.

Dave Martinez

Martinez, a former Tampa Bay outfielder, is the bench coach for Joe Maddon. Maddon is the top sabermetric manager, and you have to figure that Martinez has soaked up some of Maddon's knowledge. Not surprisingly, Martinez receives rave reviews from Maddon. Martinez, 47, has been interviewed by two sabermetric teams, the Indians and Blue Jays, for managerial positions, as well as the Chicago White Sox.

Jim Hickey

How about another Maddon coach? Hickey has been the Rays' pitching coach for 6 years, and prior to that, he was the Astros' pitching coach during the Astros' 2004 and 2005 playoff years. He was the pitching coach for the only Astros AAA team to win the Triple A World Series, and was previously named the Astros' Player Development Man of the Year. Hickey's pitching staffs in Tampa Bay have been outstanding, and he has quietly become one of the longest tenured pitching coaches in the major leagues. Hickey was a standout pitcher at UT-Pan American.

Torey Lovullo

Lovullo is the first base coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, Fangraphs' third ranked sabermetric team, and managed minor league teams in two sabermetric oriented organizations, the Indians and Red Sox. A 47 year old former second baseman, he has managed Triple A teams for both the Red Sox and Indians. He also was interviewed for the Red Sox, Indians, and Pirates manager position. He has a .520 W/L record over a 9 year minor league managerial career.

Don Wakamatsu

Wakamatsu currently is the bench coach for Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell. Wakamatsu was manager of the Seattle Mariners, a sabermetric team under GM Jack Zduriencik, in 2009 and 2010. Ty Van Burkleo, whom Luhnow appointed as interim hitting coach, was Wakamatsu's bench coach in Seattle. Wakamatsu was a bench coach for the Texas Rangers and Oakland A's prior to his tenure in Seattle. Wakamatsu's name seems to come up with some frequency when sabermetric teams are searching for managers.

Wakamatsu had a tremendous rookie season as the Mariners' manager, winning 85 games--a 25 game improvement over the previous year--and becoming only the 13th manager in ML history to guide his team to a winning record after a 100 loss previous season. The Mariners had high hopes for 2010, but returned to their losing ways, leading to Wakamatsu's dismissal before the season ended. Wakamatsu has many challenges in 2010, including an expensive free agent, Chone Figgins, whose performance fell off a cliff, and dealing with playing time for local legend Ken Griffey, Jr., who also was at the end of his career and had fallen off a cliff before that season. Griffey retired on June 2 of 2010, but he had shown anger over his diminished playing time, and the strained relationship between Wakamatsu and Griffey reportedly divided the clubhouse. Oddly, Griffey initially blamed Wakamatsu when a local newpaper photographer caught Griffey snoozing in the clubhouse at the same time that Wakamatsu was looking for Griffey to pinch hit. Wakamatsu, by the way, is the first Asian American manager in major league history. He was a starting catcher for the Arizona Sun Devils.

Manny Acta

I won't spend a lot of time discussing the background of Manny Acta, the current manager of the Cleveland Indians, because I have no reason to believe that he is available. The Indians were either leading their division or within a few games of the AL Central lead for much of the season, but have fallen out of contention during the last month. Would the Indians fire him because the team fell out of contention? I think this is doubtful, but that probably is the only way he becomes available. However, more to the point of this article, Manny Acta is one of the few managers who openly discusses the benefits of sabermetrics. Furthermore, Acta has a history as a minor league player and manager in the Astros' system, and has strong connections to the franchise. Acta is described as a young, charismatic, and innovative manager, which should put him near the top of many lists. And he was at the top of the Astros' manager list during the last interviews. Reportedly the Astros were willing to offer the manager job to Acta, but the negotiations got hung up over whether the contract length would be 2 or 3 years. He subsequently accepted the Indians' offer. At the time, Stephen Higdon reacted with this article explaining why losing Acta shows that Drayton McLane doesn't get it.

Tim Bogar

I normally wouldn't list Tim Bogar, the Red Sox bench coach, because David already discussed him in the article about former Astros' players who might be manager candidates. But AppyAstro brought up this interesting point in the comments: sabermetrics proponents should be excited about the fact that Bogar was quality control coordinator for Joe Maddon and the Rays. That's true. And it's also true that Bogar was considered a valuable part of a sabermetric oriented Red Sox organization. Want more evidence that Bogar has a sabermetric tilt: he not only attended the second annual sabermetrics conference in Boston; he also presented a new offensive value statistic that he developed. Bogar also has a strong background in managing and player development at the minor league level, including a stint with the Astros' farm system. Bogar earned the manager of the year award for each league in which he managed. According to news reports, Bogar and Bobby Valentine have not gotten along well in Boston. He may want a change of scenery.

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