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Searching for a Skipper, Part Two

When the Astros confirmed that Manny Acta would be the first candidate brought in for an interview, it began what could be a very open managerial search. This is good for us in that we can get an in-depth look at each potential skipper. So, let's continue this with a look at former Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta.

Acta was signed as a 17-year old first baseman out of the Dominican Republic by the Astros in 1986. He advanced as high as Double-A in both 1989 and 1990, playing 77 games there and batting .194/.194/.258. Acta played 370 games in the minors and had a career line of .241/.241/.299, including his final season at Low A Burlington, where Acta was a player-coach at age 22. Two years later, in 1993, Acta got his first managerial job with Houston's short season New York-Penn League team, the Auburn Astros. Over the next eight seasons, Acta put together a record of 419-432 with four winning seasons, including two straight at his highest stop, High A Kissimmee in 1999 and 2000. Acta also won a Florida State League title in 1999, coaching players like Morgan Ensberg, Brad Lidge, Keith Ginter and Wayne Franklin. In 2000, Acta coached Roy Oswalt, Tim Redding and Jeriome Robertson.

Acta started coaching in the winter leagues in 1999 as well, starting out in Caracas in the Venezuela Winter League before moving to Licey of the Dominican Winter League in 2002. Acta spent 2001 as a coach on the New Orleans staff, when it was still the Triple-A affiliate of the Astros. Players on that 200 team? Astros Pacific Rim scouting director Glen Barker and Lance Berkman, along with former Astros Scott Elarton, Roger Cedeno, Julio Lugo and Scott Linebrink.

Acta was just 33 years old when he was hired as the Washington Nationals new third base coach under manager Frank Robinson in 2002. Acta steadily moved up in the eyes of the Nationals until he was given the mangerial job after Robinson was fired following the 2006 season. Acta also managed the 2006 Dominican Republic entry into the World Baseball Classic, coaching Astros free agent Miguel Tejada and Angels free agent-to-be Vladimir Guerrero as well as former Astros farmhand Francisco Liriano.

So, that brings us to his stint as Washington's manager. In 2007, Acta saw the team to a 73-89 record but revived the career of Dmitri Young. Da Meat Hook even was selected for the All-Star game that July. The Nationals were not great that season, but that was partly because the team had a 4.58 ERA and a WHIP of 1.48. Of course, his starters ERA was 5.11, which makes it hard to win any games. Acta used his bullpen for 590 2/3 innings with an ERA of 3.81, which we will revisit later on. The other telling stat about his pitching staff is in the 73 wins, the team's ERA was 2.91 while in the 89 losses, it was 9.02. Big difference, huh?

In 2008, the team's ERA jumped up to 4.66 but the starter's ERA was still too high at 4.97. His bullpen threw less innings at 553 1/3, but had a slightly higher ERA at 4.18. The team itself lost 102 games and had just 28 saves in 34 save situations. Offensively, Acta got surprisingly good seasons out of shortstop Christian Guzman, second basmean Ronnie Belliard and outfielder Elijah Dukes. Young had another good season, with an OPS of .794, but Acta was hurt by the roster machinations of GM Jim Bowden.

All those roster moves came to a head in 2009, when Acta and outfielder Lastings Milledge had a very public feud. Milledge was sent down to the minors after playing just seven games. Reportedly, the reason was Acta didn't like how Milledge behaved in meetings and that he had a generally surly attitude. This did not endear Acta to management, and he was let go halfway through the season.

The Nationals never had much talent, but Acta did show a knack for getting good performances out of other team's castoffs. He also didn't overuse a bullpen, and got similar results to the Astros this season (534 1/3 IP, 4.13 ERA). I'm not sure whether he would affect the staff positively or negatively, but he's definitely familiar with some of the pitchers and knows how to not go all Joe Torre on his relievers.

The Milledge incident is also interesting, because it suggests Acta is willing to call people out and hold his players accountable. Of course, it also reminds me a little of how Cooper acted with this team, and we know how that ended. So, I'm sure this incident will be discussed in more depth during the interview with Wade and Co.

I brought up all the players he's coached or is otherwise familiar with to illustrate how the Astros might accept him or how he might handle the current roster. If Berkman and Oswalt are both considered the 'Faces of the Franchise', and they both turned on Coop, it's important to get them on board with the hire. Will their familiarity with Acta help? If Acta can get those two to support his style or his accountability methods, it would go a long way to setting up a successful culture on the team.

One interesting quote from this 2007 interview with Acta was regarding his influence on the organization as a whole:

I’m kept in the loop on everything that’s going on, and I have a say in how we want things done down there. I take a lot of pride in having continuity throughout the organization, all the way from rookie ball to the big leagues.

This is very interesting, since it's not a job the Astros have asked from their big league skipper in quite a while. Sure, the coaches will make a call on when to bring guys up or who makes the roster in spring training, but setting a tone in the minor leagues? Continuity at all levels? That's something the Astros have lacked since Hunsicker left in 2004. Now it seems like Bobby Heck and Ed Wade both set the tone for player development. Where would Acta fit into this scheme?

Another interesting quote from the same interview about his bunting strategy:

Bunting is pretty outdated. Everybody scores so many runs nowadays, it doesn’t make sense to play for one run unless it’s late in the game and it’s close. I hardly ever bunt early in a game, unless it’s with a pitcher. A big inning can win you a game. One run in the third inning can’t, unless you have Pedro pitching.

And of course, his pick for the best pitcher in baseball:

Roy Oswalt. He’s just tough as nails. He comes at you like nobody else. That’s a tough place to pitch, and he’s been very consistent.

Acta is also very interested in using sabermetrics to make better decisions, which is very interesting to the people around this blog, we heady baseball fans. I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, but it may help get all those bad OBP players out of the every day roster. Nothing drives me crazier than all the guys with OBP under .340. But that strays from the point. Acta is a young guy, who's failed in his first job and is looking for some redemption. Sounds a lot like Bill Belichick after the Cleveland fiasco but before New England. Does that make him the best candidate? No, because he still has done nothing to be successful at the big league level. He does make for an interesting candidate, though.