Even in 2020, it was awfully difficult to properly gauge a manager’s performance. We don’t have the benefit of using metrics like wRC+ or FIP as we do with players to evaluate a manager’s performance. There is the win-loss column to use as a rough guide, but there are plenty of instances where even that fails to fully encapsulate what a manager truly contributes on the bench or in the clubhouse. For example, a team brimming with above-average players at most positions will naturally have more wins than a roster full of replacement level during the course of a full season, regardless of the head coach. Some teams perform well in spite of their manager while others flail with a competent leader at the helm.
That said, a manager can make a difference in the margins. Quality decision making, for one, is a key attribute of the job. One wrong choice can cost a team the game while a right one may see a victory emerge from the jaws of defeat. It is also important to keep in mind that the result isn’t everything when it comes to evaluating a manager. There are plenty of instances in baseball history where the right decision still generated a bad result. The more vital aspect of evaluating a manger, in my opinion, is the rationale they used to make a decision. As we saw with Kevin Cash in the World Series, the thought process behind his controversial removal of Blake Snell in Game 6 wasn’t inherently wrong. Historical numbers and in-game data that day did indicate trouble possibly looming. It was a sensible decision considering the context and information available, although sensible doesn’t always mean right.
Hindsight is 20/20 and the decision to remove Snell felt more like a move for the sake of data while ignoring what was going on in the moment. The numbers versus eye test encapsulated in just one moment, if you will. It was a ultimately a tough call, much like former Astros manager AJ Hinch did in last year’s Game 7 against the Nationals with Zack Greinke. The point is that not all decisions will work out, but the process behind them is key in determining if a manager is a good one. Much like with Hinch in the October before, Cash’s process behind his decision was defensible.Now, you can feel free to question about specific the pitcher they brought in, as I have done.
Why do I spend nearly 400 words writing about a manager’s decision making process? Well, I believe it is vital for a club to hire a manager that not only relates to their players, but also demonstrates a thorough decision making process. That is why Astros fans hold Hinch in such high regard, outside of that rotten sign-stealing scandal. When you see a manager over the course of five seasons connect with the players and provides clear explanations behind the majority of his decisions, it is easy to fall for them. But fans are fickle beings and sometimes it takes awhile to forgive and possibly forget. Of those who voted, it was nearly split down the middle, with 51 percent of the votes stating Hinch should get a second chance as a major league manager.
This is an Astros blog, so plenty of us, if I may speak for them, are sympathetic towards Hinch. While we don’t excuse his actions, or lack thereof, it was a complicated situation. Like most situations in life outside of baseball, the sign stealing scandal wasn’t entirely a straightforward. The actual cheating, yes, was clearly wrong, but the dynamics of relationships behind the scenes that may driven decisions within the clubhouse or organization are never that simple. It appears by his recent appearances in 2020 that Hinch is apologetic and accepts responsibility for what happened on his watch. I hope he continues to grow with the Tigers as their manager.
Talking about the Tigers, it was one of three manager jobs up for grabs at one point in the offseason. As we know by now, Hinch is with the Tigers, Tony La Russa with the White Sox, and Alex Cora back in Boston. Out of all of the jobs, the White Sox viewed as the most appealing job by a large margin, which passes the smell test. After all, it would tempting to coach a team full of talented players like Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, and Lucas Giolito. It is a club on the cusp of being a contender in the American League for some time to come.
On paper, it would seem that Hinch was the ideal candidate for the Chicago job. It sure felt that way based on reactions to the news when Tony La Russa was instead hired. Even the official White Sox e-mail noting La Russa’s hire mistakenly used Hinch’s signature instead, which was quite humorous. It was truly a head scratcher of a hire, especially considering the situation as a whole. For a club with a exciting and young roster, it just doesn’t feel like the right fit. For those who voted that think La Russa as manager in Chicago will work out at 42 percent, 58 percent of the vote ultimately doesn’t think it will.
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