I have generally been of the opinion that a manager of a major league ballclub is probably about the 30th or so most important member of the team. If a team was to focus it’s limited resources anywhere, I would just as soon see my favorite team spend those resources on improving the roster rather than middle management.
But a funny thing happened this millennium. The front offices have simply changed. Investments have been made in analytics, player development, and other areas of baseball operations that fall into the background but have a very important role to play in the on-field product. In many ways, I think this has made the manager job even more important than it ever has been. Which is kind of weird.
It used to be that managers can just manage by hunches and scouting reports. Now, managers have to manage using all sorts of new information. They have to interpret the loads of data coming from the nerds in the front office and figure out how to effectively communicate that data down tot the players so it can be used. Teams are investing millions into their analytics and player development departments — the Cubs were at the forefront just 4 or 5 years ago and it’s a testament to how quickly these things move that the Cubs have already had reinvest and reshuffle their front office just to keep pace.
I write this because the Philadelphia Phillies just announced that Joe Girardi would be their new manager. He was of course a candidate for the Cubs job but I’m guessing it was just to appease the Rickettses, who I’m sure have fond memories of Joe as a player from when they were just fans. The interesting thing to me is that Girardi was the hire for the only open spot on a team where ownership had the absolute final say. The Phillies were also the only NL team that even gave serious consideration to any of the old guard, also being interested in Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter.
We’re in a new world of MLB managers. Half of the NL teams will have gotten new managers since the beginning of last year (Mike Schildt was of course an interim holdover who got the permanent gig). I would agree, that in addition to Girardi and, perhaps, Schildt, only two others are of the old school mindset, Don Mattingly and Bud Black. And I doubt Mattingly will be around to manage the next Marlins playoff team.
The hirings of David Ross and Jacey Tingler shouldn’t be seen as some new experiment. In fact, those hirings are just simply the new way of doing business in the MLB.