Friday Rockpile: Losing Seasons Warm Managers' Chairs

DENVER, CO - JULY 03: (L-R) Pitching coach Bob Apodaca #36 and manager Jim Tracy #4 of the Colorado Rockies look on from the dugout as they face the Kansas City Royals during Interleague play at Coors Field on July 3, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Royals defeated the Rockies 16-8. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

2011 has been a letdown in its entirety. (This is kind of the "Marley Was Dead To Begin With" of this article)

Most seasons begin with promise. New personnel, developing prospects, veterans returning to lead their teams to Valhalla. Even after a lousy season, it's a clean slate. Anything can happen. I mean, hell, the Brewers are 12 games above .500 and leading the NL Central, the Diamondbacks are 11 games above even and only .5 games back in the NL West, the Indians are 3.0 back in the AL Central, and hell, even though they're 19 games out and in last place again, the Nationals are only 5 games under .500. 

When a team's performance begins to hit the skids, however, fingers begin to point. Was the new personnel not new enough? Did the prospects not progress as forecasted? Did the veterans not repeat earlier career performances? Is there one particular facet to blame?

Well, we talked about this a couple of weeks ago, and there's a lot of different directions you can go with the blame game: health, batting, starting pitching, relief pitching, bench players, the Camarena Macarena 8th inning, you name it and you can probably make a case out of it.

Typically, when a team is performing lousy, I blame the players, as well I should. I mean, they're the ones not hitting the ball, not throwing strikes that don't fall for hits, not getting the job done. I can't tie a particular number to it, at least not definitively, so I'll just say "90% of the onus falls on the players". Maybe higher, maybe lower. 

So where does the extra 10% fall?

That's right, the manager. The skipper. The captain of this sinking ship.

The impact of a manger is also hard to tie a number to. The things we can see (the lineups, in-game changes) are typically scrutinized, while the intangibles (clubhouse demeanor, general leadership qualities) are much harder to discern, leaving us at the mercy of those accredited to give us insight behind what we can see in the dugout. 

More past the jump.

I typically have the stance that the impacts of a manger are negligible at best. Given the amount of responsibility for the players to perform, it's hard to hang a manager for a slump, but it's also hard to throw the ticker tape parade for the manager after a hot streak.

Being a manager is like being an IT guy. We just made a relatively substantial network upgrade for our small office, effectively quadrupling the office's internet speeds. After the upgrade, we asked a few random people if they noticed the improved speeds; they hadn't. IT guys are only called if something is going wrong. If everything is going right, or just really well in general, nobody notices and just goes on with life. But when things are off, when the internet is slow, when email isn't accessible for whatever reason, oh man, those damn IT guys are just screwing everything up.

Meanwhile, managers are graded with a fine toothed comb with a nice dollop of hindsight. Tracy makes an interesting move to PH with someone unexpectedly, and the dude gets a hit. Alright, time for the next guy to get a hit, too! But if that PH punches out or grounds into a 6-4-3, of COURSE Jim Tracy is a moron for PH there why would you pull the pitcher he was only at like 87 pitches how dumb can he be?

What this kind of boils down to is that a manager's impact in the positive direction is minimal in the best of times, because the positive things are just viewed as the "right" moves, the ones the "good" manager is expected to make; the manager's impact NEGATIVELY, though, is very real and can throw many a game. This almost exclusively applies to bullpen usage and other late-game maneuvers, but lineup cards can have an impact as well.

Reason I mention all of this isn't to start the "Let's Bash Jim Tracy!"-palooza of 2011, but rather to say that if the organization is suddenly making everyone accountable for everything and having to make tough choices, seems to me that the 2009 NL Manager of the Year would be lumped in there as well. The remainder of the 2011 season is going to be huge in deciding if the Rockies look elsewhere for a manager for the 2012 season or stick with the guy who took them to the 2009 NLDS.

Fact is that Tracy is an incredibly frustrating manager at times. I can't stand some of his bullpen moves, and his seeming selective platooning drives me directly up the wall. When Tracy was appointed interim manager to replace Clint Hurdle, he kept his head down. He played his starters. He didn't go too crazy with the overstrategizing. Just when it looked like his extension was all but signed, the Jim Tracy we'd all been warned about from Pirates and Dodgers fans reared his head and started Garrett Atkins all 4 games of the 2009 NLDS. Then came the 125 pitch Ubaldo Jimenez starts. Then came the incessant Seth Smith platooning. Then came the random benching of batters of a style that Tracy clearly isn't a fan of (may just be happenstance and conjecture). Oh, and the bullpen usage. How about that one?

Like him or hate him, Tracy has a winning record as the Rockies' skipper. That's one thing he has going for him. He also seems to make the players respond - or at least DID.

I do wonder if this season has just broken the Rockies' spirits, or if there's any chance that Tracy is losing the hearts and minds of his team. Whatever product we're seeing out on the field, they've looked deflated for the most part up through Thursday's win. On one hand, it IS a young team for the most part, and not everyone's as familiar with how baseball works in the majors: it's a business, and friends get traded. I have some trouble thinking they'd all be THAT depressed about Ubaldo going, but who knows? I'm not on the inside. The other hand says that this season's losses have basically shaken the team to the point where they aren't responding to Tracy any more.

Here's my checklist of things I'd like to see the Rockies do with the rest of their season that will keep Tracy from being fired - well, in my book anyhow:

 

  1. No more listless play. Rah Rah all you have to, Jim.
  2. Finish at or above .500.
  3. Finish at or above .500 against the NL West.
  4. Play Chris Nelson daily, with a long leash, until he plays himself out of a job (while obviously getting Ellis some playing time, despite his .255/.288/.387 line in a Rockies uniform).

 

These are obviously quite a bit more complex than just me typing them on the internet and demanding they be done. Injury and return from injury are two things that can negatively impact those goals. But it seems that Tracy's rapport with the team is the only thing that has kept him afloat, at least in my mind. A strong finish to 2011 would suggest that he still has the team's support and ear and that he's not just joining the ranks of so many ineffective MLB managers before him.

So regardless your thoughts on the debate, I do ask that anyone taking part in it refrain from personal attacks towards Tracy. If anything, we're criticizing the MANAGER, not the human being. I won't draw a specific hard line beyond "no personal attacks", but I trust that you'll act with classy judgment. 

 

Oh, and one link for you:

On Yonder Alonso Possibly Moving To Third Base ... - Baseball Nation

Boy, does this sound familiar. Team has entrenched awesome 1B and 1B prospects in the pipeline, doesn't want to waste prospects, moves positions. Obviously, the players in question are 3B Garrett Atkins and RF Brad Hawpe, both of whom were pretty poor at their new position - Hawpe pretty notoriously bad. The obvious upside to Hawpe was his cannon of a throwing arm, and despite having the range of a large wooden bookshelf, Atkins actually had OK hands and a decent throwing arm. This isn't to say that Alonso is a lock for the same production defensively as Atkins, as apparently he grew up playing 3B. If he sticks, Cincy will have the corners locked up for some time.

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