I don't get this. I really don't. In his article this weekend, Gary Shelton claimed that there are lots of people calling for Joe Maddon's head, accusing him of being a bad manager. Shelton doesn't come out an accuse Maddon himself, but instead he cites seven allegations against Maddon that he's heard fans make. These allegations are all old hat - pitch counts, batting order, pinch-hitting, being unorthodox, yadda yadda yadda - but Shelton claims that, "...somehow, the barbs tossed at Maddon seem more pointed, more harsh."
Before I say anything else on the subject and bias the results further, let's take a quick poll. Continue after the jump for my full thoughts on Maddon.
My blood is a little hot right now, so to keep myself from going off on multiple tangents, I'm going to break my thoughts down simply:
Where Is This Criticism?
This is an honest question: can anyone tell me if people are really ripping on Joe Maddon? Not living in the area, I don't have my finger on the Tampa/St. Pete pulse - I don't get the newspapers, listen to the radio programs, or interact with locals at the Trop. Instead, I watch the games on MLB.tv, read Rays-related online content, and go see them play whenever they come in town. I freely admit that I'm not a local fan, but I like to think that I can normally tell what's the hot-button issue at the moment. It's normally pretty easy - slumping players, injuries, new catchy slogans, etc - but sometimes I can get surprised. So have I missed the "GAH JOE $#)%ING MADDON" boat entirely?
From what I can see, there have been few negative things said about Joe Maddon this year. Here on DRaysBay, most of our posts addressing his moves have backed him up, but then again, our opinions don't always match up with the populace at large. But still, I have to search hard to find serious critiques of Maddon. RJ Anderson is drinking the Joe Maddon Cool-Aid over at Maddon's Mission; Rays Index has Joe Maddon polling at a 7.8 confidence level, closer to his highest point than his lowest point; and JOE MADDON SUCKS posted this blurb two weeks ago - "There is always going to be a difference of opinion on some managerial moves, but in our opinion, the 2010 season to date, Joe Maddon has done an excellent job." For a website that's done bashed Maddon heavily in the past, it's quite shocking to see their most recent headline reading "Maddon Keeps On Making All The Right Moves."
Joe Maddon aside, this makes sense. The Rays have been winning a lot this year, and you rarely hear fans or the media complaining about a manager when things are going well. When things start to skid, though, out come the torches and pitchforks. It's a part of the job; whether intentional or not, managers serve as partial shields for players, deflecting criticism and pressure away from players and to themselves. The Rays started losing this past week, and so out came the anti-Joe-Maddon article. It's all too predictable.
Here's my big beef, though. In my opinion...
Joe Maddon Has Been an Exceptional Manager This Season
For those of you that followed my Moments with Maddon series this off-season, you know that I entered the season with the mindset of evaluating the processes behind Joe Maddon's managerial moves. Was he pinch-hitting in inefficient situations? Was he making proper usage of the bullpen, using pitchers in situations to maximize their strengths? In short, I wanted to get a head start on the anti-Maddon crowd and to see if those feelings were justified. I was afraid I would end up hating Maddon, but at least then I'd have felt confident in my opinion and had reasons to back myself up.
Two months into the season, I've gone the opposite direction: I love Maddon. He's using pinch-hitters and relief pitchers in the proper situations (and for those concerned that he's over-using the bullpen, see this). He knows how to construct a good line-up (even if he does love to tinker and did leave Bartlett at lead-off for awhile) with high on-base percentage batters hitting high in the order. He's also not afraid to change his line-up around depending on the pitcher they're facing, most notably stocking the batting order with lefties to neutralize John Danks. He thinks outside of the box, pores over statistics and scouting reports, and from what we can tell, he's an excellent communicator and has a great clubhouse presence.
And so, I'd turn Shelton's article on its head. Pinch-hitting, relief pitchers, pitch counts, unorthodox moves - these are all reasons to be praising Maddon, not criticizing him. Of course, even the best managers screw up on occasion and there have been times this season where I've disagreed with Maddon, but they're relatively minor blips on an otherwise great record. Enjoy him - not all managers are this progressive.