Late last week, the Rays announced the three finalists to be their next manager. The finalists are Don Wakamatsu, the former manager of the Seattle Mariners, Kevin Cash, a former Rays catcher and Cleveland's current bullpen coach, and the not-yet-retired Raul Ibanez. Conspicuously absent are the two internal candidates: bench coach Dave Martinez and Triple-A coach Charlie Montoyo.
A majority of people here, myself included, assumed that given the success the team has enjoyed over the past seven seasons, the Rays front office would value continuity and would end up simply promoting Martinez. The most common reaction to this recent news is that it's a bad move to exclude Martinez as a finalist. I'm not sure.
The truth is that we here know very little about this manager search. I have some idea of what Joe Maddon did and who he was, because being the manager of a major league baseball team is a public position with plenty of media exposure. For that same reason, I have a few ideas about Don Wakamatsu. But Cash? He was a worse hitting catcher than Jose Molina. Ibanez? He takes pride in his defense. That's about all I've got.
In the absence of knowing answers, we ask questions. Here are a five.
1. Why are the Rays so good at getting production out of their pitchers? We fans attribute it to pitching coach Jim Hickey, and that's almost certainly part of the story, but how much? Was a significant portion of it the catchers too? How about PITCHf/x innovator Josh Kalk, who works on the research team? Or maybe someone else we know nothing about?
Matt Silverman must figure out exactly what it is that makes the Rays pitching machine tick, and retain that.
2. Joe Maddon was one of the first of what has become the new model of manager: a Baseball Man who's comfortable working closely with the statisticians in the front office. The modern manager must have a foot in both worlds, and be able to translate the information from the research team into something the players can use on the field. Of the remaining candidates, who can do that?
3. Managing isn't just about translating between the nerds and the jocks. You also have to be a leader. By most accounts, Maddon was successful in this regard, and he did this by keeping a loose clubhouse which Grantland called "The Most Fun Team in Baseball."
Chemistry is really difficult to discuss objectively, so I really don't want to get into it. Your opinion on whether you liked the Tampa Bay clubhouse under Maddon probably says more about you than it does about Joe, but one thing is clear: players wanted to play for him. They voted Maddon the most popular manager in a Sports Illustrated poll. Joel Peralta and Yunel Escobar made decisions based on their preference for Tampa Bay over all other teams. Regardless of what you think of those two players, the fact that they wanted to be here is a valuable competitive edge for a small-market team. How do we keep that edge?
4. Silverman said that he thought a "new voice" in the clubhouse would be good for this team. If that's just talking around not picking Dave Martinez, then fine. But if it's a real thought process of Silverman's then let's question it. Say Maddon didn't sign with Chicago. What if his contract had simply expired and he reapplied for the job along with Don Wakamatsu, Kevin Cash, and Raul Ibanez? Would a new voice in the clubhouse be warranted then? If so, that's a bold statement by Silverman. If not, then it's at best meaningless talk and at worst fuzzy and illogical thinking.
4a. Furthermore, is a new voice in the clubhouse generally a good thing? There's been some research on this, and I'm sure (read: I hope) that Silverman and Co. have read it, and perhaps done a bit of their own.
- Allard Bruinshoofd and Bas ter Weel studied manager changes in the Dutch football league, and found that while superficially it appears that manager changes improve the fortunes of teams, those results are actually just the regression that should be expected whether or not the manager were to be changed. Teams going through a tough stretch are more apt to change their manager, and at the same time are more apt to improve. There is essentially no difference in the future performance of teams on losing streaks that fire their manager and teams on losing streaks that do not.
- Scott Adler, Michael J. Berry, and David Doherty studied coaching changes in college football. They found that, broadly speaking, for bad teams, changing the coach didn't improve their performance. For good teams, changing the coach resulted in (or preceded, if you're not comfortable attributing causation) worse performance. Right now, the Rays would qualify as a "good team," despite last year's poor record, so a move away from continuity makes me nervous.
- David J. Berri, Michael A. Leeds, Eva Marikova Leeds, and Michael Mondello studied the affect of Basketball coaches on team performance. Their basic conclusion, oversimplified grossly, is that there is very little difference between the top coaches and other coaches. Because of the way they constructed (for valid reasons) their sample, though, they've limited themselves to studying coaches with a reasonably long tenure in the league. So really, they're saying that of the coaches who are good enough to remain coaches are all pretty similar to each other in ability. Those that are not able to establish themselves are not necessarily as good. This interpretation of the study should give the Rays pause if they're considering hiring an unknown like Raul Ibanez: there may not be great upside in choosing a manager, but that doesn't mean that there isn't downside.
- Similar studies (Kosowski and Cuthbertson) have found that among mutual fund managers, there is little difference between the pool of "skilled managers" in picking stocks, but these managers are much better at it than the general population.
5. This managerial decision comes down to a decision between different balances of the known and the unknown. Matt Silverman and the rest of the Rays front office should have a pretty good idea of who Dave Martinez would be as a manager, because they've already worked with him for years. I imagine that the same is true regarding Montoyo. For the other guys on the list, Silverman is is dealing with a greater degree of the unknown, and that means risk.
If Silverman says that Martinez should be the next manager, it's tough for us on the outside to argue otherwise, but I understand why we all had such a knee-jerk reaction to the news that Martinez wasn't a finalist. We would have felt better Silverman had said, "I've had a chance to see Dave in action for years, I've worked with him before, and I'm sure he's the guy for this job." That would be a high-percentage hiring.
He didn't believe that, though, so we're left with three candidates that each carry higher levels of uncertainty/risk regarding how they'd perform as Rays manager. Wakamatsu has been a manager before. Cash has been a bench coach. Ibanez has no coaching experience. So the question for Silverman is, how much risk are you willing to take?