The Teflon Manager
by Joe Sheehan
Iím trying to maintain my optimism about the Cincinnati Reds, but itís hard. I see a team that had a good offense last year, that has two rotation anchors, four of the top 40 or so prospects in baseball, and no real holes in the lineup.
I also see a team with a manager completely and totally ill-suited to his personnel, with an outsized reputation that far exceeds his actual performance and more control over the roster than he should be allowed. Sometimes I think Iím too hard on Dusty Baker, given that he has managed successful teams, made postseasons, won a pennant, owns a career .527 winning percentage from the dugout. Maybe I make him a caricature, a toothpick-chewing, OBP-hating Luddite who doesnít trust anyone under 30.
Then he starts talkingÖ
ďOn [Joey] Votto: ĎHe needs to swing some more. I talked to him about that. Strikeouts arenít the only criteria. Iíd like to see him more aggressive.í
ďíA lot of this on-base percentage is taking away from the aggressiveness of some young kids. Most of the time youíve got to put handcuffs on a young to keep him from swinging.íĒ
(A nod to John Fay at the Cincinnati Enquirer.)
I left the last sentence in for completeness, even though it seems to say the exact opposite of the one prior to it. The keys are Baker attempting to ruin Votto, and his persistence in regarding OBP as a negative. A few years back, the blogosphere had a field day with Bakerís talk about ďclogging the basesĒ while he was with the Cubs. Weíre right back to that point again, with Baker not getting one of the most basic things about baseball: not making outs is the best thing you can do. Baker is fixated on the end resultóthe event that leads to a runner crossing the plateóand still doesnít understand that in the big picture, keeping the line moving will put more runs on the board.
Whatís disturbing is that he wants to change Votto. You can see a lot of Hee Seop Choi in Votto, and Choi wasnít one of Bakerís favorite players. Choi lost his job after an injury in 2003, and as you can see from the game logs, was never given regular playing time, an opportunity, after he returned. Choi and Votto were left-handed take-and-rake hitters with good power and excellent walk rates and OBPs. Itís not like Votto has struggled: he hit .327/.360/.548 in a call-up last season. He hit .294/.381/.478 at Triple-A and .289/.385/.476 in the minors, although neither of those lines matters much to Baker. He wonít recognize that Votto is the third-best hitter he has, behind Adam Dunn and Jay Bruce, until Votto gets credited for enough RBIs to show up on his radar.
Iím not entirely sure how Dusty Baker, a man who owes his reputation as a manager in no small part to Barry Bonds, can have learned nothing from managing Bonds all those years. The Giantsí offense was capable of contending because Bonds would draw 100 walks a year and lead the league in OBP. Baker no doubt associates Bonds with homers and RBI, but it was the walks, the not making outs, that kept the line moving so that Jeff Kent and Ellis Burks and Moises Alou and others would face pitchers throwing from the stretch.
The stathead image of Baker isnít a caricature. It isnít a mirage. It isnít hypercritical. Dusty Baker has no real idea of what makes an offense run. He thinks thereís a massive difference between MLB and Triple-A. He thinks experience is just as important as ability.
One other important trait about Baker is that heís the Teflon manager. The local press fawns over him in a way that would be embarrassing if it wasnít just slightly worse than par for the course in the profession. Bakerís anti-intellectualistic approach to baseball dovetails nicely with the pervasive press backlash against reality-based coverage and administration of baseball teams.
So itís a new city, a new team, a new roster, and the same naked emperor. Dusty Baker may have positive qualitiesóhe does seem to have a salutary effect on veterans, for oneóbut he is, one the whole, a negative force in the dugout. He picks the wrong players to play, teaches an offensive approach that is counterproductive, and emphasizes secondary and tertiary traits such as speed and experience over primary ones such as getting on base and power.
Heís the wrong man for the 2008 Cincinnati Reds. No doubt when the Reds fall short of their upside that the blame will fall elsewhereóon Wayne Krivsky, on Adam Dunn, on Edwin Encarnacion or Homer Bailey. The Teflon manager will go on.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact Joe by clicking here or click here to see Joe's other articles.