The news was astounding, shocking, and completely Anthopoulos-like.
If you were paying attention to the rumours over the past month, you would have known that the Blue Jays were set to hire Sandy Alomar Jr. as the next manager. Then it became DeMarlo Hale. Then Mike Hargrove, or Jim Riggleman, or Jim Tracy, or Manny Acta, or Don Wakamatsu.
So of course, the next manager of the Toronto Blue Jays became a man who was never mentioned once for the role: former bench boss John Gibbons.
Just as we never heard anything about the Reyes trade, or the Marcum trade, or the Wells trade, or anything else that Anthopoulos has done in his tenure, the Gibbons hiring was – in keeping with AA philosophy – straight out of leftfield.
And I’ll be honest – my first reaction was disappointment. I didn’t like the move, not one bit. I was hoping for somebody new, somebody who could bring a fresh voice, maybe an Acta or an Alomar. I remember not liking Gibbons as the manager when he was here from 2004-2008, and I wanted nothing to do with his return.
But a funny thing happens when you let things digest. Your perspective changes.
As I write this now, many hours after having my initial reaction, I’m not as upset by the move. In fact, I might even say that…gulp…I LIKE it!
One of the major reasons behind my turnaround was a tweet posted by @james_in_to that said:
With the amount I’ve learned about baseball in the last 5 years as a lifelong fan of it I can not assess Gibbons’ previous performance.
That is unbelievably true when I consider how much things have changed in the past five years, and especially how much I have changed. Back in 2006 and 2007, I was a fan of the home run and the stolen base. I wanted my favourite players to play every day. Often times, Gibbons didn’t do that.
In addition, stats like OBP didn’t mean much to me (or the average fan), and advanced stats like OPS, WAR, and WPA didn’t even really exist, at least in the easily understandable formats they do now. Things like defensive shifts, bullpen management, and platoon situations weren’t heavily scrutinized, and the benefits of each of those items weren’t fully understood by myself and fans like me.
But now I have been converted. I love that stuff, and I find it easy to criticize managers who don’t see the point of it. Apparently, according to many folks on Twitter, John Gibbons is not one of those people.
How do we know that? Aside from conjecture by people on the internet, what can we point to that demonstrates Gibbons’ advanced managing style?
One way to at least shed a light is to look at the number of different batting orders a manager uses in any particular season. It’s not perfect, but it is a meaningful proxy for a manager’s tendency to platoon players, to sit some players against left-handed pitching, and others against right-handed pitching. A manager who doesn’t care about stuff like that has a tendency to throw the same players out there day after day, regardless of what the numbers say. Our old friend Cito was like that with Adam Lind, who played first base every day, even though he was woeful against lefties.
Gibbons was at the helm for three full seasons. These are the number of different batting orders he used in those years:
2005: 124 batting orders, 37 different batters
2006: 120 batting orders, 42 batters
2007: 131 batting orders, 46 batters
For context, in 1992 Cito Gaston used a grand total of only 58 different batting orders, and the Jays dressed 40 different batters that season. In ’05, despite using three fewer players, Gibbons constructed 66 more batting orders!! Last year, John Farrell used 131 different batting orders, with 54 different batters. To help interpret that, Farrell’s high number is due to injuries, not necessarily aggressive managing – Gibbons used the same number of batting orders in ’07 with 8 fewer players to choose from.
What does that tell us? For one thing, Gibbons is a very active, strategical manager, a man who is not afraid to put his best possible lineup on the field. That is extremely important in 2013, considering the Jays have some super subs in Rajai Davis and Emilio Bonifacio, they have a situation at first with Lind who can’t hit lefties, and they have other guys like Bautista (RF and 3B), Izturis (SS and 2B), and Gose (all OF), who have the ability to play multiple positions. Essentially the Jays will have a lineup with a lot of moving pieces, one that needs a strategist to move them. Farrell did not appear to be that strategist. Gibbons has shown in the past that he can be.
On top of that, he is a fiery guy. Yes he went overboard in his last tenure here by fighting Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly (though that was awesome). But tell me that guys like Rasmus, Romero, and especially Lawrie couldn’t benefit with some tough love, instead of seemingly never having to pay for mistakes (like they did with Farrell).
So for those of you still doubting the move like I was this morning, have no fear. Gibbons is the right man for the job.
Hell – he won 87 games in 2006 with a team that featured Hillenbrand, and Bengie Molina as starters, Gregg Zaun, Russ Adams, and Eric Hinske on the bench, and Gustavo Chacin and Josh Towers in the rotation.
Just imagine what he can do with this talent level…