Monday, May 24, 2010

Acta's Triage

Welcome to Cleveland, Manny Acta.

Only 35 games into his inaugural season as Cleveland’s manager, Acta had two of the three normally reliable players on his roster taken away. With shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera out until at least late July (8-10 weeks was the formal diagnosis, excluding minor league rehab time) and center fielder Grady Sizemore benched with a bum knee that may require surgery (he's soliciting second and third opinions from specialists this week), things are looking grim for the Tribe.

That’s not to say things were going according to plan beforehand, but few teams would be expected to fully recover after the loss of two cornerstone players (especially a team that’s already dug itself a bit of a hole in the standings).

You have to give Acta credit though, he’s maintained a positive attitude throughout, hoping it rubs off on the rest of the team as they try and find their way out of the basement (or at least to the top of the stairs).

"I choose to have a good attitude,” Acta explained, “You have to lead by example. If you come dragging in with your head down, you send the wrong message." It may sound like the usual dose of manager rhetoric (formerly referred to in this space as ‘Wedge Speak’), but the way Acta communicates and projects himself provides a stark contrast with his predecessor.

Acta’s main goal, especially with the younger players, is to hammer home the fundamentals (defense, smart base running, throwing strikes). Parts of his message have already translated to the field (fewer errors being committed), while others aren’t quite there (last in the AL in first-pitch strike percentage). However, I think the reason Acta will ultimately be successful is that the players see the enthusiasm and sincerity in how he approaches his job and it leaves them wanting to meet those expectations. They want to match Acta’s passion for the game and put forth their best effort.

I think Acta’s communication skills (in English or Español) and advanced knowledge of the game will allow him to engage and encourage his players in a way that Eric Wedge could not. Eventually, Wedge’s rigid system broke down under pressure and the team lost faith in his leadership. Acta has yet to be tested in a high stakes season (expectations for 2010 were understandably low), but it will be interesting to see how this team responds to pressure situations under his watch.

For now, Acta is tasked with installing his system and evaluating and developing personnel for the future. I’m confident Cleveland’s new manager has the team on the right track, even if recent trends have been disconcerting (to put it lightly).

The current challenge is to assemble a productive offense around Shin Soo Choo, some veteran spring training invitees, and a bunch of kids not yet accustomed to hitting in the Majors. As daunting as that may sound, I’m of the opinion that the day-to-day batting order doesn’t matter nearly as much as providing the players with a defined role and the appropriate amount of playing time.

Acta has expressed his desire to win, but understands that “we have to develop players too.” The skipper recognizes the value in the remaining three-quarters of the season to further develop a young, largely inexperienced, and not quite cohesive unit into a respectable squad for the second half of 2010 and beyond. So what can we expect as far as playing time, minor league call-ups, and roster management while Cabrera and Sizemore are sidelined?

Jason Donald will be the Tribe’s starting shortstop for the foreseeable future. Donald, acquired from Philadelphia as part of the Cliff Lee package, had zero experience at the major league level before his debut on May 18. Donald had built a strong case for a promotion in Triple-A Columbus this season, compiling a .277/.396/.423 line with 10 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, and 10 stolen bases in 165 PA. With Luis Valbuena’s game coming apart at the seams (54 OPS+, 5 errors on the season), Donald was already on the fast track for a promotion.

Valbuena’s performance and the sudden injury to Cabrera paved the way for Donald to be named starter, ready or not. Spring training invitee Mark Grudzielanek had already earned the everyday second baseman’s gig of his own merit, leaving Valbuena in a reduced role as utility infielder.

The veteran Grudzielanek provides a significant upgrade over Valbuena in every aspect of the game, except power (which is irrelevant, since Valbuena’s power stroke has yet to return). Grudz may be a journeyman at this point in his career, but he still has an above-average glove and had a .345 OBP in 2008 (he missed most of 2009 due to a back injury).

Acta’s initial endorsement of Valbuena as the team’s second baseman at the start of the season looks hollow in hindsight. Valbuena already had one foot out the door prior to Donald’s arrival, but the organization isn’t ready to give up on him. Valbuena will continue to see a start or two each week, likely confined to second base, to allow him to work through his funk at the plate. Even if they fall into a slump, Donald and Grudzielanek’s defense will keep them in the lineup.

Andy Marte is due to come off the DL next week, but a lack of extra middle infielders (Peralta will not be playing short, says Acta) on the 25-man roster may see the recently recalled Shelley Duncan (currently occupying Sizemore’s roster spot) get sent down instead of Valbuena. Remember, Marte is out of minor league options.

Trevor Crowe was actually called up to spell Marte, but his fate is now tied to that of Sizemore’s knee. Crowe had been on the coaching staff’s radar after a memorable effort in spring training, only to lose the fourth outfielder gig to Michael Brantley (who appeared in a grand total of 9 games).

Some fans may be wondering why Trevor Crowe got called up instead of Brantley. Crowe’s promotion was initially in response to Andy Marte’s injury, meaning the team wasn’t planning on keeping him up for more than a couple weeks. The organization wanted Brantley (and Donald for that matter) to continue seeing everyday at-bats in Triple-A, so they were passed over. When Crowe caught fire in Cleveland, he gave little reason for the club to demote him even after the prognosis on Sizemore’s knee got worse. Why mess with a good thing?

Personally, I’m glad the team stuck with Crowe. There are too many first-round picks wasting away in Triple-A in this organization. If Crowe has something to offer, the team couldn’t have been handed a better opportunity to find out. Crowe is 26 years old, already has 202 major league PA under his belt, and center field is wide open. Sure he may not be as talented as Brantley, that’s not the point. There are only so many at-bats to go around and a line of young players in need of an extended look. Crowe deserves this opportunity more than Brantley, in my opinion.

Under normal circumstances, Acta views the switch-hitting Crowe as an ideal fourth outfielder, able to provide excellent defense and speed off the bench. Instead, he’s been anointed the leadoff hitter and everyday center fielder. Crowe has responded to the organization’s vote of confidence in a big way, with a slash line of .324/.390/.432 with 12 H, 4 BB, and 3 SB in his first 9 games (41 PA) entering Monday’s series against Chicago. The 26-year-old Crowe is currently outperforming his career line of .276/.354/.407 at Triple-A. Combined with a .355 BABIP, Crowe is probably playing over his head right now. As long as he’s hitting though, that leadoff spot is his.

It’s not like the team has any clear cut leadoff hitters anyway. Grudzielanek? Donald? Choo is far-and-away the best available hitter, but someone has to drive in the runs. Plus, it would be a waste to have Choo’s power batting leadoff. Instead, Acta has tapped Choo to continue his noble “bat Sizemore second” experiment (a brilliant move I’ll continue to defend, if only Sizemore had hit…). Choo’s response? Two taters in three games, so far.

Proposed Cleveland Lineup

Order Starter (sub) GS (PA) wOBA^ ISO WAR
1 T. Crowe# 8 (41)
.375 .108 0.4
2 S. Choo* 42 (190)
.405 .176 2.1
3 J. Peralta 39 (167)
.323 .160 0.2
4 T. Hafner* 37 (160)
.363 .145 0.7
5 A. Kearns 29 (130)
.383 .183 1.1
6 R. Branyan* 19 (84)
.319 .219 0.3
7 M. Grudzielanek 20 (95)
.283 .000 0.2
8 L. Marson 29 (106)
.247 .042 -0.1
9 J. Donald 6 (23)
.148 .000 -0.2

(M. LaPorta) 24 (106)
.249 .061 -0.5

(L. Valbuena*) 25 (102)
.250 .107 -0.4

(M. Redmond) 13 (49)
.269 .091 -0.2
DL (A. Marte) 8 (32)
.338 .208 0.1
DL G. Sizemore* 31 (140)
.255 .078 -0.4
DL A. Cabrera# 33 (149)
.303 .081 -0.1

*Lefty; #Switch

^League average is roughly .335

Stats courtesy of FanGraphs, current as of 5/24/10

The rest of the lineup that’s been trotted out for the past 9 games has been fairly conventional. Speed at the top, power in the middle, light weights and scrubs at the bottom. The speedy Jason Donald is sort of the “second” leadoff man batting ninth, similar to how Brantley was deployed at the start of the season. Meanwhile, Peralta really shouldn’t be batting lower than fourth now that he’s broken out of his usual April doldrums (this opinion subject to change in 30 days).

The bottom half of the lineup is almost a throw-away with Grudzielanek setting the table for the punch-less LaPorta and Marson. The heart of the order isn’t too bad though, assuming Hafner’s bat continues to come around, Kearns doesn’t become a black hole when the inevitable regression hits (.421 BABIP!), and Branyan does….well, I guess the home runs are nice. I’m pretty comfortable with a lineup starting off with [Hot Hand of the Month], Choo, Peralta, Hafner, Kearns, and Branyan. You know, considering the circumstances. Cleveland’s lineup isn’t about to send Francisco Liriano running for the hills, but it might make Luke Hochevar break a sweat (those complete games are hard work).

Again, the lineup doesn’t really matter much in the long run. Acta might be able to eke out some extra runs by shuffling the batting order and playing the splits, but consistency and playing time are the name of the game for a young ball club trying to get its act together. Not to mention, the makeup of the offense could be in line for a dramatic overhaul once Carlos Santana comes to town. Remember what a difference it made when Victor Martinez went down with an injury in 2008? Ok, maybe you don’t because Kelly Shoppach had a career year and belted 21 homers as a catcher. Still, it’s going to be a big deal when Santana arrives in June.

Quotable Acta

When asked whether it's tough to get reliever Rafael Perez enough work in non-pressure situations:

"Life is tough. Get a helmet."

When asked about the loss of his number 1 and 2 hitters a week later:

“Life is tough, get a double-flap helmet. It provides more protection from both sides.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tribe Loses Cabrera in a Botched Shift

Asdrubal Cabrera has to be one of the unluckiest players in Cleveland history, which is saying something given the crappy luck that franchise has had. In a collision that turned out to be much worse than it looked, Cabrera fractured his left forearm in the first inning of Monday’s game at Tampa Bay.

A shift was on for Hank Blalock, moving Jhonny Peralta to the shortstop position and Cabrera over to the first base side. Blalock hit a ground ball about a foot left of the bag, directly between the two infielders. Running at full speed to make a play on the ball, neither player appears to see each other until it’s too late. In an attempt to slow down at the last second, Peralta slides into and on top of Cabrera, placing Cabrera’s arm in an awkward position underneath his torso and causing the fractured bone.

I was ready to place the blame on Peralta for the incident (which I’m sure was the knee-jerk reaction for a lot of fans), but upon further review, there really wasn’t anything Peralta could have done to avoid the collision once the play began. Below is a series of screenshots showing the play in question:

Normally, if Peralta and Cabrera were converging on a ball, their routes would overlap with one backing up the other. Because of the shift and the direction the ball took towards second base, their ranges overlapped.

Here, you can see Peralta and Cabrera converging on the ball at nearly the same time. Both are focused on the ball and getting ready to make a play and fail to notice the other player bearing down on them.

After watching the replay several times, I think this is the point where the play broke down and turned dangerous. Some may blame Peralta’s inability to get out of the way in time or point out that the shortstop should have received priority on the play, but the collision resulted from a lack of communication and the departure of the standard infield procedures. This is partly due to the unusual circumstances presented by the shift.

To my knowledge, infielders don’t typically call out for a ground ball, it just reverts to whoever is closest to the area of play at the time. An initial verbal cue could have prevented the collision, though such an act is far from second nature for a ground ball up the middle. Cabrera may have been a few steps closer to where the ball rolled through, but it was very close; arguably too close for the players to reasonably judge in the middle of a quick play like that. However, they did have an opportunity to either discuss the shift with each other or note where people were positioned prior to that first pitch to Blalock. It’s unclear whether this actually happened or not.

Both players are still looking over their shoulder at the ball and not paying attention to each other. Peralta seems to be taking a route slightly behind Cabrera.

At this point, Peralta notices Cabrera diving towards him at an angle to cut off the ball and he attempts to put on the brakes. Keep in mind that they are both going at full tilt right now.

Peralta tries to skid to a halt on his knee, but his momentum continues to carry him…

...until he briefly rolls over Cabrera. It appears that Peralta was able to avoid dropping his full weight onto Cabrera, propping himself up with his knee. Unfortunately, Cabrera’s arm is trapped between the ground and the point where Peralta’s weight does land, which places too much stress on the bone and fractures it.

Again, I feel that blame for the collision lies with both players, even though Cabrera took the hit. There are measures each player could have taken collaboratively or on his own to prevent the accident, yet presumably failed to do so. The severity of Cabrera’s injury still seems like a fluke to me though. If I had watched the replay without knowing the aftermath, I would have been surprised to hear it caused a broken arm. There just didn’t seem to be enough contact or force involved.

That said, I feel absolutely terrible for Cabrera. He had begun to establish himself as a key member of the team as starting shortstop and leadoff hitter this season, only to have it derailed early on. Last season, Cabrera missed nearly a month after dislocating his shoulder while sliding into second to break up a double play. Both were fairly routine plays that for whatever reason, ended in a serious injury.

Is Cabrera at risk of developing into one of those brilliant, yet fragile players during his career? Even though he was a starter for all of 2009, Cabrera was only healthy enough to appear in 131 games that year. Over the course of the 2009 season, he suffered a hip strain, ankle injury (running out to his position between innings), knee contusion (fouled off a ball), the dislocated shoulder, and had surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow after the season. So far in 2010, he’s had a strained groin in spring training, a quad strain, and the broken arm. All those little injuries are seemingly starting to pile up for the 24-year-old shortstop.

I think it’s still too early to write off Cabrera as a chronic injury risk, partly due to his age and the unavoidable or routine nature of some of the injuries. Plus, a major item was overlooked in the list above: how much time was actually missed from these injuries. It may be a lengthy list compared to some players, but it’s not nearly as bad as it seems. Twenty five of the games he missed in 2009 resulted solely from the dislocated shoulder. Had he not collided with the infielder’s leg on that play, Cabrera would have appeared in at least 156 games (that’s over 96% of the season). If that were the case, I wouldn’t have given his injury history a second thought.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Luis and the Lefties

Cleveland has had a tough time finding that “second baseman of the future” ever since they shipped out Brandon Phillips in 2006. Since then, second has been occupied by Josh Barfield and various veteran journeymen. Ronnie Belliard’s tenure, from 2004 until he was traded to St. Louis late in 2006, was the longest of the bunch. Belliard also posted two of the best offensive seasons (106, 107 OPS+) by a Cleveland second baseman since Roberto Alomar in 2001 (150 OPS+), so clearly it’s been a while since the franchise had a capable hitter manning the pivot.

This makes a player like Luis Valbuena all the more intriguing. Valbuena was acquired from Seattle (along with Joe Smith via the Mets) during the 2008 offseason in exchange for Franklin Gutierrez. Even though Cleveland essentially pulled a Brian Giles with the Gutierrez trade (stud outfielder traded so he wouldn’t be blocked by a studlier outfielder at his natural position), the expectations within the organization and amongst the fans (at least those who valued cost-controlled, elite defenders in center field) were already slightly elevated. The fact that the Barfield trade ended up as a huge disappointment also shadowed Valbuena’s arrival.

Despite a rushed development track with Seattle, the 22-year-old Valbuena more than held his own in the upper minors, splitting the 2008 season between Double and Triple-A. After posting a combined .303/.382/.431 line over 523 PA that year, Cleveland promoted him full time to Triple-A, where he continued to thrive at the plate with a .321/.436/.538 line over 95 PA. Valbuena made his debut in Cleveland in May of 2009 and proceeded to take his lumps against major league pitching for the remainder of the season. The Tribe had wanted to determine if he could be a viable starter as the team shifted into rebuilding mode and expressed optimism in the relatively raw Valbuena’s .714 OPS that season.

Valbuena received a vote of confidence from new manager Manny Acta during spring training this offseason when Acta addressed the topic no young position player wants to be associated with:

We're not in the business of developing platoon players at 24 years old. We're going to give him opportunities [against lefties].

From a developmental stand-point, this was the right approach to take with Valbuena. Common sense dictates that he’ll never figure out lefties if he doesn’t get a chance to face them on a regular basis. However, there have been rumblings that Acta may be hedging somewhat on his original promise. Below are the season splits for Valbuena and his backup, Mark Grudzielanek, through May 1:


Total 16 65 2 2 9 .308 .327 .635 .216
vs RHP 14 55 2 1 7 .291 .277 .568 .219
vs LHP 2 10 0 1 2 .400 .625 1.025 .200


Total 7 30 0 0 0 .233 .233 .467 .269
vs RHP 2 9 0 0 0 .222 .222 .444 .250
vs LHP 5 21 0 0 0 .238 .238 .476 .278

It may be a limited sample, but considering five of Grudzielanek’s seven starts have come against LH starting pitchers (all of which were at 2B) while only two of Valbuena’s sixteen have come against lefty starters, there appears to be a trend forming. It’s too early to draw any useful conclusions performance-wise, but it is curious that Valbuena’s 10 PA against lefties this season have been outstanding while Grudzielanek’s contributions in that department have been poor.

Acta may be trying to help Valbuena break out of his early slump by putting him in ideal situations for success and will end the platoon once Valbuena gets his overall numbers up. Acta may also be feeling the pressure of managing an under-performing offense and has opted to temporarily shelve his plan for Valbuena in an effort to get some extra production from second base.

If that’s the case, it’s not working. Grudzielanek has been a dog at the plate so far, even worse than Valbuena’s overall numbers. So why not just give the kid the at-bats he was promised? Acta has the green light to test his young players this season and has suggested he’ll take advantage of that opportunity, making any talk of platoons seem out of place right now.

Is it possible Acta is just ahead of the curve on Valbuena though? After all, the main contradiction between what Acta originally stated and the direction he may be taking now was based on a spring training sound bite, so the anti-platoon policy for second isn’t exactly iron clad. Valbuena’s career minor league splits are a bit discouraging. Below are his career totals and a sample of his time in the upper minors:

Year Age Level Split AB HR OBP SLG OPS BABIP LD%
2008 22 AA vs RHP 170 8 .374 .524 .898 .326 18.50%

vs LHP 70 1 .398 .386 .784 .339 22.20%

AAA vs RHP 161 2 .395 .391 .786 .348 17.70%

vs LHP 48 0 .327 .292 .619 .325 16.70%

2009 23 AAA vs RHP 59 3 .471 .661 1.132 .396 27.50%

vs LHP 19 0 .304 .158 .462 .214 13.3%

Minors vs RHP 1289 37 .361 .447 .808 .306 13.9%

vs LHP 460 5 .319 .311 .630 .290 14.60%

MLB vs RHP 418 9 .293 .463 .756 .270 20.6%

vs LHP 58 3 .302 .390 .692 .292 19.40%

Valbuena’s second stint in Double-A in 2007 also happens to be his best overall season in the minors. Considering he put up a better OBP against lefties than righties for the first time since A+ ball accompanied by an elevated BABIP (.339 versus a career .302), this stretch is probably more of an outlier. After being promoted to Triple-A, Valbuena’s numbers against lefties dropped off considerably and haven’t shown much sign of rebounding.

His career minor league splits reinforce this trend with a .630 OPS over 460 AB against lefties compared to a much healthier .808 OPS over 1289 AB against righties. Not only has Valbuena struggled to get on base against southpaws (.319 OBP), but his bat loses most of its pop (.311 SLG).

With that kind of track record, it’s quite possible that Valbuena never figures out how to handle lefties effectively. If he failed to do so against lesser competition throughout his minor league career, the odds don’t look good, even if he were to receive regular at-bats against them in the majors. However, the main factor working in the 24-year-old's favor at the moment is that he was rushed through the minors and is still relatively young for a major league starter, so he could still develop into a serviceable hitter against lefties down the road.

The team should maintain a patient approach with Valbuena. Regardless of what he does against lefties, it’s well established that he has the potential to be an above average hitter versus righties (which is what he’ll be facing most of the time anyway). Also, considering Valbuena’s home is second base, it’s not like he’s expected to be an integral part of the offense, nor is he blocking any superior hitters down on the farm.

A lot of players tend to have difficulty against left handed pitching during their career. For example, fellow lefty Grady Sizemore has a modest career OPS of .705 against left handed pitching, which casts Valbuena's career mark of .630 in the minors in a better light considering the disparity in talent between the two players.

Given how ineffective guys like Sizemore, Peralta, and Hafner have been early in the season, it would seem unfair to single out Valbuena’s slump. If management does decide to shake things up at second base though, Jason Donald is making quite a case for himself in Columbus with 8 doubles, 2 HR, and a .321/.424/.912 line over 84 AB so far. Donald can also play every infield position except first, meaning incumbent utility infielder Grudzielanek should start looking over his shoulder as well.

Coincidentally, Donald owns a career minor league line of .279/.391/.423 against left handed pitching, making him an ideal platoon partner for Valbuena if that’s the direction the team decides to go in. Cleveland would have to move Grudzielanek before promoting Donald, but that appears to be the best option if Grudzielanek fails to produce at the plate.

Having both Valbuena and Donald up gives Manny Acta more options as far as developing his future roster while optimizing his current one. Even if the team “is not in the business of developing 24 year old platoon players,” at least they’d be able to get a look at their two best options at second base in the same season, possibly improving the offense in the process if they end up as a pure platoon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Evaluating Baseball's Managers by Chris Jaffe

I was recently contacted by baseball writer Chris Jaffe to review a set of excerpts from his new book, "Evaluating Baseball's Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876-2008." I’ve never posted a book review before, but I had enjoyed some of the author’s earlier articles on major league managers for The Hardball Times, so the topic caught my interest right away.

I think this is a great concept for a book given that managers tend to be one of the most overlooked elements of a team. Despite all the statistical advances in evaluating player and team performance, the manager’s influence has always been difficult to measure. What role do a manager’s actions actually play in deciding a team’s win-loss record? Jaffe’s book takes a fresh approach to answering this question and lays a solid foundation for future research on the impact of managerial decisions.

The first part of the book explains the metrics upon which its conclusions are based and provides results illustrating who the best, worst, and most extreme managers in history are. Jaffe utilizes the Birnbaum Database (based on expected win-loss records and run differential algorithms) and Tendencies Database (based on how teams rank in certain categories, like bunts), in addition to other supporting stats, to create the core metrics for comparing managers in relation to their team’s performance. The databases also provide a baseline with which to compare managers against each other, distilling their abilities (or lack thereof) into tangible results.

The second half of the book contains entries on 89 managers spanning 132 years of baseball history, including 77 managers who served at least 10 seasons as a team’s primary manager and 12 of the most significant who fell short of this criterion. Additional background on the book is available here, for those who are curious.

I had access to the entries for 13 former Cleveland managers, from Patsy Tebeau (1892-98) to Mike Hargrove (1992-99), which gave me a good sample to consider.

My favorite part of the excerpts was how seamlessly Jaffe integrated the history in with the analysis for each manager. Historical context can play an important role in understanding a manager’s tendencies (the use of starting pitchers now and in the past is a prime example), while also adding depth to an entry. Famous events, characters, and trivia from baseball’s history populate each entry, making the book as much a history lesson as an analytical tool.

Obviously, some managers received more detailed entries than others, but I never felt like any of them were being shorted (length was appropriate to influence). It also didn’t show any bias towards the big name managers; for every Lou Boudreau, you’ll find someone like Steve O’Neill who is described in just as much detail and is just as fascinating.

Each manager’s Team Characteristics write-up is prefaced with a summary of their career record/timeline and database results. The data is depicted on the basis of runs scored/prevented and was easy enough to understand. Basically, if you can read an adjusted stat like OPS+, you won’t have any trouble understanding the stats presented in the book. By comparing the Team Characteristics section to a manager’s effectiveness scores from the Birnbaum database, the reader can immediately make a connection as to whether or not a manager’s methods proved effective or not.

Based on the brief explanation I read, Jaffe seems to have a strong methodology in place for generating and evaluating the statistics he uses from all angles, going so far as to highlight possible errors or shortcomings that may be influencing the data and offering an appropriate explanation or caveat to accompany the data.

Occasionally, an individual manager’s entry will highlight a particular trend or unique record, weaving in other managers who share the same thread. I particularly enjoyed these nuggets of analysis, since they actually backed up the previously stated tendencies with results and could connect historical trends experienced by other managers. Below is a sample of analysis for Al Lopez (1951-56) pertaining to his starting rotation:

Lopez, unlike other AL skippers, noted the weather and temperature when deciding how much he should lean on his starting pitchers. The below chart notes what percentage of starts resulted in completion for the White Sox from 1957-65 (when Lopez managed them) in comparison to the rest of the league:

Month CWS Other AL
April 25.7% 26.2%
May 25.3% 26.4%
June 28.0% 25.6%
July 28.4% 26.1%
Aug. 34.7% 27.1%
S/O 24.6% 27.7%

This list reveals that the rest of the league’s pitchers started games on a regular basis throughout the season, but Lopez’s White Sox were less likely to finish games in the colder months. This looks like sensible player management on Lopez’s part. The colder the weather, the harder it is for the muscles to warm up (this is especially true after sitting down for a half-inning). An arm that was not fully warmed up risked a greater chance of injury or at least ineffectiveness. By maintaining an awareness of when to push or ease up on his players, Lopez’s squads could thrive instead of wilt as the year went on.

I’ve become so accustomed to the way the game is managed today, it’s fun to look back at how the game used to be. I’d also never even heard of most of the old-time mangers and wouldn’t have known how influential some of them were on the franchise from just glancing at the numbers on their Baseball Reference page. Jaffe’s book helps define part of a franchise’s history that fans wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.

Even better, is reading about managers that you’ve actually seen in action and are able to pair your own opinion and experiences with. Reading about popular contemporary managers in this context puts them in a whole other light as far as whether they actually deserve the reputation and accolades they’ve received in their careers. So for all the fans who are tired of hearing about the genius of Tony LaRussa or how overrated Joe Torre is, now you have a tool at your disposal that can help separate fact from fiction.

I would recommend this book to any baseball fan with an interest in history or the latest statistical analysis (honestly, it could stand alone in either category). "Evaluating Baseball's Managers" is available for purchase here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cleveland May Skip Weak Free Agent Market

With the annual GM Winter Meetings starting on Monday in Indianapolis, there will be a flurry of activity surrounding the free agent market. Obviously, the rebuilding Indians aren’t going to be spending much money on free agents this off-season, but that didn’t stop new manager Manny Acta from dropping a few hints about what he wants for Christmas.

According to an interview on Castrovince’s blog, Acta was open to the possibility of bringing in a veteran starting pitcher (because “you can never go into Spring Training short on pitching”), a right-handed utility infielder to cover first base (in case LaPorta is still ailing in April), and possibly a veteran starting catcher (in case the rookie backstops are overwhelmed in managing the pitching staff). I’m not sure I agree with Acta’s assessment, but to be fair this was meant as an “ideal” scenario as far as what holes he would fill to bolster his young team in the short-term.

Representing the front office’s point of view heading to Indy, Shapiro gave the impression that he won’t even be shopping for his usual bargain bin signings this year:

"We don't have a defined need. We want to get better and improve and offset the volatility that goes with young players, but we don't have the pressure of having to complete a trade or sign a free agent."

That “volatility” associated with the team’s young players is basically another way of saying “we’re not totally sold on these guys to carry the team next season.” The level of confidence the front office has in players like Andy Marte, Jordan Brown, and Carlos Carrasco will be a key point in dictating how aggressive Cleveland is on the free agent market (the pitching staff seems to be garnering the most buzz in this regard). Jake Westbrook’s performance with Ponce of the Puerto Rican winter league may also influence how inclined the team is to pursue a veteran starting pitcher to help stabilize a comparatively inexperienced rotation.

It may seem odd to hear Acta casually mention adding a veteran starter when the team already has a healthy Westbrook on track for Spring Training. I’m pretty confident that Cleveland will be shopping Westbrook this season though, which would leave a significant void in the rotation. Westbrook is owed $11 million in 2010, so there will probably be some pressure from ownership to move his contract. Right now, it’s a matter of timing.

Cleveland may know Westbrook is healthy, but it would be wise to showcase him against major league competition to further boost his trade value. Barring any setbacks, I’d place Westbrook’s return value maybe a notch or two above Pavano (which yielded pitcher Yohan Pino from the Twins). The fact that Pavano was due only about $1.5 million and Westbrook will be guaranteed significantly more than that could make him less appealing as a stop-gap acquisition for a contender. Then again, Westbrook is a better pitcher than Pavano to begin with and has been known to go on ridiculous hot streaks, so concerns over his price tag may be dampened heading into the mid-season trade deadline.

Either way, it’s doubtful Westbrook is moved this winter due to his recent health issues and lack of major league innings. Interest in Jake will probably start to gain steam as the season matures and contenders start to contemplate holes in their rotations.

Even if Cleveland decides to pursue a pitcher, are there even any veteran hurlers on the market worth signing? Guys like Jarrod Washburn, Rich Harden, Vicente Padilla, Justin Duchscherer, and Jon Garland are beyond the Tribe’s price range. John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez are interesting options, but it would be to their advantage to stay in the National League and their endurance makes them a poor fit for a team that would be looking for innings to lessen the workload of their developing arms. Plus, Pedro may command a decent raise with his performance in the playoffs for Philly last year.

As intriguing as it would be to have a veteran like Smoltz or Martinez mentoring the pitchers, isn’t that what the coaching staff is for? If they sign a free agent who is only available to pitch half the time (or less) because of durability issues, they’d essentially be paying $2-5 million for a part-time player and an extra coach. This doesn’t seem like an especially wise use of a roster spot or what limited funds are available to improve the team.

Granted, there is a different dynamic involved when comparing a player-coach and player-player relationship. There could certainly be some aspects to the latter teaching arrangement that I am undervaluing or are non-occurring between a player and a formal coach. Still, now doesn’t seem like an appropriate time to bring in that type of player given the team’s financial struggles and abundance of available arms.

Also, it’s not as if the rotation would consist of a bunch of fresh-faced rookies right out of the gate. Laffey (264.2 IP) and Masterson (217.2 IP) have been up long enough to understand the game and what’s expected of them at this level, even making an appearance in the postseason. Huff spent much of 2009 in Cleveland and appears to be ML ready. With 395 and 498 innings logged in the Majors over four seasons, Sowers and Carmona are well-seasoned, despite their individual struggles (I’m carrying over my prediction from last year: if Carmona doesn’t get it together the pitching staff is in big trouble regardless). Carlos Carrasco and Hector Rondon are another story, but again, their development track ultimately falls to the coaching staff.

The team will have some juggling to do in managing their starters. Carmona is a lock for the rotation, although Sowers’ role is less certain; both are out of minor league options. Masterson offers some flexibility in that he can move back to the bullpen, but I think the organization has a strong desire to test him as a starter for now. If that’s the case, Sowers may be used as a long-reliever. This could yield more work than you’d think, especially if Carmona or others have trouble going deep into games or the team wants to manage the workload of certain pitchers.

Carrasco will likely start the season in Columbus as an emergency starter or whenever Westbrook’s rotation spot opens up via trade. Due to a lack of experience in the upper minors and service time considerations, I’d be surprised if Rondon was called up before the second half of the season.

And in case you were wondering, Anthony Reyes will likely miss the entire 2010 season as he recovers from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery, so he’s a non-factor. Scott Lewis (remember him?) spent most of 2009 trying to get healthy in the minors, but could contribute at some point in 2010 (no idea when or in what capacity though).

Below is how I see the Indians’ rotation shaking out to start the season:

1.) Westbrook

2.) Carmona

3.) Laffey*

4.) Masterson

5.) Huff*

6.) Sowers* (bullpen/emergency starter)

7.) Carrasco (Triple-A)

* Left-hander

There are always a few surprises when it comes to distributing starts over a season, which means players in Columbus like Chuck Lofgren, Yohan Pino, or Zach Jackson could enter the fray at some point. For an example of this unpredictability, see Tomo Ohka’s six starts with the Tribe in 2009.

Returning to the question of a free agent signing, does Cleveland have enough starting pitching depth to make it through the season without over-exposing their prospects? This is literally the (multi) million dollar question for Cleveland. It’s not an easy question to answer, especially if you factor in the possible departure of Westbrook. On the one hand, there just aren’t many quality, affordable starters on the market. On the other, the team will only need that additional starter in the event of an unlikely string of injuries or a drastic failure in performance by multiple pitchers, paired with a trade that may or may not occur (plus there always seems to be a journeyman available on waivers to eat innings).

Assuming Cleveland has around $5 million to work with (based on what I’ve heard, this could be a generous guess), wants a veteran presence, and doesn’t want to commit to more than a one year deal, who’s available this off-season?

Bartolo Colon

Colon fell off the radar following his 2005 CY-winning season with Anaheim. He suffered a torn rotator cuff in the 2005 postseason and was limited by shoulder soreness and trips to the DL for much of the ’06 and ’07 seasons. Colon found some success in 2008 on a minor league deal with Boston, averaging 5.57 innings over 7 starts with a 118 ERA+, 1.38 WHIP, and 2.70 K/BB ratio. He signed a $1 million contract with the White Sox in 2009, making 12 starts over 62.1 IP (5.17 IP/GS) with a 111 ERA+, 1.44 WHIP, and 1.81 K/BB. It’s unclear how much injury hindered his 2009 season, but Colon’s decision to withhold an inflamed elbow from the team contributed to his release in September.

Assuming he hasn’t held a grudge about being traded to Montreal and still has a strong desire to pitch, a return to Cleveland could do wonders for his focus. Cleveland’s training staff is also among the best in the league and may keep him healthier than he’s been in the past. His endurance is questionable, but when healthy the 36-year-old has been able to provide quality innings and appears to have enough left in the tank to be a serviceable fifth starter. Colon could be worth taking a flyer on as there would be minimal risk involved in a minor league deal. I’d consider him more of a depth signing than a true starter though.

Livan Hernandez

You want an innings eater, this is the guy (just don’t expect anything special). Livan Hernandez has been adding to his journeyman status the last four seasons, bouncing between Washington, Arizona, Minnesota, Colorado, the Mets, and back to Washington. During that time, the 34-year-old righty has averaged nearly 200 innings per season, which is sort of remarkable considering what he’s tossing out there on a given night.

Considering the Mets and Nationals ranked near the bottom of the league on defense last year, Hernandez really wasn’t that bad. Over 31 starts he posted a 4.44 FIP, 1.56 WHIP, 1.52 K/BB, and 1.10 GB/FB over 183.2 IP. Ok, so he does allow a ton of baserunners and the 22.3% line drive rate is a bit steep, but hey: that’s 180 fewer innings you don’t have to worry about distributing amongst the youthful rotation or an assuredly busy bullpen (quantity over quality in this case).

Unless the Indians can come away with some sort of coup elsewhere, Hernandez is probably my favorite candidate to play the role of veteran starter/innings eater/insurance policy for the rotation. The Mets picked him up on a minor league deal last February with a base salary of $1 million, plus some modest performance incentives. It seems reasonable for Hernandez to look for a similar deal this year, although he may not be thrilled at the prospect of another minor league stint.

I think Cleveland holds an advantage over most teams in this case, since they could essentially guarantee Hernandez the type of playing time others can’t (although other non-contenders could also provide ample innings, so this may not be that strong of a bargaining chip). If the organization feels this is the best safety net for the rotation in 2010, it would be realistic for them to flip Westbrook’s salary at some point while bringing in Hernandez on a one-year, $1-2.5 million deal.

Kelvim Escobar

Escobar had to have his right shoulder surgically repaired prior to the 2008 season and he’s been trying to get healthy ever since. Escobar’s comeback trail has been littered with various aches and pains, forcing him into a prolonged rehab period that stretched into the entire 2009 season. After sitting out all of 2008, he made his only major league appearance of 2009 in a June 6th start, but simply didn’t have enough strength in his shoulder to continue pitching. As he approaches the two year mark since his surgery, Escobar plans on showcasing his arm in the Venezuelan Winter League this winter and may work out for individual teams in January (according to Jerry Crasnick at ESPN).

The fact that Escobar is advertising his participation in winter ball indicates that he is fairly confident in his health this time around. However, it is unclear if he can still be an effective starting pitcher, as his velocity and endurance have likely taken a significant hit due to the severity of his injury. It may also take time for him to re-adjust to pitching in the majors and become comfortable working in the strike zone again. This re-adjustment could be difficult if he suddenly finds himself without his 94 mph fastball (I’m not sure if he’s been able to further integrate and improve his off-speed pitches in the meantime).

Escobar may ultimately end up as a reliever to help preserve his fragile shoulder. Angels manager Mike Scioscia entertained the idea of shifting Escobar to the pen before having to shut him down completely in 2009. It would make sense for both parties to have Escobar spend a large portion of 2010 as a reliever. This would reduce the risk involved for whoever signs him, since he would be cheaper and easier to replace if he were to land on the DL. It would also benefit Escobar, since a back-end bullpen gig would provide a low-pressure environment against major league competition in which to test his shoulder and get acclimated.

The Red Sox, Rays, Orioles, Yankees, Mets, Mariners, and Brewers have all been connected to Escobar through the rumor mill, so there would be plenty of competition for his services if Cleveland decided to enter the mix. All of those teams, minus the Rays, could probably offer a more lucrative contract than Cleveland, not to mention a chance to play for a contender (Orioles excluded).

Cleveland could certainly offer an incentivized minor league deal, but the salary ceiling for those incentives would fall short of the field. The Tribe’s lack of disposable funds should keep them on the sidelines, but Escobar isn’t exactly worth pursuing anyway as he does not meet the team’s needs at this stage of his career.

Ben Sheets

I had been casually mulling the idea of Cleveland bringing in Ben Sheets on a Pavano-Plus type of contract: a low base salary of $1.5-3 million, but with a higher salary ceiling and better incentives contingent on innings pitched and time spent on the DL. Even if the only way Sheets would sign is if he had the chance to make $6-8 million after incentives, Cleveland could still ship him to a contender for a prospect or cash at the trade deadline if he stays healthy and pitches like the Ben Sheets of old. It sounded like a good idea, until I heard how much Sheets is looking for in his next contract.

$12 million guaranteed, if the report is to be believed. I understand his agent is trying to get a good deal for his client, but considering Sheets had surgery on a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow last February it’s sort of amusing to see that kind of figure suggested. The only way Sheets is going to come close to that amount is if he signs a heavily incentivized contract and stays healthy enough to meet all his performance goals. No team is going to give him $12 million up front; something had to have gotten lost in translation here.

At any rate, the 31-year-old Louisiana native has not made a major league start since September of 2008 before the elbow injury cost him a chance to make his first career post-season start. Sheets was fairly impressive en route to a 3.38 FIP, 1.15 WHIP, and 3.36 K/BB over 198.1 IP (31 GS). If he can replicate those numbers, he’d certainly be worth $12 million on the market, but given his injury history (past and present) that’s a big “if.” Word on the street is that several teams are interested in his services, with the Rangers appearing to be the front runners (they made an attempt to sign him in 2008 before the seriousness of his injury came out). The Yankees, Mets, and Orioles have also been connected to the right-hander.

Obviously, the anticipated price tag alone (incentives or not) will discourage Cleveland from getting too involved with Sheets, but he presents an intriguing risk/reward value for teams better equipped to absorb the salary hit if he ends up collecting a large chunk of his contract before succumbing to injury and becoming untradeable (assuming he makes it out of the starting gate). If Cleveland had a legitimate chance to contend, I’d advocate pursuing Sheets on a team-friendly contract given his potential upside when healthy. Heck, even if they weren’t going to contend, but still had the cash, I wouldn’t mind seeing them take a chance on turning Sheets into a prime trade chip.

A weak free agent class and Cleveland’s lack of financial muscle makes it seem unlikely that they will be signing any free agents to major league contracts this winter. Fortunately, the organization’s revamped farm system contains enough depth to make free agents a luxury, as they arguably have enough pieces on their current roster to field a decent team in 2010 while they further develop their key prospects. While it is unusual for a team to completely forego the free agent market, the money saved on a weak talent pool could yield a better value in the future.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More on Manny and His D.C. Rep

Manny Acta was introduced as Cleveland’s new manager at a press conference with Mark Shapiro on Monday. The conference started off with the usual Shapiro Speak™ before Acta donned the ceremonial press conference jersey and took some questions. Nothing ground breaking of course, but there were a few interesting items to chew on.

One of the first things I noticed about Acta was how passionate he sounds when talking about baseball and his new team. He’s either one of the best PR men Cleveland has seen in a while, or he really does take tremendous pride in his profession (I’d say a combination of both, particularly the latter). I’m probably over-hyping the man at this point, but even if he is still just drawing from his interview playbook, the fact that he cared enough about joining the team to completely immerse himself in the organization’s structure, players, achievements, and failures from top-to-bottom means a lot. And remember, he chose Cleveland over Houston, an organization he has an amicable history with.

This seems like more than just a second chance to prove himself as a manager, Acta seems like he truly wants to be here and see these players (most of whom he’s probably never even met) succeed and develop. That’s a very cool vibe to get from a manager’s second press conference.

Early on, Acta implied that he at least has a basic understanding of the dynamic behind the fan base in Cleveland, contrasting the 455 straight sellouts of the last Golden Age of Baseball on the North Coast with the absence of a championship. Having spent time in Montreal and Washington, he probably knows it’s going to be an uphill battle to win back the fan base, which is indirectly part of his job. The sooner he can start fielding a contender again, the sooner the fans will (hopefully) start showing the support they used to and rally around the team.

Apparently, Acta had come to respect and know the Indians organization through a few atypical channels. As a NL manager, Acta only had the chance to meet the Tribe on the field once during interleague play in 2007. However, he did become quite familiar with the organization during his time coaching and managing in the minors. As an opposing manager, Acta said he “battled [the Indians] organization for years in the minor leagues.” That was sort of an interesting anecdote for him to bring up now, considering he hasn’t even been in the minors since 2000.

He also described how he watched the Indians on television after he was fired from the Nationals, knowing an opportunity may emerge within the struggling franchise. "[Cleveland] is a place where a lot of people want to be,” said Acta. “In 2007, I worked as an analyst during the playoffs [for FOX Sports en Español (FSE)] and fell in love with the Indians back then."

Acta went on to show his familiarity with the players he’ll be taking on, briefly mentioning how his staff will need to get Carmona back on track in 2010 and how David Huff turned out a successful rookie season (probably not a stretch to pencil Huff into Acta’s starting rotation next year). He even dropped Hector Rondon’s name into the conversation (foreshadowing a mid-season call-up perhaps?).

The main piece of news to come out of the press conference was that some of the coaches Acta is interested in hiring to fill out his staff are still under contract with other teams, meaning he couldn’t discuss any specific names just yet. My take-away from that would be that Acta has been given the lead in assembling his coaching staff, rather than having to work off a pre-determined list of candidates provided by the front office (although obviously Shapiro and Dolan will have to sign off on any final decisions).

The new coaches will probably be announced soon after the World Series, assuming the team is already beginning to contact potential hires.

For the second time, Acta cited Joe Torre as an example of how even the most respected managers in baseball were challenged early in their career. “If you give people the opportunity to choose between, say, Joe Torre after his first three years with the Mets or the Joe Torre now, I believe everyone would pick the one from now," Acta said. "I think we have to look back and know that not everybody who is a big shot now was a big shot when they started. I think big shots are just little shots who keep shooting, and I'm not willing to quit shooting until I become a big shot."

This statement was directed towards the skeptics who have expressed concern over his tenure with the Washington Nationals. Over two and half seasons with the Nationals, Acta compiled a .385 win percentage. Considering what he had to work with in D.C. though, is it really fair to pin those losing seasons on Acta? Below are the first four managerial seasons for three of the league’s current “big shots:”

Name Age Team Season Record W-L% Finish
B. Cox 37 Braves 1978 69-93 .426 6

1979 66-94 .413 6

1980 81-80 .503 4

1981 50-56 .463 5

J. Torre 37 Mets 1977 49-68 .419 6

1978 66-96 .407 6

1979 63-99 .389 6

1980 67-95 .414 5

T. Francona 38 Phillies 1997 68-94 .420 5

1998 75-87 .463 3

1999 77-85 .475 3

2000 65-97 .401 5

This is only a small sample of three successful managers, but I think it gets the point across. With the exception of Bobby Cox in 1980, none of the three compiled a winning season in their first four years on the job. Only Torre lasted longer than four seasons with his first team, leaving the Mets in 1981. Also of note is the fact that all three managers started their careers relatively young and did not field a contending team until after their 40th birthday.

Obviously, I didn’t account for the quality of the teams each manager inherited when hired, which leaves the question of whether bad teams are more inclined to take a chance on a young, rookie manger or if 40-years old and four completed seasons are viable benchmarks in the development of a major league skipper. I may investigate this idea in more detail in the future, but for now, this snapshot seems to highlight a few encouraging trends for the 40-year old Acta’s second tour as manager.

While none of the above managers lasted particularly long with their first team, Acta’s time with Washington was cut especially short. Two and half seasons is nowhere near enough time for a manger to establish his system, develop players, and place his signature upon a team. Acta was fired before he could make any real headway in Washington.

I doubt anybody outside of the Nationals organization expected those teams to come anywhere near a winning record with the players they ran out on the field, it would have been nothing short of a miracle. Combine that with a long list of injuries, instability in the front office, and just a general lack of talented or committed players (remember, they actually traded for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez) and the whole situation was a mess. Acta shouldn’t be receiving criticism after the fact for what was just a flat-out, terrible team.

On the other hand, if he failed to hold the attention and respect of his players during his time as manager, that’s certainly cause for concern, but I have yet to hear any reports along those lines. As far as I can tell, Acta tends to be highly regarded and respected by both his players and the rest of the baseball community.

I don’t see this hiring as a gamble for the Indians at all. They seem extremely confident in Acta’s abilities and have a good sense of what to expect from him and I tend to agree with their evaluation thus far. I’m not suggesting Acta is going to vault the Indians back into contention next season, as they’re still in the midst of rebuilding, but I think he’ll surprise a lot of people with his passion, knowledge of the game, and ability to advance the team’s burgeoning young talent.

Quotable Acta

This is by far my favorite quote from Acta that I've discovered. It comes from a June 2008 interview he conducted in Washington with a group of local bloggers (which is pretty cool on its own). The full transcript can be found at Nats320 and provides some additional insight into how he approached certain situations that year. Anyway, here's Manny on base running:

There are 27 outs (in each game) and they are precious. I know that you guys (bloggers) being involved in doing what you do, you do a lot of research and stuff. But the average guy at home still doesn’t go out of his way to understand that just running into outs is not good. You don’t run to run. You don’t bunt to bunt. You run and you bunt when it makes sense. And that’s the way I do things.

Manny-Lantern image courtesy of Mr. Irrelevant

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cleveland Names Acta New Skipper

In an aggressive move, Cleveland decided to appoint their choice for manager on Sunday, rather than waiting until after the World Series as expected. Former Nationals skipper Manny Acta was the first candidate to interview with the Tribe, but must have left quite an impression over his two interviews with ownership and front office personnel.

Former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine, Torey Lovullo of the Columbus Clippers, and Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly were also interviewed. Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke was scheduled to interview with Cleveland at some point, but the team appeared to make a decision before those talks could further develop.

Besides standing out amongst the other candidates, Acta was also being courted by the Houston Astros to fill their managerial vacancy. This may have pushed Cleveland to make an offer to their top choice earlier than anticipated. Acta also has a history with the Astros franchise, as they drafted him in 1986 and later gave him his first management opportunity in the minors in 1993.

Acta broke into the majors as a third base coach with Montreal from 2002 to 2004 under former Cleveland player/manager Frank Robinson before manning the same post with the Mets from 2005 to 2006 under Willie Randolph. He took over in Washington after his former boss, Robinson, was fired after the 2006 season. Acta also managed the Dominican Republic in the 2004 World Baseball Classic and led the prestigious Tigres del Licey to a Caribbean Series title that same year.

It’s unclear who made the first move, but Acta reportedly turned down Houston’s two-year guaranteed offer and chose Cleveland instead. In his post-interview press conference, Acta seemed intrigued by Cleveland’s core of “exciting young players,” stating that the “Indians have a lot more in place…pretty much a whole lineup” to build upon right away.

Acta’s contract is for three years guaranteed (2010-2012), with a club option for a fourth year in 2013. The specific salary details of the contract have not yet been released yet.

There were a few factors attached to each of the other candidates that may have worked against them:

Bobby Valentine’s 14 years of major league managerial experience (plus five more in Japan) puts him well ahead in that particular category, but all that experience would have come at a price. Valentine made about $4 million in his final year with the Chiba Lotte Marines and would have likely requested a comparable salary with Cleveland.

Shapiro has gone on record saying funds would not prevent them from hiring their choice for manager, despite owing Eric Wedge at least $1 million for the final year of his contract. While I do believe money was not an absolute limitation, I bet it factored into the discussion about Valentine. It’s doubtful a team that just slashed their payroll doesn’t place significant weight on how much they’ll be paying their next manager.

Valentine also gave out a very unusual vibe during his sit-down with the local press. From his body language to the cryptic quotes he threw out, he gave the impression that he had just finished an interview with an employee he was thinking about hiring, instead of the other way around. Bottom-line, he sounded more like an old hand amused by the whole process instead of seriously considering joining a young, rebuilding ball club (it’s difficult to describe, I just didn’t like the impression he gave at all). Valentine’s self-described “lousy loser” mentality would have been a poor fit for a club that needs patience and guidance for its young players over the next two seasons in order to mold the team into a contender once again.

Torey Lovullo has been a manager in the Tribe’s farm system for eight years, with the last four spent in Triple-A. Despite his track record with the team and relationship with many of its upper level prospects, I’m not sure Lovullo was ever under real consideration for the position. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was actually interviewing for a coaching position with Cleveland, even if it was touted as an interview for manager. Lovullo has spent twice as long managing in the minors as Wedge did, so it would make sense for the team to offer him a promotion if he is regarded highly enough to be publicly nominated for manager.

The team hinted that they wanted to move in a new direction with their next manager. With the rebuilding process in full-swing and the departure of Wedge and his entire coaching staff, now seems like a suitable time to look abroad for a truly fresh approach. Every manager since John McNamara (dismissed part-way through the 1991 season) has been an internal hire, including Mike Hargrove (1991-1999), Charlie Manuel (2000-2002), and Eric Wedge (2003-2009).

Don Mattingly was probably my least favorite candidate. First, he was already passed over for a managerial position in favor of Joe Girardi in New York, leaving him with no professional managing experience (not even in the minors). I’m not a big fan of Joe Torre’s management style either (Mattingly has worked under Torre his entire coaching career), although obviously he has had great success in New York, albeit with a ridiculous amount of rostered talent every year.

Second, Mattingly has never been around a small-market environment like Cleveland. Los Angeles and New York are basically the complete opposites of Cleveland, right down to the payroll, media presence, and fan relations. As Terry Pluto pointed out, “it would be a major shock [for Mattingly] to be under the budget limitations that will come with [the Cleveland] job.”

Personally, I am very excited about bringing Manny Acta on board as manager. He seems to be an above-average communicator with both the players and staff and has the proper mindset and experience to develop Cleveland’s core of young players. As a native of the Dominican Republic, Acta has an advantage in communicating directly with the team’s Latino players, especially those newer to the league who may not yet be fluent in English. Combine his communication skills with a positive, upbeat approach to the game and I think he will have an easy time engaging and motivating the team.

Even though he’s coming from a losing franchise in Washington, that experience should make his first season in Cleveland seem much easier by comparison. Breaking in as a major league manager is difficult enough, but the fact that he did it with the worst team in the league had to have been a nightmare at times. Hopefully, by applying the lessons he learned while managing an extreme version of a team in transition, Acta will be that much more effective during his second tour of duty as a result (if you think the Indians have it rough, they don’t even come close to the Nats’ situation).

Acta also has a reputation as an excellent evaluator of talent and is a student of sabermetrics, which should fit in well with the team’s front office culture. Unlike some old-school managers, Acta embraces new types of baseball research. Saber-oriented thinking has become common-place in major league front offices, but is still a novel idea in the dugout, so I’m eager to see how Acta applies these emerging viewpoints into his day-to-day managerial decisions.

I’ll have more on Acta’s managerial style, his tenure in D.C., and the press conference introducing him as manager later this week.