Friday, June 03, 2005

So, Buddy Bell is your new manager. Where do you go from here?

Straight up, apparently.

It's been a few days since none other than Buddy Bell was named the new manager of the Kansas City Royals. Kind of a surprising choice, least to anybody that followed post after post of conversation on any of the Royals-related message boards. And, prior to the SWEEP OF THE YANKEES (always gotta repeat that when it's actually true), you were hard-pressed to find much of anyone saying anything positive about Allard Baird's choice in manager.

With that in mind, I'll run through a few thoughts on Buddy Bell (so far), both good and bad. And, seeing as how he's not a popular choice, we'll start with the bad!

The Bad:

The Royals have one glaring problem that doesn't seem to crop up in discussion much, but is always present: they are very, very poor at presenting themselves to the public. The Buddy Bell hire is a prime example. The team on the field, whether it's a budding version of a future force to reckon with, or another year of an unsuccessful, perpetually almost-rebuilding squad, is generating close to zero excitement from fans. The owner, whether you agree with his strategy or not, is unwilling to spend more on the team than it brings in (that is the topic for a very long, bitter post, though it won't be this one). The general manager, though he has registered a few minor successes as of late, has also triggered on a few disastrous deals that have, in one way or another - whether through poor choices or plain bad luck - rendered this team unable to consistently compete day after day. I think it's wrong to hold up two outlying examples in the Twins and A's as proof that low-payroll teams can also compete in this day and age, though that goes along with my much longer post alluded to above (not to mention, what about the A's this year? 21-32?)

Anyway, the shorter point is, the Royals needed to do their best to generate some level of actual fan interest with their hire. I thought it would be bringing in a big name as a manager, though I've lately come to realize that

1) None of the candidates out there are actually known names to most casual Royals fans and
2) All that really matters is winning.

So, at first, the Buddy Bell hiring seemed like a mistake to me. What are the Royals doing? Why are they bringing in a guy with a terrible career managing record, with no local ties, with barely any name recognition, without much of anything visible to support their decision that this is the best guy for the job? Just another bizarre mistake, it seemed.

But winning cures all, really. Is Buddy Bell the right guy? Who really knows? You can twist and turn, look at record here and sac bunts there, manager's effectiveness percentage or failure to show enthusiasm at his press conference – whatever stat you want to create to try to quantify what makes a good manager. And, what you're left with idea. Because there's not a way to measure what makes a good manager in any guaranteed way. There is no guideline, and there is no measurement that tells you. a manager can choose the "correct" answer to any question he faces in a game (regardless of who's deciding what is "correct", just pretend like it's you..), and still fail 10 out of 10 times.

A manager is as good as you think he is, and what you think isn't what other people think. Some managers are better than others (subjectively, at least). Some have had more success, and by "success", most people mean they've won more games. Sure, that's a good thing, but it's not necessarily up to the manager to go out and pick up the save or hit a base-clearing double.

Is Buddy Bell who I would have picked as a manager? I don't know, I didn't interview any of the guys, and neither did you. Allard Baird did, and I think the fact that he made the decision serves Buddy Bell up for criticism as much as anything else. Do you trust that Allard's going to make the right decision? Yeah, neither do most other intelligent baseball fans that continue to follow this team. Though we're all on his side and eager for him to prove our doubts wrong..

The Good:

Buddy Bell is 3-0 as a manager.

You can't pin those wins on him, but I haven't seen one move he's made that I actually opposed. Wondered about? Yeah. I would have liked to see Leo Nunez pitch to more than one batter in yesterday's 5-2 win over the Yankees, but I love the fact that he's not afraid of using a pitcher for only one batter. Ambiorix Burgos is shaky, but he's never seen him pitch. Can't quibble with wanting to bring him in (I also wonder if he received word from upstairs that Burgos is the closer if MacDougal isn't available). He's only even attempted sacrifice bunts in situations where the Royals are up in the late innings and could use more runs, and with young guys (Buck, Berroa) that don't exactly make great contact and tear the cover off the ball. In other potential sacrifice situations, he's let a guy like Graffanino, even though he's not a good hitter, swing away. Graffanino is a veteran and a pro, and there's a much better chance he'll put the ball in play effectively than some of the younger guys.

He has a bullpen, and he's not afraid to use it: pulling Greinke and Jensen after 5 innings, Carrasco after 6. Will his bullpen blow up on him? Undoubtedly. Happens to every team (a lot with this one). But I'm glad to see him use it. I don't understand why teams keep so many guys in the bullpen, then save them for the next game in which they're not going to be used. I could have sworn those guys are major leaguers, too..

There's been a lot of small decisions just in the 3 games so far that lead me to (wishfully) think that Buddy Bell just might know what he's doing. Will he be able to turn these guys into winners? This is the Royals we're still talking about, right?

Joe Blow

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