So, John Gibbons’ job may be in jeopardy. And I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about that.
I have a hard time blaming John Gibbons for how this season has turned out. The Jays are 6 games out of a playoff berth with 11 to go; I don’t want to get into a post mortem just yet, but a lot of what has happened this year has been out of his control. The Jays went into this season without a credible second baseman; key players (Encarnacion, Lawrie, Lind, Morrow) were hurt for long periods of time; other key players (Rasmus, Janssen, Delabar) regressed significantly. Gibbons, objectively speaking, couldn’t have prevented any of these things, just as he isn’t the cause of Melky Cabrera’s good health and Marcus Stroman’s breakout season.
There’s a school of thought, to which I generally subscribe, that a baseball manager (or coach) doesn’t have a meaningful impact on a team’s fortunes. Managers don’t draw up and call plays the way football coaches do; they set lineups and make occasional substitutions, and let the players play. Gibbons, by most accounts, is pretty good at setting lineups; he understands the value of platoons and pitcher matchups and is creative enough to think a bit outside the box when needed (e.g. moving Bautista to the #2 spot in the lineup). There have been some odd decisions lately (benching Rasmus, playing Pillar against RHP, throwing Norris and Graveman into high-leverage relief situations), but it’s impossible to say whether those decisions were 100% Gibbons’ call, or whether some of those moves were directives from the GM’s office.
To that last point, I’m starting to think that the non-statements from Alex Anthopoulos are doing more harm than good, but that’s a topic for another post. What I’m getting at here is that Gibbons hasn’t done anything particularly badly, and he seems to do a few things well. On that basis, he doesn’t deserve to be fired. But if you believe that managers and coaches don’t have a major impact on a team’s performance, then why not fire him? Fire Gibby, keep Gibby – it doesn’t matter, right?
Well, I’m wavering on that a bit. On one side, the sabermetricians – a group I usually count myself among – will point to the lack of evidence that a manager or coach can significantly elevate a team’s performance. But on the other hand, look at the 2012 Red Sox – it’s hard not to believe that Bobby Valentine had a significant, negative impact on that team’s fortunes. John Farrell wasn’t, and isn’t, a great manager, but he looked great after the Valentine fiasco. And closer to home, look at Colby Rasmus’s comments about Chad Mottola. Maybe batting coaches don’t really matter, but it sure as hell sounds like Colby Rasmus was a better, more effective hitter under Mottola’s tutelage than under Kevin Seitzer’s. Or maybe Colby just thought he was better – placebo effect, perhaps. In any case, the difference between 2014 Rasmus and 2013 Rasmus is dramatic.
The Jays could fire John Gibbons, and they could win 95 games next year after doing so. Maybe because of the new manager, maybe because their young pitchers turn into Carpenter/Halladay/Escobar v. 2.0, and maybe everyone stays healthy for a change. Or they could fire Gibbons and win 75 games next year, if players continue to get hurt at league-average rates and Gose/Stroman/Sanchez et al can’t build on this year’s successes. Same goes for keeping him.
With that in mind, what it will likely come down to is the perception of Gibbons’ “leadership”. With the sweep in
the Jays dropped into a tie for second with the Yankees. If the club
struggles to a 3rd-place finish and doesn’t crack the .500 mark, I
suspect he goes. If the Jays play well through their remaining games (4
in NY where they struggle, and then 7 at home against stronger opponents) and end up with 84-86 wins, I
think he’ll stay. Baltimore
Dumb reasoning? Maybe, but it gives us, and the team, a reason to pay attention for the next 2 weeks.