Monday, December 21, 2009

Sneak Peak: Evaluating Baseball's Managers: Cito Gaston

If you read The Hardball Times (and I assume you do) you've likely seen the Evaluating Baseball's Managers series written by Chris Jaffe. Chris wrote a book on the subject (pre-order yours today!) and it is simply a must-read for any self respecting baseball nerd. Chris was kind enough to send along an excerpt of his excellent work and I'm proud to offer my take and a couple juicy quotes here at Ghostrunner on First.

The process evaluates managers based on their tendencies and a million other factors. For a full explanation, check out the book's official site and FAQ. Of the four Blue Jays skippers featured; I'll of course focus on The Manager, the man Bill James referred to as "inert" in his own managerial book.
To Cito Gaston, “bunt” was a four-letter word. So were “pinch hit,” “defensive replacement,” and “young pitcher.” His hitters had power and knew how to get on base, but struck out a ton. Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens accounted for 36.6% of all innings thrown on the 1997 Blue Jays, the highest percentage by any team’s top two hurlers in the last twenty years.
Cito rides 'em hard and puts them away wet, especially if they're old. Nothing we haven't seen before. Two batters too late Cito seems to amble out to the mound.
There is an underlying philosophy: to succeed, a manger’s best bet is always to trust his players’ talent – especially the frontline players – more than his brilliance. Maneuvers like intentional walks and mid-game replacements just get in the way of victory. Ultimately, Gaston’s passivity hurt his reputation.
I wonder if this hurt his reputation or his pettiness and inability to let go of grudges hurt his reputation. Cito's championship teams certainly seemed to manager themselves, didn't they? His bad teams clearly do the same.
During his latter years people began to doubt whether Gaston was good enough to be a tactical non-entity...Gaston’s passive approach could easily be seen as a negative: he could not even bother to rearrange the deck chairs while the ship sank. By the time Toronto fired Gaston, several desultory seasons in Canada had tarnished his reputation.
In some ways, Cito seems like the ideal modern manager. Stay out of the players way, don't give away outs. Yet watching his teams play, it feels quite different. One has to wonder if his long absence from the game was indeed fueled by questions of his actual impact on the field. I think Cito would be the first to admit that isn't his number one goal or priority. He manages people as best he can, with preferences given (seemingly) to guys Cito either identifies with or respects.
Actually, one key exception to Gaston’s minimalist ways should be addressed. He promoted an active running game in which his players not only frequently attempted steals, but recorded an impressive success rate as well.
Jaffe points to numerous instances of base stealers improving their numbers under his watch, not to mention the current iteration of the blue Jays improving their thefts by more 20%. No doubt the Jays of John Gibbons weren't inclined nor built to run but Cito helped let Alex Rios and Vernon Wells loose. While it is easy to praise Cito for giving the right guys the green light, I wonder how many guys he offered free reign? Perhaps this is more proof that Cito's specialties are player coddling and espionage rather than minute-to-minute managing.

Ultimately, Chris shows Cito as a manager that does very little and doesn't always get the most of his teams. Cito-managed ballclubs underperform their Pythag record time and again; putting a little more stock in the theory that managers can indeed make a difference.

Thanks to Chris Jaffe and his publishers for letting me get my eyes on this section of his book. It is exceedingly interesting and exhaustively researched. Order a copy online or demand your local retailer order it for you. And thanks to Dave from Go Jays Go for the heads-up on the awesome the SI Vault image.


  1. Badass stuff here, Drew.

    I've always suspected that Cito was a very "hands-off" kind of manager - the type that just fills out the lineup card, and lets the team do the rest of the work.

    With managers, it seems like there needs to be a happy medium between too hard (Guillen) and too soft (Cito).

  2. So wait, you didn't just copy-and-paste the entire chapter like that lazy cad from Was Watching did? And you actually added your own analysis?

    Well done.

  3. Copy and pasting the entire chapter wasn't my mandate. Buy the book!

  4. Put the boys on suicide watch: Brandon League's packing his bags. Check

  5. Sorry, bro. I guess I jinxed it for you. I wanted saunders, but Morrow will do.

  6. Great stuff, definitely on my must read list to get ready for the upcoming season.

    Also, just wanted to share my condolences. I'm not going to go as far as to say it was a sidebar pic jinx but can you please put Kevin Millar up over there? Just until we figure out what's up with him. Thanks.

  7. You're writing the Brandon League post mortem right now, aren't you?


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