The Tao of Gibby
Most of the evaluation of John Gibbons as a manager centers around pointlessly second-guessing his pitching changes and mocking the way he talks (Aren’t Canadians funny? Point out that certain nationalities have some trouble pronouncing certain consonants and you’re a ignorant, backwards, racist. But imply that Gibby is mentally retarded for having a pretty normal southern drawl and you’re such a card!) or the predictability of his sound bites.
By all accounts Texas Dolly is very popular with the players (with a couple of rather notable exceptions), and J.P. gives him credit for manging the bullpen well. But your average fan thinks a manager should be able to get his team into the playoffs by sheer force of will and therefore he’s not doing everything he could.
But unless you take notes and watch other teams religiously, it’s hard to have any clue what his tendencies are compared to the rest of the league, except for the obvious “don’t steal, don’t bunt” mantra handed down from management (and probably 100% appropriate for the Jays lineup) or his refusal to conform to your own inspired, season-changing lineup card.
That is, until you got the Bill James Handbook for Christmas and spent the next month memorizing it page by page. One of the sections is a statistical record for managers, that shows how they compared to the rest of the league in pretty much everything that can be measured for a skipper. So here’s how Gibby stacks up:
Last year the Jays were 6th in the majors in number of different lineups (131), largely a result of all the injuries. The full team wasn’t back until after the all-star break, and even the lineup was still being tweaked because guys weren’t themselves. The Jays were also last in the league in the percentage of players who started the game with the platoon advantage (46%). Again, that’s mainly a result of the makeup of their team and not the manager (the Yankees were at 68% with their lefty-leavy squad).
I had to check this one a few times. John Gibbons lead the league in both pinch hitters and pinch runners by a very large margin. League average was 96 and 39, respectively. Gibby came in at 139 and 48. Second place for each was 119 and 42. So much for the image of him sitting on his hands and doing nothing while the season went down the tube. I’m not even sure who he was substituting with all the injuries…Stairs would have been a great option off the bench, but he was too busy playing full-time until Reed came back. I guess getting McDonald in there had something to do with it (the Jays were also second in the league in defensive substitutions (33)) and Glaus and Thomas were obviously being pulled in the late innings for anyone, even Dustin Mcgowan at one point.
Starting Pitcher Usage
Gibbons was slightly above average in the number of “quick hooks”, and slightly below average in “slow hooks”. Not a terrible idea when you have one of the best bullpens in the league and a number of young starters. He was 3rd in the league in long outings (+110 pitches) by starting pitchers- some of that was riding Burnett into the ground, but also Halladay and the young kids also put up an impressive series of long outings in the second half.
Relief Pitcher Usage
The Jays were ranked 28/30 by use of relievers on consecutive days. A lot was made of Downs leading the league in appearances, Janssen getting tired at the all-star break and Accardo losing it towards the end of the year. But Gibbons was very careful not to use pitchers two days in a row (which at least over a SMALL SAMPLE SIZE was not good for Casey Janssen). I would not have guessed that and it could easily have contributed to a bullpen full of rookies being so effective last year. Interestingly, B.J. Ryan is one player you don’t have to baby like this- over his career, he’s better when pitching for the second day in a row.
Bunts and steals, you already know…the Jays are battling it out with Oakland for the basement. But compared to that, the Jays put more runners in motion with the pitch- 99, as compared to a 116 average. So when it comes to the running game the Jays weren’t as passive as their anemic stolen base total would indicate, although they were still below average. Did I mention I hate the hit and run?
Incidentally, the NL both stole less often last year (which has been true on average over the last decade), and put the hit-and-run on MUCH less (23 fewer times per team) often in 2007. The NL only bunts a lot more often with the pitcher at bat, as well- so the next time someone mentions the exciting “NL Style” of play, just ignore them. Or smack them. The only real difference between the two leagues is the NL is not as good.
The last tactic category is pitchouts, and the Jays are top 5 in the league with 37. That makes the dismal caught stealing percentage even more so and having the highest # of attempts even more impressive. But that’s death to another myth that the team was “either unwilling or unable” (Hey, A.J…would you mind not using a leg kick on the way to the plate? Thanks) to do anything about the problem. They tried, and it could have been worse.
This is an interesting one- intentional walks are divided into “good” “bad” and “bomb”, based on their results. It’s not exactly a conclusive science, because a bunch of gotherwise ood decisions could have bombed over such a small sample size. But in 2006 the Jays were way above average in IBB and it often turned out badly, while they were almost exactly average in 2007 and had good results. Still, with such a good pitching staff that could mean they weren’t going after hitters enough. Unless the game is on the line late, handing out free bases is highly overrated (and Ozzie Guillen absolutely loves doing it).
Effect on Players
The last evaluation comes from a study in the Hardball Times 2007 annual on the effect a manager has on players, comparing their performance to what was expected based on their age and other performances. This is a tough one for the Jays, because a lot of their best talent (Halladay, Wells, Rios, Hill) have never played for other teams. Others, like Zaun and Overbay, had great seasons on arrival but it seems kind of strange to attribute that success solely to John Gibbons.
Still, the study does show that managers have an effect on their players, and this ranking system has some of the most highly-respected managers (La Russa, Pinella, Cox) ranked above average. Gibbons comes out at slightly above average (+.53), much better than either Torre or Francona.
It’s probably no secret by now that I don’t think Gibbons is a terrible manager. Inexperienced, yes, unsophisticated, perhaps. But a manager doesn’t have anywhere as much effect as most people think, and so much of their reputation comes from the quality of the team on the field (see: Cito Gaston). Still, it’s interesting that for all his laid-back, nonchalant style, right or wrong Gibby was actually very active when compared to the rest of the league- and players see a small boost to their play with him at the helm.