October 13, 2010

Managerial Search - Eric Wedge

The Pirates interviewed Ken Macha and Jeff Bannister yesterday for their open managerial job. They previously interviewed Eric Wedge, Bo Porter and John Gibbons for the position. The search may not be over, but five is a typical number so I wouldn't be surprised if these are the only guys interviewed.

Let's look at Eric Wedge since I think either he or Macha will get the job. I lived in Cleveland and probably watched/listened to no less than 150 Indians games a year in 2003-05 so I am pretty familiar with him.

Wedge managed the Cleveland Indians from 2003-2009 before being fired.

The Tribe was a contender from 1994-2001, then broke things up to rebuild after a poor first half in 2002. Wedge came in in 2003 and presided over a young team that included pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee but a Jody Gerut-led offense. By 2005 the Tribe was again a contender. The '05 edition, now featuring a talented offense including Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, barely missed the playoffs thanks to a final-week collapse and finished 93-69. Wedge was AL Manager of the Year in 2007 when the team finished 96-66 and nearly made the World Series. But injuries and trades derailed any chance at success in 2008 and 2009, leading to Wedge's firing. He has surfaced this year as a candidate for almost every open job.

In-Game Strategy
Strategically Wedge rarely would bunt, hit and run, or put on plays at all really. This was most apparent with stealing bases. Coco Crisp for example attempted 35 steals in 75 games this year at age 30. That's more than he attempted in a full season under Wedge when he was much faster. Franklin Gutierrez stole 25 bases this year but at most nine bases for Wedge.

This style is similar to that of John Russell. Both men prefer not to take risks which may induce outs. This style is also something the small ball-loving Pirates fan base does not like, even though it produces more runs.

Pitcher Usage
Wedge is pretty strong here and has gotten a lot out of his pitchers. Everyone has a set role on the staff. There are five starters and that is it, really, unless one gets hurt or is laughably bad. In the bullpen, everyone has a defined role which barely changes. There is a situational lefty, a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy, an Established Closer, etc. Rafael Betancourt had a 1.47 ERA in 2007 and never could win the closer's job. Rest assured that Joel Hanrahan would be Wedge's closer by virtue of his 20 career saves - unless a player is brought in who has 40.

Lineups and Bench Usage
Wedge strongly prefers to go with a set lineup and strongly favored veterans. His regular third baseman Aaron Boone was hitting .193/.252/.349 for a contending team on July 6, 2005. He hit poorly the following year too and he never lost the job until he was injured over a year later.

Maybe Boone is a bad example, but look at Victor Martinez. He missed 89 games in 2008 and only hit two home runs all year due to injuries. In 2009 he played more than ever before. He became a part-time first baseman, part-time catcher, but started 98 of 102 games before being traded. Martinez had a good year that year but this can't be unrelated to his 2010 injuries.

Brandon Phillips has been one of the five or ten best second basemen in baseball since 2006. Why not earlier? After a poor 2003 when he was rushed to the majors, Wedge only would let him bat a total of 33 more times. He used up one of four bench spots on a contending team in 2005 for weeks while Wedge just simply refused to play him.

This is the reason I prefer Wedge is not hired for the Pirates. There is no chance the Pirates will have eight guys next year who deserve to be full-time starters. Be sure that if Wedge were here, Akinori Iwamura would have played much longer than he did if not the whole season. Ronny Cedeno will never lose the shortstop job if Wedge is here, simply because he is an experienced shortstop.

Wedge is certainly less laid back than John Russell, although I would disagree with reports that he's "intense." However, his teams consistently played better in the second halves of seasons, and normally best in September whether they were in contention or not. Wedge is also quite loyal and is willing to work in tandem with his general manager. Except for Omar Vizquel in 2004 there were never any questions about players trying their best for Wedge's teams.

Eric Wedge deserves another managing job, but it should not be with the Pirates. There is no point in having a manager who prefers veterans come in to manage a youth-laden team. I don't want to see whatever marginal vets are on the roster blocking any talented young players, particularly on the pitching staff.

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