Don Wakamatsu Ousted

Manager Don Wakamatsu was fired before Monday’s game as the Mariners were sitting at 42-70 on the season, 127-147 during his tenure.

In terms of game strategy, I wasn’t always in favor in Wakamatsu’s decisions–from the lineup cards, to the stealing to the sacrificing. He’s very old school, and I think that this franchise is moving in a positive direction toward more objective analysis, a move that requires a more open-minded manager. All that being said, I think this is a great opportunity to point out how very little a coach or manager has to do with winning.

In the posts cited above, I mention the payouts on base stealing and sacrificing, and how these strategies are often used at the wrong times, limiting run scoring potential. I believe this is all true, but I also think that in the long run, sacrificing and stealing matter very little, and may only vary run scoring 10 or 15 runs over the course of a whole season. These decisions that baseball managers make carry nearly insignificant weight in comparison to what the players do on the field. When to steal, when to sacrifice, when to hit and run; all these decisions become moot with teams as poor offensively as the Mariners. This is also true with lineups as potent as the Bronx Bombers. You can’t do too much to screw that team up. In reality, a manager could probably slot any of their starting 9 into any spot in the order; he could flip a coin or roll a die to determine who hit where, and it probably wouldn’t matter all that much. Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and Joe Maddon are all fine managers and strategists by most accounts, but the Mariners would likely still be just as bad with any of them at the helm. Is Wakamatsu right for the Mariners manager job? Probably not, but on the flip side, very little of the team’s failure this season can be attributed to him.

The fact is, Chone Figgins, Ken Griffey, Jr., Casey Kotchman, Milton Bradley, Jose Lopez and even Franklin Gutierrez didn’t show up to hit this year. On average, those six players are hitting about 100 OPS points below their career averages. Even if you consider that guys like Bradley and Griffey are old and can’t be compared to their career numbers, Bradley is hitting 134 OPS points worse than last season, and Griffey was hitting 281 points worse than last season before he retired! It’s hard to say that all of that, or even some of that is the manager’s fault.

The other side of managing is probably more like babysitting. A manager (or coach) has to contain a number of different egos, temperaments, and personalities, and then work to get the best out of each player. I think Wak had to deal with a lot more than most 2nd year managers ever have to deal with, really more than any manager has to deal with. Trying to work lineups around Bradley’s 12-year-old tantrums cannot be an easy job. And what would you do if your DH were a first-ballot hall of famer, and at the same time was sporting the worst OPS in the American League. Oh, by the way, he was also one of the guys that, 15 years before, helped to put on one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. In fact, that same DH, then center fielder, scored the game-winning run to beat the Yankees in the Mariner franchise’s first ever playoff series that 1995 season. Obviously I’m talking about Griffey, and benching a city’s hero is a position no man wants to be in.

I think Dave Cameron’s post on the USSMariner blog sheds some more light on exactly what Wakamatsu had to go through this season.

Is Wak a good manager? The jury is still out, but he’s going to get the short end of the stick on this one because 25 players can’t just be released mid-season. Well, 23. Ichiro and King Felix are still good.

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