It's August, now, and by this point in the year, many of the teams have separated themselves into groups. You've got your contenders, who are focusing on the stretch run and the playoffs. You've got your teams in the middle, who are thinking about the things they have to do in order to compete in 2011. And you've got your teams at the bottom, who are watching the games through the cracks between their fingers. Sometimes these teams are young and in full-on rebuilding mode, but no matter the circumstance, for these teams, the season's always been a disappointment.
One of the things that frequently comes up when you're talking about lousy teams is managerial speculation. Baseball managers have limited job security at the best of times; at the worst, they're often the first people to fall. This year, we've already seen changes made in Baltimore, Arizona, Kansas City, Florida, and - just Monday - Seattle, when Don Wakamatsu was relieved of his duties. All five of these teams have been disappointments to some degree, and all five of these teams have fired their managers during the season.
With that in mind, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what actually gets a manager dismissed. Beyond the team simply having a bad record, I mean. No front office ever wants to fire its field manager, and no front office ever takes such a decision lightly. They always have a reason, and here I'd like to discuss what those reasons can be.
First and foremost, the big thing to understand is that managers neither get hired nor fired because of their in-game strategy. No manager ever gets hired because he says the right things about OBP, and no manager ever gets fired because he called for a bunt or brought in the wrong reliever. In-game strategy, of course, is the area in which fans of pretty much every team find their manager to be deficient, and fans often want a manager to get fired on the basis of lousy bullpen management or lineup construction, but this isn't how it works in real life. Strategy, believe it or not, isn't the biggest part of a manager's job.
No; if a manager gets fired, then, generally speaking, he will have been fired for at least one of the following three reasons:
(1) He lost the clubhouse. You hear about the sort of phenomenon all the time, and there may be no better example than Seattle's Wakamatsu, who lost the respect of many of his players with the way he benched Ken Griffey Jr. and the way he handled other outbursts. A manager's first and most important job is to serve as a leader, and without unanimous respect, said leadership is compromised. If the players don't believe in their manager, then he will have a reduced ability to manage, and he'll have a hard time of doing his job.
(2) A divide has developed between the manager and the front office. The manager is an extension of the front office, and though they often disagree on certain matters, the field manager and the general manager need to be on the same page. They need to share the same goals, and they need to share many of the same philosophies. Healthy debate is fine. Frequent debate is more of a problem, and if the front office and manager disagree on who should be playing, or where he should be playing, or who needs to go, then oftentimes the front office will search for a better fit.
(3) The team needed a new voice. This is similar to the first point, only a little less extreme. The manager may not have necessarily lost the respect of his players, but he may have lost their attention, and he may have lost his position at the top of the clubhouse. At that point, he can no longer serve as a capable leader, so he needs to be replaced. Even if the replacement is sending the same messages, they're coming from a different person, a person too new to tune out. And the jolt of having a manager lose his job may cause a floundering team to refocus.
That about covers it. There are other reasons - less common reasons - but these are the big three. It's never about in-game strategy. And it's never about having a bad record; at least, not directly. Teams with bad records don't sometimes fire their managers because they have bad records. Teams with bad records sometimes fire their managers because they feel their manager can no longer lead the team, or because tension has developed between the manager and the front office.
Whether it's right to fire a manager for these reasons is another story. It's never easy when a man loses his job, especially when he's lost it for reasons that weren't entirely within his control. Perhaps broken bonds can be repaired. Perhaps a poor leader under bad circumstances can still be a good leader of the same players under better circumstances. I'm not really sure. But regardless of whether firing a manager is the right move to make, teams do it all the time, and it's a decision that's important for people to understand. There's a thought process behind your standard managerial dismissal that often gets overlooked as people rush to call it a scapegoating.
Well, hey, all right, now that's out of the way. Let's move on to the rankings!
SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout
2010 record: 39-72
Last week's rank: 29
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30
The Pirates have gone 18-38 since June 1, and the Orioles' recent hot streak has brought them back into play for the worst record in baseball and #1 pick in the 2011 draft. They're now just a game and a half better than the Orioles, and their 24-game deficit in the weak NL Central is the second-largest in all of baseball.
29. Seattle Mariners
SBN Blog: Lookout Landing
2010 record: 43-70
Last week's rank: 28
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28
To say that manager Don Wakamatsu was relieved on Monday is true in more ways than one. No manager, of course, wants to lose his job, but for some, you have to figure that, at least in the short term, it can serve as a welcome respite. AAA interim Daren Brown guided the M's to a win in his first game Monday night, which is a nice story, but the truth of the matter is that, come October, everyone involved is going to try to forget everything about the 2010 season as quickly as they can, Brown chapter included. Oh well.
28. Chicago Cubs
SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue
2010 record: 47-65
Last week's rank: 25
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24
Look out below. The Cubs are 1-11 in their last 12 games and their next 13 are against the Giants, Cardinals, Padres and Braves. The Cubs' worst month of the season so far was June, when they were six games under .500 at 10-16. They're already six games under at 1-7 in August.
SBN Blog: Camden Chat
2010 record: 38-74
Last week's rank: 30
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29
Buck Showalter apparently has some life left in his step. The O's are 6-1 under Showalter, sweeping the Angels and winning three of four against the White Sox. It all comes way too little and way too late, but O's fans should be able to take at least a little something from this. Like fear of ending up with a worse draft pick.
SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit
2010 record: 44-69
Last week's rank: 27
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25
Arizona had their first winning week since the second one in June, splitting a four-game series with Washington, and taking two of three from the division-leading Padres. However, Wednesday's loss to the Nationals was seen by a franchise-record low crowd of 15,670. Adam LaRoche already has four home runs in August: his 73 RBI leads the team, and looks set to pass his career high of 90, set in 2006.
SBN Blog: Royals Review
2010 record: 47-65
Last week's rank: 26
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26
The Royals finally released Jose Guillen last week, ending the agony of the saber-friendly Royals fans. The same day, Zack Greinke voiced his frustration at yet another rebuilding process. I guess he liked being in 4th place with proven veterans instead. The Royals are kinda sorta going with a youth movement now, vowing to play 1B/DH Kila Ka'aihue and converted OF Alex Gordon regularly, along with nearly acquired CF Gregor Blanco. Blanco plays because he's new, but it isn't like a gamer such as Willie Bloomquist is just going to not play either. As the cliche goes, it's a great problem for Ned Yost to have.
SBN Blog: Federal Baseball
2010 record: 49-63
Last week's rank: 22
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23
With the future bright, but the present boring, the Nationals finally honor their past. Good.
SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!
2010 record: 47-65
Last week's rank: 24
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21
The Tribe are 14-16 in their last 30, which isn't half bad. The Tribe are also 21-20 against the AL Central, which is a better mark than the division-leading White Sox have managed (20-21 are the Southsiders.) More positives: Cleveland is 4-3 in extra inning games and 17-14 in one-run contests. It's a shame some of this mediocrity couldn't have been bunched up together at the beginning of the season. We were all owed at least one "Young Indians Having Fun Trying To Prove They Belong" story, and we never got it.
22. Houston Astros
SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes
2010 record: 48-63
Last week's rank: 21
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27
The Astros are hitting .323/.377/.441 through eight games in August, yet somehow they're just 4-4 in the month. Before going on a four-game losing streak over the weekend they had closed to within 12 games of first in the Central, the closest they'd been to the top since mid-June.
21. Detroit Tigers
SBN Blog: Bless You Boys
2010 record: 54-58
Last week's rank: 20
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17
You don't have to worry about the 2010 Tigers anymore, as they won't be bothering anyone anytime soon. Pity too, because we'd gone at least a few months since a random Michigan team was feted for representing that downtrodden state with such brio, easing real world pain with their sporting efforts. Still, we can be sure that Brandon Inge still cares. He really does. As for the Tigers, it's about draft position and trying to fix Rick Porcello now.
20. New York Mets
SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue
2010 record: 55-56
Last week's rank: 19
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19
Their season pretty much over, the Mets stared into the future, and didn't like what stared back. The Mets have a mess of back-loaded contracts coming to bite them over the next two years and will likely spend much of the coming waiver period and offseason trying to dump at least one. Right now, they're actively trying to give away Carlos Beltran; we'll see if they get to the point of paying someone to take him.
SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball
2010 record: 53-60
Last week's rank: 23
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20
The way the Brewers handled Jim Edmonds is a perfect example of how teams can benefit from buying low and selling high: Edmonds had sat out the entire 2009 season before the Brewers offered him a minor league deal in January, and just a few months later he was valuable enough to trade for Chris Dickerson, a decent outfielder under team control through 2014.
SBN Blog: True Blue LA
2010 record: 58-54
Last week's rank: 18
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18
Los Angeles did pick up a game on the Padres over the weekend, after going 2-2 against San Diego to start the week, but still remain seven games back, and teetering on the edge of non-contention. Ted Lilly does seem to be helping: he has won both his starts, posting an ERA of 2.77. However, Manny Ramirez suffered a setback in his injury rehab, which also reduces the chance of the Dodgers being able to put him through waivers.
SBN Blog: Halos Heaven
2010 record: 57-57
Last week's rank: 17
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22
With the rest of the season now verging on pointless - an unfamiliar sensation for a team that's just always in the mix - eyes turn to young, potential-laden Peter Bourjos, who last week immediately displaced Torii Hunter from center field upon his promotion. That should tell you a little bit about Bourjos. It should also tell you a little bit about Hunter, and about how the Angels work. A 23 year old with decent power and blazing speed, Bourjos is a very talented outfield prospect who serves as a sort of middle stage between the Bobby Abreu/Juan Rivera days and Mike Trout.
16. Florida Marlins
SBN Blog: Fish Stripes
2010 record: 54-56
Last week's rank: 14
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13
The Fish are resolute about finishing strong, probably meaning finishing ahead of a team with twice their payroll (Mets) for a second year in a row. They'll have to do it without Chris Coghlan, though. Updating a prior embarrassing item: Coghlan will have to undergo knee-surgery, after botching a pie-to-the-face gag.
15. Colorado Rockies
SBN Blog: Purple Row
2010 record: 58-53
Last week's rank: 15
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 9
Alternating wins and losses throughout this week, Colorado will have wanted to do more than split a four-game series in Pittsburgh - they dropped a particular heartbreaker, where they trailed 5-2 in the ninth, then led 7-5 in the tenth, and finally lost 8-7. That road trip continues for them with three games against the Mets, before they return home to take on the Brewers. With a 5.06 ERA since the All-Star break, Ubaldo Jimenez may be pitching his way out of Cy Young consideration.
SBN Blog: Athletics Nation
2010 record: 56-55
Last week's rank: 16
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16
At 3.66, the A's currently have the number one team ERA in the American League. I know, it surprised me too. There's a ballpark element in there - Oakland-Alameda Coliseum is a pitcher-friendly environment - but it's interesting to see Oakland sort of succeeding with the same kind of blueprint that sent rival Seattle into a spectacular tailspin. Oakland has managed a decent record by hitting poorly, pitching well, and fielding better, and if top prospect Chris Carter can show something down the stretch and prove that he's ready for the bigs, then maybe the A's can begin to entertain some real thoughts of contending in 2011.
SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter
2010 record: 59-52
Last week's rank: 13
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4
Toronto is on a roll as of late, winning 11 of their last 15 games. Thanks to a near no-no from Brandon Morrow, this team actually looks like a contender ... if they played in the AL Central. Blue Jays' fun fact: they are 12-0 against the Orioles, but 2-7 against the Red Sox and 5-4 against the Yankees. The Jays have been on a tear in the second half, going 15-7 after the All-Star break.
12. Boston Red Sox
SBN Blog: Over The Monster
2010 record: 64-49
Last week's rank: 7
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5
As bad as the Red Sox have seemingly been as of late (and unlucky, too. Goodbye, Kevin Youkilis), Boston still has the third-most wins in baseball with 64. Unfortunately, Nos. 1 and 2 are in the same division. A real test of their abilities is right in their record against the AL East: the only team they have a winning record against is the Jays (7-2), while they break even against the O's (6-6) and having losing records against the powerhouses (Yankees: 5-7, Rays: 4-8).
SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos
2010 record: 62-49
Last week's rank: 9
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12
A day after being called "whiny b#$%$es" by Brandon Phillips, the Cardinals got their revenge on the field, beating the Reds 7-3. The Cards are now 8-5 against the Reds this season, but still sit a game back in the Central. They have two more games in Cincinnati, and if they can hold serve they'll be in very good shape - five of their next six series are against the Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, Astros and Nationals, who are all below .500, and a combined 236-323.
SBN Blog: South Side Sox
2010 record: 63-49
Last week's rank: 8
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10
Losing three of four in Baltimore, featuring three one-run defeats, will stick in the memories of Sox fans if the Southsiders come up short this season. At times, the White Sox just can't score at all, which seems to be some self-inflicted destiny for this team. Omar Vizquel is getting nightly praise from the usual suspects about his season-altering defense at third base (nevermind the middling UZR numbers) but his .360ish OBP might be helping the Sox even more. Amongst qualified players, Vizquel has the second-highest OBP on the team. At the other end of the spectrum is A.J. Pierzynski, currently posting an OBP south of .275.
SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles
2010 record: 64-49
Last week's rank: 4
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14
San Francisco finally cooled off - after going 17-4, they've lost four of six, dropping series in Colorado and Atlanta this week. Their offense barely showed up, scoring a total of just 13 runs over those six contests. However, they are back in AT&T this week, where they sport a healthy .630 winning percentage, and four games against the slumping Cubs should be good for that number. Next weekend sees a potentially pivotal series against the Padres.
SBN Blog: Talking Chop
2010 record: 64-48
Last week's rank: 10
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7
Using the widely-accepted and totally not arbitrary practice of picking the date at which a player had his highest OPS of the season, we can see Troy Glaus' has dropped 124 points since June 20th. During that span, Glaus has hit just .168/.295/.216, explaining the Braves recent cooling-off and the cries of Braves fans to bring up every known first baseman in the system. Freddie Freeman has a great baseball-name and a .876 OPS in Gwinnett, but he's, by all accounts, probably not ready. For now, the Braves will have to live with possible waiver trades, Eric Hinske, Brooks Conrad and hope.
SBN Blog: The Good Phight
2010 record: 62-49
Last week's rank: 11
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11
Chase Utley's still out, but the Phillies have crept back into the playoff picture by winning 14 of their last 17 while the Braves have "slumped". Jayson Werth, who Phillies fans seemed pretty eager to trade a few months ago, has anchored the lineup in the second baseman's absence, with help from the unlikely Carlos Ruiz. Kyle Kendrick beating Ubaldo Jiminez helps, too.
SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball
2010 record: 64-46
Last week's rank: 3
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6
The week for San Diego was bookended by wins where they scored ten runs against Los Angeles and Arizona. But over the five games in the middle, they scored hardly any more, to go 3-4 for the period. Mat Latos continues to dominate, the young right-hander now owning a 12-5 record with a 2.26 ERA. However, Tony Gwynn Jr. is falling well short of his father's numbers: his slugging percentage this year is 71 points below Dad's batting average at the same age.
SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball
2010 record: 64-47
Last week's rank: 6
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8
One of the little consequences of a team all but sewing up its division in early August is that I pretty much stop paying attention to them until the playoffs. Evan after losing a game of ground to the A's over the weekend, the Rangers don't have anything to be afraid of. Fun fact: Cliff Lee has walked three batters over 51.1 innings with Texas. Two of those three walks were intentional. Lee now has 126 strikeouts and seven unintentional walks on the season, for a ratio of 18. 18. The best ratio on the Indians among qualified pitchers is 2.
SBN Blog: Twinkie Town
2010 record: 63-49
Last week's rank: 5
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 3
Are the Twins going to take care of Chicago or not? All season, the advanced numbers have suggested that the Twins have the best team in the division, and all season, sans April, the Twins just can't quite put it together. Maybe it's a slightly weakened bullpen, maybe it's the handful of injuries, maybe it's the shaky starting pitching. Maybe the Twins and White Sox are just close. The Twins went 4-3 against the Rays & Tribe last week, which is more or less acceptable. Now the Twins head to Chicago for a massive three-game series. Only a sweep would really make a huge difference, and given how tight the White Sox and Twins have played, that doesn't seem likely.
SBN Blog: Red Reporter
2010 record: 64-49
Last week's rank: 12
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15
It'll be interesting to see how Dusty Baker uses new acquisition Jim Edmonds. He's probably a better hitter than Drew Stubbs (hitting .234/.300/.405), but Edmonds has been nursing a sore Achilles and can't run well at this point. If managed well, Edmonds could be a very useful piece for this team. But he's a relatively fragile aging veteran, and Baker has a track record of running those guys into the ground.
SBN Blog: DRays Bay
2010 record: 68-44
Last week's rank: 1
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1
Tampa Bay grabbed onto the lead in the AL East ... but not for long. The Rays grabbed a share of it on Aug. 2 after picking up a win over Minnesota and, the next day, took sole possession, but after that it was a nosedive, losing five straight. Now the Yankees sit 1.5 games up and the Rays can't afford to slip any more. The Rays are just four games above .500 in the second half. We'll see how they deal with having both Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis on the DL, although being able to recall a talent like Jeremy Hellickson always makes these things a little easier.
SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley
2010 record: 69-42
Last week's rank: 2
Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2
It's early, but August so far has not been very kind to the Yankees. The Yanks are 3-5 in the new month, with a series loss to the Jays and managing a split against the Red Sox. Still, the Yankees haven't cracked all season and it's suspect they will crack now. It's an open question as to where those cracks would form. How is it that a team can manage to be both topheavy and deep at the same time?