Saturday, John Fay published an important columnÃ‚Â about Jim RigglemanÃ‚Â for the Cincinnati Enquirer.
I’m going to bracket off what might be the most discouraging part: Fay’s reporting on a meeting that Reds owner Bob Castellini had with Riggleman about managing decisions, something Riggleman calls unprecedented in his vast experience as a major league manager. So after you finish reading this, go back for Fay’s entire post.Ã‚Â
Instead, I want to focus on Fay’s main thesis — that the St. Louis Cardinals have been successful the past 20 years because of adhering to a Cardinal Way of playing with fundamentals, or in Fay’s words:Ã‚Â
“… a strict adherence to the fundamentals Ã¢â‚¬â€ from rundowns to bunt plays to generally playing the game right …”
Fay believes Jim Riggleman manages by the Cardinal Way and that Riggleman should make that fact the center of his case for being given the permanent job as Reds manager.Ã‚Â
“If I were Riggleman, hereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the case IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d make: Everybody has the numbers now, every [team] has a roster of analytic guys with advanced degrees. What I can offer is thousands of games of managerial experience and a strict adherence to the fundamentals Ã¢â‚¬â€ from rundowns to bunt plays to generally playing the game right.”
Riggleman says he learned the Cardinal Way working for the Cardinals organization in the 1980s from a legendary baseball instructor named George Kissell. Indeed, Kissell was a widely praised baseball instructor. Sparky Anderson, in particular, had good things to say about Kissell.Ã‚Â
Let’s take a closer look at Fay’s suggested case for Riggleman.
Jim Riggleman hasn’t worked with the Cardinals since 1992. That’s 26 years ago. He never coached above the AAA level for them. As a big league manager, he’s compiled a record of 718-887, so it’s fair to say his “thousands of games of managerial experience” using the Cardinal Way has not been a recipe for success. Ever. Anywhere.Ã‚Â
Fay’s case for Riggleman really breaks down over a few statements of fact:Ã‚Â
“The Reds have been better at that (fundamentals) since Riggleman took over.”
I say “statement of fact” although Fay provides nary a smidgen of proof to back it. Maybe better to say it’s his opinion.
Really? Are the Reds measurably better at bunting, rundowns and “playing the game the right way” since Riggleman has managed? I watch almost every Reds game and still see big problems with fundamentals. Their (overused) bunting game remains a joke. They miss cutoff throws. They get picked off. They bust some of the few rundown plays that happen. They are last in the league in converting routine plays on defense.
Now, maybe none of that is Jim Riggleman’s fault. He’s preaching fundamentals to the team. Conducts all those extra practice sessions, after all. Don’t blame him if the players don’t listen, right? Wait, though. Isn’t that an indictment of the entire pro-Riggleman argument? If he’s preaching but not winning converts, what good is the sermon?
Fay’s next sentence undermines the entire gist of his argument for Riggleman.
“He also had them winning until the injuries and continued struggles of the starting pitching caught up with them.”Ã‚Â
The health of Riggleman’s lineup and starting pitching have had the most to do with whether the Reds win or lose. Something with which Bryan Price and Sparky Anderson would agree. Not the rigor of their rundown practice.Ã‚Â
All that said, let’s take a closer look at the Cardinal Way. Is it really about good bunts? A stronger case can be made the Cardinals’ success the past 20 years is due to their owner’s commitment to hiring smart, outside, highly qualified people from a variety of backgrounds, and turning them loose on scouting, international signings and player development. It isn’t proficiency in rundowns or bunting that has led to St. Louis’ success. It’s their owner’s early commitment to rigorous and innovative personnel management.
I wrote about this a couple years ago:
“(The Cardinals) roster resilience in face of adversity is no accident. It is the product of a player evaluation system put in place more than a decade ago and refined over time by people at the cutting-edge of their industry.
It began in 2003. The Cardinals hired Jeff Luhnow, who had degrees in economicsÃ‚Â andÃ‚Â engineering from Penn and a masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degree in business administration from Northwestern. Note the absence of the wordÃ‚Â baseballÃ‚Â in that resume.
The Cardinals assigned Luhnow the task of developing a new data methodology the team could use for scouting, evaluating and projecting talent. He started by hiring a NASA engineer and biomathematician, Sig Mejdal, to help him devise a system that could assimilate all the available information.
The CardinalsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ player evaluation program was one of the first that combined scouting information and statistical analysis. The system has evolved into one of the most sophisticated in the business, with proprietary algorithms (usingÃ‚Â neural nets and other artificial intelligence technology) that determine the value for each player.”
That emphasis is the result of one person, their owner, Bill DeWitt, Jr., a Cincinnati native and current resident. In fact, from his downtown office window, the CardinalsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ owner can see the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ home ballpark. The Cardinals have indeed thrived in win-loss under the leadership of Bill DeWitt Jr.
“DeWittÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s commitment to modern baseball has produced a golden era for the Cardinals. In his 20 years as owner, the Cardinals have won more postseason games (71) than any National League team. By comparison, the Reds have won two over that period. The Cardinals have won two World Series and four NL pennants. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve done all this with a mid-sized market and average payroll.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“As time went on we had to change,Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â DeWitt said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There was so much information out there. The use of metrics kept proliferating, and we werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t doing anything to take advantage of it to evaluate what a playerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true performance was Ã¢â‚¬â€ and what that meant in terms of their value.Ã¢â‚¬Â
DeWitt embraced advanced metrics as an evaluation tool Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ in 2003 Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ the year thatÃ‚Â MoneyballÃ‚Â was on the bestseller list, far earlier than other owners.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Today, every aspect of the game is under analytical scrutiny. On the field. Off the field. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ There has been a coming around to information in the last 10 to 15 years and a lot of teams were looking for that edge,Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â said DeWitt. ‘I feel good that at the beginning we were able to capitalize on it.'”
This led to a transition for the Cardinals away from then-GM Walt Jocketty to a more modern approach:Ã‚Â
“Despite the Cardinals success in the mid-2000s, Jocketty wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a good fit for Bill DeWittÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plan to move toward more data-driven decisions. DeWitt wanted a more analytical front office and Walt Jocketty didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t offer that.
By 2007, JockettyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most successful strategy had become outdated. He had been adept at grabbing players from other clubs engaged in mid-season fire sales. But as revenues surged in baseball, along with generous revenue sharing, teams became less eager to unload salary.
The division between Luhnow and Jocketty simmered barely beneath the surface for the summer of 2007. DeWitt fired Jocketty on October 3.
John Mozeliak, who had been an assistant to Jocketty, took over as the Cardinals GM at the age of 38. One of MozeliakÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first moves was establishing a Baseball Development department, which had not existed under Jocketty.
Mozeliak put together a team of baseball outsiders to work with the Cardinals scouts and other baseball people. His analytics department consisted of a NASA engineer, and people with degrees in business, psychology and statistics. Their product generates the 0Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s and 1Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s for the organizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s data-driven decision-making.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re able to combine advanced stats with the ability to create a model that gives us recommendations on contracts, salary and length,Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â Mozeliak said.
It factors in aging curves among other variables. Instead of paying players for what they have already accomplished, under Mozeliak the Cardinals pay for what they expect the players to do going forward.”
Rivals call the Cardinals a model organization for the way ownership and front office operate, not their team’s bunting.
You know what you never read about the Cardinals? About how players X or Y couldn’t be traded because Bill DeWitt loved them. About how players X and Y were getting an extension because of the owner’s personal judgment. You might make the case that sentimentality got the better of the Cardinals in their recent 3-year extension deal with catcher Yadier Molina. But Molina is earning his $20 million this year.Ã‚Â
To grasp the extreme contrast in the way Bob Castellini runs the Reds compared to Bill DeWitt’s Cardinals, read the rest of that post.Ã‚Â
Slouching back to old-timey baseball and threadbare clichÃƒÂ©s about playing the game “the right way” is exactly the opposite of what the Reds need if they want to follow the Cardinal Way.
And what are the other managerial candidates going to say? That their teams will play the wrong way? Good grief.Ã‚Â
Seriously though, showing up in 2018 for an interview to be a major league baseball manager and stressing you’ll do your job like someone taught you 30 years ago should be disqualifying, not a clever sales pitch. It’s hard to imagine any industry where a candidate would do well to say their approach to the job would be based on what they learned in 1990, before for example, when the World Wide Web was made available to the public.Ã‚Â
Finally, it isn’t the case that just because a team has an analytics department it therefore doesn’t matter whether the manager is adept at modern thinking about how to win baseball games. The manager has to be engaged and comfortable with using new information and ideas. One need only look at the 2018 Reds to see that. The gulf between their analytics-oriented front office and the way Riggleman manages can be observed from outer space. Certainly from Bill DeWitt’s office window.Ã‚Â
If the Reds want to catch up in the win column by using the Cardinal Way, they need to take a closer look at the owner’s box, not bunting practice.Ã‚Â