Analyzing what we can’t know


There’s been a lot of talk about Robin Ventura for AL Manager of the Year around these parts, which is to be expected.  He’s the manager of a contending team that wasn’t expected to contend, and looking back on previous winners of the award, that’s the most significant part of the criteria.

That’s not a lot to go off of, though.  We’re talking about a role that is almost 80% intangibles, and 20% a combination of instinctual calls, managing matchups, and assessing and reacting statistical probabilities.

In the tangible arena, Ventura can be quibbled with regularly if we want to be hyper-critical.  He futzed with the 9th inning pitching of the Mariners game on Friday a bit too much, his long leash for starters can sometimes seems counterintuitive to larger team directives, and there was that one weekend he intentionally walked Jeff Francouer three times.  That long leash has also produced piles of quality starts and he still opts for the intentional walk less than almost anyone in the league, but there’s a regular sense of a 1st year manager establishing his preferences.  Which is to be expected.

But again, that’s a pinhole view at his work, or any manager’s work.  Even a front office as forward-thinking as the Texas Rangers can be regularly seen tolerating Ron Washington’s playoff tactics, or love of Michael Young in exchange for his famously  endearing clubhouse presence.

That could mean Robin’s success at unifying a roster stacked with 30-somethings in a goofy game of dress-up might speak to his success more than his avoidance of bunts.  But outlandish, showstopping community-building events actually aren’t Ventura’s style.  When trying to put what makes Ventura effective into words, the same theory on sameness comes from players’ lips.

"Dunn: “He brings the same demeanor every day whether we win or lose. He’s consistent.”Pierzynski: “Guys have responded to him. Every day nothing really changes win or lose, good game or bad game.”Beckham: ““Everybody will go through some ups and downs. He does a really good job of managing that. It seems his mood is always the same. That’s been a real positive for us.”"

Keeping an even-keel is certainly a remarkable skill in the pressure cooker that is this line of work, but as Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus wonders aloud, how much of the effectiveness of Ventura’s method is indebted to Ozzie Guillen?  The White Sox followed up a firebrand with a strong silent type, as any team would naturally do.  After eight years of showiness from a manager always eager to be a distraction, veterans were bound to notice the change in tune from a manager who treats public appearances as a necessary evil, and the timing of Ventura could be as valuable as Ventura himself.

Ultmatley, the manager’s job is to get wins, and the manager’s who’s team is winning is thus succeeding at his job.  Checking out who’s succeeding at one’s job when everyone thought the incompetence of their players would be their undoing adds some nuance to an award that might otherwise be a throw-in to the team with the best record.  But it might not bring us any closer to discerning actual manager skill level.

Ventura is succeeding, and doing so while making a point to actively place his stamp on the team, be it the loose culture or just being the only manager in the league to make his squad take pre-game infield practice.  So he should win, I guess.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @ JRFegan.  Also check out his full-time, daily blog, White Sox Observer