Hit and Run: Marlins confound with Jennings hire; Miller time in Atlanta
In today's edition of Hit and Run, we look at the Marlins unexpectedly hiring Dan Jennings as their new manager, a history of skippers with no experience on the field, and more.
1. Welcome to the Dugout, Dan Jennings
That Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria fired Mike Redmond as the team's manager wasn't a huge surprise: Rumors have been going around since last month that Redmond was on the hot seat after Miami's 3–11 start to the season. That he did it at the 38-game mark—the same point at which he dismissed Jeff Torborg during the 2003 season with an identical 16–22 record—might have looked downright reasonable from the owner's twisted viewpoint. His solution, on the other hand, is much harder to understand.
At the same juncture in 2003, Loria tabbed grizzled 72-year-old Jack McKeon to pilot the team, which he did, all the way to an unlikely world championship. This time, he's turned to somebody who has no qualifications for the job: general manager Dan Jennings. While the 54-year-old Jennings has 31 years of professional baseball experience as a scout and executive—the last 13 of which have come with the Marlins as vice president of player personnel (2002–07), assistant GM ('07–13) and GM ('13–15)—his professional playing experience consists of having been to spring training with the Yankees’ Class A Greensboro affiliate back in 1984. His previous field experience, meanwhile, is that he "briefly coached in high school in Mobile, Ala., in the 1980s," according to the Associated Press.
With bench coach Rob Leary also fired, Jennings will be joined on the bench by advance scout Mike Goff, who after four years as an infielder in the Red Sox chain (1984–87) spent 10 seasons between '93 and '14 managing in the Mariners, Reds and Giants organizations. The conventional wisdom as to why such moves generally aren’t done revolves around the fact that those dugout Johnny-come-latelies have never endured the grind of a professional season and thus have a difficult time relating to and commanding the respect of players who have been doing just that. “He never played the game” is the common refrain.
The Marlins have actually done this before, though it was on original owner Wayne Huizenga’s watch—twice in the 1990s, when director of player development John Boles served stints, more on which below. With Loria still paying not only Redmond (who was signed through 2017) but also Ozzie Guillen (who is in the final year of a four-year deal under which he spent just one season in the dugout), this looks like the owner putting penny-pinching ahead of other considerations. For all we know, he'll probably pay Jennings in coupons clipped out of a Miami Herald circular.
Suffice it to say that you shouldn’t be surprised if things continue to go south in Miami. This isn’t exactly what Giancarlo Stanton signed up for, to say the least.
2. No Experience Necessary: Other managers who've never played
Jennings won't be the first man to lead a major league team without having ever picked up a bat or glove for a professional squad. Here's a quick rundown of other MLB managers with no previous professional playing experience, based on a list compiled by the Tampa Bay Times back in 2008.
Ed Barrow (310–320, .492 winning percentage)
A Hall of Famer based on the success of the Yankees during his tenure as general manager (1921–39) and team president ('39–45)—a span during which the team won 14 pennants and 10 World Series—Barrow got his start in baseball selling concessions with Harry M. Stevens in the 1880s. He did manage on and off in the minors for teams in which he had an ownership stake, those coming in and around stints as league president. His first managerial run came with the Tigers in 1903–04, during which the team went 97–117 for a .453 winning percentage and a fifth-place finish in '03. Hired on the recommendation of AL president Ban Johnson to replace Win Mercer, a manager who had committed suicide, Barrow ended up resigning near the end of '04 after a dispute with secretary-treasurer Frank Navin.
After serving as president of the International League from 1912 to '17 (as well as its predecessor, the Eastern League, in '11), Barrow took over the Red Sox in '18. The team, which had won three World Series in the previous five years, had been hit hard by the loss of several players to World War I, but owner Harry Frazee was active in purchasing players. Barrow feuded with coach Johnny Evers as well as star pitcher Babe Ruth, whom he played in the outfield on days he wasn't pitching, but the team was successful enough to go 75–51 during the shortened season and win the World Series over the Cubs, their last championship until 2004. They finished under .500 in the next two seasons, and then Barrow resigned to join the Yankees. The rest is history.
Hugo Bezdek (166–187, .470)
Bezdek was serving as a scout for the Pirates in between college football head coaching jobs when the team tabbed him to take over from 43-year-old interim manager Honus Wagner, who was in his final year as a player and had no interest in greater responsibility. The Pirates went 30–59 under Bezdek to finish 51–101, but they went 65–60 in the war-shortened 1918 season and then 71–68 in '19. Meanwhile, Bezdek took over as Penn State's head football coach and athletic director in '18, taking them to the Rose Bowl that year. He spent 18 years as the AD there and then went on to coach the NFL's Cleveland Rams.
Emil Fuchs (56–98, .364)
The Deputy Attorney General for New York from 1902 to '10 and then the attorney for the New York Giants, Judge Fuchs bought the Boston Braves in '22 as part of an ownership group of which former Giants star Christy Mathewson was intended to be the principal. Mathewson's health issues forced him to resign the club presidency in '23 (he died two years later), leaving Fuchs in charge. The cash-strapped team finished well below .500 during his first 10 seasons as owner, losing at least 100 games four times.
After selling player-manager Rogers Hornsby—who had won the slash-stat triple crown by hitting .387/.498/.632—to the Cubs after the 1928 season, the Judge took over managerial duties in '29. The team, which had finished seventh in the league for three straight years, improved by six games but still finished last for the first time since '24. Fuchs then stepped aside in favor of Bill McKechnie, who had previously won a World Series in Pittsburgh and a pennant in St. Louis and was en route to the Hall of Fame.
Ted Turner (0–1, .000)
In 1976, television station owner Ted Turner purchased both the Braves and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, then re-christened his station from WCTG to WTBS. After finishing 70–92 in 1976, the Braves started the '77 season 8–5, but after losing 16 straight, he told manager Dave Bristol to take 10 days off and donned a uniform himself. To say he didn't know the first thing about the job at hand would be an understatement, as his encounter with the night's starting pitcher, future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, suggests. Via ESPN's Doug Williams:
"I just got through swinging in the cage, and I came out and walked behind the batting cage for the next round and Ted came out of the dugout and he walked behind the batting cage," says Niekro.… "I looked at him and jokingly I said, 'Ted, what spot you got me hitting in today?' And he said, 'Hell, I don't know. You want to lead off? You want to hit second or third? We just lost 16 in a row. You've been around here long enough. Hit wherever you want to.'
"I said, ‘I don't think that's going to work, Ted. Put me in that ninth spot.'"
Though assisted by two coaches, the Braves lost their lone game under Turner, after which commissioner Bowie Kuhn and National League president Chub Feeney ended the experiment, citing a rule that anybody who owned stock in a team was forbidden to manage it. Bristol returned, and the team finished 61–101
John Boles (205–241, .460)
After nine years of coaching in the college ranks, Boles spent five years (1981–85) managing in the White Sox chain and then one with the Royals' Triple A affiliate before being promoted to the team's director of player development. He moved on to the Expos and then the Marlins in a similar capacity, both under GM Dave Dombrowski. When Dombrowski fired manager Rene Lachemen 86 games into the '96 season, Boles took over and piloted the team to a 40–35 record, then stepped aside in favor of former Pirates manager Jim Leyland at the end of the year, returning to the front office. Leyland led the free-agent-laden team to a world championship in '97 but resigned after Huizenga ordered a fire sale en route to a 108-loss '98 season. Boles returned to the dugout and spent two seasons and change on the job, highlighted by a 79–82 third-place finish in 2000. He never managed again, instead returning to the front office.
Carlos Tosca (191–191, .500)
Tosca first coached at the high school level before accepting a job to coach in the Yankees' chain in 1978. He spent 17 years in that role with the Yankees, Royals, Marlins and Braves and three as Buck Showalter's bench coach in Arizona ('98–2000) before being hired as the Blue Jays' third base coach in '02 under manager Buck Martinez.
With the Jays off to a 20–33 record, Martinez got the axe and Tosca was appointed interim manager by GM J.P. Ricciardi. The team went 58–51 under him and finished third in the AL East, good enough for Tosca to keep the job. They finished third again in 2003 at 86–76, but when they started the '04 season 47–64, Tosca felt the blade as well. He's since coached for the Diamondbacks, Marlins and Braves and is currently the bench coach in Atlanta under Fredi Gonzalez.
Dave Trembley (187–283, .398)
After spending time as a high school and college coach, Trembley became a scout for the Cubs in 1984 and then an instructor before embarking on a 20-year career as a minor league manager, first for an unaffiliated Carolina League team and then with the Pirates, Padres, Cubs and Orioles. After becoming Baltimore's bullpen coach in 2007, he took the reins when manager Sam Perlozzo was fired following a 29–40 start. The O’s went just 40–53 the remainder of the way and finished fourth in the AL East, but Trembley retained the job through two dreadful last-place finishes before being relieved of duty in June 2010, with the team off to a 15–39 start; later that year, Showalter would take over. After spending 13 and most of 2014 on the Astros' staff. Tremblay is now the Braves' director of player development.
In all, the seven managers compiled a .457 winning percentage, and the three modern ones (Boles, Tosca and Tremblay) a .449 mark, both at least better than the Marlins’ current .421.
3. It's (Shelby) Miller Time in Atlanta
Redmond got the axe just minutes after his team avoided becoming 2015's first no-hit team, courtesy of the Braves' Shelby Miller. Only a two-out ninth-inning single by pinch-hitter Justin Bour prevented Miller from spinning the season's first no-no, but even so, the 24-year-old righty is off to a fine start with his new team.
Traded from the Cardinals to the Braves on November 17 in a four-player deal that sent Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to St. Louis, Miller has sparkled in his eight starts for the Braves. Only once has he allowed more than two runs; when he yielded three against the Reds on April 30, one of the runs was unearned. He's allowed just one run in 25 innings since then, a stretch that began with a three-hit shutout of the Phillies on May 5, and one that has lowered his ERA to an NL-best 1.33.
Miller hasn't been quite as dominant as that mark suggests, as he's struck out 7.2 per nine and walked 2.7 per nine en route to a 3.28 FIP. His low ERA is being propped up by a remarkable but unsustainable .184 batting average on balls in play, though it's worth noting that Miller finished last year at .259 in that department and is now at .260 for his career. Of the 10 pitchers with at least 400 innings since the start of the 1993 season, only five have lower marks than that, and only one has regularly served as a starter:
|Troy Percival||.232||1995–2009||703||1||708 2/3||3.17||3.87|
|Chris Young||.252||2004–15||198||191||1,084 1/3||3.69||4.34|
|Rafael Soriano||.258||2002–14||585||8||630 2/3||2.85||3.31|
|Alberto Reyes||.260||1995–2008||384||2||428 2/3||3.82||4.29|
|Keith Foulke||.262||1997–2008||619||8||786 2/3||3.33||3.72|
|Miguel Gonzalez||.263||2012–15||82||76||478 2/3||3.40||4.55|
BABIPs that low are largely unsustainable without being accompanied by the kind of weak contact rates produced by hard-throwing, high-strikeout pitchers—generally relievers. The rare ones to break through in this fashion as starters often produce high pop-up rates. Young (15.2% IF/FB ratio) and Gonzalez (12.5%) both fit that bill, and for that matter Clippard (15.9%), Nathan (14.2%) and Soriano (13.3%) are near the top of the 2002–15 leaderboard (as far back as the data goes) as well. Miller gets his share of pop-ups (10.6% this year, 11.5% career) but his ground-ball rate has spiked from 39.9% last year to 50.4% this year thanks to a significant shift in repertoire. Via Brooks Baseball:
Miller is getting groundball rates of 57% on both the sinker and cutter when those balls are put into play, compared to around 40% for his four-seam fastball. His BABIP and ERA are likely to rise, but for a pitcher prone to serving up homers (1.1 per nine in 2013–14), it's a worthwhile tradeoff, and the Braves can feel good about the prospect of having him under team control through '18.
Meanwhile in St. Louis, Heyward is hitting just .244/.301/.370 with three homers for an 81 OPS+, a showing that he'll have to improve markedly in order to secure the nine-figure contract that many suggested he could receive upon hitting free agency this coming winter. Walden is carrying an 0.87 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine through his first 10 1/3 innings with the Cardinals, but he's currently on the disabled list with a shoulder strain that could keep him sidelined until the All-Star break.