John McLaren is not a good manager. At least, he hasn't shown himself to be a good manager to date. In his ~five months at the helm of this sinking ship, he's demonstrated either an inability or an unwillingness to understand a bevy of relatively simple concepts, from batting order to platoon splits to outfield defense. Concepts so easy to grasp that you'd think the understanding of them would be a prerequisite for the job. Down the stretch last season, as the Mariners just about catapulted themselves out of the playoff race, I was all over the guy for being underqualified, and on two or three occasions requested his immediate dismissal. He was hurting the team's chances of winning at a time when they couldn't afford to face any additional disadvantage. And so far in 2008, there hasn't really been any indication that he's a changed man. He appears to possess the same managerial skillset as he did the day Grover resigned, a managerial skillset that makes him less a contributor and more an obstacle that must be overcome.
But with that said, John McLaren doesn't deserve to pay the price for what's going on. He doesn't. John McLaren shouldn't be the guy looking for another job come tomorrow or next week or next month or whenever, not when there are so many other people on the team who're worse at what they do, and who're dealing us greater harm.
It's always easy to blame the manager. I should know, I've done it. Managers end up shouldering all kinds of blame for things over which they may or may not have any control, and some of the bad ones really do cost teams a few games in the standings. They're the number one scapegoat, and in a situation like this, where you have a team with high expectations just completely falling apart, and you want to know what happened, a lot of people tend to assume that the manager is at fault for somehow ruining the energy. "He didn't push them hard enough." "He didn't help them achieve their potential." "He embraced a culture of losing." "He couldn't motivate." You'll get a lot of different lines sharing a common insinuation - the manager had lost the team, and the team was collapsing as a result. And for this reason, those people'll tell you, the manager should be given his walking papers so that someone else can come in and breathe new life into a slump-weary ballclub.
But there's a problem with this line of thinking, though. And it's that this line of thinking vastly overstates the impact a manager can have. Managers can cost you a run here and a win there, but they're not responsible for things like season-ruining death spirals. How could they be? Just how big of an impact can a guy in the dugout really have if he never throws a ball or swings a bat? At the end of the day, it's the players who have to take care of matters on the field, and even if you disagree with some of the guys the manager chooses to play, that's at least as much a roster construction problem as a managerial problem. A manager can only work with the tools the front office gives him, after all.
That's the on-field stuff. But I'm equally skeptical that a manager could cause substantial damage in the clubhouse. What would be the mechanism of such a thing taking place? How, exactly, would a manager go about "losing a team", and how would this manifest itself in the results? Baseball teams - even successful ones - are made up of clubhouse cliques and solitary individuals who come together for several hours a day in an effort to win a game. They don't rally around the manager any more than you and your coworkers might rally around your boss. So how could a manager "lose" something that was never really his to begin with? I suppose you could argue that a manager could lose his team's respect, but even in that scenario - and I'm not convinced that it happens nearly as often as people claim it does - so what? What effect would that have? Does Randomly Generated Cleanup Hitter have more trouble making contact if he thinks his manager is full of hot air? For God's sake, the 2006 Blue Jays finished 87-75 in a season in which their manager threatened to punch his designated hitter in the face. I'm not seeing how respect is a major issue.
And as for motivation, this isn't middle school. This is the Major Leagues. If a team is slumping, and the players start getting complacent and going through the motions, that seems to be more their fault than the manager's. At that level you need to be able to motivate yourself. It's what a player has been conditioned to do throughout his entire career, because if he ever slipped up in college or the minors, he'd have been in danger of getting passed by someone putting forth a greater effort. Yeah, you'd probably like to have a manager capable of delivering stirring speeches at the drop of a hat to light a fire under the team at every first sign of trouble, but those people don't exist. A manager can only say so much. It's really ought to be up to the players to make sure they're trying hard every day. If they don't, I feel it reflects worse on them than it does on the coach.
I'm losing my train of thought. I don't even know if that last paragraph made sense. I guess my main point is this: there's been a lot of talk that McLaren's job is in jeopardy, that the Mariners might be getting ready to show him the door. What would this accomplish? What good would it do? Does anyone think that McLaren's hypothetical midseason replacement would be able to squeeze any more out of this pile of crap roster than we're already getting? If not, what's the point?
Fire McLaren now and you're saying that he did a bad job. A terrible job, even. A worse job than anyone currently on the roster, a roster with a pathetic offense and arguably the most disappointing rotation in franchise history. How does it make sense to scapegoat the manager when he very clearly isn't even close to being the team's biggest problem? I won't argue that McLaren's particularly good at what he does, because he isn't, but right now our 3-4-5 pitchers have a sum ERA over 18 and our offense has a lower OBP than Joey Gathright. That's not the coach. That's the players. And funny thing about firing the manager - no matter how many retread managers you go through, the roster stays the same. Jim Riggleman or whoever isn't some magical solution, and firing McLaren and giving the new guy a bit of a grace period only serves to put off all the discussions about the future that the people in charge should really be having right now as I type.
Don't swap out the manager. It serves no purpose. You can do it in the offseason and that'll be fine with me (as long as it's accompanied by other moves), but don't do it now, because it's not a move that needs to be made. It would serve no benefit to the team, and it may just kill McLaren's career, which would bother me a little bit now that I've improbably come to view him as a sympathetic character. Fix the roster instead. That's where the problem lies. Fix the roster, and then worry about the other things later, because a good coach - like a good closer - is a luxury about which only competitors need to worry.
Biggest Contribution: Adrian Beltre, +13.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Erik Bedard, -40.1%
Most Important AB: Betancourt single, +10.4%
Most Important Pitch: Duncan homer, -20.2%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -43.5%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -6.5%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
(What is this chart?)
Erik Bedard is messed up.