"The Plan" has always centered around pitching. As Ackley and Smoak and Montero faltered, we were all told to look to the "Big Three," to the cerberus. Though one is down, two remain, and in their early action in the major leagues—they did nothing but impress.
So while the desires of some to fire Jack Zduriencik were more than warranted, it still makes some sense, at least garners a shred of intrigue, to let Jack see this all the way through with two of the three heads still harboring all the potential they once had and ready to contribute a full season at the major league level.
The biggest priority before then, of course, is hiring the right major league manager for this particular club.
And it shouldn't be Dusty Baker.
When news came down that Dusty Baker would not be returning as Cincinnati Reds manager, my and many others' reaction was a dismissive "Oh god no." I figured that was a common reaction, and this thing would pass almost immediately without much thought about it. I was further comforted, or affirmed, when Larry Stone immediately tweeted this:
Dusty Baker was very interested in Mariner job in '03 when Lou left, but didn't get a sniff. And I doubt he will now.— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) October 4, 2013
But as I thought it through, and I saw other individuals' thoughts stir on the issue, I started to see the other side of the argument. There's no denying it, Dusty Baker has seen a lot of success as a major league manager. During his twenty years as a big league skipper, he's won the Manager of the Year award on three separate occasions and his teams have won five division titles.
Besides those, here are some more numbers for you. This tweet has been officially retweeted 60 times today its unofficial replies, modified tweets and whatnot have been clogging up the 'mariners' column on my Tweetdeck all day:
It's powerful stuff, on its face. Sure, I get that—I understand completely where this group is coming from. Dusty Baker gets results. Definitely. But those results, those at-all-costs results usually come with consequences. As remarkable as those numbers are, I think I have some that are equally powerful.
Here's a look at Mark Prior's stats down the stretch and in the playoffs in 2003. Mark Prior was pitching in his first full season at the major league level, and Dusty Baker was his manager.
We all know what happened to Mark Prior. And Kerry Wood.
Though I'm not saying this stretch, and this stretch alone, is the cause of Prior's arm injuries (I'm not ruling it out either), it is indicative of Dusty Baker's treatment of pitchers. Dusty Baker is old school—that's who he is.
In my temporary "Hey, maybe Dusty Baker could work" lapse, I figured Baker must have learned from his time with the Cubs. Surely, he wouldn't do something like this again—sacrificing the future for short-term gain—with our beloved Taijuan Walker and exciting-again James Paxton.
Well, there's no reason to think so. After Baker's tenure with the Cubs, he had the opportunity to nurture a young pitcher again with the Reds' Johnny Cueto. As a 22-year old rookie, Johnny Cueto made 31 starts in 2008 and threw 110 or more pitches in more than a quarter of them.
In 2013, Johnny Cueto's multiple DL stints meant he only pitched in three games after June 28th. One of them was the wild card game that sealed Baker's fate.
That wild card game revealed—or underscored—another recent example of Baker's mishandling of pitchers. There's no question, Aroldis Chapman is the Cincinnati Reds' best pitcher. Because Baker's belief that Chapman's talents are best utilized in the closer role—a strict closer role—the Reds' most talented pitcher didn't pitch in the team's most important game of the season.
So the Baker-backers will say "Enough with the pitching, Baker gets you results! He'll get you to the playoffs!" Well, what happens when Baker gets in the playoffs? Tactics aren't everything, of course, and being a manager is as much about managing personalities—which Baker is supposedly exceptional at—as it is those tactics. But in the playoffs, in a single game or a short series, sometimes even in a stretch run—those tactics can be a big deal. Could they explain Baker's history of important near-misses? Tom Verducci rounds them up:
• The Bartman Game. After losing Game 5 of the NLCS, the 2003 Cubs are up 3-0 and are six outs away from going to the World Series when a cascade of calamities, including a fan reaching out to deflect a potential out, leads to Chicago losing Game 6 and Game 7 at Wrigley Field to the Marlins.
• The 2012 Reds, needing only one more win to advance to the NLCS, instead lose three straight games at home to San Francisco.
• The 2013 Reds blow homefield advantage for the NL Wild Card by losing their last five games of the regular season, then lose the Wild Card in Pittsburgh. It was the third straight time his Reds were knocked out of the postseason in the first round.
It's not a good look.
And then, of course, there's the sabermetric side of things. Some dismiss sabermetrics and any philosophy associated with the movement immediately—but many don't. We don't. Because it's some important stuff, and it's low-hanging fruit for managers who don't carry the old-school mentality guys like Baker do.
On that front, Dusty Baker's Reds led the league in sacrifice bunts this year. There's also much chatter regarding the notion that Baker did not agree with the approach of Reds' cornerstone Joey Votto. That's fueled by Baker's past, which is scattered with revealing quotes on plate approach. Here's one from Carry Muskat and MLB.com, in 2006:
"On-base percentage is great if you can score runs and do something with that on-base percentage," Baker said. "Clogging up the bases isn't that great to me. The problem we have to address more than anything is the home run problem."
And here's another he supposedly told the Chicago Herald, via Baseball Prospectus:
"I think walks are overrated unless you can run... If you get a walk and put the pitcher in a stretch, that helps. But the guy who walks and can't run, most of the time they're clogging up the bases for somebody who can run."
Everyone has their own philosophies on baseball, but those are Dusty Baker's—and for those of you who believe making outs are worse than "clogging the bases", Baker's would not be a good fit.
Again, I understand the initial sentiment. I understand the desire to focus on results. That's what we want here—that's what we've grown tired of people telling us to ignore: the results. We want more wins than losses, a lot more.
But while Dusty Baker may give you some strong results, the cost on those results—and the potential for them to mean little in both the near and longterm future—is just too high.