The Royals had back-to-back World Series runs and changed the ways we look at bullpen construction and team speed with less emphasis on starting pitchers. Joe Maddon took a low budget Tampa Bay team to the World Series and became the manager the Cubs had to have last year. Will Maddon change the way managers manage in the future? A common thread between the Royals last year and the Cubs is the versatile Ben Zobrist.
Everyone credits manager Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs with being the most innovative manager of his era. Okay, maybe a little strong, and he is only part of the way through his era but he is at least willing to think outside the box of baseball tradition when it comes to managing his team.
In Tampa, Maddon was forced to use young players as they could not afford the star studded Free Agents. Over the last two years Maddon has demonstrated he is willing to play younger players over veterans on this big budget Cubs team, and move veteran players to new positions to accommodate those younger players and adjust the batting order. All of these moves are made to prepare his team to be successful in the short and long term. A key piece Maddon had to have in the off-season was Ben Zobrist who Maddon shaped from their time in Tampa. Zobrist is Maddon’s oldest starter and Fowler at 30 years old is the only other one at 30 or older besides their catcher. The rest are anywhere from 22 to 26 years old.
Teams in contention, or at least thinking they still have a shot to contend, should consider following Maddon’s lead and think outside the box. At this point of the season no team is ensured of making the playoffs come October except maybe Maddon’s Cubs who have a winning percentage of over .700 and on pace for the best W/L record in Major League Baseball history.
Two examples of personnel moves that teams made in the last week show there are teams trying to be Maddonesque in their effort to make the playoffs.
The St. Louis Cardinals in trying to jump start a push to contend for a post season appearance made a series of daring moves. Early in spring training Peralta injured ligaments in his thumb requiring surgery. The Cardinals, after running Jedd Gyorko, Ruben Tejada, Greg Garcia and Aledmys Diaz out to shortstop eventually settled on Diaz as Peralta’s replacement due to his offensive production. In order to assimilate injured All Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta back into their lineup the Maddonesque moves required meant leaving Diaz at shortstop, inserting a returning Peralta at third base, moving Matt Carpenter to second and sending Kolten Wong, a player they just signed to a 5 year/$25M extension to the minors.
The beginning stages of naming Diaz the shortstop looked like the wrong move. After a rough spring training and early part of the season the Cardinal’s infield defense was at best shaky. Diaz, who hasn’t been without growing pains, started the year slowly defensively, committing 13 errors but he has produced at an all-star level at the plate. According to Fangraphs, Diaz is the fourth ranked MLB shortstop in OPS at .870, fifth in ISO at .205 and fifth in wRC+ at 130. Errors have been an issue all season for St. Louis. They are ranked 29th in MLB by fielding percentage (.978) committing 49 errors. These bold moves should make the Cardinal’s 6th ranked offense more deadly and certainly can’t hurt their defense. Since Peralta’s return, he is hitting .400 in 10 at bats and the Cardinals have won two out of three games he’s played.
The Texas Ranger’s Maddonesque move has had even better results. Jeff Banister is the manager of the Rangers and moves around line-ups like he is shuffling a deck of cards. Ian Desmond, a career shortstop, was moved to the leftfield and then to centerfield. The team put a 20 year old Nomar Mazara, a true rookie, in rightfield, based on a great spring training. When Rougned Odor was suspended for 7 games after landing a punch to Toronto’s Jose Bautista’s jaw, the Rangers brought up Jurickson Profar from AAA on May 27th to replace him. All Profar did in those 7 games was hit .364 with an OPS over 1.000, 2 HR’s and 9 runs scored. The Rangers realizing they needed to keep his dynamic bat in the lineup made room for Profar by playing him at designated hitter, second base, third base and even a game at first base, mostly sitting a gone cold veteran Prince Fielder as well as giving other players a day off. Profar’s stay in the lineup is producing to the tune of .389/.400/.611 helping the Rangers to a 9-3 record.
With 23 out of 30 teams within 5 games of a playoff berth at this stage of the season, the teams that make the bold Maddonesque move now, without waiting to the trade deadline at the end of July may prove to be the wisest of them all. Here was a good piece on TalkNats about line-up construction speaking of Maddon and Banister you can read it here.
Rangers' Banister and Cubs' Maddon Managers of the Year: (AP) — The manager of the year awards were handed out… https://t.co/EQd2Ybqs5L
— 1460 ESPN Yakima (@1460ESPNYakima) November 18, 2015