I guess on first glance, this may come off as Bud Black apologia. I’ve said on the podcast a few times that I remember the last few years of Bruce Bochy’s tenure here where he could apparently do no right. He constantly tinkered with the lineup, he would use broken down veterans instead of our “hot” young talent, and he was inconsistent in his bullpen usage. If you go back and read those circa 2005 and 2006 message board postings, it’ll look very similar to what you’re reading today about Bud Black. To some degree, if you stick around long enough as a manager somewhere, I think it’s human nature to start to really pick apart decisions out of comfort, or maybe it’s restlessness. Of course, once Bochy left here, whether it was just a better organization, more payroll, or some Bochy magic, well, let’s just say his hand is running out of fingers to put rings on.
So that brings us to today. It appears Bud Black is on the precipice. Troops are forming on both sides of the battle. On the one hand, you read posts like Marver’s Crimes on the Diamond: a Budding problem and see the nuts and bolts, the numbers that show that statistically, Bud Black makes decisions that put the team in a worse position to win games. Marver isn’t alone in this, Twitter has been lit up with a #firebudblack movement that has gained some real steam through these early months. I’m just as guilty, and when you do just focus on his in-game decision making and its effect on win probability, it’s not good. Of course, the other side, led by vocal Padres employees (let’s all remember that, yes, they draw paychecks from the team they purportedly objectively cover) like Bob Scanlan and Jesse Agler, point out the other side of managing, the people handling part, that Bud Black supposedly excels at. And in the end, there really are two distinct parts of managing, and this goes for any type of management in any business. Managers are tasked with using their technical competence, but also to handle, motivate and empower a team, more of the human side of things.
I’ll be the first to say that I believe Bud Black is subpar on the technical competence part of the job. His decisions are mindblowing at times, and mathematically, hurt the team. In many cases with on-field decision making, the best you can generally hope for is the manager not screwing things up. In our case, Bud Black is screwing things up. As Marver pointed out in his post, a single decision to leave Andrew Cashner in to hit with the bases loaded lowered the Padres win probability by over 5%. I won’t even get into my disgust with Bud’s tendency to field a capitulation lineup in the name of giving 7 regulars rest – I mean, imagine an office where 7 out of 9 people in your division want to take vacation in the same week. Competent managers would stagger those vacation requests to maximize coverage of job duties. The same should go for Bud and resting regulars.
On the other hand, in most office environments, more than technical competence, managers have far more impact on their workers productivity and satisfaction through better handling the human element issues. That is to say, moreso than their ability to process and review TPS reports, they have more real impact when dealing with motivating workers, figuring out how to get teams to mesh, finding complementary skills in their workforce to capitalize on, taking corrective actions in an empathetic manner, etc. I truly believe this is the case with baseball teams as well, and at the very least, Bud Black doesn’t totally screw this part of the job. Most that are around him (Bob Scanlan discussed this on Monday on Scott and BR on 1090) say he is actually really good at this aspect. Look, most of the reasons people like Scanlan give for defending Bud Black’s job are total garbage. Scan even went as far as to say that Bud should have sacrificed the 5% decrease in win probability to help get Cashner a win, an almost meaningless stat (because I’m sure Cash would feel much better if he could have been 2-5 instead of 1-6). But I do think it’s fair to say that there is some split in importance between strategic management and people management when it comes to the baseball manager’s job – I’m not sure if it’s 50/50, but I don’t think it’s 20/80 either. And to totally write off the people management portion of the job is foolish.
While we’re discussing that Cashner hitting decision, I don’t even put all of the blame on Bud Black for that awful decision. If anything, I think it’s a personnel issue as much as anything. Black stated a couple times during the Dbacks series that the bullpen was taxed, and he was purportedly saving the bullpen (ignoring that they had an offday the next day) when he hit Cashner. With Despaigne in the rotation now, the Padres don’t really have a competent inning eating long reliever they can use to soak up innings when strategic decisions need to be made like hitting for Cashner in a high leverage game situation. Maurer is the closest thing they have to one right now, but the rest of the bullpen is full of 1 inning specialists. If Bud Black is making poor game decisions because of a concern about the bullpen, then by all means, stick a Robbie Erlin or Jason Lane into the bullpen to absorb some of those innings.
Now that I’ve possibly stupidly defended Bud Black (and not just because he signed a baseball on the day my daughter was born that’s sitting above her crib), I’ll start dodging your cans and bottles.