The heat is already on Jerry Manuel

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Jerry Manuel.jpgIt’s a month and a half before the games start and the tabloids are already poised to pounce:

David Wright, Jose Reyes and now Johan Santana all have said they expect the Mets to win the World Series. The Mets are turning the page on an injury-plagued 2009 by making one bold statement after another. That means the pressure is on Jerry Manuel like never before.

The manager has to produce. The Mets must get off to a good start.
Manuel will offer up his State of the Mets address today with his first
formal press conference of the 2010 season. He has made it clear the
Mets have to get off to that good start.

I’m not the world’s biggest Jerry Manuel fan, but to the extent this Mets team has had problems recently, I figure them to be about 50% injury-inflicted, 35% front office-inflicted and 15% on Jerry Manuel, if that.  Fact is a manager doesn’t make nearly as big a difference as most people like to pretend he does, even if he is the first to get the blame when things go sideways.  A manager’s primary job in my view is to manage the clubhouse, diffusing the strife and keeping everything on an even keel. You have to fire the skipper when he loses the clubhouse, but beyond that, personnel and health mean a lot more to a team’s chances at success than the manager.

I don’t doubt that Manuel will get fired if the team starts poorly, but unless players are fighting one another or something, that poor start won’t really be Jerry Manuel’s fault.

The Nats are going to sign Francisco Rodriguez for some reason

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The Nationals bullpen is a tire fire. They’re about to add another tire. Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, Washington is about to sign free agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez.

K-Rod was released by the Tigers last week after posting an ERA of 7.82 over 28 appearances this season. He has a 1.658 WHIP, is allowing 11.9 hits per nine innings and is posting his highest walk rate in five years. Also worth noting: the Detroit Friggin’ Tigers decided that he was not good enough to be in their bullpen.

So, yeah, good luck with that Washington.

The Giants chemistry is suffering because a guy they all hated is gone

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I’ve spent years arguing with people about team chemistry. You know the battle lines on all of that now: people who talk a lot about team chemistry tend to attribute winning or losing to good or bad chemistry, respectively. I tend to think that characterizing chemistry is a retroactive exercise in which teams that win are happy and then cite their happiness as the reason and vice versa. Jim Leyland agrees with me, for what it’s worth, so I’m pretty happy with my take.

Not that I’ll claim a monopoly on wisdom here. I’ve never played on a professional baseball team. I don’t know what it’s like to try to prepare to play baseball while surrounded by jackwagons who don’t get along with anyone. I can’t imagine that makes life easier. Indeed, based on the testimony of players I have spoken to, I will grant that there is at least some intangible yet real benefit if everyone is happy an gelling. I dismiss team chemistry arguments for the most part, but if I ran a team I’d at least try to get rid of bad seeds if their bad seeding was not outweighed by seriously outstanding on-the-field play. You want your workers happy, folks.

All of which makes me wonder what the heck to do about this passage from Ken Rosenthal’s latest column. It’s about the reeling San Francisco Giants. They have all kinds of issues — their offense is putrid, their pitching isn’t much better and they’ve been without their ace most of the year — but today Rosenthal looks at their team chemistry. It’s a quiet and subdued clubhouse, he notes, and it has a lot of people wondering if something is wrong there. What could it be?

Sandoval, who was an often noisy and boisterous presence during his time with the club, departed as a free agent after that season. Pence has suffered a number of injuries in recent years and declined offensively, making it difficult for him to be as vocal as he was in the past. Some with the Giants muse that the team even misses Angel Pagan, who created an odd sort of unity because most of the players disliked him.

Read that last sentence again. And then go on with your talk about how team chemistry is a legitimate explanatory concept regarding what makes teams win or lose as opposed to a post-hoc rationalization of it.

Not that it’s not a good article overall. There’s some interesting stuff about the Giants’ bullpen culture. And, of course, we now know why no one signed Pagan last winter.