I know there are a lot of things that go into building a manager’s reputation that none of us see: friendships, conversations on the field before games and all manner of things that go on when baseball isn’t actually being played. But I still have a hard time seeing why Juan Samuel would, as Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun reports, be up for at least three open managers’ jobs this winter. Zrebiec calls Samuel a candidate for the Seattle, Pittsburgh and maybe even the Toronto jobs.
He may be highly respected, but this season gave us the closest thing we usually get to managerial acumen being tested via the scientific method. The Orioles lost a lot of games under Dave Trembley. Samuel came in and the team performed no better. Then Buck Showalter came in and the team improved dramatically. This all occurred with basically the same roster.
I don’t really think we can perfectly quantify managing like that — and as I’ve said, a guy who keeps the clubhouse happy and retains the respect of his players is what teams should really be looking for — but how do you not look at what happened in Baltimore this year and, at the very least, ask yourself if there aren’t better options than Samuel?
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.