With Eric Wedge gone and Bo Porter likely to be soon, the Pirates have narrowed down their list of potential managers to five: Dale Sveum, Jeff Banister, Ken Macha, John Gibbons and Carlos Tosca.
Gut reaction: Gibbons stands out on that list. Sveum is a career coach and minor league manager who, for whatever reason, didn’t seem to be taken at all seriously by the Brewers after his short stint as interim manager at the end of the 2008 season. Macha was far more interesting to them, but they just canned him. Banister is a longtime organizational solider with the Pirates, but if anyone thought of him as serious managerial timbre, wouldn’t he have gotten a look sometime in the last decade or so? Tosca was just hired by the Braves to be Fredi Gonzalez’s bench coach.
I always got the sense that Gibbons was a decent manager — he led the Blue Jays to a rare second place finish in the AL East one year — but there is the question about the multiple run-ins he had with players. On the one hand, that’s not very cool and it speaks to a difficult personality. On the other hand, each of the guys with whom Gibbons locked horns — Ted Lilly, Frank Thomas, Shea Hillenbrand — have had other difficulties and are thought of by at least some folks as difficult guys. Who knows. The team seemed to side with Gibbons on each of those occasions, but then again, the guy in charge of the team at the time — J.P. Ricciardi — has a reputation for being something less than a people person himself.
At the end of the day I keep coming back to the notion that the last thing the Pirates need is yet another amiable organizational guy, so maybe it’s worth taking a gamble on Gibbons. Maybe he can shake some people up. Maybe he’ll do much better setting a disciplined tone for young players like the Pirates have than he did with veterans on the Jays.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.