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June 9, 2011

BP Unfiltered

Human Sacrifice

by Colin Wyers

There are roughly nine people, depending on how you count, that are at the core of the Oakland A’s problems this season. We’ll be charitable and call them the “hitters” on the team. Bob Geren’s most powerful tool to affect the team’s offense was to choose which players he put on that lineup card (in the AL, even the order isn’t all that important—it’s not like you can bat a pitcher leadoff or anything).

If you look at the roster, it’s hard to see where Geren made any particularly poor choices with the lineup; it’s not like he had a Mike Napoli sitting inexplicably on his bench. For the most part, he played the hand he was dealt. Now the dealer has shuffled him out of the way, bringing in Bob Melvin to replace him.

Let’s talk for a minute about Bob Melvin. Melvin, of course, was unceremoniously dismissed from the Diamondbacks in 2009 for much the same issue—namely, lack of talent. Not his talent, mind you, but talent on the field. Replacements A.J. Hinch and Kirk Gibson were not able to do much better over the next year and a half or so. (The 2011 Diamondbacks may finally have turned things around, but they did it by turning over the roster since 2009.)

Well, what can we expect out of Melvin in contrast to Geren? He may be able to bring peace to an unruly bullpen; closer Brian Fuentes famously ripped into Geren for using the pitcher in non-save spots. Or the move may just enable the behavior of the restless bullpen corps, much the same way as giving in to a child’s temper tantrum only seems to cause more of them. At any rate, A’s fans can feel reassured that their new manager is going to start deploying his best relievers in ways that best helps their next free-agent salary, not in the ways he thinks may best help the team win games. (If that can be said to be reassuring).

Can Melvin do much about the offense, though? You have a few guys who could be said to be underperforming as hitters, and they may well improve. And the team has added Adam Rosales and Jemile Weeks, two options Geren didn’t have at his disposal until just days ago. But other than that, this was never a lineup that should’ve been expected to score bunches of runs to begin with. Changing a Bob around here and there isn’t going to make this team score more runs.

Underperforming teams fire managers because you can find an MLB-caliber manager without a job a lot easier than you can find an MLB-caliber player without a job, and so you can make it appear as if you’re doing something. Teams that fire their managers midseason tend to improve a little, but no more than we should expect based on regression to the mean.

But every so often the ancients would offer a blood sacrifice to the gods in hopes of gaining favor, and every so often baseball teams offer a managerial sacrifice to the baseball gods in hopes of gaining favor as well. (As Rob McQuown points out to me, “For a GM who claims the manager doesn't matter, Beane sure goes through a lot of them.”) Geren has been sacrificed; the rest is up to the baseball gods.

Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here

Related Content:  Bob Geren,  Underperforming

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