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April 30, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

The Daily Prospectus: Rejoice, Rob and Rany, Rejoice

by Joe Sheehan

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After four-plus seasons of really bad baseball, Tony Muser was fired last night by the Royals. The move wasn't a surprise, and it wasn't unwarranted: Muser had a success-to-tenure ratio envied by the people who run network television.

It's important to point out that this is just a first step, albeit a long overdue, very necessary one. All of the Royals' problems aren't the fault of Tony Muser; they're largely the result of an organization that has for too long been behind the knowledge curve. What sacking Muser does is remove one barrier to success, but unless the Royals do a better job in acquiring and developing talent--and there are positive signs--this isn't going to make a huge difference.

Keep in mind that the Royals still have to fill the position. Current Omaha manager Bucky Dent is considered the favorite for the job, and there's not enough of a file on him--just a half-season with the Yankees a lifetime ago--to make a case for or against him.

I do believe, though, that the Royals need to go in a different direction. whereas their last four managerial hires have been men with no prior MLB experience, people they hoped would grow with a young team, I believe it's time they make a statement that they intend to win, and bring in someone with a track record of doing so. With all due respect to Dent, this team needs someone like Buck Showalter, or Davey Johnson, or probably the best candidate, Larry Dierker. Dierker would be an excellent choice for a team with a good collection of young pitchers, and he won four division titles in his five years in Houston. The Royals need that, not someone else learning on the job.

Building is nice. Winning is better. Larry Dierker for Royals manager.

A few weeks ago I wrote this in the wake of the Phil Garner firing:

 

My question is the same as it always is in these situations: how can a manager be the right man for the job from October through March, then suddenly become not the right man six games into the season?...

I just have to wonder what good it does to let one guy run the team all through spring training, pick the roster, set the rules, get to know the players, then dump him because the team has a six-game losing streak.... Is it somehow worse because it comes at the start of the season?

Since writing that, three more teams off to terrible starts have canned their skippers. The point stands, and I think it's worth making in stronger terms:

 

A good organization does not fire the manager in April.

The teams that have dumped their managers this month have three of the worst-run organizations in the game (and you can debate whether the Rockies should be on that list), and that's not surprising to me. An organization with a plan and the confidence to execute it doesn't make a decision on the basis of one month's worth of results. If a manager was the right man for the job in November, and in March, than it stands to reason he's the right man for the job in May, irrespective of April results.

I think I've made this point about players, but it applies to teams and managers as well: people get way too fired up about April performances. Would Tony Muser be any better suited for his job had the Royals started the season 12-11? No, of course not. It's just that the 23-game stretch looks worse at the start of the season, because there's no good stretch to balance it out. It's the same dumb thing we see in player evaluation, where April stats get blown way out of proportion because they're the only numbers we have.

It's the same thing in Milwaukee and Colorado and Detroit, and perhaps by the weekend, in Philadelphia. Those teams had a stretch of poor results at the time when "a stretch of poor results" is all the results. A well-run organization recognizes that a season is 162 games long, that they hired their manager for a reason, and shows patience. A bad organization doesn't have a rationale for employing its manager to begin with, and simply tosses him aside because it needs to do something.

The Royals, like the Brewers and Tigers, may have done the right thing, but they did it for the wrong reasons. Their willingness to allow short-term outcomes to undercut the commitments they made doesn't speak well for their ability to commit to a plan that will put a winner on the field any time soon. 

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

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