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October 24, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

What the Media Asked the Managers (and What it Means)

by Zachary Levine

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Conceptually, if not always in actuality, the baseball manager’s pregame press conference is an incredible opportunity.

For 162 games a year, plus playoff games and spring training games, credentialed reporters are able to ask baseball managers anything they want and can reasonably expect to get an answer. Really, you can ask them anything. Ask them goofy questions, and they’ll sometimes play along. Ask mean-spirited questions and despite some blowups that make it to television, you’ll usually get a nice answer because the managers have to do this. It really is a wonderful luxury.

But here’s the thing. The reporters already talked to the manager after the last game, and there’s a very good chance that nothing has changed since. At the World Series, this escalates with 3-5 days since the last game and multiple days of access with no changes in any of the stories. Not only that, but you also get national writers in who haven’t been familiarizing themselves with the storylines all season and are looking for big-picture stories that would seem mundane in the market.

And the answers are what you’d expect about topics that have been raised with the manager from April to October. Not much detail, lots of clichés, no real insight into how to attack the opposition, because why would you, etc. So then what can you learn about these teams from the press conferences? Maybe it’s not in the answers.

I went to four pre-series managerial press conferences—two on media day Tuesday and two before Game 1 Wednesday, none with any news beyond some predictable roster decisions—with one goal in mind. I was going to learn as much as I could about the teams from the questions, rather than the answers.

In other words, what could the questions that each manager was asked tell us about each team, or at least the perception thereof.

There were 56 questions in total in the podium sessions. The local beat writers have their own smaller discussion, so these are truly the questions of the less informed. I divided them into seven categories as follows, and there were some pretty big differences between what each manager was asked about.

Categories of questions

World Series: A question looking ahead to a real baseball issue that will or might arise during the series, lineup decisions, matchups, etc.

Individual performance: When a writer asks a question clearly intended for a player feature and about the actual baseball skill of that player.

Individual intangible: When a writer asks a question clearly intended for a player feature and about things other than the actual baseball skill of that player.

Franchise/history: Questions about the team’s successes of the last decade and/or a bigger-picture organization-wide reason for perennial success.

Team chemistry, etc.: Closely related to individual intangibles except about the entire roster.

Manager: Questions to the manager about himself and/or his staff.

Opponent: Um, questions about the opponent.

Question type

Red Sox

Cardinals

World Series

6

6

Individual performance

1

9

Individual intangible

4

1

Franchise/history

2

5

Team chemistry, etc.

3

1

Manager

7

2

Opponent

4

5

Total questions

27

29


Not surprisingly, the number of questions asked to each manager about World Series decisions and the opponent were about equal. But the rest of the rows reveal some big differences in the storylines.

If you want an advance look at what the storylines will be when one of these teams ultimately wins, just look at the areas where they were asked very different numbers of questions.

Individual performance: Mike Matheny 9, John Farrell 1
There is a most interesting player in this World Series, and he’s not on the home team. Of the 10 feature-type questions about 50 players, four of them were about Michael Wacha and one more about the Cardinals’ young pitchers.

It’s probably because the Cardinals are younger and generally less established that there are more questions about their individuals. There is—and I know this is a rarity sometimes with press conference questions—a legitimate desire to know more about the subject. It’s no coincidence that the only question about a Red Sox player was about their youngest player, Xander Bogaerts.

Sample question to Farrell: With Bogaerts starting at third base again, 21 years old, you’d think it would be a surprise to have a 21-year-old starting Game 1 of the World Series. But how impressive has he been?

Sample question to Matheny: Michael Wacha, when he faces a team a second time, he’s been just as effective as he was the time before. Is that a tribute to his stuff physically or is it a mental approach?

Individual intangible/Team chemistry, etc: Farrell 7, Matheny 2
The biggest upset here was that nobody asked Farrell about the beards. Even we sportswriters have some issues we’re already tired of. But there will very much be an intangibles narrative in the national and probably even local media if the Red Sox win. That all they needed was to shake the clubhouse ickies of late 2011 and the Bobby Valentine era. That they rallied together after the Marathon bombing. And yes, the beards.

Sample question to Farrell: I wanted to ask you about the tragedy the city went through in April and how that has impacted you as a person and this team. In New York in 2001, the Yankees went through something similar. Obviously the tragedy was much more enormous and happened late in the season. How has this impacted what the team has tried to do?

Sample question to Matheny: What is it about (your young pitchers) that allows them to maintain their composure? What are some of the pros and cons of youth vs. veteran experience?

Franchise/history: Matheny 5, Farrell 2
On the other hand, the Cardinals were getting the bulk of these. Who would have thought 10 years ago that the Red Sox would be the team whose franchise history was basically ignored? Most of the questions were about the “Cardinal Way,” an ethos derived from the fact that the Cardinals are the only team with a plan for how to develop its players and that has veterans and retired players help younger ones. The “Cardinal Way” stories will be coming at you fast if the Redbirds win four of the next six, so you can be sure that it was soundly mocked during their early meltdown in Game 1.

Sample question to Matheny: Yesterday, Adam Wainwright said you were the ideal torch bearer for the Cardinal Way. That’s a serious compliment, obviously. But what does the Cardinal Way mean to you?

Sample question to Farrell: Mike Matheny was asked about the Cardinal Way. How would you define the Red Sox Way?

Manager: Farrell 7, Matheny 2
Apparently from a disproportionate number of Toronto reporters who in the words of one scribe “haven’t let it go.” Not that that’s a bad thing. Everyone comes in with a local storyline, but expect this one to be a big one with everybody on parade day if that parade is in Boston. If the Cardinals win, on the other hand, it’s just the machine being the machine.

Sample question to Farrell: Since you coached the Blue Jays for two years, wondering if (with) the relationships you had there, if anybody called or messaged you to offer congratulations and wish good luck in the World Series.

Sample question to Matheny: Standard usually is that a manager takes over a rebuilding job. You came into a championship team. I’m wondering if you could put into perspective what problems you faced with that and how you overcame it.

Some questions edited for length, but every piece printed was continuous unless made clear the other way by a … mark.

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

1 comment has been left for this article.

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