When Mark Shapiro hired Manny Acta to be the manager of the Cleveland Indians last winter, he brought on board someone who speaks the same language. Shapiro sees many attributes in the Dominican-born skipper, and an important one is their shared understanding, and appreciation, for the objective side of the game. Shapiro, the club’s executive vice president and general manager, looked back at Acta’s hiring prior to a recent game at Progressive Field.
David Laurila: How would you describe the process of interviewing prospective managers?
Mark Shapiro: It’s a daunting task and hopefully you don’t have to do it very often. When you’re doing it you want to find a person who is not just a good manager but the right person for your situation. So the more time you take identifying what the right fit would be for your team, at the juncture it’s at—what characteristics, attributes, traits, and experiences you’re looking for—the better chance you have of lining up. The interview should be one part of the process, and that’s really determining communication skills, the ability to connect with that person, how you think you’d work with that person. But the due diligence you do prior to the interview and after the interview are as important, if not more important, than the interview itself.
DL: Are the interviews themselves at all like psychological testing, where you’re looking for certain signals from certain questions?
MS: I would say that they’re only psychological from the standpoint of not wanting to flat-out ask, “Are you organized?” or “Are you prepared?” Those are the things you’re trying to determine. They’re psychological in the sense that the more situational you can be in your questions, and the more open-ended you can be in your questions, the more you might learn about the person.
DL: What was the genesis of interviewing Manny Acta?
MS: I think that the genesis of it was two things. One is that it’s a very small game; there are 30 teams. All the way back to when I was farm director, I heard good things about Manny as a minor-league manager. Omar Minaya, who is a personal friend of mine, had told me multiple times how strongly he felt about Manny, so when we had an opening, I called Omar and talked to him at length. Omar is someone I trust, and he understands me and our system, and our organization, as well as understanding Manny, so I think that was really the point where I said, “This guy is going to be one of our prime candidates, without a doubt.”
DL: How many prime candidates did you have?
MS: I guess that I’d say we had eight or nine, and we took that list down to four. Obviously, our system was accelerated at the very end because Manny got offered the Astros' job, which forced us to make a decision.
DL: How does the whittling-down process typically work?
MS: I think that the further you go into it, the more due diligence you’re doing, the more people you’re talking to, then you can wait for the responses and interactions of your interviews. Not to be redundant, but it’s the more clear you are about what you’re looking for in your situation and what you think will be the critical competencies to help someone succeed in the role you have defined. It’s the same job everywhere, but there are different critical factors that make a person successful in each market and each situation.
DL: What indicated to you that Acta would be successful in your market and situation?
MS: Number one, he’s got the most critical skill for a major-league manager in general, and that’s the ability to communicate. Number two, he’s a guy that is clearly very prepared, very organized and very well-educated. He had a passion for the game that I felt emanated from him and was transferable. Number three is that the guy wanted to be here. He was educated to our situation and he saw positives here, whereas a lot of people around us, in our market, see the negatives here. Manny saw the positive attributes here, and I don‘t think you can overlook that positive energy. This game has so much inherent negative built in, and this market has a lot of negative energy in it right now, so that positive energy was important. And finally, what gets overlooked with Manny a lot is that this guy has honed his craft. I mean, he really has managed a lot of years in the minor leagues and has learned the trade. Then he came up to the big leagues as a coach in a very small market, in Montreal, and a big market, in New York. He also had a chance to manage in what was obviously a very challenging situation and he cut his teeth managing in that situation. So I felt that if you took the set of experiences, along with the personal attributes—intelligence, preparation, communication skills—you had a guy who could make an impact and contribute to our success.
DL: Skeptics might say, “Yes, but he’s never won.”
MS: Winning is such a component of so many different combinations of attributes, largely players and situations and organizations, and he hasn’t had that prolonged of an opportunity. I guess that I felt good enough about, that put in the right situation, Manny could not only win, but he could be a contributor to that winning.
DL: Acta came in with a good understanding, and appreciation, of statistical analysis. Would he have been a candidate without that?
MS: I think that he would have. It’s obviously a tremendous positive that he has an understanding, and appreciation, for the objective side of the game, because that is part of how we make decisions here. That allows us to involve him in that part of the process even more. But as long as he was open-minded to it, I don’t think he necessarily would have had to have an understanding of it to be a candidate here. But it does make it easier to have a more thorough discussion with him about our decision-making process. I think that the first time it struck us was when we were talking about one of our relievers and Manny said, “Did you see his batting average on balls in play last year? He not only said that, he used the acronym and we’re not used to hearing that come from someone in a uniform. So it’s part of the process, and while it doesn’t drive our process, it’s certainly an important part and it allows him—he’s looking at Pitch-f/x data—to better understand decisions. The more a manager understands decisions, the more vested in those decisions he is.
DL: Suppose he makes an in-game decision that goes against what the numbers suggest?
MS: We can have that conversation afterwards and discuss why. We can discuss leverage, such as leverage usage of the bullpen. He understands what that means and how you apply leverage.
DL: What about any communication he might have with players regarding the analytic rationale behind a move?
MS: I don’t think the players even know it, but there’s a way of translating it to a player and that gets back to Manny’s biggest core strength, which is the ability to communicate. There’s a way to translate that to a player without using acronyms and talking about objective analysis or hardcore statistics.
DL: Does he ever approach players with statistics that help them understand their relative value?
MS: I think that Manny did, right away, talk about defensive efficiency a little bit and things that might not be as well known. I think it perks guys up. Guys kind of listen and ask, “What does that mean?” They ask more questions, and the more that you can simplify things for players and keep them focused on their ability to consistently play to their potential, the better off you are. The statistics are used to maybe illustrate a key point in a situation where a player isn’t being objective in his self-evaluation, and therefore is not making the adjustments he needs to make. That’s where statistics come into play with players.
DL: Any final thoughts related to the hiring of Manny Acta?
MS: When you do have a manager that understands the analytical and objective side of the game, does that alter his role in the leadership team, as opposed to how traditionally managers don’t? I guess I’m asking myself a question with that and I’d answer it in a similar course. Normally, what goes into making decisions is that you have subjective analysis—scouting evaluations, tools, projections, on-field information; you’ve got personality, makeup, and character, you’ve got medical—and of course you’ve got objective analysis. I think that normally, in those conversations in the past, when we’ve had them among a field group, so as not to alienate someone or turn them off, we’ve stayed away from the objective conversations and the analytical component of a decision. The difference is that with Manny, we can go there comfortably, knowing that he both understands and appreciates the objective component in decision making.