Manny Acta is a multi-faceted, analytically minded manager. The Indians’ skipper brings a number of attributes to the table, as GM Mark Shapiro discussed in yesterday’s Prospectus Q&A, and a strong appreciation for sabermetric principles is one of them. A native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, the 41-year-old Acta spent two and a half seasons at the helm in Washington before coming to Cleveland last October. He talked about his approach prior to a recent game at Progressive Field.
David Laurila: How do you identify yourself as a manager?
Manny Acta: Common sense. I’m a guy that has never been afraid to get out there and see the new things. Don’t be pigeon-holed into one idea. When I first started in the minor leagues, I was pretty much just going on whatever you’ve heard and whatever you have been taught on bunting and all that kind of stuff. But once you start reading and educating yourself, I have never been afraid to evolve a little bit. I’m a mix. A lot of people like to label me as a stats guy and all that, but I’m kind of a mix. I feel that if you can convince me that certain things are the best way to do certain things, then I can change my mind.
DL: When did you start to become interested in statistical analysis?
MA: When I started working for the Mets, I met a couple of kids, friends of mine that were working there, and they were big on it. They tried to sell me on certain things and gave me some write-ups, and then one of them gave me a gift which was a book-my favorite book-Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning. I fell in love with the book and was able, starting there, to change the way I saw certain things in the game and also to see that certain things I thought all along in the minor leagues-I saw that I was thinking the right way about them.
DL: Everyone has access to essentially the same data, but how you use that data is what’s important. How accurate is that statement?
MA: It is accurate because the main thing is finding a balance. You don’t want to overload yourself with too much data, and I have been able to see certain things and just use what I think makes sense for me and that I can remember easier. And I can expand, when it comes to doing research or evaluating a player-I can expand on all the stats-but when it comes to me managing, there are certain things that I go about in trying to construct a team. There are certain things… I think there’s too much going on at times. You really have to find a balance.
DL: How much communication do you have with the front office about what you’re doing as a manager?
MA: Here, it’s fantastic. We’re pretty much on the same page. We talk almost on a daily basis, but it’s not exactly about what I’m doing managing. Before the season starts, we put a plan together and we know who we’re going to try to give a certain amount of at-bats to, and who we want to be out there, or not out there, and also what we have coming from the minor leagues. The plan is pretty much in order, so unless I feel like I need to make a drastic adjustment or something, I don’t need to communicate it to our baseball people.
DL: If you make a move-for whatever reason-that is counter to what data shows might have been a better option, do you get a call from Mark Shapiro or assistant GM Chris Antonetti after the game, asking why?
MA: No, not at all. These guys, they let me work; they’re not that way. They’re not hands-on when it comes to that kind of stuff and that’s something that I make sure of wherever I go. I’m not going to have to put up with stuff like anyone making up a lineup for me, anybody calling me about a player, or anything like that. I think here, they did all their research, and they’re very thorough on what they do with the interviews and stuff to have a feel of how I’m going to do things.
DL: When you look at defensive metrics, what do you typically see?
MA: They’re different, and that’s why everyone has their own way to go about it and which one to utilize. That’s why I like the defensive efficiency, because it is just balls put in play and converted into outs, which to me gives you the ability to, at times, recognize whether you’re positioning your guys right, because there are loopholes in every single one of them. You can always find a crack in any of them. Some of them are measured on balls that a guy should get to, but what if you don’t have the guy playing there because you have a left-hander who sinks the ball that way or who is a soft-tosser? I go by the defensive efficiency one right now, up until one of them just completely steps up and is head and shoulders over the others because a lot of people are split on all of them.
DL: How different is Cleveland from Washington in the way that the game of baseball is approached?
MA: Our front office has had this system in place for a long time and believes in it. We have our Diamond View that was created by Chris Antonetti, which is just tremendous, and being able to hire a guy like Keith Woolner and the department we have here-it’s just different. But they do have access to just about everything in Washington and they do a good job with it. It’s just that the system here has been in place longer and they have more data and have more trust in whatever they’re doing.
DL: From your experience, are most organizations basically the same, or are there distinct differences?
MA: I think just about everybody has access to what’s out there. It depends on how much they believe in it or how much they want to buy into it. I think every team right now has an analytical department, but it’s just how much people on top believe in it and how much the manager actually believes in that kind of stuff. I think when I was in New York we had access to everything with the Mets, and then D.C., we had a pretty good department, too. Here, as I mentioned, the system has been in place a long time and it has worked, so you have more reason to believe in what’s being shown to you.
DL: You mentioned that you’re perceived as being statistical analysis-oriented. Do your players look at you that way?
MA: I don’t think so, but we are able to communicate with them, not only through speeches but in the past we have showed them some stats that will help them-stats that they’re obviously not aware of, because today’s players, very few of them, are into even looking at the history of the game. A lot of the young kids are just playing video games and training and all that kind of stuff, and I feel that it’s our responsibility to do that. I don’t think they look at me that way because, as I said, I call myself common sense. I’m a mix. I’m not big on bunting a guy from first to second, especially with a position player at the plate, but I do like to bunt first and second-guys to second and third. They see the difference.
DL: How do the players look at you as a person? Do you have style in the same way that Ozzie Guillen has style?
MA: I just think they see me as a communicator. That’s the way I am. I keep things simple and make sure they get the message. And I just let them be. The thing is that we never force anything on anybody. We convince them, whether it’s talking to them or through stats, that that’s the right way to do it, because I don’t like going from A to B without a guy being convinced that’s the right way to do things. I just try to make my guys feel comfortable around me. I just try to create the right atmosphere so that I can get the best out of my players, just like any other working environment.
DL: Are Latin players any different than American-born players?
MA: We are all humans, we just speak different languages. The only difference is the way we were brought up, and whether you speak English or Spanish, I think that you have the same rules for everybody. That’s the key to this job, being able to handle all of the personalities. I know it helps me in a way because there’s nothing that’s going to be lost in the translation with these guys. That being said, from day one you have to get your point across that everyone is going to be treated the same.
DL: When I interviewed Ozzie Guillen, I asked if he identifies himself as a Latin American manager as opposed to simply a manager, and he said that he does. Do you?
MA: I am a manager, but I do represent Latin Americans, a minority, and I take it very seriously because I know how hard Felipe Alou had to work and what Ozzie has done, And Fredi [Gonzalez] and myself. I take pride in it because I’m trying to keep the doors open for the guys who have the same goals that I have. I’m a major-league manager, but I do keep in mind that I’m representing that part of the community.
DL: To close, what do you want people to know about you?
MA: That it’s not about me. The Indians are talented. We do have a lot of talent here, not only in our major-league team but in our farm system, and the system in place here has worked twice. We haven’t won a World Series, but it worked in the ’90s and it worked in the 2000s, and that’s why I trust what’s going on here, because they’ve done it twice, so why not believe in it? About me? Hey, I’m just like everybody else except I do have a very important job and people sometimes like to put you on a pedestal. But I’m just like your next-door neighbor. I just manage the Cleveland Indians.