Edwin Rodriguez is a young manager for a young baseball team. The Marlins’ skipper has celebrated 50 birthdays, so he’s no spring chicken in that respect, but his big-league managerial experience consists of the three months he spent at the helm after replacing Fredi Gonzalez last summer.
The Marlins went a competitive 46-46 under Rodriguez’s guidance, but when it came time to decide on a long-term manager—Ozzie Guillen is one name that kept coming up— an even bigger point in his favor was experience working with and evaluating young players. Before becoming the first native of Puerto Rico to manage a big-league team, Rodriguez spent over 20 years as a scout, minor-league coach and minor-league manager.
Rodriguez sat down with Baseball Prospectus at last week’s Winter Meetings in Orlando.
David Laurila: How would you define your managerial approach?
Edwin Rodriguez: I really believe—and I think every manager would say the same—that it is all about the fundamentals of the game. We have to master the basics of the game; we have to master the obvious. We have to make the routine plays and we have to throw strikes. If you can do those things, that brings consistency to the game. As a manager, I really believe in mastering the obvious.
DL: Do you view yourself as more of an old-school manager or as more of a statistically-inclined manager?
ER: I will throw myself in the middle. You have to use the technology that is out there to your favor. So, yeah, I always look for stats, and for the latest ones, but there are still a lot of situations where you have to go with your instincts. You have to go with what you see that particular day, regardless of what the numbers say.
DL: How important is on-base percentage, especially at the top of the order?
ER: It is very important. You want those guys at the top, especially the first and second hitters, to have a very high on-base percentage. On that one I have to go with statistics, but then again, if you have a power hitter who also has a very high on-base percentage, I’d rather have him hitting fourth or fifth than first or second. You need to get on base, but you also need to drive in the runners who get on base.
DL: Are you willing to hit your pitcher eighth, as some teams have done in recent years, or employ defensive shifts?
ER: I’m willing to make moves like that. If I see something that makes sense for me on a particular day, like having a very good hitting pitcher who can swing the bat… I’d be willing to do that. But then again, it depends on the situation and every situation is unique. You do what you think will help you win a ballgame, so I don’t see anything wrong with doing that.
Baseball is about percentages. If you have a guy who consistently hits the ball to a specific area, yeah, why not? You take your chances and shift. You prepare your defense for that guy, and the numbers help you do that.
And you can’t be scared to take chances. If you manage that way, worrying about what people are going to say, you’re not going to be able to do your job. You take your chances, because to get something you’re going to have to give something.
DL: Your job title originally contained the word “interim” and there was some speculation that the team would go in another direction this coming season. When you interviewed for the permanent position, how did you present your vision for the team going forward?
ER: After the season, I didn’t really have a formal interview. Like [team president] David Samson said at one point, I had a three-month interview to show what I can do. I think that they took into consideration—and I agree with this—the fact that I know all of these players. Maybe not all of them, but a very big part of the team. At some point in their careers I managed them, so they know me as well. I think that is what I bring to the team. It’s knowledge not only of the game, but also knowledge of what these guys are capable of doing on an individual basis.
DL: How much teaching is done at the big-league level?
ER: I can only speak about the Marlins, but having a very young team, the teaching has to continue on an everyday basis. We’re still going out there and doing early work by position, and it’s going to be staying that way for a long period of time because we have a very young team. We need to continue to mature and get better, and that takes work.
DL: What is more important for you and your coaching staff: What you do between 7-10 each night or what you do in the other 21 hours?
ER: I think that the other 21 hours are going to make a big difference. What you do in those hours before the game is going to reflect on what happens from 7 to 10. What is going to happen from 7 to 10 is going to be a byproduct of what you did to prepare for the game.
DL: During your media session, you talked about Hanley Ramirez and leadership.
ER: Yes, we want him to be more consistent and take on a leadership role. Along with John Buck, he is our most experienced player, so we need for him to come to play on an everyday basis. He is a smart baseball player and I think that he can be a real leader for us. He is obviously a very talented player.
DL: What are your expectations for the 2011 season?
ER: We have very high expectations for the team, and it is my job to let every player know that we have high expectations. We have high expectations for them as individuals and we have high expectations for the team itself. A big part of my job is to make sure that my players are accountable and that they do their part, and if that happens I think that we will have a successful season. This group of players is young, but they are also very talented.