Seven months after being named the 2007 National League Manager of the Year, Bob Melvin once again has the Diamondbacks in position to advance to the postseason. Melvin is also poised to become the winningest manager in franchise history, surpassing Bob Brenly, for whom he served as the team’s bench coach in 2001 and 2002, later this season. A catcher during his playing days, Melvin saw action for seven teams over 10 seasons, learning from managers such as Sparky Anderson, Roger Craig, and Frank Robinson. Now 47 years old, Melvin is in his fourth year at the helm in Arizona after skippering the Mariners in 2003 and 2004. Melvin talked about his managerial style during Arizona’s visit to Fenway Park in late June.
Bob Melvin: For a guy who was considered to be old school, I think that he was a little ahead of his time in that on-base percentage was big for him early on, when it wasn’t as really prevalent as it is now. In years past, teams looked more for speed at the top of the lineup rather than on-base percentage, and Phil started to put some guys in the first couple of spots, even if they didn’t run very well, because they would get on base a little more ahead of the hitters who could drive in runs.
DL: To what extent can a manager and his coaching staff impact a team’s on-base percentage?
BM: I think it’s with the awareness of tendencies of each and every pitcher. We might be in a little more of a take-mode if a guy shows that he doesn’t throw the ball over the plate as much. So we take a look at walks, and we take a look at first-pitch strikes, and if we feel that there’s a message we need to get to our team-that this is a guy we need to be a little more patient with-we do that. Now, you also need to manage and go about your business with the type of players that you have. We do have some guys who will swing a little bit early, and we have some guys who will strike out, so we have to take into consideration our personnel as well.
DL: Are you concerned with strikeouts, or is a strikeout no worse than any other out that doesn’t advance a runner?
BM: It depends on how it filters its way through the lineup. I think that if you get quite a few in a row it can be more of a problem. If you stagger it a bit with guys who can put the ball in play and get on base a little more, maybe you can do some things a bit differently as far as hit-and-runs and so forth. So it’s not quite a concern, but we still are developing here, too. We have some guys who maybe show a bit of a tendency to strike out now that we think will get better as the years go along. A guy like Justin Upton would be an example.
DL: How do you view the relationship between a manager and general manager when it comes to both in-game strategy and lineup construction?
BM: I think it’s important, and the more I’m around Josh (Byrnes), and the more we have give-and-take as far as his role, and his input for me, on lineups on a particular day-we do our advance in a fashion that the points are well made. If you look at this book right here on my desk, it’s pretty extensive. It’s our advance book, and we have a lot of numbers in there. If Josh feels like he has a feeling on a particular day, he’ll give me a suggestion. Or if there’s a day that I feel I’m a little caught in between, I’ll give him a call and see what he thinks. But he never forces anything on me.
DL: Are specific strategies like how often you run [part of] an ongoing discussion with the front office, or are they primarily addressed before the season and adhered to?
BM: It’s discussed during the year, with how we’re doing at the time and how we can get better each year. Last year we were incrementally better about running-our first-half stats weren’t nearly as good as our second-half stats, but we had a good percentage. We’re starting out a little bit against the grain again this year-not as good in the first half-the reason being that Eric Byrnes was about 50 percent of our stolen-base percentage last year, at least production-wise, and he hasn’t been able to do that this year. Chris Young hasn’t run as much this year, based on maybe awareness of what he can do-slide-steps and so on. So I think we’ll get better, but we’re starting out a little slow.
DL: Is continuity in the lineup important, or do you feel that moving players in and out of slots can better optimize a team’s offensive production?
BM: It depends on your team and your personnel-if you have a veteran club that’s used to hitting in certain spots. I told this team last year, early on in spring training, that the lineup was going to move around and we were going to do things day-to-day that we thought were best suited for that day. And knowing that going in-that they’d move around-I don’t think it was a concern for guys. We’ve continued to do it, to an extent, this year. I think we were a little more set early on, but we were what, [using] 146 lineups last year? So I don’t think anyone has had a problem with it.
DL: Are those decisions driven more by matchups, or by how individual players are performing?
BM: It’s a combination of both.
DL: Bob Brenly once said of you, “He’s a very accomplished financial wizard.” Does that skill impact the way you think as a manager?
BM: There’s a certain mindset that each and every person has, and I think that probably plays into it some. I did intern at Bear Stearns when I was in San Francisco, and I do have some background and history in that world, but I’d disagree with Bob that I’m an accomplished financial wizard.
DL: Do you think that Brenly was implying that you think analytically?
BM: You know, to an extent maybe it’s just a part of me that I don’t see, that people on the outside see? When something is a part of you, you often don’t see it as well as when you’re looking at it in somebody else.
DL: You had the best record in the National League last season despite being outscored, which means that you far exceeded your expected won-lost record based on your run differential. How were you able to accomplish that?
BM: I think it was our personnel. Our bullpen had a lot to do with it, and I think we were pretty good about defined roles. When our plus guys were in games, we were able to not-I don’t want to say try as hard, but rather to be aware of where we are in the game and not tax guys that you want in games when you’re ahead. We played a lot of close games, and I think our defense was good in close games last year. Our situational stuff was a lot better than what you’ve seen this year to this point. Our bench was very productive as well.
DL: How much impact can a manager have on winning close games?
BM: I think it’s more the players, and if you have guys with defined roles who know when they’re coming in the game-when and where-they can prepare accordingly for that. I think that guys were pretty aware of when they were coming in, and what their roles were, especially in close games last year. They knew which particular guy would pinch-hit when, and who would come out of the bullpen to pitch.
DL: In 1997 you worked under Sal Bando, who at the time was the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. What did you learn from that experience?
BM: Sal Bando was great for my career. Both he and Phil Garner kind of got me started in thinking more like a manager, and thinking along the lines of what I do right now. I think that Sal made me see baseball operations from different levels, which was good for me. It showed me what everyone had to deal with at certain levels of the organization, whether it was front office, the relationship between the front office and on-field personnel, scouting, player development-all of those things that need to be intertwined. I think that we’re seeing that organizations need to intertwine those rather than seeing them as separate entities.
DL: One of the managers you played for was Roger Craig. What did he teach you about baseball?
BM: He taught me how to watch the game like a manager watches the game. He forced his catchers to watch the game the way a manager does, from throw-overs to pitchouts to slide-steps. He would call pitches from time to time, although not as much as people thought, but he forced you watch the game like he did, and it just became part of you.
DL: To what extent do you feel that Craig thought like a pitcher?
BM: I think that he was one of the few former pitchers who had a pretty good understanding of what it took for position players to be successful. He was a very positive guy, and I think he went out of his way to make the bench player feel like he was an important part of the team-it wasn’t just the starters who were going out there day to day. I think that he had an understanding of what the role players had to do, and he prepared them for every start they potentially would have.
DL: You also played for Frank Robinson. What impact did he have on you?
BM: Frank Robinson made me a tougher person. He made me take charge of situations that earlier in my career I wasn’t allowed to do. I was a young player coming up in the San Francisco organization, and I was treated a little bit like a younger player, and when I got to Baltimore he made me grow up and be more of a leader. Needless to say, that’s an important quality to have as a manager.
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