Jays make safe move in hiring Gibbons

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
10:54
AM ET

There seems to be a prevailing attitude among fans, talk show hosts and so on that recycled managers are a bad thing.

I don't agree with that sentiment. Well, unless it's Jim Tracy. Think about just this season: Bob Melvin and Davey Johnson were both recycled managers and won manager of the year awards. Joe Torre was the ultimate recycled manager when the Yankees hired him to replace Buck Showalter back in 1996, and that worked out pretty well. Terry Francona had skippered the Phillies to four losing seasons when the Red Sox hired him in 2004. Showalter himself has moved around to multiple places and has found success again with the Orioles.

This is why I like the Blue Jays' hiring of John Gibbons. Experience is important in any field. With the big moves the Jays have already made this offseason, the team views itself as a contender in the AL East, so why risk hiring an inexperienced manager? Sure, you run the small chance that you're passing up on the game's next great manager, but there is value in the known quantity, the guy who won't mess things up.

The Gibbons move is unusual only in the aspect that his previous tenure came with … the Blue Jays. He managed the club from late 2004 through the first 74 games of 2008, when he was fired with a 35-39 record. In Gibbons' three full seasons as manager, the Blue Jays went 80-82, 87-75 and 83-79.

Former Blue Jays pitcher and author Dirk Hayhurst tweeted this morning: "I'll agree with Alex (Anthopolous) on that front. Lots of players I knew liked Gibby over Cito [Gaston] because Cito was so aloof."

Gibbons was hired and fired by former GM J.P. Ricciardi, not Anthopolous. At the time of Gibbons' firing, it seemed a typical case of you can't fire 25 players. "From our standpoint, we've underachieved," Ricciardi said then. "We know we have a better team than this. Right now, we want to see if we can spark this team and we think Cito is the guy to do it."

The Jays did go 51-37 under Gaston to finish with 86 wins, but they fell back to 75-87 in 2009.

A look back at Gibbons' first tenure reveals a manager who succeeded without a deep talent base. His first team in 2005 improved from 65 wins to 80 wins even though the team's most valuable position player was catcher Gregg Zaun with 3.3 WAR. Roy Halladay was injured that year and made just 19 starts, but Gibbons coaxed good seasons out of Josh Towers and Gustavo Chacin in the rotation.

The 2006 Jays won 87 games with only two starters making more than 21 starts, as Vernon Wells had a monster season, and offseason additions Troy Glaus and B.J. Ryan helped. The team won 83 games in 2007 as Gibbons pieced together a pitching staff that allowed the second-fewest runs in the league.

It looks like a pretty solid three-year run, especially with the constant makeover required on the pitching staff. If there's one red flag, it's that the Jays underperformed their Pythagorean record by eight wins in 2005 and four wins in 2007.

Strategically, Gibbons held true to one sabermetric principle: He didn't like the sacrifice bunt, although he was a little more willing to issue intentional walks. The Jays' ranking in his three seasons in those categories:

2005: 21 sac bunts (11th in AL), 29 IBB (10th)
2006: 16 sac bunts (14th), 56 IBB (2nd)
2007: 33 sac bunts (8th), 34 IBB (9th)

It seems like a sound move by the Jays. Now it's up to the players to live up to expectations.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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