To my knowledge, Bud Black has yet to make any public statements in the wake (no pun intended) of being terminated by the San Diego Padres. Yet after dedicating eight grueling years of his life to a franchise that’s been mired in mediocrity, you can’t help but wonder what the man’s thinking, feeling and saying in private.
I had the pleasure of meeting Buddy a few years back and found him to be – as so many others have – instantly likable, quick-witted and chipper. And this was at the end of yet another losing season. Yet despite his upbeat, magnetic demeanor, I couldn’t help but think that there must be an underlying current of angst or unease under the surface.
Today of course, the post-Bud Black era – one which hordes of fans had clamored for years – has produced a 5-8 record thus far, inconsistent performances on both sides of the plate, and a team that now sits 6.5 games out of first place.
I always thought the term “relieved of his duties” was an interesting choice of words, by the way. Because as much as frustrated fan bases proclaim their relief when a firing is administered, there has to be a modicum of relief for the manager who received the pink slip, as well.
Will Middlebrooks’ 7 errors, and .160 BA over the past 7 games, for example, are no longer Buddy’s concern.
The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that A.J. Preller’s desire for, in his words; “A voice.., that may be able to jump-start us a little bit” has now made Pat Murphy the face – and focal point – of this team’s chronic “Jekyll-and-Hyde” persona.
It made me curious what the data says about changing managers in midseasons past, and if history is any guide, the trends don’t suggest much improvement between now and September.
Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, for example, discovered the following in his piece “Padres Take First Step Toward Selling, Fire Bud Black”:(http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/padres-take-first-step-toward-selling-fire-bud-black/):
“Between 2005 – 2014.., I identified 22 cases where a team hired a new manager during the year, and the new manager was in place for at least 40 games. At the time of the original manager’s departure, those teams had an average winning percentage of .405. That’s bad — that would be a 66-win season, over a full year. Over the rest of the seasons, though, those same teams had an average winning percentage of .468. That would be a 76-win season over a full year, so that’s a step forward. More wins under new managers. But, you could probably guess this part. Those teams had an average preseason projected winning percentage of .480. That would be a 78-win season over a full year. The teams underachieved with the original managers, and then after the fact, just like you’d expect, they regressed to the mean. It’s a perfect example of bias, where the only teams that fire their managers during the year are teams who are perceived to be underperforming.”
To me, that’s about as accurate an assessment of what’s going on with this team as any. And it totally synchs up with both TeamRankings’ and FanGraphs’ projections, which forecast a 79-83 record for this 2015 Padres squad.
I also came across a 2010 article by analyst Joe Delgrippo of Bleacher Report called “Does Changing MLB Managers Midseason Actually Work?” (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/440093-mlb-mid-season-manager-changes-do-they-actually-work) and he weighed in with this:
“Since 1987, there have been 81 midseason managerial changes, one of which was in 1996 when Tommy Lasorda retired as Dodger manager after suffering a heart attack. Of those 80 changes due to firings, only 19 teams played better than .500 baseball after the change was made, some just barely. And only five teams made the playoffs following that change: the 1988 Boston Red Sox, the 1989 Toronto Blue Jays, the 2003 Florida Marlins, the 2004 Houston Astros and (the 2009) Rockies.”
He then concluded his piece by saying:
“Before a GM wants to make a managerial change, he might want to evaluate the on-field talent first. If you are a good team, coming off a winning year or recent title and were thought to challenge again this season, then changing managers might be a good idea. …But if you are a bad team, and you believe a change in manager will help ‘spark the team,’ it might be wise to get some better players.”
Now, I don’t for one second believe that these Padres are a “bad team.” They’re clearly capable of playing competitive, even winning, baseball. What they are, however – and have been since coming back to Earth after that epic 10-5 start – are an erratic, unsteady team.
And given that we’re just about two weeks away from the all-important All Star break, the Bud Black Haters and Apologists alike will all be champing at the bit to see whether the Padres front office is in “Buy” or “Sell” mode.
If it’s the the former, then A.J.’s desire for a voice that could “jump start” this squad will be viewed as the prophetic stamp of a “Rock Star GM” And if it’s the latter, well, then the Padres can dubiously lay claim to giving new meaning to the term “Murphy’s Law.”