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Pragmatic Chicago Cubs Finally Have Their Manager, Joe Maddon

After missing out on Joe Girardi last season and suffering through another losing season, the Chicago Cubs weren’t going to let Joe Maddon get away.

Chicago Cubs’ President, Theo Epstein had very nice things to say about his new manager:

He was universally loved by the players he’s had, without enabling them in the slightest degree…That’s a hard thing to pull off in this game. It makes him a very impactful person in the clubhouse.

Regarding the actual interview with his new manager:

[He] provided extremely well-thought-out answers to nuanced baseball questions instantaneously…It wasn’t that he prepared for the interview…but [he had] spent a lifetime as a very intelligent person observing the game with an open mind to come up with his own baseball philosophy on how to win.

Epstein also was impressed with his new manager’s ability to handle players:

The thing that really stood out… was [his ability] to hold the players very accountable…get in their faces at times if necessary, disagree with them, drive them to be their very best, but at the same time also win their respect and admiration

It’s obvious that the Cubs hired the right man for the right job. Epstein and his regime are notorious for believing in the power of numbers and they went out and hired somebody that fits well with their philosophy as the new manager is also a believer in advanced statsDale Sveum was the man for the job way back in November of 2011.

Things were copacetic between manager and front office, but Epstein and Company decided to part ways with Sveum after the 2013 season. Suddenly, he was not the right fit on the North Side. It’s now universally accepted that his downfall was caused by two things:

  • The regression of young players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Sveum was brought in to help in the development of young players and when two, core players are experiencing a dismal season where they appear to be going backwards, it’s safe to say that the manager is the primary blame for the regression.
  • Joe Girardi was available–sort of. The idea of acquiring a proven winner with managerial experience was too good to pass up for the organization. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Girardi would end up going back to manage the New York Yankees.

With Sveum’s firing, Epstein let it be known what the organization’s primary goal was moving forward:

In order for us to win with this group — and win consistently — we must have the best possible environment for young players to learn, develop and thrive at the major league level.

Somebody would have to step in and provide that ideal environment for the young players that would be coming up soon. Enter Rick Renteria who is just full of positive thoughts and energy:

I still believe any team that goes in and plays between the lines has a chance to win a ballgame every single day.

As far as providing a good environment for the young players that will be summoned from the minor leagues:

One of the biggest things is I know players need confidence…I feel I lend myself to that ability… I’ve been able to provide that type of impact, that sense of confidence, and let them believe they can play the game.

Though the ultimate goal has remained the same (winning a World Series), Epstein and General Manager, Jed Hoyer, have not hesitated to change their approach on the fly when needed to reach that goal. While Sveum impressed with his knowledge and had a more austere personality in the clubhouse, Renteria was more up-beat and a better motivator. The switch worked as Castro had a bounce-back season of sorts and Rizzo is well on his way to becoming the best first baseman in all of baseball.

Nevertheless, as proven before, Epstein and Hoyer will always continue to look for ways to improve the ball club and the development of their young prospects is of the utmost importance. So when it was clear that Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon would be available, the Cubs’ front office saw a second chance to acquire a Major League manager with experience and a proven track record. They missed out on Girardi; they would not miss out on Maddon.

What will Maddon bring that his last two predecessors did not? Aside from a winning record with a team full of young players and small payroll in Tampa Bay, Maddon practically is a combination of the last two managers that the Cubs have hired. Maddon has a knowledge of baseball stats (like Sveum) and the full capability to utilize them for in-game situations. He also likes to keep his clubhouse and players loose and relaxed, which helps create a positive atmosphere (see Renteria).

A big reason why Renteria was hired was due to his ability to speak Spanish. With a lot of the Cubs’ prospects’ primary language being Spanish and with the team’s commitment to continue to scout heavily in the Dominican Republic, the front office realized that having someone in the clubhouse that can communicate with their Latin players in their native tongue would be of the utmost importance. Well guess what? Maddon also speaks fluent Spanish.

All of this, in theory, sounds great. In reality, it looks great too. A mathematical ball club signs a mathematical manager to lead the ball club and develop young players. However, nothing is guaranteed in baseball. More mysterious is the the impact that managers have on their teams. In the seminal baseball book, Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong by The Baseball Prospectus Team of Experts, it was concluded that the influence that managers have on their teams is basically non-existent from a statistical standpoint. Outside of wins and losses, the statistics to evaluate managers are not as “advanced” as other metrics used to evaluate hitters and pitchers.

But as has been seen with the success of the Baltimore Orioles with the arrival of Buck Showalter, a good manager can do wonders to a team. Yes, talent and player performance ultimately seals the fate of a manager (see Ned Yost this year), but the impact of a really good manager is simply immeasurable, involving a lot more luck than the current conventional thought shared by pundits and fans. All a baseball manager can do for a team is try not to lose games for the club and find ways to place his players in the best possible chance to succeed. The methods used to achieve such success is completely up to the discretion of each individual manager. From an outsider’s viewpoint, the impact is strictly intangible.

However, Joe Maddon, in the past, has proven to be successful in everything one would look for in a manager. Epstein and Co. wanted a manager that has a proven track record with developing young players in the major leagues. Here’s a list of notable players after being managed by Maddon at a young age (24 years of age or younger) since he took over as Tampa’s manager in 2006:

  1. Carl Crawford
  2. Dioner Navarro
  3. B.J. Upton
  4. Delmon Young
  5. J.P Howell
  6. James Shields
  7. Scott Kazmir
  8. Jason Hammel
  9. Edwin Jackson
  10. Evan Longoria
  11. John Jaso
  12. Matt Garza
  13. David Price
  14. Matt Joyce
  15. Wade Davis
  16. Jake McGee
  17. Jeremy Hellickson
  18. Desmond Jennings
  19. Matt Moore
  20. Chris Archer
  21. Alex Cobb
  22. Wil Myers
  23. Jake Odorizzi

And the list does not include the very versatile Ben Zobrist who Maddon began managing when Zobrist was 25 years old (or other 25-year-old players that may have benefited from Maddon). The pitching staff listed should be good enough to compete for division titles and even good enough to be a threat for a championship under Maddon’s watch on a consistent basis. Alas, due to Tampa’s tight budget, the Rays just could not keep most of these players, continually opted for cheaper and/or younger alternatives on a year-to-year basis.

The next item in Epstein’s long-term goal is winning and winning consistently with a young group of players. After surviving two losing seasons in 2006 and 2007, Maddon helped the Rays achieve 90-win seasons in five of the last seven years while in Tampa Bay, with rosters full of young and cheap players that found ways to overachieve under Maddon’s watch. It is worth reiterating that Maddon and the Rays were winning games in an American League East division full of high-profile teams with much deeper pockets and established fan bases.

Developing their prospects and winning with these players is what the Cubs are looking for as they try to break a championship drought much longer than the Kansas City Royals’. Joe Maddon was able to achieve those goals in Tampa Bay under very unfavorable circumstances. Going to a team with unlimited resources would appear to be a simple proposition for Maddon. Now all he has to do is follow through with the plan Epstein and Co. have already put in place, streamline the success he achieved for the Rays to the Cubs, help develop inexperienced and unpredictable young players, survive the randomness of baseball, and win the championship that the North Side team so desperately desires.

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