Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Will he keep his job: Jim Tracy

Kevin McClatchy has stepped down. Dave Littlefield has been fired. Clearly, changes are taking place at the top of the Pirates organization. For the next few days, I'm going to look at some other prominent members of the Pirates' organization and whether or not I think they'll get to keep their jobs in 2008. The first post was about the current head of scouting, Ed Creech. Today we move on to manager Jim Tracy.

I fully realize that what I'm about to say is going to be vehemently disagreed with by almost everyone that reads it. Just take it with an open mind, that's all I'm asking.

I'm not convinced that Jim Tracy is an awful manager. The worst things that managers do in terms of game strategy is, in my mind, think they can affect the outcome of the game. Sacrifice bunts are always a bad idea. Stealing bases is almost always a bad idea, unless the person running can be safe about 75% of the time. Hitting and running? Almost as bad as sac bunts. All these things serve to do is take the bats out of the hitters' hands. As bad as the Pirates are at the plate, it's still never a good idea to do that. I could go into the math and statistics here, but I'm a bit too tired for that and other people can do it better than me, so you'll have to take my word for it. Last year, Tracy ranked near the bottom of the NL in steal attempts and bunt attempts (according to BP 2007). I don't have the numbers for this year and I know we all bitched about the bunting at the beginning of the year, but if my memory serves me, it hasn't been that bad since April or May. If pressed about it, I would actually say he's done a good job handling Snell, Gorzelanny, and Maholm and their workloads over the past two years. I don't agree with everything he's done in terms of pulling pitchers and leaving pitchers in, but he doesn't exist to make me happy. He pulled the plug on Salomon Torres early this year and that was a good move. You can complain about his handling of the bullpen if you want, but the bullpen is pretty awful and that's not really his fault.

I'm not really saying Tracy's a good manager or that he doesn't have his faults. But the truth of the matter is that most managers in the major leagues are pretty much the same. They all have the same vices, Jim Leyland loves veteranosity (Sean Casey starts for him!) and game calling catchers as much as Tracy does. Most managers have a preconceived notion of a lineup that they will never deviate very far from. I think a lot of managers would try to play Nyjer Morgan or Rajai Davis or Chris Duffy over Nate McLouth because of what a centerfielder "should play like." I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying that Tracy isn't that different. Most managers love to think they're a lot more important than they really are.

Personally, I don't like Tracy very much. That honestly doesn't have a lot to do with how he manages though, it has more to do with the fact that he just seems stupid. His interviews are always rambling and self-important. He just doesn't come across as a bright guy to me, and that bugs me because there really seems to be little else he brings to the table. Terry Francona and Grady Little aren't rocket scientists by any means, but they're both popular with the players. As crazy and unstable and tactically poor as Ozzie Guillen is, he'd take a bullet for his players and they all know it. Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa command this deep respect from their players because they've seen and done it all as managers. Tracy is just kind of... there. I don't think the players hate him, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they like him either. Maybe it doesn't make much of a difference, but I dunno, I'd like a manager to be more than just "there."

With everything being said, I think that whoever our new GM is could do much, much worse than Jim Tracy as manager of the Pirates. And I think it would be a huge mistake to retain him for next year. The thing with Tracy is that to certain people, he's loyal to a fault. He hated Paul DePodesta for trading Paul Lo Duca and from everything I read about him, he did almost anything he could to sabotage Lo Duca's time as GM in LA, which more or less resulted in both of them losing their jobs. We never saw that side of Tracy here because he and Littlefield got a long. But when asked about Littlefield's firing, Tracy's quote was (and this is from memory so it's not perfect), "I think if you look at where this team is now and where this team was last year, you'd be hard pressed to say it's not moving in the right direction." Clearly, he's pissed that Littlefield got the axe. Accordingly, that could make life very difficult for whoever moves into DL's position, especially if he and Tracy aren't as ideologically aligned as Littlefield and Tracy were.

Bottom line: Tracy has to go, but not because he's necessarily a terrible manager. Mostly, I think he has to go because I think this organization needs to start over. Every remnant of the Littlefied era needs to be cleaned out. One of the biggest problems with Littlefield was that despite the fact that he took over from outside the organization, he kept a lot of things the same. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Oh, and Tracy hired Jeff Manto. That's a fireable offense in my book.