How Not to Run a Baseball Franchise

The Baltimore Orioles have just fired their manager, Sam Perlozzo, after holding the position for a little more than one full season. Perlozzo took over the team on an interim basis in August 2005, and was awarded the permanent position after the season.

Perlozzo took over a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1997 and didn’t appear to be close to getting its act back together. In 2006 the team won only 70 games, four fewer than the previous season. This season the Orioles are on pace to win 68 games. However, the team’s run differential indicates the Orioles are playing better than their record: their Pythagorean record has them on pace for 77 wins. 77 wins isn’t a good team, but I’m not sure much of this is Perlozzo’s fault. (I want to acknowledge that some people have argued that deviations in wins from Pythagorean projections measure some level of managerial skill. I am not convinced of this.)

Perlozzo took over a pretty poor club and has not had much time to right the ship. Furthermore, Perlozzo’s good buddy Leo Mazzone seems to have improved the pitching staff after a tough first season. I suspect Mazzone will not stick around, because the main reason he came to Baltimore was to work with his good friend Perlozzo. I don’t understand the need for such a hasty decision. Unless the manager is actively doing damage, managerial stability has some value.

Perlozzo might be a rotten manager, I really don’t know, but considering Joe Girardi as a replacement shows that the O’s lack decision-makers who understand the game. Speaking of actively doing damage, Girardi was fired by the Marlins, despite the fact that he won the manager of the year award, because he couldn’t get along with the owner and GM. Girardi won the award is that the Marlins were not expected to win many games, yet the team was competitive most of the season. The voters surmised Girardi must be the reason, but the voters missed that the Marlins success had much more to do with the front office than its manager. Without Girardi, the Marlins are on a pace to win about the same number of games they won last year. In my book, I find Florida to be the best managed organization in baseball before Girardi even showed up. The Marlins were happy to let Girardi go because they knew he had little to do with the team’s success. Looks like the O’s are going after the next hot thing without really thinking about it.

I actually have some personal experience with this which I will share. Soon after the Orioles hired Mazzone, I received many media inquiries. A few of the journalists who contacted me said that the Orioles had mentioned my study to them as evidence of what a great pitching coach Mazzone is. Now, I’m happy that the O’s felt this way, but I thought it was odd that they were basing their decisions off of a study I posted on the internet without even contacting me. Wouldn’t you want to talk to me first if you were thinking of making this move because of brief study I posted? I didn’t even get an e-mail. My consulting fees are far less than what it costs to buy out a coach. I don’t mean to suggest that my study was the main reason they made their decision—I have no doubt that Perlozzo’s influence was much stronger than mine, and it’s not like it was a secret that Mazzone was good at his job—but I found the mention a bit odd.

So, when the O’s decided to can a manager in the midst of a losing streak, I was not surprised. Another short-sighted decision by an franchise that continues to blunder it’s way to the bottom of the division. I wonder if they would be willing to take Willie Harris for Daniel Cabrera.

9 Responses “How Not to Run a Baseball Franchise”

  1. Dave says:

    You say that Mazzone seems to have improved the pitching staff. But at a cursory glance it appears to be a tale of two staffs. The starters rank third in the AL with a 3.84 ERA. The bullpen however ranks 11th in the AL with a 5.16 ERA. Does that mean you would have expected the O’s bullpen to be even worse than that without Mazzones’s tutelage, or do your calculations not address subsets of a pitching staff (starters/relievers) and only address the entire group?

  2. Marc Schneider says:

    The O’s are an incredibly poorly-run organization. Anyone that wants to complain about Time Warner with the Braves should look at what Peter Angelos (and before him, Eli Jacobs) has done to this franchise. Angelos hires lackeys in the front office, refuses to make sensible trades, and then blames Washington having a team for the O’s lack of attendence. Think that 9 straight losing seasons has anything to do with it? Considering how Angelos worked to keep a team out of DC and then screwed the Nationals on the TV deal, I say it couldn’t happen to a more deserving fellow. Hope they finish last forever.

    It appears that the O’s may finally be doing something right by hiring Andy McPhail, but with Angelos (and his idiot sons) in the picture, I am skeptical that much will change. Leo should be glad to get out to the insane asuylum.

    As for Perlozzo, I don’t see what else he can do when the hitters don’t hit and the bullpen gives up runs, literally every night. I guess Girardi’s “leadership” qualities will change that.

  3. pawnking says:

    All of this leads to the question I’ve never seen answered to my satisfaction: What is it a manager actually does?
    The most obvious things I see managers do:

    1) Make bullpen decisions, usually poor ones – see Charlie Manual
    2) Run off talented but “trouble making” players – As Scott Rolen was ran off by Manual’s predicessor
    3) Serve as a scapegoat for talk radio oundits who admit they know less than the front office about baseball.
    4) Set lineups, which as long as you hit the pitcher last you cannot possible screw up.

    All other areas are responsiblity of coaches or front office personnel. Antics such as arguing balls and strikes do not win ballgames.

  4. Sergio says:

    As a Braves fan id take Willie Harris for Daniel. I think hes still got tremendous upside.

    And as for the fireing. Stupid. They are loosing a superb pitching coach in the process. Wonder if they would take Roger McDowell for Leo Mazzone as well?

  5. pdrinka says:

    Andy McPhail got lucky twice with the Twins, and evereveryone in Chicago was happy to see him go at the end of last season. How is that an improvement?

  6. Andrew says:

    I just don’t understand the O’s logic. How can 1.5 yrs be long enough to evaluate a manager? I think that if you are going to hire a man, make at least a three year commitment in order to see how they truly will perform. I just think 250 games is not long enough.

  7. Frank says:

    What I find especially bizarre is that the O’s named their bullpen coach as the acting mgr. Their bullpen has been a mess, though in fairness the blame may belong more to the genius [sarcasm] front office that thought committing multiple millions to Danys Baez was a good decision.

  8. M. Thomason says:

    I looked over the Orioles’ lineup and it seems to me that they’re just not hitting, don’t have any good hitters (even Tejada has been ordinary) and that no manager in the world could lead that team to contention.

  9. Jon W. says:

    Perlozzo wasn’t THE problem, but he was A problem. The Orioles are a team of declining and limited players. Perlozzo is a player’s manager. Those two things are in direct conflict. Platoons, multiple inning relievers, a useful bench – all things Perlozzo disdained because they made the players unhappy. Anything that cut into Millar’s or Gibbons’ or Mora’s playing time, or the bullpen’s rigidly set roles caused complaining and moaning, so Perlozzo just deferred to the players. Useful strategies to get a few more runs and a few more wins were discarded in the name of clubhouse harmony. Useful platoon players were left in AAA, while designated pinch runners and 8th-inning-only-LOOGYs filled up the back end of the roster.

    This firing, and Girardi’s hiring, won’t fix the team. But it probably helps if Girardi stands up to the old mediocrities and forces them into roles they deserve, instead of roles they believe they earned with their performances in 2003.