July 14, 2004
Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of the Stros
The worst kept secret in Houston this week was exposed today as the Stros fired Jimy Williams this afternoon, ending his 2 1/2 season stint with the club. The Stros named former Stro player and coach, Phil "Scrap Iron" Garner to replace Williams for the rest of this season.
Stros hitting coach Harry Spilman and pitching coach Burt Hooton were also fired and replaced by AAA hitting coach Gary Gaetti and Jim Hickey, respectively. Spilman was the club's minor league field coordinator when he was named the Stros' hitting coach in June 2000 after the club fired Tom McGraw. Hooton was the AA Round Rock pitching coach when he was named pitching coach during the middle of the 2000 season after Vern Ruhle was canned.
I always thought Williams was a rather odd choice as the manager for the Stros, and his record with the club justified my skepticism. Williams was 215-197 as the Stros manager. The 2002 club (84-78) was second in the NL Central, but finished 13 games behind the Cardinals and 11 games behind the Giants for the wild card playoff spot. The 2003 club (87-75) finished second by a game to the Cubs in the NL Central and four games behind the Marlins for the wild card spot. As we all know, this year's club is 44-44 at the All-Star Break, 10.5 games behind the Cards in the NL Central and 4 games behind in the race for the wild card spot.
The Pythagorean winning percentage is an interesting statistic that estimates a team's winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed. Developed by Bill James, it can tell you when teams were a bit lucky or unlucky, but it can also let you know whether a team managed by a particular manager consistently overachieves or underachieves.
Jimy Williams-managed teams have consistently underachieved. Williams has a career Pythagorean Differential of -24 (i.e., his teams have lost 24 more games than the statistics suggest they should have), with just one season in which his team exceeded expectations. Consequently, Williams just may prove Branch Rickey's adage: "Sometimes luck is the residue of design."
Although he appears to be a good coach of baseball skills, Williams just seems to make enough boneheaded managerial moves to make sure that his teams underachieve. Here are but a few examples:
His batting Berkman in the fifth and sixth hole for much of this season while he has been one of the best hitters in baseball;
His insistence on batting one of the worst hitters in baseball -- Adam Everett -- in the two hole and have him waste outs by laying down sacrifice bunts at every opportunity;
His decision to platoon poor hitting Geoff Blum with the hot-hitting Ensberg for much of the 2003 season, which may have in itself been enough to cost the Stros the game that they finished behind the Cubs in the NL Central; and
His strained relationship with Hidalgo, which may have ultimately cost the Stros a productive slugger over the next several seasons.
So, I cannot say that I am sorry to see Williams go. My sense is that he is overmatched as a big league manager.
On the other hand, although hiring Garner is a "feel good" P.R. move, it's a dubious one from the standpoint of managerial competence. Although he managed teams for eleven seasons with generally bad players at both Milwaukee and Detroit, Garner only produced a won-loss record three times that was better than those clubs' Pythagorean winning percentage. Moreover, Garner was a marginal hitter as a player, who rarely walked and thus, did not have as high an on-base percentage as he should have to compensate for his mediocre power. So, if Garner favors players like himself, we should expect a steady dose of Viz and Everett, which will only excerbate the Stros' run scoring deficiencies.
The bottom line: It was time for Williams to go, but it's not at all clear that Garner is an improvement other than he gets along with the media better than the irascible Williams. It's becoming clearer by the day that the Stros' plan of making a playoff run this season has failed, and that it's time to clean house and begin bringing in younger players to surround Berkman and Oswalt.
Posted by Tom at July 14, 2004 2:48 PM |
Astros predictable again in this move, get an old Astro that's good with the press. Will "Scrap Iron" make the decisions to really shake things up? Sit Bagwell/Ausmus? My choice among old Stros would is Charlie Kerfeld - now he would have loosened up the dugout!
Wonder if NY Mets gave Don Baylor permission to discuss or if the Astros even tried -- he may have been the best choice as far as getting some run production.
Posted by: jerry sagehorn at July 14, 2004 3:11 PM
Well, I guess I'm glad to see the 'stros do something. But are they really going to be able to clean house when they brought Clemens out of retirement for this year? I mean, this is supposed to be THE YEAR! They're not going to clean house until it's a statistical impossibility for us to win the wild-card.
Posted by: Richard at July 14, 2004 3:19 PM
Sage, Baylor is no savior, either. In each of his final four seasons of managing (one season at Colorado and three at Chicago), his teams always achieved under their Pythagorean record. Maybe that's bad luck, and Baylor has had his share of that. However, he was not well liked by anyone in Chicago.
Posted by: Tom Kirkendall at July 14, 2004 3:39 PM
Big T, how did Garner's Pythagorean record shape up in Detroit and in Milwaukee? I was in Milwaukee when they announced his hiring by the Stros and everyone who I've either listened to or read in the local Milwaukee and Chicago media think that Garner was a great manager who was given little to work with at his previous stops.
Posted by: Will Veber at July 16, 2004 8:34 AM
Will, Garner was not blessed with good talent at either Milwaukee or Detroit. However, he beat the Pythagorean record only three times in 11 seasons. He has not proven that he is even an average MLG manager at this point.
Posted by: Tom Kirkendall at July 16, 2004 2:11 PM
Hold it - Garner has managed 11 seasons in the bigs? I certainly didn't know that.
I was thinking he only managed something like 4 or 5 years in Milwaukee and 2 years in Detroit. I know that his first team in Milwaukee was pretty good, but age caught up to the Brewers - very similar as to what's going on in Houston right now - and they slipped the next couple three years under his helm.
Well, it will certainly be interesting to see what happens in the second half in Houston. Sounds like the Dodgers are willing to part with a boat load of prospects for Beltran.
Posted by: Will Veber at July 16, 2004 9:58 PM
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