In light of Dejan Kovacevic’s damning piece on the Pirates’ historically awful 2010 campaign today, as well as this well-argued John Russell post on Bucs Dugout, I believe now is as good a time as any to state what seems like an increasingly inevitable conclusion: The Pirates cannot retain John Russell as their manager into 2011.
Personally, I have long been of the opinion that a manager in baseball has little to no tangible effect on a team’s record — managers in baseball aren’t comparable to NFL head coaches, who are universally instrumental in the building and development of their franchises as well as their players’ in-game performances, or NHL coaches, who can will a decent team to exceptional performance with defensive schemes and tactical inspiration (See: 2009-10 Phoenix Coyotes). To me, baseball managers exist to manage the personalities of an MLB clubhouse over the course of a 162-game grind, to manage playing time and pitchers’ innings properly, and to make minor in-game tactical decisions. When a manager has been given a team like the 2010 Pirates to work with, there’s simply not much they can do to affect the win column on a daily basis.
That being said, when a team like the Pirates is projected to win between 70-74 games by various neutral preseason statistical simulations (their Vegas Over/Under was 71 wins), and they’re currently on pace to come in between 53 and 54 wins, then clearly, even by the Pirates’ minuscule capabilities coming into this season, they have vastly underachieved. I’m not blaming the failures of the Pirates’ pitching staff or of Huntington’s reclamation projects directly onto Russell, nor am I even really blaming their record on Russell, but put quite simply, when a team performs as across-the-board terribly as the Bucs have this year, it’s impossible to argue that the manager’s effect on the team — even if it’s extremely minor or even nonexistent — has been a positive one.
The fact that managers are so replaceable in MLB is all the more reason why firing Russell and heading into 2011 with a fresh start makes such obvious sense. I’m certainly not arguing that another manager could’ve made the 2010 Bucs competitive, but I simply don’t see why the Pirates wouldn’t take the extremely rudimentary step of hiring a new manager for 2011 to get a fresh voice into the clubhouse and make a clean break from a season of legendary futility. No matter how often we fall back on the “this specific thing isn’t Russell’s fault” argument, at this painful juncture, I cannot imagine what negatives could possibly result from the Pirates bringing in a new manager, provided he doesn’t, say, suplex Jose Tabata or something.
I posted a lot of these thoughts in more detail on this Bucs Dugout thread, which I’ve posted after the jump — sorry for the lazy copy-paste approach, but I already resent the amount of energy I expound analyzing the Pirates on a daily basis, and I have no interest in doubling that amount: