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In Defense of Bud Black 

Bud Black, Photo by: SD Dirk

Bud Black, Photo by: SD Dirk

You are not wrong.  I am not right.  However, before you succumb to the notion that you dislike the Padres’ current manager, please consider the possibility that Bud Black is good at his job.

Whatever your opinion is of Black, you cannot be proven incorrect.  The cumulative effect a manager has on a baseball team is next-to-impossible to quantify.  Therefore, fans are going to have opinions of the current Padres skipper based on anecdotal evidence.  You’ve heard it before, it usually goes something like this: “man, why did Buddy (use that pinch hitter/leave his starter in/call for a bunt) there?  I can’t stand him!  He sucks!”

One metric for measuring managerial success is something called “wins above expectancy” (with thanks to Beyond the Box Score).  This takes a baseball team’s real win-loss record and compares it to its Pythagorean record, which is the hypothetical record a team should have based on the number of runs surrendered and runs scored.  This is not anywhere close to an exact measure, but it is, at the very least, a place to start.

Bud Black’s “wins above expectancy” right now is -3:

True W/L                       Pythagorean W/L                             Difference

07:  89-74                                          89-74                                                     0

08:  63-99                                          68-94                                                     -5

09:  75-87                                          67-95                                                     +8

10: 90-72                                           91-71                                                     -1

11: 71-91                                           79-83                                                     -8

12:  76-86                                          75-87                                                     +1

13: 36-36                                            34-38                                                     +2

So, Buddy has cost the Padres 3 games, right?  First, that is not bad.  Buddy ranks above the likes of Tommy Lasorda and Connie Mack for WAE.  However, diving a little deeper:  what about a WAR type statistic for managers?  What is Buddy worth when compared to what an “average” manager would be?   To compute this, you would need to calculate the combined player’s WAR numbers and compare it to the actual W-L for the team.  Again, Adam Darowski has done the footwork for us, you can check out the list here: http://darowski.com/hall-of-wwar/expectancy/

When factoring in the quality of PLAYERS Buddy has had to work with over the years, he actually comes out to a +15 WAE/war.  Therefore, to combine the WAE and the WAE/war numbers:, Buddy is a +12, which puts him ahead of Jack McKeon, Ozzie Guillen, Branch Rickey and Larry Bowa (just to name a few).

What does all this mean?  Probably not a whole lot to you, either way.  If you dislike Buddy, this isn’t going to dissuade you from feeling he is a troll.  If you already like Buddy, this doesn’t elevate your view.  This is just some context for what else you need to consider: Buddy is praised by some really smart people.

  • There is plenty of reason to believe that former pitchers can be good or even great managers. Two current active ex-pitchers are now managing, John Farrell of the Blue Jays and Bud Black of the Padres. Black is one of the best in the business, and he won the 2010 NL Manager of the Year award.

Christina Kharl – Baseball Prospectus co-founder

  • The manager is also a major asset of this club. Black, the NL Manager of the Year in 2010, is astute in all phases of the managerial craft, and he routinely gets the most out of the talent on hand.

Mike Bauman – MLB.com

And finally:

  •  Bud Black’s real gift as a manager can’t be weighed or measured. It can’t be found in his defensive alignments or how he organizes a bullpen. It has nothing to do with the construction of lineups or figuring out when a guy needs a day off. Black actually is good at all those things, but the thing that makes him really special is hard to explain and occasionally hard to identify. It’s there, though, real and critically important. In fact, it probably is what all of baseball’s best managers have. Joe Maddon and Jim Leyland have a gift for it. So do Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker. Mike Matheny and Bob Melvin appear to have it. In an era when managers have binders of statistical help with matchups, defense, etc., the thing that’s left to them and them alone is building relationships with players and creating an environment that compels everyone to play hard and put the team first.

Richard Justice – MLB.com

This is just a sample; there are others.  Anyone with a computer and a wi-fi signal can find the exact perfect match-up at any given time.  This doesn’t make a manager.  I submit that Buddy is an asset to the Padres because of his ability to get more out of players than maybe someone else could have.  This team has never quit on its manager despite being eliminated from contention painfully early on more than one occasion (the team has especially dramatic rallies at the end of 2009, 2012 and so far in 2013).  Other teams turn on their managers; the Padres do not.

Buddy is also a teacher, especially for his pitchers.  The Padres, let’s face it, will not employ too many aces in their late 20’s/early 30’s.  They have kids or veterans.  The old guys don’t need more than tweaking their mechanics.  When it comes to developing and teaching a young pitcher, there are few managers in baseball as good as the former left-hander.  Consider Jake Peavy winning his Cy Young the same year Buddy came on board. Other young arms (Latos, Gregerson, Frieri, Richard, Luebke, etc) benefitted from being here.  I also want to mention that Mike Adams had the best seasons of his career with Buddy as his skipper.  The argument can be made that Petco Park was a factor, and that is true.. but it was not the only factor.

And finally, fans should maybe ask themselves:  what exactly is the value of hating on the manager?  He just signed an extension, so he’s not going anywhere.  Grinding one’s teeth every chance one gets leaves one with little more than worn-down teeth.  Disagreeing with a move or two doesn’t really take into account the fifty moves he made that no one noticed and worked out really well.  And, ultimately, fans need to ask themselves: who else would you (realistically) want to hire in his place?

Buddy will make moves that fans don’t like.  Fine.  But the value of a manager comes from numerous places other than the field.  The value is in the clubhouse, during bullpen sessions between starts and on chartered flights.  Consider: new ownership took over in 2012 and had every chance to clean house this off-season and mold the Padres the way they wanted.  They chose not to find someone else.  Someone knows something about Buddy that the fans don’t.  I trust the right guy is leading this team.

Photo by: SD Dirk, creative commons 2.0

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About the author: Richard Dorsha

The Padres above all others. There is nothing else in sports I want more than a Padres World Series title. My sports fandom begins and ends with the Friars. A San Diegan and Padre fan for more than 30 years now. Love to view the Padres from a historical context after reading about the team's humble beginnings to the dream come true of joining the National League. Been to more Padre games than I can count, seen more hours of Padre baseball than I care to mention.

  • Tim Valencia

    about time

  • ballybunion

    I notice a number of fans consider Bud’s talks to be yawners – he doesn’t say anything interesting. He reminds me of Norman Mineta, Transportation Secretary under Bush. The talking heads saw him as the token Democrat who would be first fired, but he stayed on into the second term until he reached 65 and retired from public service.

    A Sacramento reporter noted that Mineta could speak without notes for a solid hour on transportation issues, and reporters came away with the clear impression he knew transportation issues inside and out. He also noted that Mineta never gave a memorable quote to splash on the front page, and never said anything that could get his boss in trouble. That was golden in D.C. Buddy does that too, and I’m sure his bosses appreciate it.