Wooden's World of Baseball

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Moneyball in miniature?

After four years as one of the most successful managers in the Northeast/Can-Am League (.607 win pct., two trips to the Finals in three playoff appearances, and never finished lower than 2nd place), John Kennedy was fired by the North Shore Spirit this week. Like Joe Girardi in the N.L., this comes after being named Manager of the Year. His replacement: Vic Davilla, the 2006 Player of the Year.

Already, there are some dismissing Kennedy's achievements, pointing to the track record of the Spirit procurement director, Jeff Kunion (after being prompted by yours truly, but I digress). This, of course, ignores the success that Kennedy had in 2003, when he led a team that had a lot of pitching and speed, but not much offense, to the Finals.

One cannot help but be reminded of the debate that was raised by Michael Lewis's seminal book Moneyball wherein uber-GM Billy Beane asserted that he, the GM, was the one most responsible for the success of the A's in the early '00s, dismissing the commonly held notion that the field manager – Art Howe when the book was written – was what made Oakland's trademark 2nd-half pushes possible.

At this level, I believe the manager is more responsible. He's the one that has to get the most out of the players that he's been given, and he has to do it in a very short period of time; even a one-week slump can effectively eliminate a team in the half system, as we saw in June 2005 with the North Shore Spirit, despite a valiant 5-of-6 push at home against the reviled Les Capitales de Quebec on the 4th of July weekend.

Like Beane, I believe that there is an element of luck in the playoffs, especially in a shortened series. The Spirit (and Kennedy) have had very little of it. Take 2004, for example:
  • Rob Fischer called out in the bottom of the 8th of Game 4
  • Vic Davilla missing most of NELCS with an elbow injury
  • Rainouts enabling the Jackals ace starter to pitch Game 5 fully rested
Just one of those things not happening, and the Spirit would most likely have taken the title. I don't think it's fair to implicitly blame Kennedy. I wish him well in what I presume is most likely his retirement.


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