As the Cubs and White Sox renew hostilities this weekend, I’ve been considering their managers’ responsibility for their shifting fortunes. The Cubs have been on the rise since Lou Piniella blew up at the umpires a couple of weeks ago. The Sox have been on the decline, and it’s not just injuries to leadoff men Scott Podsednik and Darin Erstad and power hitters Jim Thome and Joe Crede that are to blame.
In the interest of removing knee-jerk opinions from the equation and getting to the objective strengths and weaknesses of Piniella and Ozzie Guillen, I’ve revived the “Manager in a Box” format that Bill James created for his Baseball Abstracts and later used in his Guide to Baseball Managers. It’s a question-and-answer process designed to point out tendencies, and it not only reveals significant differences between the two skippers but also teases out reasons why the Cubs have been working through their troubles while the Sox succumb to theirs. Piniella is much more proactive; Guillen’s taken a wait-and-see attitude even as his team fell to last in the majors in runs scored.
Year of birth: Piniella 1943, age 63; Guillen 1964, age 43.
Record as a manager: Piniella 1,550-1,457, 31-37 this year starting the workweek; Guillen 300-251, 28-37 this year.
Characteristics as a player: Piniella was a slow-footed outfielder who never hit more than a dozen homers or drove in as many as 90 runs, but he hit .300 six times and had a career average of .291. Guillen was a good-fielding, slap-hitting shortstop. He never hit .300, and only once stole 30 bases. James has identified the ability to draw walks as a sign of athletic intelligence, but Piniella never walked 40 times in a season and Guillen never walked even 30.
Is he intense or easy to get along with? Both managers are more than willing to throw their players under a bus. But as A.J. Pierzynski has commented, Guillen never says anything to the press he won’t say to a player’s face. I get the impression Piniella has surprised some of his players with what he’s said to the media.
Emotional leader or decision maker? For all of Piniella’s volatility and his talk of instilling “a little Cubbie swagger,” he seems more the decision maker, while Guillen’s biggest impact is on the mood of his team.
Optimist or problem solver? Guillen trusts his players to live up to his expectations and makes changes only when they prove they can’t do the job (see the bullpen). Piniella has been a relentless problem solver from his first game with the Cubs, in part because the roster he was handed by general manager Jim Hendry gave him so many problems to solve.
Set lineup or a rotation system? Guillen uses everyone, despite a miserable bench. Piniella has yet to settle on a lineup.
Does he like to platoon? Guillen doesn’t. Piniella seems open to it.
Does he try to solve his problems with veterans or with youngsters who may still have something to learn? Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams both prefer to let prospects start in the minors than fill part-time roles in the majors. But there’s no good reason a Luis Terrero should play ahead of Brian Anderson or Ryan Sweeney. Piniella, by contrast, has been willing to try youngsters like Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, and Koyie Hill, and though he couldn’t find at bats for Matt Murton he’s come around on Felix Pie.
How many players has he made regulars who hadn’t been regulars before? Piniella put Hal Morris at first in his world-championship 1990 season in Cincinnati, and he built the 116-game-winning 2001 Seattle Mariners over several seasons, though it was mainly a veteran team but for Freddy Garcia, whom he put at the head of the pitching rotation, and Ichiro Suzuki, a Seattle rookie but a talented veteran of Japan’s Pacific League. Piniella didn’t distinguish himself with young players in Tampa Bay. The White Sox’ 2005 championship nucleus was pretty much intact when Guillen arrived in 2004. He stuck with Joe Crede through thick and thin and inserted Tadahito Iguchi at second base but later flinched at establishing Anderson in center field and Brendan McCarthy as a starter. Both managers have shown a willingness to go with inexperienced bullpen closers–with much success.
Does he prefer good offensive players or glove men? Piniella seems to lean toward offense, Guillen defense. Both waver.
Does he like an offense based on power, speed, or high averages? Given their druthers, Piniella seems to favor batting averages, Guillen speed. Yet both are pragmatists, and taking into account their rosters and home parks they’ve leaned toward power.
Does he use the entire roster or exile some players to the bench? Both like a deep bench–Guillen to a fault, while Piniella shows a preference for playing the hot hand.
Big inning or one run at a time? Guillen likes to manufacture runs, even though in 2005 that ran counter to his big-inning, home-run-hitting personnel. Piniella alters his tactics to conditions, but seems to prefer the big inning.
When and how much does he pinch-hit? Piniella loves to pinch-hit. Guillen likes to when he has the tools, but he pinch-hit fewer times in 2005 than in either ’04 or ’06.
How often does he sacrifice? Guillen–too much. Piniella’s Cubs are last in the National League in sacrifices. Ironically, because pitchers don’t bat in the AL a sacrifice is a rarity in that league, and the last time I looked the Cubs had sacrificed more often than the Sox.
The running game? This is a tough area to keep track of, but Guillen started runners 159 times in 2005, more frequently than in ’04 or ’06, or so far this season, when he’s been limited by injuries to Podsednik and Erstad. Piniella seems less aggressive than Guillen but more unpredictable, and my guess is he’ll wind up the season with more than the 145 runners started that the Cubs posted under Dusty Baker last year.
How willing is he to issue an intentional walk? Guillen has increasingly ordered walks, thus taking the ball out of his pitchers’ hands and showing less confidence in them (with good reason this season). Piniella’s Cubs are in the middle of the NL pack in intentional walks.
Does he often hit-and-run? No, though each manager clearly would like to be able to. Lack of team speed stops Guillen, and Piniella is still figuring out his roster.
How has he changed the game? Neither has had much of an impact on baseball thinking or tactics. But Guillen has made a serious attempt to attract the press to himself and away from his players, and in a more bumbling, old-fashioned way Piniella has too. And Piniella made the “bullpen by committee” work as well as anyone with the Nasty Boys in Cincinnati.
Does he prefer power pitchers or pitchers who put the ball in play? Pragmatists, they work with the materials at hand. But Sox GM Williams clearly likes power pitchers.
Does he stay with his starters? Guillen has been remarkably consistent, regularly working his starters beyond 100 pitches but rarely to 120. Yet of late he’s shown a willingness to yank his starters–such as John Danks last week, before he could qualify for a win–which is curious given how his bullpen’s struggled. Piniella has seemed willing to go to the bullpen early, but recently he let Sean Marshall and Ted Lilly work through rough patches into the late innings–and both earned victories.
How set is he on a five-man rotation? Danks, the Sox’ fifth starter, hasn’t missed a turn this season. Piniella has shuttled pitchers into the fifth spot.
What’s his strongest point as a manager? Both manage by instinct, making them hard to manage against because of their unpredictability. On the other hand, both can ignore common sense, something Guillen in particular seems to have fallen victim to.
If it weren’t for professional baseball, what would he be doing? After a fine career as a character actor, Piniella would probably be “Uncle Lou,” a spokesman for Geritol, or perhaps Viagra. Guillen would probably be a ward healer in the Hugo Chavez administration, or possibly his abrasive press secretary.