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Monday, July 02, 2007

Narron fired

In a move that is sure to make the fanbase happy, Jerry Narron was fired today.

If I was feeling ambitious, I might try to assemble some intriguing stats that somehow evaluate (or at least describe) the way Narron managed. But I'm not. So instead I'll just refer to what I wrote in the Hardball Times 2007 Season Preview:
The Manager Is Known for: Being old school. That's what he claims, but I don't agree. Jerry Narron is something of an enigma. On one hand, he shows a modern appreciation for on-base percentage and stolen base success rate. But he gets bent out of shape about errors while apparently ignoring range as a measure of fielder performance. He’ll talk up young players like Encarnacion and Chris Denorfia, yet have a hard time actually letting them play if they compete with an aging veteran. He will talk about operating his bullpen by committee, but then, almost overnight, tap someone as closer. Narron tends to keep his starters in the game a long time—though that could be the result of playing with a sub-par bullpen much of last year.
I pretty much still agree with everything I wrote. His biggest fault, at least as I'll remember it, is a general lack of consistency. He certainly did things that bothered the heck out of me, like using Juan Castro and Chad Moeller as pinch hitters an inordinate number of times, putting too much stock into small sample size-matchups or lefty/righty platoons, playing favorites among players, etc.

But in the end, while I'm sure many will disagree with me, I don't think he was all that bad of a manager. He seemed to have good control over the clubhouse and seemed to be a good communicator, something that was in stark contrast to his predecessor, Dave Miley (though I'm sure we'll see some criticism from players and media in the coming days). He was an advocate for his players in the media. He seemed good about trying to keep certain players rested (particularly Junior), and keeping his bench players "fresh." And he did understand at least some of the key lessons from statistical research (particularly OBP and SB%), even as he ignored others...

When it comes down to it, though, the problem this season is that the the players just haven't performed well. I'm sure you can blame some of that on the manager, but how much? Maybe a new guy in charge will help, but as Chris said, more than likely any improvement we see will just be regression toward these players' true performance levels. Of course, if the Reds start to attribute some of their success to the new guy and gain some confidence to help them through the second half, maybe the placebo effect is worth it.

Could the Reds do better than Narron? Of course. But they could do a lot worse too, and I'm fearful that we'll actually take a step backward with the next selection. ... We'll see. I wish Jerry well and hope he can get the helm of another team someday. Hopefully he'll check out my recommended reading list in the meantime.

As for his replacement, Pete Mackanin... who knows? He was apparently an all-field, no-hit middle-infielder who was memorable enough to get his page sponsored at B-R, but I doubt that tells us much. I'll be watching him fairly closely this next month, however, as his managerial philosophies may tell us something about the sort of manager Wayne Krivsky is looking for. I'd love to see a manager hired who has read and understands The Book, but I'll settle for someone who can give the players confidence and put the right guys on the field each day. I also really hope that the next official manager, whoever he is, can bring some stability to this organization and keep his job for a half-decade or so.

P.S. 'Grats to Junior on the All-Star game, and leading the NL in votes. That's pretty awesome.

Photo by AP/David Kohl


  1. Justin,

    Good summation. I agree with you. But this is just Band-Aid surgery. Mackanin isn't likely to make much of a difference. The Reds are underperforming Pythag by about 5 games and should show some improvement regardless of who the manager is.

    George Grande actually said something valuable during yesterday's broadcast. He mentioned that when he was covering the Yankees, Billy Martin once told him that you can't develop and contend at the same time. Unless Krivsky (if he stays) and Castellini recognize where the Reds are in the success cycle and understand that they need to focus on rebuilding of the entire franchise, the fans are going to be doomed to watching more seasons like those we've already seen in this decade.

    It's my opinion that despite all the changes in ownership and management, this organization has never come to grips with what is needed to compete in the free agency era. Possibly they've never gotten over the Big Red Machine days and are continually trying to catch lightning in a bottle, too.

    There's been no consistent direction and an overall lack of a plan. Marge spent on the big club but practically wrecked the player development side. Bowden's only plan was to assemble a huge collection of toolsy outfielders and reclamation projects and hope something worked out. O'Brien actually tried to articulate a plan and focused on rebuilding the farm system. But he was hopeless on the big league level. And now we have the "win now" with "pitching and defense" team.

    I can already predict the off season. The Reds will improve slightly, maybe even play .500 ball in the second half to finish 20 under. Mackanin will be lauded for being the little boy with his finger in the dike and retained for 2008 because "he deserves a chance over a full season". The FO will talk about how the Reds are "going to compete" next season.

    Meanwhile, Brewers fans will be celebrating a divsion champion because they hired the right guy - a man with a plan - back in '03.

  2. George Grande actually said something valuable during yesterday's broadcast. He mentioned that when he was covering the Yankees, Billy Martin once told him that you can't develop and contend at the same time. Unless Krivsky (if he stays) and Castellini recognize where the Reds are in the success cycle and understand that they need to focus on rebuilding of the entire franchise, the fans are going to be doomed to watching more seasons like those we've already seen in this decade.

    I'm not sure that I really agree with that. There isn't much evidence that the success "cycle" is particularly cyclical. Long-term rebuilding plans rarely seem to work out well in the long term. Obviously, neither do the sell-the-farm-for-now type of strategies. But what a team can do is keep a long-term focus on building a strong organization from within while still trying to put an effective team on the field each year via free agent signings and trades.

    I don't think it's an either-or proposition. You have to do both to succeed, and I don't see why both can't be done simultaneously. That's what we've seen for years from the Braves, Minnesota, Oakland, etc..

    Here's where I think we do agree: with this season lost, the Reds' focus should not be on winning this season. It should be on constructing contending teams in future seasons (I say starting with 2008). That means getting good returns from trades of players that are at peak value, and playing young guys who might be able to help us the following year or two. As we've said before, what Krivsky does this month will tell us a lot about this qualities as a general manager (and Castellini's qualities as an owner).

  3. Justin,

    In 2003, the year the Brewers hired Doug Melvin, the Reds went 69-93; the Brewers 68-94. Melvin was open with the fans and laid out a plan that he said would take time and patience but if adhered to would yield results. He got Yost to buy into that plan. Now the Brewers are contenders with a good, young nucleus that should keep[ them in contention for the foreseeable future barring injuries.

    Another example is the lineage of John Hart followed by Mark Shapiro in Cleveland. They've gone through a success cycle, faced rebuilding and are poised for another run. Shapiro brought in folks like Chris Antonetti, John Mirabelli and recently Keith Woolner.

    So a plan can work if one clearly articulates it, gets organizational buy-in and sticks to it. In this same time period the Reds' have essentially spun their wheels with a series of win-now attempts all of which failed. The Brewers and the Indians are going to win their division and the Reds are going to have another losing season. The Brewers started from the same place as the Red 4½ seasons ago. The Indians were also 68-94 in 2003.

    All the organizations you cite went through several losing seasons prior to their runs. If you only look at the Braves during their run, they appear to retool on the fly. But they were horrible for most of the '80s and that's when they laid the foundation by getting Smoltz from the Tigers and bringing guys like Glavine and Gant through the system. After they started reeling off titles, and particularly after Schuerholz came on board, it was a year-to-year tweaking process because most of the pieces were in place. That's not the case with the Reds.

    I'm not certain that Zumsteg's article debunks the idea of having a rebuilding plan and placing priority on it. It certainly doesn't support the idea that a 100-loss team should attempt to compete and rebuild at thwe same time. And Jonah Keri's article that Derek attempts to refute makes some valid points in my favor ;-).

    If this was a good team going through a period of bad luck and injuries, tooling up for a run next year makes sense. But it's not a good team and it's several pieces from being one. Next season depends on unproven quantities at the major league level - Homer, Livingston, Dumatrait, Medlock, Votto, maybe Bruce by year's end - or the hope that Arroyo will show up as the 2006 version, Griffey comes back healthy and can repeat 2007 at age 38, Hamilton continues to develop while not falling off the wagon, A-Gon continues to hit while remembering where he hid his glove, EdE progresses both at bat and in the field and management discovers how to construct and use a bullpen. Some of the youngsters will work out and some of the returnees questions will be answered affirmatively. But it's stretching to think that all these things will turn in the Reds' favor.

    The focus should be improvement for next year - there's only one way to go from here, after all. Contention should be the goal in 2009 if things break positively overall next season. But none of this should supersede player development and rebuilding the farm system.

  4. I'm certainly not saying that teams can't go from bad to good (yes, of course you can find times when all teams were bad before they were good, and vice versa), nor that teams can change immediately from bad to good. But I think the perception that one has to tear everything down before one can start to get better is probably not correct.

    But none of this should supersede player development and rebuilding the farm system.

    See, I don't think we really disagree much at all (which seems typical in our conversations since you started posting here), because I completely agree with this. My point is just that there should always be an effort to win each year. The key to doing so is to develop players and give those that are ready a chance to play (neither of which have the Reds have not been good at), but then to fill in the gaps as much as you can via free agents and trades. I certainly do not advocate trading away the farm for improvement at the major league level. That's a great way to doom an organization to mediocrity for a long time.

    As for Milwaukee, I'm not convinced that they are an example of a success cycle. They are a team that was average to bad for a very long time. They were not cycling, they were stagnating. And now, they have transitioned to a winning team, thanks in large part to a cadre of their draft picks working out really well (sheets, fielder, hall, weeks, etc).

    But watching players develop is not all Melvin has been doing--they have also added a number of key players over the past few years via free agency and smart trades. In fact, one could make the argument that the Brewers' success these last few years is due to precisely the approach that I am advocating--build the farm system while at the same time signing free agents or making trades to bring in players who can help improve the major league squad. -j

  5. Justin,

    I believe we agree in principle. Certainly there's nothing wrong with trying to win as many games as possible in any given season. I'm likely overly cautious but my concern is elevated when management sets goals that are unrealistic and beyond the current team's capability.

    Last season was a perfect example. No one who was paying attention thought the Reds were competitors for a division title when they left ST. A combination of a lights-out April and a rash of Cardinal injuries left the divison in play for longer than anyone would have guessed.

    But an examination of the team's Pythag and other peripherals should have lead to the conclusion that team wasn't constructed to be a successful playoff team. Management failed to heed the warnings and made a series of bad decisions in an attempt to win now. And those bad decisions have had a ripple effect into this season. In reality, 2006 has to be viewed as a setback on the road to contention, all because management either lost sight of the long term goal or was never focused on it in the first place.

    A team in the Reds' position should make all decision on the basis of that decision's impact on competing long-term, even if it leads to a less than optimal result in the current season. One hopes that moves can be made that serve both the goal of being constantly competitive and winning as much as possible in the near term. But when those goals diverge, preference must always be given to the long-term goal. I'm very skeptical that either Krivsky or Castellini subscribe to that POV.

  6. I'm very skeptical that either Krivsky or Castellini subscribe to that POV.

    We should have a much better gauge of that in one month. :)

  7. wayne showed so much emotion because he knew he was making a bad decision. narron did the the best job he could, with a team that krivsky was to afraid to work on making better earlier this season. poor krivsky... poor poor krivsky.... I bet he'll regret this for the rest of his life! jerry narron will have an outstanding career and will manage many world champion teams. if the reds knew what was good for them, they'd beg him to come back.

  8. Well, CincinNASTY, you've managed to do it again. You have an uncanny ability to throw out your best and keep your worst. There's a reason why you'll never be a city of champions. What was once will never be again until you humble yourself and acknowledge greatness when you see it. Narron was committed, loyal, and focussed. He had the respect of his team and his peers nation wide. A coach on the 06 all star team, have you guys ever asked why? You say you want leaders, but you don't let them lead. You want to go forward but you keep looking back. If you look back long enough, you'll run into a wall. The world has seen Narron's abilities and they like what they see. The "big name" you're looking for won't have a clue how to make magic with nothing but glue. ;)