Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Should the Royals have hired Buck Showalter

Texas Rangers: 69-54
KC Royals: 44-78

The Rangers today find themselves 15 games over .500 while the Royals are 34 games below .500. In May of 2002, Royals GM Allard Baird finally and mercifully fired Tony Muser. The choice for the new manager of the Royals was between Buck Showalter and Tony Pena. Showalter, then an analyst on ESPN, openly lobbied for the KC job. Baird chose Pena.

Showalter's resume looked great. 7 years of managerial experience, having built the Diamondbacks from expansion team to the division championship. Yet Baird, citing chemistry and Pena's ability to motivate young players, chose the unproven, rookie manager (following other unproven rookie managers Bob Boone and Tony Muser). The Royals went on to their first 100 loss season.

In 2003, the Royals jumped out to a great start, winning more games than they should have. After those first few weeks of the season, things evened out and though the Royals finished over .500, they didn't play .500 ball the rest of the season. And of course, we all know what's happened in 2004.

So as we look back, the obvious question is this: Should the Royals have hired Showalter instead of Pena? Obviously, there is no way to definitively answer that question. However, I think it is important to compare how the two have done with similar talent.

Showalter has a reputation for being a tough manager, perhaps one who isn't afraid to openly criticize a player or an organization. In Pena's "We Believe" tenure, nary a negative word has come from his mouth. Did Baird choose a "yes man?" Was Baird afraid of what might happen if he had a strong presence in the manager's job?

Of course, the Royals have been decimated by injuries this year (Sweeney, the last standing non-pitcher from the Opening Day roster, is going on the DL today), so it's hard to say what might have been this year. But it is clear that Pena's managing abilities are not up to par. He loves to bunt away precious outs in early innings. He often yanks pitchers who are doing well, while leaving pitchers who are getting killed out there way too long. The relievers never know what role they have. And too often, utility infielders are playing outfield positions.

So Pena's strength is to motivate young players and stress fundamentals. How do you explain Berroa's lapse that led him from his 2003 Rookie of the Year season to his demotion to AA a couple of weeks ago? How do you explain that the Royals have the most errors in the AL? What exactly has Pena done this year that makes one think that he is definitively the person to lead this team?

Meanwhile, Showalter's Rangers are just a game out of the AL Wild Card spot.

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