This poll was begun at a somewhat conspicuous time, as the Royals were seemingly still fresh off their heels of blowing Opening Day in Chicago, mainly because of a certain relief pitcher that Trey Hillman decided to use in an inappropriate time. Yes, Kyle Farnsworth has drawn boos and jeers throughout the blogosphere, and perhaps for good reason. However, Farnsy has always been a sufficient reliever for noncrucial and middle relief roles. He is precisely not the pitcher to implement with the game on the line. However, stubbornly, Trey Hillman decided to use him in the most critical situation in the game, against a left-handed power hitter who loves right-handed fastball hurlers, and in a hitters' park. Wrong move. Farnsworth promptly blew the Royals' one-run lead, surrendering a 3-run, 440-foot jack to straightaway center. Moves like these typify many managers, who stubbornly ignore statistical evidence and instead act according to their at times irrational gut feelings. Royals manager, especially Tony Pena and Tony Muser, have done this. Damn the splits!
Beyond his implementation of our offseason, $9+MM signee, Trey Hillman has made many questionable moves in his still brief tenure with K.C. He mishandled the rotation and bullpen at times in 2008, using Brett Tomko in crucial situations, using Hideo Nomo early in a middle relief role, refusing to call in Joakim Soria for the save because "he wasn't available", pulling the string too early with Gil Meche, and many more. His overuse of Ross Gload was also a detriment to this ballclub, costing Billy Butler development and forcing Ryan Shealy, who according to the Baseball Analysts' league adjustor, would have performed significantly better than Gload offensively last year had he received as many plate appearances in Kansas City. Shealy's plus-defense also would have provided a greater boost.
Regardless, I gave Hillman a 'D+' for his performance for the season. Mainly, Opening Day in Chicago reinforced my belief that Hillman should not be the "Manager of the Future" for this ballclub. It's unfortunate, and I had such high hopes when Hillman assumed helm in the 2007-8 offseason. I felt he demonstrated a vague open-mindedness toward new-school statistics, understood sample size, and had a formidable reputation, having managed in the New York Yankees' farm system and in Japan. I felt - and still feel - he is a nice guy. However, he probably needed more seasoning in Major League Baseball other than at the managers' helm. Although he didn't implement the small-ball game to an arduous degree last season, Greg Schaum has told me that he loves bunting and the hit-and-run, two grossly outdated forms of strategy, in my opinion. Hillman's handling of the running game was poor, last year, as the Royals stole merely 68% of bases successfully - a net loss of a handful of runs. So the Royals would have been better off not stealing at all in '08. (Actually, I disagree with this number slightly, because it doesn't take situations into consideration, but that's another argument for another time).
As for your responses, the average (median) score was 5.8125, which rounds up to a 'C', which I consider slightly below average (average score is a 'C+', because it's halfway between an 'A+' and an 'F'). Regardless, there were 4 votes for 'F', meaning - as sometimes is the case with home team managers - Hillman has bordered on angering many blogosphere fans, and perhaps (in some situations) rightfully so. Hillman received 1 vote apiece in the 'good' grade categories. Either way, it's food for thought. Our skipper certainly hasn't fared well in his first year with the club. He can improve, but improvement involves refining his tactics in a number of different facets. Notably, in my opinion:
- Using Joakim Soria more liberally and using our better relief pitchers more often in high-leverage situations
- Implementing the running game to a greater degree - notably, stolen base efficiency
- Limiting bunts and hit-and-run to close and late situations, primarily when we're ahead, or in National League parks when pitchers are batting
- Knowing which position players to use and in which times
Obviously, a successful manager not only must use proper tactics in strategy - during in-game decisions - but must provide all those intangibles that separate the Earl Weavers, Whitey Herzogs, and Sparky Andersons from the Tony Musers. He must handle the different personalities accordingly, must provide as a 'leader' in the clubhouse, and must handle practices and drills - notably, those prior to ballgames and during Spring Training - competently. He also must be willing to listen to other coaches on the team, taking their advice and acting accordingly with use of player personnel.
Regardless, it will continue to be an uphill battle for our skipper. I noted previously - and on the 610 AM Royals' postgame show with Robert Ford and Greg Schaum - that the best method of "outperforming the expectations" is distribution of playing time, and perhaps more importantly in some cases, distribution of playing time where it counts. Farnsworth must accumulate more non-high leverage innings, Willie Bloomquist and Tony Pena must be late-inning defensive replacements and, in the case of the former, must receive spot-starts only occasionally. Our best hitters must receive the most plate appearances. And much more.
Interesting poll results. I'm going to continue this as a prominent feature of the blog. Don't be afraid to make your opinions known. Hey, as bloggers and blog-dwellers.....it's usually all we have.