Listen up, kiddies. Gather ‘round the campfire for a tale of bone-chilling terror. It’s Halloween, after all.
And this story is a real one. One that is truly terrifying.
It involves an interview that MLB Radio did the other day with Jim Leyland.
You could tell right away, even if you didn’t come in at the beginning of the interview, that it was Leyland. Strong voice, little patience, telling-it-like-it-is.
You just couldn’t tell if his impatience was due to his normal approach to the sport or if the question posed to him had ticked him off.
He was asked by two former-GMs-turned analysts to talk about all the players he used to manage who were now in the World Series. And oh, by the way, they referred to these players as the guys who couldn’t win it under Leyland.
As if we needed reminding.
But then the conversation turned to analytics and that’s when I started screaming.
It appears that Leyland doesn’t like analytics. No real surprise. But you then hear just how much he dislikes the new way of thinking. He spent almost 10 minutes trashing them.
So much for teaching an old dog new tricks. The man’s not buying into them at all.
In-between my screams, I heard him say that analytics……
– are no different from what he did as a manager.
– don’t work at all unless you have a good team.
And in the same interview, Leyland also mentioned the importance of hiring a manager who has actual coaching or managing experience. An interesting little twist here. Wouldn’t you like to know whether this belief was cemented before or after Brad Ausmus was hired?
He went on to say that the Analytics Department people were trying to educate him on the topic. He said they told him analytics work – and he laughed at their declaration. He also noted that he just attended his first ever analytics meeting. JL, should we need reminding, has been a “special assistant” for 5 years and only now just getting his intro.
So now the question to ask is how can a team have employees who don’t buy into the organization’s system and philosophy? We’re not talking disagreements on some secondary points. We’re talking about people who don’t buy into an idea one little bit.
How can Al Avila say that they are fully committed to building a solid analytics department and yet have a top employee who scoffs at the strategy? An employee who resists the concept and won’t voluntarily be part of it? How can everyone possibly work towards the same goal?
Make no mistake, JL may be a “special assistant” with a publicly vague job description, but he is front and center on most major decisions.
Ron Gardenhire told us last year that he had a standing appointment every morning with Leyland during spring training to discuss the roster and player performance. And the fact that this was being required of a veteran manager raises a few eyebrows. The same veteran manager, btw, who wasn’t allowed to hire more than half his coaching staff.
If you go down to Lakeland, you will see Jim everywhere. He may no longer be manager but he’s still acting like one – or at least like an assistant general manager.
And if you watched the MLB draft this past summer, JL’s influence was seen there, too. A camera panned the Tigers’ “war room” and showed Al Avila sitting front and center. To his immediate left was Chris Ilitch. And to his immediate right was Jim Leyland. Not Dave Littlefield.
It was a snapshot of Avila’s two closest confidants in the selection process.
Are you screaming yet?
A man with so much influence, a man with so many fingers in the pie.
A man who is so behind the times. A man who is still living and believing in the strategies he employed when he was a manager decades ago. A man who is helping make decisions. Make no mistake about it.
Given his front-and-center visibility, which side does Al Avila take when the analytics department wants to implement a new strategy – and JL disses it in front of others? Does this become a one-step-forward, two-steps back dance?
The Tigers don’t have time for dancing. As it is, they need to move at warp speed in order to catch up with what the rest of baseball is doing.
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