The baseball analytics revolution has caused a significant rift between "old school" and "new school" baseball people that has seemingly seeped down to the relationship of many coaching staffs and front offices. Such was the case when the Houston Astros dismissed their manager Bo Porter this September, less than two years after he was hired. While nearly all front offices have become more modern in their instillation of analytics, many have still fallen victim to the practice of hiring old school managers and coaches hesitant to fully buy into new analytics. On Monday, the Astros made progress in righting the ship by hiring the paramount new-age managerial fit in A.J. Hinch.
Disconnect between managers and front offices have been troublesome for many around the league for a while now. It seems quite counterproductive for a front office to assemble a team based on certain analytical principles, only to hand over the reins to a manager with many philosophical differences with the aforementioned principles. Assembling a front office that could pass for a Wall Street firm is impractical when the information gathered by said analysts was checked at the door come game time. While sabermetrics have revolutionized roster construction, in-game tactics seem relatively untouched.
Of course, the obvious solution to poor tacticians would be replacing them with analysts well-versed in efficient game management. However, the fact still remains that a countless number of people within the game -- namely players --have yet to buy into new-age ideas spawned by analytics. Installing a thoroughbred analyst into the dugout and expecting him to lead and motivate 25 male athletes every night is completely unfeasible. So we come to an impasse, one that many front offices have undoubtedly met, as we search for a manager who is a competent tactician as well as a respected leader of men.
Insert A.J. Hinch. Bo Porter's termination was clearly the result of poor communication between the Astros front office and the coaching staff. Intuitively, the best way to solve such communication problems is to hire a manager familiar with experience in both fields. Hinch served nearly three years in the Diamondbacks front office as director player development and nearly four years as assistant general manager of the Padres. In between the two tenures in the front office, Hinch accrued 212 games of managerial experience. To close the gap between the coaching staff and the front office, the Astros hired someone who walked in the shoes of both an executive and a manager.
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Yet Hinch is such a perfect fit, for the simple reason that he played in the major leagues. He caught for eight seasons in the big leagues, where he experienced many of the common big league hardships such as being traded and released. The entire reason that many current players discredit sabermetrics is that a seemingly large majority of analysts have little playing experience. A manager who has played baseball at the highest level and is open to sabermetric ideas is imperative for getting players to buy into the ides spawned by the front office.
Hinch is seemingly the prototype for modern managers. A front office background will help fluidize the communication between the coaching staff and front office. Both his degree in psychology and background in player development will help his understanding player psyche and growth. That, coupled with his playing career in the big leagues, qualifies him to lead a clubhouse. Hinch is essentially the full package. A manager who knows how a front office works can comprehend new-age ideas in terms of tact, all while accruing experience in a big league clubhouse is quite ideal for the new aged manager. This is the same reason that most revere Joe Maddon as the best manager in the game.
The Astros-Hinch marriage could be revolutionary in the direction of managerial hiring. We are beginning to see an era in which front offices are attempting to hire a widely assorted array of baseball operations analysts. Diversification within a baseball operations department has become vital to the continuation of the sabermetric revolutions. Teams are hiring Wall Street analysts, neuroscientists, and internet writers in attempt to broaden the organizational skillset. It's only natural that we are going begin to see the hiring of managers with diverse backgrounds. Guys such as Gabe Kapler, Brian Bannister, and Manny Acta would almost assuredly be open-minded managers that fit this mold.
The Hinch hiring is a flawless plan on paper. Yet we are still talking about an organization that seems to be an experiment. The Astros have become the poster child for analytics, parading their open-mindedness around almost garishly. The experiment has been polarizing thus far, drawing the ire of many who wish the team would be just a little more ... normal. Of course, their hiring of Bo Porter seemed quite normal at the time, and it turned out to be a poor fit. Hinch is a manager who has a diverse background, similar to many of the members of the Astros front office. There will assuredly be people rooting for Hinch to fail, just as Josh Byrnes says there were in San Diego in 2009. Hinch did indeed post an 89-123 record in his last tenure as manager, and this could blow up in the face of the Astros similar to a number of their other decisions.
Still, the risk is worth it with A.J. Hinch. The Astros are hiring a manager with distinct knowledge that is crucial in understanding today's game. Nearly every front office has fully embraced analytics, and it is now manager's turns to do the same. Guys like Joe Maddon, Mike Scioscia, and Clint Hurdle have made themselves valuable by opening their mind to these new ideas, a skill that will likely be a prerequisite for a managerial position. The Astros made their move hiring a manager who fits the template of a new aged manager, hopefully opening the market to analytically-inclined managers. Your move, Twins and Rangers.