The 2003 manager of the Phillies, Larry Boa, said it best. "That's what teams need to do to get to the playoffs, and you can pretty much bank that the Marlins are going to be in the playoffs as the wildcard winner, and its not because they're lucky-it's because they're a really good team", Boa explained.
When then 72-year-old Jack McKeon took over as manager of the Florida Marlins in '03, he claimed he had a very young team with an abundance of talent and potential. At the time he took over, the Fish were 10 games under the .500 mark and 13 games behind in the standings. Now, almost 8 years later, McKeon was again asked to pick the Marlins up from the last place bus stop. Nothing about McKeon had changed, as he pleasantly smoked his cigar prior to his first home game. It didn't take Jack long to make a comparison between the team he was recently asked to take over, and the team he guided to a World Series title.
"I'm seeing some of the same stuff as when I arrived in '03", McKeon stated.
In his first few games, McKeon didn't waste any time displaying his unique managing techniques. He benched his slumping shortstop Hanley Ramirez, because he "didn't seem to be running well the past few games". He walked out to the mound and pointed one finger to the bullpen in the middle of an AB (2-1 the count) when lefty specialist Randy Choate didn't seem to have his best stuff. And lastly, Jack locked up the clubhouse when he realized that some of his players weren't doing what he thought they were supposed to be: Watching the game and learning from it.
Upon McKeon's return to the dugout, many expected that he would successfully be able to turn this team around. And while it seems that in recent days they have had sparks of light, getting decent starting pitching and making contact with runners in scoring position, it is fairly obvious the team McKeon was asked to manage in 2011 is completely different than the one he was asked to take over in 2003. Players all have different styles and approach the game a different way. However, not many positive comparisons can be made between the two teams.
Analyzing the infield is a great place to start. The '03 infield consisted of a young Derrek Lee at first, a speedy Luis Castillo at second, a sure handed shortstop in Alex Gonzalez, and a power hitting Mike Lowell at the hot corner. The 2011 infield is made up of Gaby Sanchez, Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez, and some form of a platoon job at third that primarily features ex-Phillie Greg Dobbs. Defensively, the infields are very similar. They make rare errors and make all of the "not so routine" plays look easy. Offensively is where the differences stand out. Gaby Sanchez is a patient line drive hitter, however Derrek Lee has power and generally makes contact (supported by his .379 OBP). Omar Infante is arguably the best second baseman in terms of fielding, but he is having a rough season at the plate. Luis Castillo, on the other hand, had a .314 BA and a .381 OBP. It is most definitely no secret that Hanley Ramirez is having an off year, however comparing him to Gonzalez in the overall career offensive department would still make him look better. And finally, Mike Lowell had a .530 SLG% in '03, while Dobbs only has two homers all year.
The starting rotations and bullpens are somewhat similar, yet different at the same time. The '03 rotation had Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Mark Redman, and Dontrelle Willis in it. When Josh Johnson is healthy, the front three line up pretty well. Beckett, Pavano, and Penny in contrast to Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez. The end two are the ones that make the big difference. Redman and Willis both had ERA's in the mid-threes throughout the entire season. Chris Volstad and Javier Vazquez have consistently had ERA's in the upper fives so far this year. An improved 2011 bullpen lines up pretty well with the '03 'pen, although most managers will take Leo Nunez over Braden Looper (28 saves in '03).
Lastly, the outfield and catchers of the two teams noticeably differ. In 2003 Todd Hollandsworth, Juan Pierre, and Juan Encarnacion made up the outfield, with batting averages of .254, .305, and .270 respectively. The 2011 outfield consists of young and rising stars such as Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton, who are only sophomores in the big leagues. The men behind the plate are not only expected to manage a pitching staff, but they are also expected to produce some form of offense. In the championship season, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez handled most of the catching while Mike Redmond remained the primary backup. While their play behind the plate may indeed be very similar, the platooning of John Buck and Brett Hayes has produced limited offense this season. Buck, an all-star in 2010, is having a hard time at the plate, and Brett Hayes (the understudy of John Baker) has seen limited playing time.
And so, there you have it. The proof is in the numbers. While comparisons can be made between player's personalities, playing styles, and work ethics, the team Jack McKeon led to a World Series title in 2003 does not have the same make-up and depth as the team McKeon will manage for the remainder of the 2011 season. Analyzing both teams as wholes, consistency is what the Marlins of late lack. Even though Jack will continue to use his significantly unique way of managing, you cannot expect him to do too much: He can only use what he has.
"My job is to get these guys ready to play in a new ballpark next year". Lone and behold, McKeon's role.