Last week, we heard that the Miami Marlins have already looked into replacement candidates for current manager Dan Jennings, who is likely to either return to a front office role or be scapegoated out of the organization entirely by the end of the year. The team is looking for someone with past experience, which is understandable given they supposedly failed with someone with minimal experience (Mike Redmond) before this. They certainly would like someone other than Jennings, who in recent weeks has seemingly fallen out of favor with the organization as a whole.
There have been several managerial names to come up, but one that actually received an interview is former Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta. Last week, we discussed how Acta might be a good choice for reasons related to the team's Hispanic connections.
He would instantly be able to connect with some of the players and be able to communicate with them effectively, which is always necessary for a good clubhouse atmosphere. Acta would also be a younger manager in comparison with some of the other men holding the same position around the league.
Acta is from the Domincan Republic, the same country as Marlins players like Marcell Ozuna, Jose Urena, and Kendry Flores, all names who could play significant roles in the 2016 team. Acta's ability to speak Spanish will naturally be a boon to a roster that has plenty of players who primarily speak Spanish. These sorts of connections are more personal than would usually be allowed with non-Hispanic managers who have to use some of their other coaches to connect with their talent.
But Acta is not just a Hispanic former manager who matches the team's need for experience and cultural connection. Acta is also one of the more progressive-thinking managers in baseball. During his time with both Cleveland and Washington, he highlighted various thoughts on sabermetrics and was praised by blogging circles as a progressive thinker. Take, for example, Ben Lindbergh's piece for Baseball Prospectus after the Indians fired Acta at the end of 2012.
Acta has talked about reading Baseball Prospectus and mentioned Mind Game as his favorite book. He stressed the importance of preserving outs as opposed to sacrifice bunting. He valued efficiency in stealing, and he said strikeouts weren’t so bad. He understood how to properly leverage relievers. He referred to BABIP by its acronym. He was, by all accounts, us, but with a better personality and experience as a professional player and big-league coach.
Many managers pay lip service to saber-savvy strategies just after they’re hired. When they get to the dugout, they go by their gut. But Acta’s teams walk the (unintentional) walk. Nothing annoys the average blogger more than a sacrifice bunt, but Cleveland fans haven't had much cause for complaint. Acta’s Indians have attempted 15 fewer this season than the next-most sac-averse team. They’ve issued the ninth-fewest intentional walks. And while we can’t necessarily attribute the platoon advantage to Acta, Indians batters have faced same-handed pitchers in a lower percentage of their plate appearances than any other team.
Acta utilized his relievers more often in order to spare his starting pitchers fatigue and to get better platoon matchups. He avoided using the intentional walk and sacrifice bunt, saving it for the most opportune moments. This shows that Acta is not only a guy who has had previous experience, but he is someone who is knowledgeable not just about the clubhouse aspect of managing, but also of the intellectual side of the game. As mentioned above, he would appear to bring the best of all worlds to the table.
Why do the Marlins need this? The team desperately needs something like this because the roster is already low on elite talent. Yes, the Marlins have a strong backbone of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Jose Fernandez, and Dee Gordon may even be considered a strong piece heading into next season. However, the team has just as many question marks almost everywhere else on the roster, and the odds are low that Miami will pull off a favorable offseason move to improve the team without taking away from other sections of the roster. Any manager would be strapped with a tough roster to work with and would need to squeeze every bit of value out of the team. To do that, utilizing sabermetric principles would be useful. Every out and every base will likely be important to this Marlins team, and Acta seems like the man who would value that more than some of the other available candidates.
This is not to say that Acta comes without flaws. He does own one of the worst records among managers who have coached as many games as he has. No matter how you slice that, it is a difficult thing to swallow. But much of Acta's career has been unfortunately tied to poor teams. He took over the 2007 Washington Nationals team, a roster made up of almost zero starting pitchers worth anything and one growing star in Ryan Zimmerman. The roster only got worse as the next two seasons set in before Acta was fired. He was the unfortunate victim of the circumstances that led to the Nationals' revival with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
With Cleveland, he suffered similar problems, as he inherited a roster after the trades of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, the two remaining stars of the last Indians playoff team. The one remaining star, Grady Sizemore, last had a successful, healthy campaign in 2009, after which he never returned to form. He was left with the scraps of that roster, including the prospects in both deals who never developed into stars. This left Acta with three seasons of difficulty, even though he got the team near .500 in 2011.
Acta has never had a great landing spot, and one could argue that the Marlins in 2016 might represent the best initial roster he ever inherited. There is no question the team has stars, but could Acta be the one to get value out of them? It is impossible to say for sure, but his reputation as both a clubhouse leader and a knowledgeable man gives him a better chance than others. He would be a fine choice.