We are unable to truly quantify what a manager brings to the table. There is not a statistic today that definitively measures the quality of a certain Houston Astros manager.
A major league manager has to be examined by numerous factors that are either both tangible and intangible. Jumping to one conclusion one way or another too soon is a slippery slope to venture down.
And when a team misses the postseason, like the 2016 Houston Astros, one of the first reactions is to blame the manager.
However, should Astros manager A.J. Hunch get a fair portion of the blame? And if so, is it enough to warrant his dismissal?
In a way all major league managers deserve blame. Managers are humans like you and me. Mistakes are bound to happen. Their mistakes are magnified due to the nature of the job. And there are various miscues that all managers seem to make that involve pitching management and lineup construction.
Hinch’s pitching management, especially in regards to workload and usage, has been called into question at times over the past two seasons. There were times that it did seem that Hinch was too late in making a pitching change that could’ve saved the day for the Astros.
The lineup construction was also met with moderate confusion throughout the season, especially during the first half. Not shaking up the batting order and adjusting to specific player splits (see Evan Gattis at catcher) did not do the Astros any favors in the first six or so weeks of the season. And we found out that games early in the season truly do matter.
However, pushing for Hinch’s firing as the Astros manager is premature and quite frankly doesn’t make much sense in the present.
First, the Astros have achieved winning records in Hinch’s first two seasons as manager. The 2005-06 Astros was the last time that the team posted back-to-back winning seasons. In the proper context that is noticeable progress for the Astros. Competing in September is the next best thing to playing baseball well into October.
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And what kind of message would that send to not only the current Astros and future Astros if your team is willing to dump their most successful manager since Phil Garner? Don’t forget that in between Garner and Hinch was Cecil Cooper, Dave Clark, Brad Mills, Tony DeFrancesco, Bo Porter and Tom Lawless.
Well, simply not a good one. For a franchise that is accused of being heartless at times, the act of dismissing Hinch now would only reenforce that notion. Heck, Hinch was a candidate for AL Manager of the Year just last winter.
There were also plenty of factors outside of Hinch’s control, which limited his options in the lineup and pitching staff.
In fact, individual player regression appear to be the primary culprit this season.
Then the injuries, oh, the injuries. Bum shoulders, arms, and hamstrings became a constant for the Astros this season. Losing Lance McCullers, Luis Valbuena, and Alex Bregman for important stretches of the schedule was detrimental.
In light of these issues, the Astros still somehow managed to achieve a winning record. And staying competitive into the final weekend is a better place than the team was a few years ago.
Those positive results can be partly attributed to Hinch and his management style. He provides the leadership needed for a young team while allowing the players to be themselves. That combination has worked well so far, and until proven otherwise, it may be wise to stick with it.
At the end of the day, Hinch may not be the best manager in baseball. But he is definitely far from the worse. And that is why keeping him around for the foreseeable future is a smart idea.