BY Art Thiel 05:18PM 10/09/2015

Thiel: McClendon let himself get run out of job

New GM Jerry Dipoto fired Lloyd McClendon Friday, a predictable event once it was clear McClendon was no more adaptable to new information than was Dipoto’s manager in Anaheim.

Lloyd McClendon salutes the fans prior to his last game as Mariners manager. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Lloyd McClendon probably knew the moment he learned of the firing of general manager  Jack Zduriencik in August that he was done as Mariners manager. Any lingering doubt was made moot by the hire of Zdurinecik’s replacement, Jerry Dipoto, who clashed with his manager in Anaheim, Mike Scioscia, a classmate of McClendon’s in The Old School.

But after his final game Sunday, McClendon still seemed to be lobbying for his job.

He knew well that the postseason was reachable in both of his Seattle years, if for no other reason than the advent of a fifth playoff berth made it attainable with a modest record of seven games above .500. He also chose to make a point that his players played hard for him, thereby indirectly endorsing his ability to motivate.

“They came out and played hard every single day,” he said. “I’m very proud of this club. They gave everything they had. Some days were better than others. I can’t fault the effort.

“I try not to think about what-ifs. (Knowing that) 86-87 wins gets the playoffs is a little frustrating, but there are no regrets.”

In those words were the explanation of the sinking of McClendon’s tenure, at least as it relates to what is valued in baseball today.

Playing hard is a good thing, but not playing hard virtually is career suicide for every big league player who is average or less, which is most of the Mariners roster. As much as some managers and many fans believe otherwise, the intensity that a player brings to a 162-game season is strictly under the control of the player.

The manager may be responsible for getting a player to play a little better, but harder? No. The season is too long and the money is too much and too hard to get to long indulge a lollygagger. No credit is given, then, for big leaguers playing hard. It’s a requirement.

As to McClendon’s frustration at being left out of the playoffs, it is understandable, particularly given the parity in the American League. But injuries and poor production from key players aside, McClendon had under his control multiple small aspects that could have been difference-makers in a season when the Mariners were so close to winning a lot more often — they had club-record and major league-high 23 extra-inning games, and 27 of their defeats came in the opponents’ last at-bat, also a major league high.

Here’s a single example: Baserunning.

The Mariners’ lineup included a lot of Zduriencik-favored brawny types ill-suited to steal a base, advance to third from first on a single, or score from third on a medium fly ball. Yet there seemed to be a perpetual green light under McClendon. For a roster hard-pressed for much of the season to create baserunners, squandering such a valuable asset was inexcusable.

The Mariners attempted 114 stolen bases, and were caught 45 times, a success rate of 60.53 percent. That was 29th in MLB. The only team worse? You guessed it — the Angels under Scioscia at 60.47.

Bad baserunning was not the worst problem in a lackluster season. It can’t be proven that 10 outs saved with smart baserunning would have produced another half-dozen victories. But the Mariners ran themselves out of numerous games, which is something that McClendon could have controlled. He failed to give his team the best chance to win.

That’s what Dipoto believes advanced analytics can do. The stolen-base failure rate isn’t advanced analytics; it’s merely obvious. But information about runner/pitcher/catcher tendencies is valuable. The information is simply a tool, not voodoo, that quantifies performances and offers predictive outcomes. Dipoto understands its value. McClendon does not.

That’s why Dipoto offered his surprisingly candid explanation for firing McClendon Friday despite a winning record of 163-161: “After extensive conversations it became clear to me that our baseball philosophies were not closely aligned,” the club release quoted him as saying.

Dipoto did not want a repeat of his experience with Scioscia, who won the Anaheim argument when owner Arte Moreno sided with his 16-year manager. He wants a manager who will work with the more granular information now available to put the Mariners in the best position to win.

Adapting is not easy. The amount of information available for each key situation can be overwhelming. But with MLB pitching so dominant and run production down, every at-bat, every baserunner is more important than they were 10 years ago.

The game has grown too strategically intense to rely upon a three-run homer to fix things.

“At what turned out to be his final presser, McClendon said another curious thing, referencing the Mariners’ backslide from 87 wins to 76.

“Sometimes when you’re on the verge of winning, most clubs take a step back,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Such things have happened. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to prevent it, in part by using every available tool. As baseball is again showing in the playoffs with the ouster of the 98-win Pirates, and World Series favorite Toronto down 0-2 to the Texas Rangers, margins are excruciatingly thin.

Baseball remains a fluky sort of game because it is put in motion by a round club striking a round object. The potential outcomes may seem endless, but they aren’t. After more than 100 years of data at everyone’s disposal, the key is to learn a little more than the other team about potential outcomes.

The data helps instruct about one’s own team too. If a roster is full of slow guys, it’s good to know to hold ’em. Otherwise you fold ’em until next year.


  • jafabian

    i feel bad for Lloyd. He never had a stable roster for a month until September and then they started to play well until the last week and a half. Since Lou left only Bob Melvin and Jim Riggleman have gotten a managerial job elsewhere and Riggleman only got it because he took over after Manny Acta was dismissed and did not return the following season. Getting fired from the M’s seems to be the end for managerial careers.

    Dipoto has been touted as a Sabermetrics disciple and that’s the trend nowadays however that needs to be balanced with the long time established methods. When Theo Epstein ran the Red Sox he had a checks and balance system, having Bill Lajoie (the Tigers former GM and long time scout) working with the team in addition to having stat geeks working behind the scenes. Sure the old timers need to get with the times but those old school methods have worked for decades for a reason.

    As fun as it is to gather around the hot stove and play GM the biggest problem with the team is that they don’t know how to win. Last season none of them stood up (at least publicly IIRC) and said “It’s time to go for it. We’re going for the playoffs and nothing is gonna stop us!” At best they were saying how they were taking things a game at a time. Are there players here willing to throw at a Cal Ripken and trigger a brawl? Anyone who will tell people “Screw the wild card, we’re gonna take the division!” Anyone who can hit a walk off home run when it’s needed? Did the expectations cause them to wilt? Of the 2015 roster only Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano know the pressure of a pennant race. And with Cano he had teammates like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera taking the heat off of him. To their credit, no player or coach pointed fingers publicly during their disappointing season but no one other than Lloyd and the coaches came forward and said things need to change either. I’d like to see the players play with some fire in the belly. Gut out a win. Been awhile since I’ve seen that, though I think I saw a bit of that with Seager when he got into it with Jered Weaver. That needs to come out more.

    • art thiel

      Dipoto must have used the word “balanced” five times in his opening presser regarding old school scouting and analytics. No smart GM would do otherwise.

      Regarding knowing how to win, I don’t believe words have much influence. It’s about talent. Once the Royals and Astros had talent, suddenly they “learned” how to win.

  • Sam Base

    Listen (that was for Lloyd)…….Lloyd was a so-so manager on a so-so team and that’s what happens to so-so managers on so-so teams. They get walking papers. Next, somebody will fly in here with high hopes and high-sounding words and we’ll all eat it up and then the season will roll and we’ll all wonder what the hell happened. Well, that’s what USUALLY happens here in good old Seattle. I’ve heard change is good. I can only wonder.

    • art thiel

      Sam, that’s what happens in every city when teams don’t win. There’s nothing unique about Seattle in that regard. Granted 4 playoff teams in 38 seasons is paltry. But the Cubs have been without a WS title for more than a hundred years.

  • Jeff Shope

    no manager worth a crap is going to work for a stat geek GM who wants to meddle in day to day on field decisions and then blame the field manager when it goes wrong.

    • art thiel

      So 20th century . . .

  • Lodowick

    You have to believe that Dipoto may lean toward a disciplinarian as far as field management is concerned. A balanced disciplinarian? I’m not sure what that might look like. A Pinella that didn’t get in the face of upper management?

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  • Will Ganschow

    I actually thought McClendon was lobbying for his next job. That said I’m not a big fan of this game that requires an advanced degree in statistical analysis. Playing it by intuition and creativity is what I came up on. Miss those days.