September 26, 2017
Dear Mr. Alderson,
While coming back from classes today, a friend of mine sent me some Twitter information that confirmed most baseball fans’ previous suspicions: you’re going to be looking for a new manager of the New York Mets for next season. Among your list of candidates, according to sources, is Robin Ventura. Considering how much White Sox baseball I watched over Ventura’s tenure here as the White Sox manager, I thought I would reflect on Ventura’s managerial stint in order to help you make your decision.
In the age of sabermetrics, Ventura was described as “an old-school manager with an open-mindedness towards sabermetrics” when he was hired by the White Sox, a positive mix in character traits for a manager. During his tenure with the Sox, Ventura had a 375-435 record. Yes, this looks bad, but I urge you to first look at the lineup the White Sox ran out on Opening Day from 2012-2016, each of the five years Ventura was the manager:
Sure, the White Sox said they would be competitive in each of those seasons, and obviously some changes would be made to the lineup by mid-season, but honestly, as a Sox fan, I look back at those lineups, laugh, and wonder how Ventura found a way to win 375 games in 5 years. Robin was a well-liked guy – and still is – among White Sox players, front office staff, and fans (even if many are still bitter over his managerial career). He is an even-keeled guy – sometimes to the point of annoyance for some fans – but when he lost it, he REALLY lost it (see: @SF Giants). No one can question his loyalty to his players or the fan base, and as a former player, it’s obvious that he knows baseball and can relate to the day-to-day life of his players.
However, there are parts of Ventura’s managerial style that need to be called into question. His most notable flaw on the South Side was his long leash with his starting pitchers, which certainly could pose issues for your injury-plagued but talented rotation arms Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Jacob DeGrom. However, with the DH not an option in the NL, Robin should be forced to go to his bullpen earlier, simply based on the pitcher’s spot in the lineup and the game situation. This brings me to Robin’s next failing as a manger: lineup construction. We’ve seen some bad lineups on the South Side solely because of below average players, but having Alexei Ramirez with his .300 OBP and diminishing speed batting 2nd, along with Ventura’s experiment of having José Abreu bat 2nd are two critical errors a manager simply should not make (I can’t be too critical of Ventura’s lineups, however, because for awhile Ricky Renteria ran out a different lineup every game early this season). However, these things take time to perfect, and while Ventura didn’t make many drastic changes to his style over his 5-year tenure, I believe a change in league – along with the perspective he gained – will benefit him.
I would be failing to address the clear “elephant in the room” if I didn’t mention the clubhouse problems under Ventura. In just one season, the White Sox saw their ace sent home hours before he pitched for cutting up the team’s jerseys and a retirement that turned into national headlines for days (apparently, the White Sox’ old mantra “The Kids Can Play” wasn’t in effect for Drake LaRoche). I’m not sure what type of egos you have in your clubhouse, but judging by the fact that Terry Collins allowed Matt Harvey to start on three days’ rest simply because Harvey wanted to, I’m going to assume there are some big egos in New York. While neither of these player meltdowns are directly related to Robin’s managing style (as the issues from these players were directed towards the front office), his ability to keep big egos in check should be questioned.
Finally, I have to question Ventura’s ability to handle the pressures of late season – and potential postseason – success. During his most successful season with the White Sox in 2012, Ventura saw his team spend 126 days in first place, but fall 3 games short of the division title by the end of September. While this was the first season for Ventura as manager, it is his only track record for managing a team’s late season success, and it ended in a late season collapse. While this isn’t a reason to doubt Ventura, it is worth questioning how he would handle your Mets late in September and into the postseason.
If I were making this decision, I would first consider the path you are planning on taking over the next few seasons. If you are planning to rebuild, I don’t think Ventura is your answer. There are other managers who are better suited to play a mentor role to help develop young players. However, if you are planning on building a competitive team by actually spending big money this off-season or next, I would consider giving Ventura the nod as manager. He has previous experience, is a good clubhouse man, and has proven that, while faulted, he can manage at the big league level.
By no means am I saying he will prove to be the best person for the job, but baseball is a game of second chances. I’m not quick to judge a first-time manager with no previous coaching experience. Ventura was a victim of poor circumstances on the South Side, and while it was clear he was no longer the man for the job after 2016, the problems began with the uncertainty surrounding the White Sox’ position going into each season.
However, if you do choose to go with Ventura, start with a shorter contract. Your leash should be much shorter for him than the White Sox’ was, simply because this is his second chance. If he proves worthy of a long-term deal, this White Sox fan would be happy for him.
All the Best,