I’ve defended John Gibbons for a while. I’m of the opinion that some managers are bad at their jobs, some are extraordinary, but most are just there – not having a huge impact on their teams either way. Until this season, I’ve put Gibbons into that last category. He did some things well, and some things poorly, but they seemed to even out over the course of a six month season. Recently, however, I’ve taken a 180 degree turn and have no faith in Gibbons at all, thinking he is part of that first group of managers who actively hurt their ball clubs.
This season hasn’t started out well for Gibbons. First, he made the peculiar decision to stick Kevin Pillar in the leadoff spot despite all evidence suggesting he should do something else. Predictably, the man notorious for swinging at anything thrown at him struggled immensely in that role, batting .188/.235/.271 in his 12 games in the leadoff position before being demoted back to the bottom of the lineup. Gibbons then inserted Michael Saunders into the top of the lineup where he has thrived, batting .310/.375/.448 in seven games played. However, the results here don’t actually matter; the process is most important, and the process was flawed from the start. When the player with a career walk percentage of 3.9% (defined by the FanGraphs glossary as worse than awful) was put into a position where he had to see pitches and get on base, something went wrong.
Then, there was the dress controversy. A manager is at his best when he doesn’t make the news, and “Gibby” has failed at that this season for much more than his shoddy bullpen management. He became the topic of conversation when he couldn’t control his tongue after a Blue Jays controversial loss a few weeks ago, saying, “maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow.” That was bad enough, but it was at least a heat of the moment slip. However, when given the opportunity to apologize the next day, he doubled down and told everybody to ‘lighten up’. Instead of apologizing and trying his best to make sure the stories surrounding the team were about baseball, he couldn’t give up his pride, and did the wrong thing. Again.
Then there has been John Gibbons’ actual on field management, which is the easiest part of his job to dissect. It could just be recency bias, but it feels like there have been a lot more opportunities to second guess the manager this season than in years past. There are too many examples to run through them all, but if you have been following the team, you’ve surely seen a few of them. However, Wednesday night’s game was the final straw, and the reason I am writing this piece, so let’s break down exactly what happened.
Marco Estrada was throwing a gem, but the Blue Jays could not do anything on the offensive side of the ball. After six innings, Estrada had thrown 90 pitches, and the score was still 0-0. The obvious move here was to keep him in for the seventh, right? 90 pitches is a lot, but still a small enough total that Estrada should have been able to pitch one more inning. On most nights, that would be right, but yesterday Estrada was seen grabbing his right shoulder throughout the game – between pitches, between batters, and in the dugout. A pitcher with a sore shoulder should have his night ended at 90 pitches, if not before, let alone one who has just recently recovered from a back injury. Instead, John Gibbons kept Marco Estrada in the game, and he promptly gave up two runs by allowing three of the first five batters to reach base. That would end up being all the White Sox needed to win, as they wound up taking the game 4-0.
It’s not the loss that is at issue though. Estrada threw 118 pitches on a night where his shoulder was pretty clearly bothering him. Maybe part of why that happened would seem to be because Gibbons didn’t want to go to the bullpen. As you probably noticed, they’ve been rather poor lately. Unfortunately, that would be another example of Gibbons trusting a small sample of data because of its recency, rather than opting for the conventional move.
That may not be the reason though, as John Gibbons apparently didn’t even know that Estrada’s shoulder was hurting him.
Gibbons "didn't know anything about" Estrada rubbing his shoulder. Marco said "it didn't feel good, don't wanna talk about it". Getting odd.
— Joel Gallant (@SportsCamDude) April 28, 2016
What? How could a manager not know that his pitcher was hurting? Estrada even came out late for the start of an inning because he was being treated in the clubhouse. Joel is right. It is odd. That’s something a manager needs to know. Now perhaps Gibbons did know and is simply choosing not to discuss it with reporters. But if that’s the case he is not excused; he is simply negligent instead of ignorant, neither of which is a good quality for a man at the helm of a major league baseball team.
Overall, it seems like nothing has gone right for John Gibbons this season. The process behind his bullpen management has been poor, his lineup construction has been questionable at best, and it seems he’s lacking some basic communication with his players. Then, in addition to everything on the field, he created a story and refused to end it by doubling down and not apologizing.
I doubt that firing John Gibbons is a cure all. That won’t fix the Blue Jays relievers allowing everybody and their uncle to score. But maybe it would lead to the relievers being put into better positions where they can succeed. And it won’t stop the Blue Jays from striking out at historical levels. But it might lead to a change in approach by some players, and that could get this offense back to where it should be.
Josh Donaldson is right; this the “get it done league,” not the the “try” league. But in order for something to get done, you have to try first. Maybe it’s time to try somebody new at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Lead Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports