General Red Sox

The Buck Went There

Buck Showalter had some… odd things to say about Theo Epstein and Derek Jeter.

He criticized what he described as Jeter's "always jumping back from balls just off the plate." Um, OK. 

Then he ripped into Epstein:

"I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay [Rays]," Showalter told Men's Journal, according to the Record. "You got Carl Crawford 'cause you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter? That's why I like whipping their butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us?'"

Let's get the obvious factual errors out of the way: No team in baseball is projected to have a $205 million payroll this year, and the Sox will come in a good deal lower, around $160 million, essentially tied for third. And Buck Showalter hasn't credibly whipped the Red Sox' butts since he managed the Yankees in 1995. He was 15-21 against Boston as manager of the Rangers from 2003-06 and 3-3 against them as manager of the Orioles last year. 

Nevertheless, I think we can all agree — heck, Epstein certainly does — that having a large payroll certainly helps Epstein in many ways. He can make a bad signing (Julio Lugo, Mike Lowell) and not have it substantially affect how he constructs the rest of the team. He can sign multiple big-name free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford), and he can trade for big-name players with the intention of extending them for big money (Adrian Gonzalez). Any GM can make a bad signing, sign a big-name free agent or have greater flexibility to trade for a big star approaching free agency if they have enough money.

But Epstein didn't need a "$205 million payroll" to sign David Ortiz, to nix trading Kevin Youkilis or to draft Dustin Pedroia (or Daniel Bard or Clay Buchholz or Jonathan Papelbon). He didn't need John Henry's millions to turn Nomar Garciaparra into Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts or Manny Ramirez into Jason Bay. And no amount of money would have allowed him to trade for Gonzalez without the prospects he drafted and developed.

After all, the Sox' projected 2011 payroll is in the same ballpark as two other teams — the Phillies and the Mets — who are not expected to be as good (though the Phillies will certainly be very good) in 2011. It's not all that much ahead of the Angels, the team he outmaneuvered to sign Crawford, and a team many expect to be significantly worse this year.

Not that Theo Epstein needs me to defend him. But let's say Buck Showalter is completely correct in his implication that Epstein is nothing without Henry's millions, that he's a mediocre GM who lucked into the ideal situation. 

  1. 1994: (100-62), 1st
  2. 1999: 100-62, 9th
  3. 1995: (89-73), 1st
  4. 2004: 89-73, 17th
  5. 1993: 88-74, 3rd
  6. 2000: 85-77, 5th
  7. 2006: 80-82, 18th
  8. 2005: 79-83, 22nd
  9. 1992: 76-86, 9th
  10. 2003: 71-91, 5th
  11. 1998: 65-97, 21st

That's Buck Showalter's career as a manager, ranked from most successful season to least, together with where his team ranked in payroll. Note that five of his best six seasons occurred for teams that ranked in the top 10 in payroll. Only once did he manage a team in the bottom half of the league in payroll to a winning record, while twice he had a top-10 payroll team with a losing record.

Showalter averaged 87 wins with teams in the top 10 in payroll, a decent if frankly unimpressive number, and 78 wins with teams in the bottom half, also a decent number. (I prorated the winning percentages from 1994-95 into 162-game seasons.)

So it seems a little strange for Showalter, who has unquestionably benefited in his career from managing teams with large payrolls and seen firsthand that having a large payroll does not guarantee success to be criticizing the general manager of a team with a large payroll for being successful at his job. If Epstein is nothing more than a product of his payroll, then what is Showalter?

28 replies on “The Buck Went There”

Funny comment from Peter Abraham about this situation:
“Amusing offshoot of Showalter’s comments will be when he gets booed at home by all the #RedSox and #Yankees fans at Camden Yards.”

I think he’s just saying those things to try and get some press in the AL East…careful what you wish for Buck.
He’s still sore over being let go right before the dynasty stating winning.

I think you’re missing the point of Showalter’s comments Paul. He is known to be a very good motivator of players. To me his comments are meant for one purpose and one purpose only – get the Orioles to believe that they can contend with the big gorillas in their division by taking shots at some things that are sacred (Jeter’s on-field performance and Epstein’s backroom-skills) and projecting an attitude that is not only not intimidated by the big payrolls of the Sox and Yankees but welcomes them as a challenge that maks beating them all that much sweeter.
If I were a fan of the Orioles or a player, I would love it and it is not very different from the approach of Rex Ryan, Pat Reilly, Bill Parcells, or other gifted motivators who have helped teams that were either under-manned/lesser-talented or tha tjust suffered from years of a culture of losing to punch above their weight and turn things around.
As for looking at whether Buck is just as “lucky” as Epstein in terms of being a product of the resources at his disposal, I think this too is sort of irrelevant, though I’m thankful to you for the work you did to reflect success vs. payroll during his career, which is interesting. He never said “I’m better than Epstein”. He challenged the conventional wisdom that Epstein is a boy-genius GM. Showalter does not have that same reputation (though he is respected for getting a lot out of the talent he has) and so I don’t think taking him down a notch really addresses the point he was making.
But the bigger issue is the first one – this is about motivating his team, taking pressure off of them while also encouraging them to embrace the substantial challenge of competing in this divisio – and I frankly applaud Showalter’s approach. You either take these jobs to be successful and make a mark or not. I think Showalter has done well in the past and will likely do well here in getting a lot out of the talent he has and may very well help build an organiztaional culture that is successful after his departure in the same way other strong managers and coaches have done.
Of course, he does work for Peter Angelos, so there is only so much he can do…good luck with that Buck.

I saw somewhere that based on the clubs’ respective winning percentage, you’d expect the O’s to go 4-8 against Boston over those 12 games. So a two-game swing really doesn’t do much for me.
I hear ya about the motivation angle, and I’m sure you’re right about that. But that doesn’t really mean much to me. I’m not a fan of that style of motivation, not when Rex Ryan does it and not when anyone else does it. I think the best thing to motivate your players is to actually kick the other teams’ butts, as opposed to talking as if you’ve already done it. Is Nick Markakis going to hit 10 extra homers this year because Buck Showalter gave Derek Jeter and Theo Epstein what-for in Men’s Journal a week before the season started?
My point is simply that if Showalter is using payroll to try to take Epstein down a notch — which he clearly is, regardless of the reason — then he needs to look in the mirror, because he has yet to prove that he is unshackled from the chains of payroll either. Considering he once managed a team that had a top-five payroll, including the biggest free agent contract in the history of the game to that point, yet whose front office still made a host of terrible decisions that probably no manager could have offset, I would expect Showalter to perhaps appreciate that running a team with a big payroll isn’t simply a matter of throwing money at players, even if it is easier than running a low-payroll team.

“I think the best thing to motivate your players is to actually kick the other teams’ butts, as opposed to talking as if you’ve already done it”
I agree, but I also do very much believe that there is such a thing as a culture of losing on teams, an inferiority complex vis-a-vis others, etc, which it is sometimes impossible to overcome without assertive braggadocio. To take a striking example form outside th sports world, when Malcolm X used to talk about how much better African Americans were than Whites, it was less about asserting facts as it was about getting people in his community to stop thinking of themselves as lesser. Is Showalter a civil rights leader? Of course not. I’m just saying that sometimes to get people to believe in themselves you need to destroy – and not gently – the mythology they have in their heads keeping them down.
I’m sure a lot of that inferiority-comples existed in Sox-land pre-2004 and the whole Idiots thing was an important manifestation of that “we don’t give a bleep about the past” attitude.
Similarly, I don’t think that the Patriots could have had Belichick (reserved, quiet, act like you’ve been there before, and just win without talking) if they hadn’t had Parcells.
And I don’t think it’s coincidental that the Yankees went on their dynastic run on the heals of Showalter managing them.

And as for how this might translate into his players’ performance, I think it definitely can. His pitchers are his biggest liability in this division by a lot. They may simply not have the talent to compete. But to the extent that they do, they’ll only maximizing it by having confidence in their stuff. Throwing inside on Jeter, taking an aggressive combative attitude to the mound more generally, etc. can all be things that they need to do to be successful and that they may be more likely to do if their mindset is confident and aggressice rather than tentative, intimidated, etc.
In short, I absolutely believe that such motivation can translate into on-field performance quite directly. And once you have a little success, it can then feed itself, rather than taking the first let-down as an invitation to hang your head and say “here we go again”.

Yeah, there’s the whole thing about how much of a role managers have in their teams’ success, particularly when those teams have big payrolls. Showalter does have an impressive record of going into losing situations and turning those teams into playoff contenders, though each time that coincided with substantial boosts in payroll, and it’s hard to untangle the two. I don’t deny Showalter has been by and large a successful manager, and his style may be particularly suited to turning teams around, a la Bill Parcells.
But it doesn’t change the fact that his comments, taken at face value, are pretty dumb. Which is pretty much par for the course when trash talking is involved.

Kudos to you, bro. This post was just read nearly verbatim by Dale Holley on EEI. I mean, he skipped around a bit, but it was nearly identical to what’s written here.

“…I’m not a fan of that style of motivation, not when Rex Ryan does it and not when anyone else does it. I think the best thing to motivate your players is to actually kick the other teams’ butts, as opposed to talking as if you’ve already done it. …”
sorry, can’t agree with that observation paul…rex ryan has “done it”…i don’t think another nfl team has made it to its conference championship game in the past 2 seasons…the jets did, partly because rex helped make them believe that the pathetic losing was in the past and that they were not the “same old jets” anymore…
i think both you and IH have good points about what showalter’s motivation might have been…if he’s just being a douche, then here’s another opportunity for me to defend jeter ;) …he dives away buck because he stands close to the plate, and pitchers want to pitch him inside so he can’t steal the outside corner…those are balls buck, not strikes…worry more about the lack of feel your pitchers’ have for the inside corner…and theo is a good gm…does money help?…of course, but you still have to manage those resources wisely or, as paul suggested, you wind up like the yankees of the 80’s…the comment that got me was the one that the yankees get all the calls…really buck?…do you actually watch any baseball?…sorry to be so wishy-washy but both you guys might be right…he sounded a little bitter, but may be using his comments to show his players that is us against the big bad yankees and sox…

SF – I missed (wasn’t really listening) to the intro as they started the conversation – it’s more a filler noise in my lab than it is real listening – so I’m gonna have to say I don’t know. But, after listening, then reading again, it was almost word for word and you could tell he was just swiping Paul’s info.

dc, I think Ryan had very little to do with the Jets winning, other than his coming up with a fantastic game plan, out coaching Belichick, and having a set of fantastic defenders who were able to execute his plan.
He had the better team that game, flat out. Where was his motivational brilliance just a few weeks earlier?
Ryan didn’t do anything magical that playoff game. He just did his job WAY better, tactically, than he did a few weeks earlier. He was a better coach that week, and sure there is something about motivation, but in my opinion the motivation comes from players knowing that their coach has drawn up a great confident game plan, not from any extracurricular bluster. That stuff is for show (and for the ego of the coach).
I also think just as little about Belichick’s motivational “genius”. I think Belichick is a genius because he’s a tactical and personnel-judging genius, not because his odd brand of stoicism is somehow extra-specially motivational.

SF, there is no way to deny Ryan’s motivational genius. Listen to evey player that plays for him, guys on other teams (read, the cross-town Giants) who say they want to play for him.
Do you think the 1980 US hockey team shocked the world and disrupted the Soviet dominance of the sport simply because Herb Brooks came up with a better game plan for that one specific game vs. the Soviets? Does the fact that his same team got crushed by the Soviets 10-3 less than 2 weeks earlier lead you to question “where was his motivational genius that day?” Come on. There are coaches who are brilliant at motivating their players to perform at their highest possible levels and others who aren’t. Then there are those who lead guys to want to give up the game altogether.
You guys have ot have played for a diversity of coaches over the years – haven’t you experienced that difference?

Oh, I certainly believe that there are coaches who are better motivators than other coaches. But I don’t believe in any really strong direct connection between that motivational ability and a team’s success. I believe that the best coaches instill confidence and motivate through competence and clear dedication, discipline. And good gameplans make the biggest difference.
I probably place about the same amount of importance on “motivational abilities”, maybe just a little more, as I do on “intangibles”.
Tito Francona is a great “motivator”? Sure. And so is Ryan. And they have totally different styles. The commonality? Competence, smarts. Those are the keys. Not bluster or quiet eloquence.

Can I ask then SF what you think of the Herb Brooks example? I ask because there is an example that I think is very clear cut – without the buttons he pushed on a set of players who were clearly inferior to their opponents, he got more out of them individually and more out of that team collectively then would have happened if he had simply rolled out a gameplan. And the couple documentaries I’ve seen in which those players are interviewed reinforces my view on that point.
There are two points here:
1. does motivation have to come through bluster as per Ryan or Showalter’s recent statements. My view: no, but when dealing with a team that does not believe in itself, it often seems like a powerful way to transfer pressure from players to a coach and to break losing mindsets;
2. does great motivating translate into enhanced performance? I think unquestionably yes, because alot of that motivation translated directly into how individuals and a team prepares, practices, etc. – and it’s in that prepartion, combined with the focus and intensity they bring onto the field when gametime comes – that determines performance.
Incidentally, re: Francona, I’ve never heard of him being a particularly great motivator. I’m not knocking him – it’s just not a reputation that I’ve heard he has. Does he?

Francona MUST be a good motivator. His record proves he is able to motivate his players, right? If they weren’t motivated, then they wouldn’t have won so much. And if they were perfectly self-motivated then that would be a real anomaly. So therefore Francona has to be a good motivator. And I am not being facetious here.
As for Brooks, I am not going to argue with that anecdote, but it is also a one-in-a-million example, an historical anomaly, so it proves very little with regards to anything. But sure, he was a motivator.

So Palmeiro winning a gold glove is somehow proof that the entire gold glove voting system is unreliable, but the 1980 Olympic hockey team’s success is so much of an anomaly that it proves nothing. OK.
I think the clear take-away is that we need these next few days to pass quickly so we have some meaningful baseball games to be debated…

Let me write in more clear fashion, and not quick-typing from outside a New Bedford coffee shop.
I do think that coaches have important impact as motivators, and much of this comes down to management style. To me (and we all have different management styles) the coach who is the best motivator is the coach who prepares his team the best tactically and who alerts each player to his own strengths (and weaknesses). The best coach is that person who mitigates risk well, and who allows their players to focus on the tasks at hand. So in those terms if Showalter is deflecting attention from his players and allowing them to focus, then that’s good coaching. And if Belichick tells his players not to yap to the media and instead to learn their plays, do their reps, and not waste mental space figuring out what to say (or what not to say), then that to me is good coaching. And if Herb Brooks gets adrenaline going in lesser players (and also somehow possesses Viktor Tikhonov’s brain and somehow gets him to pull the best goalie in the history of the planet for his far lesser backup) then yeah, that’s good coaching. But I don’t think the coach’s motivational abilities are the most important, or even the second most or third most important factor in team success. I really don’t. Motivation matters, we can agree on this. But we may simply disagree on how much it matters. I think as long as the players are prepared for the affair at hand, tactically and fitness-wise, then they start off in the best possible position. At that point, the coach’s job is to pay attention, and the best of them pay total attention and continue to manage their players into strong positions, all while – yes – continuing to keep them motivated and focused.
To me Herb Brooks is the lottery ticket. Yes, we can win the lottery if we buy a ticket. But it is such a long shot to me that it doesn’t prove much of anything. And I bet you didn’t remember that Vladislav Tretiak got benched that night, which may have been the single biggest contributor to the Miracle, not anything Herb Brooks did. That’s the mythology of the great motivator: they end up responsible, given credit for things which bestow upon them great honor, and for which they didn’t even have any input.

if i’m reading it right, it looks like you came around, sort of, sf to being “somewhat” in agreement with IH and me…motivation can have some impact…the problem is that, like “intangibles”, you can’t see it and you can’t measure it like you can x’s and o’s and ops and era…being a jet fan, i still like the rex ryan example…clearly his basic personality is to be blustery, so nothing is out of character, but i think he cleverly used that trait to his advantage by trying to take the focus off of the players, and put it on himself…he sounded to me like a coach who wanted his players to feel good about themselves and good about playing for him…if they had a tough loss, it was on him…don’t get me wrong, when he needed to call them out, he did, but i’ll bet every single one of them never questioned if he had their back…the jets had a few close games, a few come from behind games, and a few they probably had no business winning…but they did…ryan’s insistence that these would not be the “same old jets” was contagious, even with the fans…do i wish he were more chilled out? yep…but if it works, then so what…is it motivational and help players gut it out just a little bit more especially in those really close down to the last minute games?…i believe it is more than you seem to, but that’s ok with something that you can’t see or measure…until they start adding “motivation” and “intangibles” to the boxscore, we’ll continue to have this debate…

Leave a Reply