John Gibbons: Manager's Box

Tuesday, November 27 2012 @ 12:50 PM EST

Contributed by: Magpie

We did this a few years back, and it seemed like an obvious idea to put it up again...

I've added a few second thoughts, and italicized them so you'll know what they are...

THE MANAGER: John Gibbons

AGE: 50 (turns 51 in June)

MANAGERS FOR WHOM PLAYED IN THE MAJORS: Dave Johnson. (In the minors, he played for Bob Schaeffer, Sam Perlozzo, Terry Collins and Mike Cubbage, among others.)

CHARACTERISTICS AS A PLAYER: A thoroughly mediocre minor league catcher, drafted out of high school by the Mets in 1980 (24th round), he got two brief cups of coffee in the Show. In his first taste, he went 2-31 and struck out in more than a third of his at bats. Two years later, during the Mets 1986 championship run, he came up in August to back up Ed Hearn when Gary Carter went on the DL. He started three games behind the plate, went 4-12, and hung around when the rosters expanded. After the Mets clinched early, he got into two more games and in his last major league start he had his moment of major league glory - he went 4-4 with two doubles and his only major league homer. He batted just one more time in the majors, on the final weekend of the season, but stuck it out in AAA through 1990, when he became a roving instructor in the Mets system. He managed in the minors for seven seasons before coming to Toronto as a coach in 2001.


         W    L    WP   Finish     Par    +/-
2004 20 30 .400 5 25 -5
2005 80 82 .494 3 78 2
2006 87 75 .537 2 76 11
2007 83 79 .512 3 83 0
2008 35 39 .473 -- 39 -4

TOTAL 305 305 .500 301 4


IS HE AN INTENSE MANAGER OR AN EASY-TO-GET-ALONG WITH TYPE? Gibbons is a bit of both, he is generally easy to get along with and has been described as a players manager. However he does not like to be challenged, see Hillenbrand and Lilly, and he will not suffer fools gladly. Gibbons is easy to get along with as long as you stay on his good side. (T)

IS HE MORE OF AN EMOTIONAL LEADER OR A DECISION MAKER? I think he'd rather be an emotional leader - like most modern managers, he has a whole range of policies and systems in place that help him avoid having to actually make a decision. But when his hand is forced, he's been fairly quick and decisive about getting the guy he doesn't like out of the lineup and somebody else in there. (D)

IS HE MORE OF AN OPTIMIST OR A PROBLEM-SOLVER? I think he can be a little impatient, and those guys always end up having to be problem solvers. He's not much inclined to sit around and trust a guy will play as well as he did the year before. He'll try something new. (D) He will try to tinker with minor details, using success, however fleeting, to justify continued change. (AND)


DOES HE FAVOUR A SET LINEUP OR A ROTATION SYSTEM? He likes a set lineup. No one carries a bench large enough to truly rotate players anymore. (D)

DOES HE LIKE TO PLATOON? He's shown a willingness to platoon, which doesn't seem to occur as often in the majors currently as it used to. He platooned Reed and Cat in LF and then Reed and Stairs and will presumably be platooning Reed/Stewart with Stairs again this year. He did a decent job at keeping both Zaun and Molina happy while they were both here. Gibbons runs his platoons by the book, but he's shown a willingness to go with the hot hand, as Sparky's increased playing time in 2006 indicates. I expect Gibbons will do a relatively decent job with Stairs/Reed/Stewart, Zaun/Barajas and Eckstein/McDonald. I'd be surprised if for the first couple of months we don't see McDonald getting a couple starts a week, usually behind Halladay or another ground-ball starter. (T) He seems to look at past performance as much as anything else when deciding who will play. (AND)

DOES HE TRY TO SOLVE HIS PROBLEMS WITH PROVEN PLAYERS OR WITH YOUNGSTERS WHO STILL HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE? HOW MANY PLAYERS HAS HE MADE REGULARS OUT OF WHO WERE NOT REGULARS BEFORE AND WHO WERE THEY? It hasn't been his call, for the most part. Russ Adams and Aaron Hill, although Hill (like Alex Rios and Gregg Zaun) had been forced into full-time duty for the first time in their careers earlier in the Season From Hell. All four remained as regulars under Gibbons. Adam Lind got a good long trial in 2007, and will probably become a regular this season. (Lind didn't become a regular until Gaston took over.) He's given chances to lots of pitchers: Gustavo Chacin, Dave Bush, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen, and Jesse Litsch all got their first cracks at being rotation starters under Gibbons. (D)

DOES HE PREFER TO GO WITH GOOD OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OR DOES HE LIKE THE GLOVE MEN? In both 2006 and 2007, after starting the season as a utility infielder, John McDonald ended up taking over the shortstop job full-time. Gibbons did spend the first half of 2008 playing David Eckstein at shortstop, although the idea that a shortstop with Eckstein's arm could possibly succeed on turf probably belongs to the GM who acquired the player.  He will put up with defensive shortcomings elsewhere. Matt Stairs is not a good first baseman, or much of an outfielder. Most notoriously, Gibbons actually started Troy Glaus at shortstop for 8 games in 2006. (D)

DOES HE LIKE AN OFFENSE BASED ON POWER, SPEED, OR HIGH AVERAGES It's not really his roster, but he seems to like watching the ball go over the fence. (D) Manager's these days seem to have to make due with what they have been provided, or else force players to adapt to their style of manging. To his credit, Gibbons doesn't try to pigeon hole hitters into something they aren't. (AND)

DOES HE USE THE ENTIRE ROSTER OR DOES HE KEEP PEOPLE AROUND SITTING ON THE BENCH? Twenty-five years ago, this was actually a way to tell one manager from another. Now, the benches are so small that the few players who are on it inevitably get into quite a few games. (D)

DOES HE BUILD HIS BENCH AROUND YOUNG PLAYERS WHO CAN STEP INTO THE BREACH IF NEED BE OR AROUND VETERAN ROLE PLAYERS WHO HAVE THEIR OWN FUNCTIONS WITHIN A GAME? Whether or not it's the structure of the Jays roster I can't say, but the benches under Gibbons have tended to rely on veteran players at the beginning, but he is willing to play youngsters in the last couple months of the season. At the start of 2007 the three main bench bats were Stairs, McDonald and Phillips, all veterans. The year before it was Zaun, Johnson and Hinske. The year before it was Myers, Menechino and Johnson. Of the main backup catcher, infielder and outfielder, the only ones under 30 were Johnson at 28 and Hinske, who played himself out of the lineup. He is willing to give youngsters some playing time, such as Adams in 2006 (after he failed in 2005 as a starter), Lind over the course of the last couple of years and Thigpen in 2007. Hill got over 350 at-bats in 2005, but he was filling in for an injured Koskie during most of that time, I believe. This trend has continued in 2008, as Stewart/Johnson, Scutaro, McDonald and Barajas are all veterans. (T)


DOES HE GO FOR THE BIG INNING OFFENSE OR DOES HE LIKE TO USE THE ONE-RUN STRATEGIES? He uses the one-run strategies with caution. He will make some use of them, but he pretty clearly agrees that if you play for one run, that's all you're going to get. (D) He has recently tried using small ball strategies while the Jays have been struggling, as much to kick start the offense or struggling players as anything else. (AND) And indeed, the 2008 Jays were second in the league in sac bunts.

DOES HE PINCH HIT MUCH, AND IF SO, WHEN? Generally, Gibbons uses pinch hitters more often than any other American League manager. Did anyone even suspect that this might be the case? In his three full seasons at the helm, the Blue Jays have led the league in pinch hitters used twice (2005 and 2007), and were tied for second (with New York, behind Chicago) the other time (2006.) My subjective impression is that he prefers to pinch hit later in the inning - not to get something started, but to try to cash in something. And I think he needs to get a platoon advantage out of it to make it worth the trouble. (D)

DOES HE USE THE SAC BUNT OFTEN? He came round to it a bit in 2007 - his first team didn't bunt very often (21 SH, well below average), and his 2006 team had the fewest sac hits in the majors. Last year he was right around the league average. This may largely depend on how often he has a non-hitter in his lineup. The men who have led the team in sac bunts are Ken Huckaby, John McDonald, and John McDonald. He bunted more often in 2007 because McDonald was in the lineup more often. (D) The team this year continues to creep up the sacrifice list, though most of those are from Eckstein. (AND) As mentioned, they finished second in the league in sac bunts, although Gaston pretty much dropped Eckstein from the lineup after he took over.

DOES HE LIKE TO USE THE RUNNING GAME? Not a whole lot, but he's never had a good base stealer on the team. Vernon Wells and Alex Rios both run a little but the most stolen bases either has had in a season under Gibbons was only 17, and Russ Adams is the only player to even make it into double figures. All of his teams (including his partial seasons in 2004 and 2008) were below league average in stolen bases. So it will be interesting to see what he does with Reyes, Bonifacio, and Davis.

DOES HE DRAW THE INFIELD IN MUCH? Very rarely. Only in situations where the textbook says the infield should be drawn in and it would be obvious to anyone up to and including the City TV crew from this year's spring training broadcast. He'll draw the corners in on a player like Ichiro or Crawford, but in terms of bringing in the whole infield Gibbons plays it strictly by the book and doesn't do it very often. (T)  I've been seeing him do this a few times this season (2008), and quite early in the ballgame - third inning, fourth inning of scoreless games. I've only see him try it with one out at the time - I don't know if he'd try it with no outs. (D)

IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCE WILL HE ISSUE AN INTENTIONAL WALK? This ought to be investigated. In 2005, he issued 29 IBB - that was a bit below the league average. The next year, he just went crazy with them - the 2006 Jays issued 56 intentional passes, just three behind the league leading White Sox. Last year, he returned to doling them out sparingly, just 34 over the course of the year, a bit below the league average. This year, he's handing them out like candy again, and the Jays lead the league. For your contemplative enjoyment, I've attached a Data Table detailing the circumstances of all 34 intentional walks issued in 2007. (D)

DOES HE HIT AND RUN VERY OFTEN? Not as much as he'd like to - he hasn't had great H&R talent on his team. There's always been one or two guys who were too slow to start on the bases under any circumstances, and he's had a lot of hitters who swing and miss, or prefer to work the count, or both. But the team has been very vulnerable these past few years to the GDP - the 2008 team was on pace to set an all-time record for GIDPs when Gibbons was let go (they'd hit into 84 DPs in just 74 games. Gibbons was very aware of it, and tried to force some basepath motion to avoid this, even though he didn't really have the best people around for the job. But all he ended up accomplishing was to lose a lot of runners caught stealing.  The dysfunctional offense ended up costing him his job.

ARE THERE ANY UNIQUE OR IDIOSYNCRATIC STRATEGIES THAT HE PARTICULARLY LIKES? Well, giving intentional walks to hitters of the quality of Tony Pena Jr seems pretty unusual to me. (D) Joe Posnarski also.... (AND)


DOES HE LIKE POWER PITCHERS OR PREFER TO GO WITH THE PEOPLE WHO CAN PUT THE BALL IN PLAY? I think a guy who throws hard gets a bit more rope. (D)

DOES HE STAY WITH THE STARTER OR GO TO THE BULLPEN QUICKLY? He'd stick with Roy Halladay right into the ninth inning. But otherwise, he's going to the pen unless his starter is working on a no-hitter. Or maybe a shutout. (D) Or a win, though I don't think he is as bad with this as he was at the beginning. (AND)

DOES HE LIKE THE FOUR MAN OR THE FIVE MAN ROTATION? Five man, but who doesn't these days? What Gibbons has shown he's willing to do, on multiple occasions during the past few years, is to skip the fifth man in the rotation to keep Halladay pitching on regular rest. I seem to recall that a few times he run the fifth guy out there after Halladay to keep the other starters on regular rest, but that most of the time he just skips his start and keeps 1-4 on regular rest. I expect this trend to continue this year, even if the fifth starter is doing better than Towers did over the last couple of seasons. (T)

I've tracked this each of the past two years, and I concur. Gibbons does this quite regularly. Not always - sometimes he decides that Halladay will benefit from the extra day. But as a rule, if an off-day gives him a chance to skip his 5th starter and go right back to Halladay, he takes advantage. (D)

DOES HE USE THE ENTIRE STAFF OR DOES HE TRY TO GET FIVE OR SIX PEOPLE TO DO MOST OF THE WORK? In his first two full seasons, Gibbons used more relievers than an average AL manager - he went to the bullpen 482 times in 2006, which will get a lot of pitchers involved. He cut back on that in 2007, when he went to the pen much less than other AL managers. This meant that the seventh man in his bullpen (which was generally Zambrano, de Jong, or Towers) could go a long time without getting into a game. Gibbons  (like Farrell) was generally right around the league average in how much his relievers worked per appearance - he ain't Joe Maddon.

HOW LONG WILL HE STAY WITH A STARTER WHO IS STRUGGLING? Until the bullpen is ready, unless it's Halladay on the mound. In that event, he sort of works on a case-by-case basis - sometimes he'll stay with Doc, sometimes he goes to the pen. Burnett, on a good day, will also get a little more rope. But otherwise, he's planning to get the bullpen involved. Every game. (D)


IS THERE ANYTHING UNIQUE ABOUT HIS HANDLING OF PITCHERS? He uses a lot of relievers, and he has enough awareness of this to try to avoid overusing them. Gibbons tries much harder than most AL managers to avoid using a reliever three days in a row, for example. Of course, in view of the fact that Janssen's been lost for 2008, after Ryan missed almost all of 2007, one would have to say that his efforts have been somewhat in vain. (D)

WHAT IS HIS STRONGEST POINT AS A MANAGER? His players seem to respect him, which is by far the most important thing for any manager. Gibbons has no interest in using the game to show how clever he is - the decisions he makes are almost bland in being a general expression of either common sense or conventional wisdom. He doesn't really try bring his own vision to the table - he functions as a dugout extension of the GM. Whch makes him a pretty typical and conventional modern manager. (D)

IF THERE WERE NO PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL, WHAT WOULD THIS MANAGER PROBABLY BE DOING? Surely he'd be dubbing Boomhauer on "King of the Hill," allowing Mike Judge to concentrate on Hank.

And one bonus DATA TABLE!! In which we itemize the intentional walks Gibbons ordered in 2007

                                                                                                     Runs After
Date Opponent Score Inn Outs Runners Pitcher At Bat On Deck Result IBB

12-Apr Det 2-5 7 2 2 Accardo Guillen Casey groundout 0
19-Apr Bos 1-1 6 2 2 Halladay Drew Varitek flyout 0
20-Apr at Bal 4-4 9 1 2 Zambrano Roberts Mora walk, RBI single 1
28-Apr Tex 1-2 5 1 2 Chacin Sosa Blalock RBI single, flyout, groundout 1
28-Apr Tex 8-8 10 1 13 Tallet Sosa Blalock SacFly, (Janssen) lineout 1
1-May at Cle 3-7 6 1 2 Tallet Hafner Martinez RBI double, K, groundout 1
2-May at Cle 1-1 3 0 23 Zambrano Hafner Martinez forceout, sacfly, walk (Towers) 1
3-May at Cle 4-2 3 2 3 McGowan Hafner Martinez RBI single, walk, groundout 1
9-May Bos 0-1 1 2 2 Ohka Drew Lowell walk, popout 0
23-May at Bal 2-3 7 2 23 Downs Tejada Huff 2 run single 2
30-May NY 5-6 9 1 2 Downs Jeter Matsui forceout, RBI single (Wolfe) 4
3-Jun CWS 0-3 3 2 2 Marcum Pierzynski Crede flyOut 0
5-Jun TB 5-9 6 1 2 Frasor Pena Wigginton safe on error, K, popout 1
7-Jun TB 3-3 9 2 2 Accardo Pena Wigginton walk, 2 run single, groundout 2
11-Jun at SF 3-4 6 0 0 Tallet Bonds Durham flyout, flyout, popout 0
12-Jun at SF 0-1 1 1 2 Burnett Bonds Durham K, flyout 0
12-Jun at SF 2-3 7 1 2 Downs Bonds Durham groundout, lineout 0
21-Jun LAD 3-2 8 1 23 Janssen Gonzalez Martin 2 run double, RBI single 6
26-Jun at Min 1-1 12 2 23 Tallet Redmond Tyner pinch hit RBI single (Cirillo) 1
14-Jul at Bos 0-3 3 2 2 McGowan Ramirez Youkilis groundout 0
14-Jul at Bos 4-7 6 1 23 Tallet Ortiz Ramirez (Wolfe) sacfly, RBI single 2
17-Jul at NY 2-2 10 1 2 Janssen Posada Cano RBI single 1
30-Jul at TB 4-4 10 2 2 Wolfe Pena Young single, runner out at home 0
7-Aug NY 0-3 3 2 2 Towers Cano Phillips flyout 0
19-Aug Bal 0-1 3 1 23 Halladay Tejada Millar RBI groundout, groundout 1
3-Sep at Bos 1-4 3 1 3 Litsch Lowell Drew SacFly, groundout 1
4-Sep at Bos 0-0 3 2 2 Halladay Ortiz Lowell flyOut 0
11-Sep NY 2-8 6 1 23 Tallet Rodriguez Matsui popout, flyout 0
16-Sep Bal 6-6 10 2 2 Tallet Roberts Redman groundout 0
18-Sep Bos 1-2 5 2 2 Burnett Lowell Drew K 0
22-Sep at NY 11-11 11 0 2 Towers Giambi Cano flyout, K, RBI single 1
27-Sep at Bal 5-7 7 1 2 Wolfe Huff Mora K, groundout 0
28-Sep TB 0-0 3 2 2 McGowan Pena Norton flyout 0
29-Sep TB 1-1 5 2 2 Litsch Pena Upton groundout 0
There are always occasions when this blows up on you: four of these games ended with the other team getting a walkoff hit after the intentional walk. Those four hits are marked in italics - on two occasions, it was actually the man brought to the plate by the intentional pass who delivered the game-winning blow: Jeff Cirillo (batting for the scheduled hitter, Jason Tyner) against Tallet on June 26, and Robinson Cano against Janssen on July 17.

Two of these innings blew up completely after the IBB: Janssen against the Dodgers, and Downs-Wolfe against the Yankees (the HA! game).

One thing I think is pretty clear from this table - last year, the main thing prompting Gibbons to issue an intentional walk was the man coming up to the plate. There is no one even remotely like Tony Pena Jr to be found here. Carlos Pena received more of them than anyone else (it's hard to walk David Ortiz with Manny in the on-deck circle); Travis Hafner, Barry Bonds, and Miguel Tejada each collected 3 IBBs.

It's fun to see Gibbons make an adjustment as the season goes on: twice early in the year, he walked J.D. Drew on purpose, once to get to Varitek and once to get to Lowell. Later on, Drew having struggled all year, he walked Lowell twice in order to pitch to Drew. Gibbons usually, though not always, picked up a platoon advantage while issuing his free passes, but not on those two occasions when Lowell was walked to bring up Drew - the pitchers involved were Litsch and Burnett. He was just seriously disrespecting J.D. Drew (and acknowledging that Mike Lowell was absolutely killing the Blue Jays in 2007 - he hit ..333/.380/.667 with 6 HR and 17 RBI in 17 games against Toronto last season.)

Most intentional walks are issued by a team that is trailing in the game: Gibbons issued 1 while ahead in the game, 12 with the score tied. The other 21 came with the Jays behind. The most unconventional involved Barry Bonds, who was walked intentionally to lead off the sixth inning, with the Jays behind by a run. (But I'll bet that what actually happened is that Tallet first fell behind 2-0 or 3-0, before handing out the free pass.)

The other thing that strikes me - Gibbons seems to issue them in bunches. It's as if he'll hand out five or six of them over a ten day period, and then lose interest in the tactic for the next few weeks.