From the moment John Gibbons was rehired as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays he was in a difficult position. He arrived on a team with high hopes and a completely remade roster where he was expected to ride into the playoffs and ideally make some noise when he got there. The reality is that it's far, far easier to fall short of those kinds of expectations than to exceed them and the 2013 Blue Jays under John Gibbons fell well short.
What is unclear is to what degree the Blue Jays disastrous season was Gibbons's fault. Some would heap a great deal of the blame on the manager whereas some have an ounce of sense. Not that I’m taking sides or anything.
When it comes to evaluating managers we have some tools at our disposal but our information is always going to be incomplete. We see managers make day-to-day tactical decisions but arguably a greater percentage of their job involves motivating players and keeping them focused and we will never be able to reliably judge which managers excel at this aspect of their role. As much as it's fun to say good things about Gibby because he's likable or utter unspeakable filth when referring to the treacherous cad John Farrell, there is no definitive way to compare the two. It's probably safe to say that Gibbons isn't terrible merely on account of his team disappointing, and it's probably safe to say that Farrell isn't magical just because he led his team to the World Series, but that's just assuming some regression to the mean more than anything else.
Even though we will never be able to know everything there is to know about the quality of manager, it doesn't mean we shouldn't examine what we do know more closely. When John Gibbons came to the Blue Jays one of his major selling points was the way he handled the bullpen (a selling point looked at very closely by our own Blake Murphy going into last season), and it's worth examining how accurate that claim was in 2013. With the help of the meticulous record keeping of Baseball-Reference.com, a calculator, and a little elbow grease, the chart below aims to do just that. The following sortable(!) table shows how Gibbons used his main relievers (25+ games relieved) in 2013. The output for each category listed, with the exception of "Games Relieved" and "Platoon Advantage", is the percentage of times the reliever entered the game in the situation listed:
|Pitcher||Games Relieved||Platoon Advantage||High Leverage||Medium Leverage||Low Leverage||Runners On||Bases Empty|
A quick perusal of the numbers here shows that everything more or less appears to be in order. Except for the fact that sometimes the percentages for high, medium and low leverage appearances don't add to 100%. That is unfortunately the result of record keeping glitches which sometimes leave one or two appearances without classification leverage-wise. Normally this affected only one appearance at most per pitcher, but it's worth mentioning to prevent my arithmetic from coming under fire. I know there are alert readers out there who check.
The guys with big platoon splits--like Cecil and McGowan--are sheltered whereas Oliver, who wasn't sharp against lefties in 2013 and has tended to have fairly neutral splits, was left to face mainly righties. The fact Casey Janssen was confined to the closer role made it impossible to protect him from lefties, but it's not like he has a problem with them to begin with. Arguably the best strikeout artist, Sergio Santos, was coming in with runners on base to get out of the jams and Dustin McGowan was eased in with relatively-low stress work. As I said before, everything appears to be in order. In an ideal world you might like to see Cecil in more high leverage situations than Oliver and have Steve Delabar come in for more runners-on situations but that is nitpicking of the highest order.
While there appears to be nothing revolutionary about the way John Gibbon deploys his bullpen, there is also very little to complain about. We may never know about some of the aspects of his job performance, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth evaluating what we do have access to carefully. Those who try to call John Gibbons a bad manager and a reason that the 2013 season went wrong have an uphill battle trying to get their arguments to hold water. Their points are destined to be rooted firmly in the unknown, which is no place to start when you're starting an argument. Trust me, I've started a few.