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Exactly what kind of manager is John Gibbons?

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Gibby is beloved by many, but what do we really know about his managerial style?

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It will always be impossible to know exactly what a manager brings to a baseball team.

Even in an era where more and more of the game is being quantified definitively, one aspect that will always be elusive is the value of a good manager. A great deal of lip service is paid to how much guys like Joe Maddon help their teams win, but we will never know for sure.

Like coaches in any professional sport, managers in baseball are at the mercy of forces beyond their control to an enormous degree. They make tactical decisions of consequence at times, but more often than not they must simply watch their teams play and let the cards fall where they may. Even the best decision may lead to a loss, and absolutely indefensible choices sometimes result in positive outcomes.

Trying to tease of the precise value of the guy pulling the strings is an absolute nightmare.

Perhaps the most important thing a manager does is keep players happy and motivated, maintain a sense of unity and purpose within the team, and deal with the inevitable bad stretches and distractions that come with an 162 game season.

The Blue Jays have themselves a manager in John Gibbons who seems like he would excel in these areas. Gibby is ludicrously likeable and appears to have both the requisite fire and calm to be an excellent team leader. That being said, there's no way to know with any certainty whether the attributes he seems to display on camera translate to high-quality leadership.

Even if we could tell which managers have the best soft skills, it would still be near-impossible to determine exactly what that means to the on-field product.

However, if we leave aside the delusion that we know which bench bosses are the best what we can do is try and examine their styles.

A great deal is said about "John Gibbons: Human Being" but we tend to hear less about "John Gibbons: Tactician" other than vague references by Alex Anthopoulos about his solid bullpen management. The general consensus seems to be that's he good enough that he's not worth worrying about.

That evaluation is likely fair enough, but I figured I would dig a little deeper in Gibby's managerial stylings to see if there was more there. That digging began with his offensive decision-making.

Offense

Beyond turning in a daily lineup card, there are three major calls a manager can make that affects his team's offensive performance: pinch-hitting, pinch-running and bunting. In order to try and identify Gibby's style in these areas I've focused on the quantity of these moves he's made rather than the result. While he deserves credit for putting his players in the right position to succeed, the sample sizes on these moves' results are too small to make real judgments.

Instead I'd rather focus on what tactics he chose to employ instead of how they worked out. The chart below shows how often the Jays have pinch-hit, pinch-run, and dropped down sacrifice bunts during Gibby's most recent two-year reign.

Pinch Hit PA

AL Average

AL Rank

Pinch Runners

AL Average

AL rank

Sacrifice Bunts

Al Average

AL Rank

321

218

3rd

36

36

6th

64

62

7th

Nothing much jumps out here. Gibbons has turned to more pinch hitters than your average skipper, but he's also led a team that has leaned on some hitters with nasty platoon splits like Adam Lind, Juan Francisco and Danny Valencia which could skew things. Even so, he's shown himself to be unafraid to look to the bench for a key hit, despite having a rather uninspiring group on reserves to call on.

Gibbons has chosen to pinch run pretty much exactly as much as one would expect, but there's one wrinkle that the total number misses. Over the last two seasons the Blue Jays have used pitchers as pinch runners seven times, the highest total in the league. He's used his hurlers this way more than even National League managers, and it's simultaneously brilliant and insane.

The Blue Jays have two especially athletic pitchers in Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison who make fine pinch runners. Using either saves the team a hitter that can be used later in the game and it can lead to magical moments like this one.

Alternatively, the idea of risking the health of your best pitcher is downright reckless. Stroman's hands and arms are worth millions and millions of dollars to the Blue Jays and exposing them to any possible harm just can't be considered wise. Chances are Stroman won't get hurt pinch running, and Gibbons deserves points for creativity, but using him in this way doesn't seem like a good practice.

When it comes to sacrifice bunts, the raw numbers only included successful attempts so they are slightly skewed. However, it gives us an idea about how often Gibbons has called for runners to be moved over and it turns out that he's utterly unremarkable in this respect.

The second part of a manager's tactical style is how he handles his pitching staff.

Pitching

As mentioned above, Gibbons has a reputation for being a shrewd manager of relief pitchers. At the very least he tends to use a pitchers in a way that makes sense, which is the most you can really ask for.

By far the most important strategic decision a manager makes related to pitchers is when to make substitutions and who to bring in. These are choices that skippers are evaluated on more than any other. 

A significantly less important pitching decision managers make is when to call for an intentional walk. Rarely is it the most statistically sound choice, but it is not without its uses and remains a part of the game.

The following chart shows how often Gibbons chose to go to new pitchers or call for walks.

Pitching Changes

AL Average

AL Rank

Intentional Walks

AL Average

AL Rank

936

942

9th

56

61

11th

Gibbons has gone to his bullpen very slightly less than average, but the difference is not particularly meaningful. Same goes for his use of intentional walks.

However, in terms of pitching changes quantity doesn't tell the whole story, there is also how long he left in starters and relievers. As it turns out, under Gibbons the Jays have been quick to pull their starters while giving their relievers more rope.

IP/Start

AL Average

AL Rank

IP/Relief Game

AL Average

AL Rank

5.73

5.90

13th

1.11

1.04

2nd

This information is interesting, but it has the same problems attached to it as all numbers related to managers. Is Gibbons more likely to give his pitchers the early hook than the average guy, or has he had younger and/or less reliable starters? Considering he has veteran two horses in Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey you'd think the team's IP/Start number would be higher so maybe there is something to these figures.

In terms of IP/Relief Game perhaps the number has been driven by the Jays' need for more mop up duty than most clubs. It's hard to say. It seems unlikely that Gibbons has no patience for his starters but has profound belief in his relievers. The fact the team has not employed a pure Randy Choate-esque LOOGY in the past couple of seasons likely plays a role here.

Ultimately, there are so many external factors at play that it's hard to attach numbers to a manager with any degree of confidence. What we can take from the information presented above is that by and large Gibby conducts his tactical business in a way that is not dissimilar to his peers.

John Gibbons has always had an appeal for his "everyman" appeal. I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising that his tactics seems to be about as ordinary as they come.