Doug Glanville

Glanville: To DH or not to DH, that is the question

Glanville: To DH or not to DH, that is the question

With commissioner Rob Manfred’s announcement yesterday that Major League Baseball will hold off on the universal designated hitter, it took me back to this scene when I was playing in the American League for the first time at the ripe old age of 32.

“Seriously, their starter is still in the game?” I wondered.

It’s 2003. I am an outfielder with the Texas Rangers; a lifelong National Leaguer on a one-year free agent deal in the AL West. Where am I?

Earlier in the game that day, we had knocked the starting pitcher around. My internal National League clock told me the pitcher was out of the game because he would have come to bat by now. It was the fourth inning. No way the manager would keep him in after all the hits we just racked up. He cannot get anyone out.

But he is still in there. How?

I grew up in northern New Jersey, so I had a balanced baseball experience between the AL New York Yankees and the NL New York Mets. But my favorite team was the Philadelphia Phillies, so I was an NL fan.

At the time, it was not so much about passing judgment about the caliber of the players. I saw the AL, DH-happy, Yankees steamroll their way to championships, stomping the Los Angeles Dodgers a couple of times. The same Dodgers that knocked out my Phillies many times to get to the World Series. For this reason, my eight-year-old logic told me that the Yankees, AL or not, were a good ballclub.

It helped that the NL had some very good hitting pitchers. I did not roll my eyes when Pirates pitcher Don Robinson came to bat, or pretty much anyone in the Phillies' rotation. Steve Carlton could hit, Larry Christenson, Randy Lerch, and across the league, Rick Reuchel, Rick Rhoden…. These guys were serious at the plate, and no pitcher took them lightly. It was far from an automatic out.

So, after Cubs drafted me, it locked me in as a National Leaguer. It was not until I had many years in the big leagues that my AL–NL thoughts would become a live experiment in Texas.

When you are an everyday starter, and thankfully, I was for most of my career, you don’t pay as much attention to the details since whether AL or NL, you are just in the lineup. Once in a while, you may get caught up in an NL double switch, but it is nothing personal. Just timing.

But coming up in the NL as a young player, I had to sit on the bench, platoon, pinch run, pinch hit, go in for defense. That is a different experience in the NL. At any minute you can be called on because the pitcher is coming up to bat. The first time you go in during a double switch whether in the minors or majors, it is totally confusing.

I had understood these dynamics from a distant perspective, but in Texas, I lived it. The starting players could literally play all nine innings, especially when your lineup has Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Michael Young, Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett. Ridiculous; who would pinch hit for these guys?

If you come off the bench in the AL, it is for hitting matchup reasons, late defense, or a late inning pinch, but you live independently of your team’s pitcher. He throws, and if he gets knocked around, you bring in another arm. There is no natural way to use the lineup to get him out of there, so bench players could wait on the bench, hoping for an opposing reliever in which they have good splits against to enter. Tick Tock.

I was slowly becoming a role player in Philadelphia. By 2002, I had to watch Phillies manager Larry Bowa like a hawk to see when he might call me into the game. Then it was like a five-alarm fire. “Glanville! You’re hitting here!” So you learn to be a few steps ahead (makes for a good foundation for a future manager). There weren’t quite as many fires in the AL.

The Cubs would be beneficiaries of a universal DH coming to a baseball town near you. All the debate about Kyle Schwarber’s defense or how to use Ian Happ, David Bote, or Albert Almora Jr. start to calm down when you have an extra permanent bat in the picture. You can leverage offensive firepower every time in the DH slot if you so desire, as his glove does not matter much at all. Kris Bryant, under the DH model, could bring even more gloves to the stadium to maximize any given lineup Maddon wants to slap up there. I think Maddon’s offensive chess game will now become 3D chess. Contreras, grab an outfield glove!

But keep in mind, the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Reds also get an extra hitter….

For Schwarber, it isn’t necessarily a great thing to be pigeon-holed as a DH as a young player. He improved last year in left field. Despite the simplicity of the concept, DH-ing takes some planning. You have to be ready after sitting on the bench for innings at a time; stay warm in Chicago Aprils. This discipline favors experience, especially when many DHs (like an Edgar Martinez) may have injuries from age and can’t do much else.

Young players are less likely to have some irreversible physical issue that makes them the perfect DH. Can’t throw? OK, go DH. Not that simple when you are a rookie and have an upside in other facets of the game. Or, you could get healthy. David Ortiz at the end of his career simply shut down defense unless it became absolutely necessary

The platooning will still be in full-effect, strategy-wise. Lefty-righty matchups; use the DH to give Zobrist a day off. It is not always who is the best bat from the rest of the bunch. A manager still has to think about what matchups will come later in the game and who needs a defensive day off.  

In the meantime, spring training would sort all of this out anyway. The designated hitter debate will rage on a little longer with Manfred’s announcement, still ranting about watching a pitcher hit. I understand that, given pitchers' .150 slugging percentage in 2018. Not ideal, but we cannot dismiss the early strategic decisions managers in the NL have to make under that model. That is what made me a fan in the first place. Those days may be numbered since pitchers do not go deep in the game anymore, anyway, AL or NL.

Yet with years of Interleague play, it will be familiar territory should MLB accept the universal DH. All managers have familiarity of running a game under either set of rules. No more surprises will sneak up on these managers. Analytics will help sort it out anyway.

But while we wait, let’s cherish the NL tradition and look behind the bad swings to remember there was a time when a pitcher was in, could hit, and was going nine innings. That time may have passed (complete games are rare now) so the game must adapt, and the players will soon have to follow.

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Glanville: The manager and the coach - now, then and the future

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USA TODAY

Glanville: The manager and the coach - now, then and the future

Joe Maddon is not new to this game.

When you consider experience, Maddon is someone who has seen the game through a variety of lenses. Outside of his minor league career as a player, he scouted, coached, was a roving hitting instructor and bench coach. His first managerial job with Tampa was after three decades in the game.

He knows a lot. Development, training, growth, talent assessment, production, you name it. He is not in Chicago by accident. The bullet points are indisputable. One of which now has a world championship next to it.

Yet today, a manager is evaluated very differently than those that were hired during the bulk of Maddon’s decades of experience. What used to be a pipeline of candidates, paying their dues, learning the system inside and out by being on the ground and slowly climbing rung by rung, is now a grooming system. Managers are grown in a new kind of farm, special assistants who are taken behind the curtain, pumped with information, shown the keys to the system and trusted to implement them at the highest level.

And to earn the top job, it is not required to have managed before. Anywhere.

The wave of managers that came along under this new model was deep. The Brewers, the NL Central division winners from a year ago and Cubs’ nemesis, are led by Craig Counsell, who took a path of hands-on training in their system. But so did Mike Matheny, Robin Ventura, Walt Weiss and many others. Aaron Boone and Alex Cora were first year managers who both won 100 or more games…in their first seasons. All respected former players. Who needs the minor leagues?

Joe Maddon is in the midst of the collision between then and now. He is not necessarily old school because of his age or experience (he has wild, themed trips and keeps young guys loose), but because he took every step under the baseball sun to be where he is now.

Baseball in 2019 is much more about algorithms, methodologies and predictive calculations and the mindset of leadership in how it is conveyed to the players. There are forecasting models, there are rules to most effectively use your bullpen, there is data out of a player’s ear hole that frame how he can be most productive with two strikes.

Just like instant replay, when the technology arrived to be able to see things we used to not be able to see, how can we not use it to make better calls? The data is there now. We know the best times to steal a base. At least the numbers do.

Then, in walks Mark Loretta, the Cubs’ new bench coach. You will want to be a fly on the wall when Maddon and Loretta have meetings. Loretta, who I played with in winter ball in Puerto Rico, listened to the soundtrack to Les Miserables when we drove to games. He would trade Imagine Dragons and a player to be named later for a Broadway musical. Sharp as a tack. Maddon could pour him a glass of 10th century wine and the two of them could figure out how we could play baseball on Mars. Someone put a mic in that room.

Loretta took the new school path. A former player (a fantastic hitter, by the way) who was taught like an apprentice, not like someone climbing a ladder to the top. He then moves laterally into a major league job and instantly becomes a potential heir apparent.

This is today; managers are surrounded by coaching staffs that are full of people that could replace them in a drop of an analytics game day packet.

In the case of Loretta, and as I learned from interviewing for the Rays job in 2014, the bench coach is a trusted advisor. He must be in the know and make a soulful connection to the beat of the team. A manager cannot possibly have the pulse of every player on every day of the season. You need someone else to have the pulse too, to be ten steps ahead and earn the confidence of the team, beyond how they can help you win.

That is a lot of power to share with anyone, especially someone who could one day be your replacement.

But that is the relationship of today’s managers, the same coach who sits on your shoulder and gives you real-time advice, is the same guy that you see over your shoulder inching his way to your throne. Succession planning at its finest.

I am confident Maddon-Loretta will get along fine and together will make the Cubs a better team in many ways. They are crossing paths at a time when the role and qualifications of a manager have changed dramatically in the last five to seven years. Experience not required. And by the way, these kinds of new school managers have been highly successful. So, it is hard to argue against its success, even if they never saw the inside of a minor league manager’s office.

In the meantime, like any time in the win-now mode, as the Cubs are in, it will be important for Maddon to get off to a good start, an inspired start. The Reds are better, the Brewers are not backing down, the Cardinals are, well, the Cardinals. The Cubs struggled to 95 wins. One piece here, one ball bounce there and they have a division title in 2018, but other organizations made moves too (see Paul Goldschmidt). No one sits still, even if they are going backwards.

The Cubs are not sitting still either and only the games will tell us what that means for 2019. Spring training is right around the corner, and we should know up front that the Maddon-Loretta braintrust will be pivotal in whether the Cubs bring home a ring or if “now” one day will take over for “then.”

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For MLB players, the business of hiring an agent can't be understated

For MLB players, the business of hiring an agent can't be understated

The fever pitch around free agent signings this time of year will reach its peak once some of the top flight free agents sign this off-season. Bryce Harper leads the pack, but Manny Machado is not far behind on the prestige scale.  Some team will pay a pretty penny, usually a team flush with cash, or a team that is recognizing that their window is now.

The business of sports agency grew with the economic explosion of the game. But the dollar and cents increase beyond what ownership was starting to rake in with TV rights, licensing, and what they brought in on game days, collided with labor disputes (mostly strikes and lockouts) leveraged by players to improve the size of their piece of the pie. This created a boost in value of a player needing capable representation to secure the best deals his agent could negotiate.

The top echelon of talent from the draft will obtain the strongest representation. A small number of agents control a large percentage of the player pool, especially when factoring in who are the top earners. The rich get richer in this structure as agents with a deep client bench who capitalize on baseball’s transparency on player salaries, lead to a powerful combination. They always know who they are comparing their client to. Scott Boras’ name comes up often when looking at the most contentious negotiations between super talent and organization, but he also has been working with big data way before it was fashionable. Digging for any data point to justify his client’s price tag.

I learned firsthand about the style and approach of Scott Boras in my first meeting with him. He was prepared with data, charts, and graphs, on how I was worth more than most draft picks since I was trading strong job opportunities to play in the minors. Compelling.  He took nearly a half a day to break it down with shoe-banging stories of his previous work to pry value out of every negotiation. He had the top people, which certainly makes you feel like you are in elite company. He knew the ropes, he had seen the complete picture of what it took to be the best. Whoever went with Boras would get that level of preparation, intensity, and perseverance. I knew he may break a few things along the way, but you would find every dollar in your career, even the pennies in the sofa. 

I chose a different path by going with Arn Tellem. No fancy dinner to recruit me. He took me to Lee’s Hoagie House for lunch (for non-Philadelphians, think of it like a local, down home, Subway.). Low key, down to earth, and highly respected. Fortunately, I had great choices. 

Once you have an agent, from the recruiting that quietly begins around the draft, you may believe you will be with this one agent for your entire career. I stayed with Tellem (now Wasserman Media Group) for my entire career, so I believe I chose well, but there is a predatory underbelly that keeps any player in a constant recruiting orbit. It could be a friend on the team that genuinely wants to bring you into his family, or a surrogate of another agent that wants to pry you away. Doubt swirls around in your head when it comes to the question of whether you signed your best deal or if your agent did not quite get the most they could have gotten for you. How a player perceives the deal he signed will often determine their happiness with their representation. Even retroactively.

Yet so much of an agent’s work is emphasizing the importance of patience. When you are in a profession where injury is a constant threat, a player does not want to stall when millions are on the table, even if you could get more. Even in youth, you get a sense of how set for life you can be when you get one big contract. So when you have been waiting a long time to sign, you will start to ask about the difference between $112 million and $116 million in the long-run. A good agent will keep you calm, especially an agent that has many other clients who may be compared to your salary when the smoke clears.

This comparison is key in baseball to assess value. Your service time, performance, age, etc. will place you into a certain slot and players with similar stats will expect to be paid in the range of like-performers. So there is incentive for any agent to get you more money, not just for commission, but to prop up the scale of the system by which ALL of their clients will be measured.

In the end, a player hires his agent. Kris Bryant underscored this point when he was sent down to Triple-A in 2015 as questions swirled around his response to being sent out after a tremendous spring training. A player has the final say, but you have an agent for a reason and an agent’s job is to get you maximum value, the player has to fill in the other key aspects of what matters to him to make a decision of where and when to sign.

Hometown discounts are often floated around as a sign of loyalty. Andrew McCutchen and Pittsburgh seemed to be a long-term marriage until it wasn’t. A player’s career is short and top earning years are even shorter, so unless you are granted guaranteed time on your deal, the priority often shifts to making the most money where you can capitalize on the best opportunity you can find. 

Major League teams have to know who they are negotiating with at all times. Someone like a Boras often sets the marketplace and his deals will not be done quickly. Wait. Wait. Wait some more. Boras client, JD Drew played in an independent league just to keep waiting and to not sign with Philadelphia. Until the right deal came along.

Agents know as well as anyone in the industry that a player’s career is short, even for the most talented players in the game. The natural aging process will already compromise your productivity once you reach a certain age. Then there are the unforeseen issues of injuries and personal strife, timing and developmental stressors. Players underachieve, overachieve or just plain achieve, all come with a certain price tag to assign to that player. 

At this time of year when the market is about to explode, deals will be made, money thrown around. Players will turn down ridiculous amounts of money to just wait for the next offer, or to just bet on themselves. While a player waits, someone else will sign on the dotted line, eventually. He will then create a standard, especially when that player is your match in production and age, service, and position. Then you will be compared to them, for better or for worse. 

Your agent’s job is to make it for better. Your team may respectively disagree.