Friday, May 13, 2011

Maddon at the Helm

The Tampa Bay Rays are not the most talented team in baseball. They are not close. They have have the second lowest payroll in the MLB at a shade under $42 million. The teams surrounding them in the rankings are the Pirates, Padres, and Royals, none of whom will be playing baseball in October. After nine games, the Rays had lost eight and more importantly lost star third baseman Evan Longoria to the 15 day DL. Yet despite all this, the Rays sit atop the AL East, considered by some to be one of the best divisions in all of sports. Some would point to strong starts from the starting rotation, others would call it a flukey early-season quirk that will be soon worked out by the 162 game schedule. But those who understand this team would be quick to give a good deal of the credit to the man who wears number 70, manager Joe Maddon.

Maddon argues a call.
Two weeks ago DRaysBay, a blog dedicated to covering the Rays, wrote an article titled "Joe Maddon: The Underrated Leader of the Rays."A quick google search turns up other pieces such as "Rays' Manager Joe Maddon is Having Fun, and Success" from the New York Times or a story about how Maddon had a racist fan ejected from a spring training game. People seem to be catching on to the notion that he has something special going on down in Tampa. Listening to him talk during and after games it's amazing how composed he always is, that is until one of his players needs to be protected. Maddon does have the occasional confrontation with an umpire, but you never the feeling that he's doing it for his own personal show (see: Guillen, Ozzie). Small little events happen that show how he cares. For example, when Jeff Neimann had to go on the DL, the Rays called up Brandon Guyer from AAA Durham. In his first ever major league at bat, Guyer hit a two run home run. Needing to bring up a pitcher to fill Neimann's vacated spot, Maddon knew he had to send Guyer back down. Being the class act that he is, Maddon waited until the next morning to tell Guyer he was going back to Durham so that he could spend the night celebrating with his family.

In a game filled with staunch traditionalists, Maddon has earned praise for his willingness to adapt the new ideas in baseball. Recent statistical analysis has shown many of the long-held ideas about platooning, lineup structuring, and closer use are outdated or just plain wrong. Maddon is on the cutting edge in many of these regards. Whereas many teams can trot out the same line up 150 times a year, the Rays are forced to implement platoons to take advantage of the proper matchups. For example, behind the dish Kelly Shoppach plays against lefties and John Jaso against righties. That might be the simplest platoon that the Rays have. The roster is full of utility players who can play a number of different positions: Ben Zobrist (2B, RF), Sean Rodriguez (2B, 3B), Elliot Johnson (2B, SS, 3B), and the list goes on. This allows Maddon to mix and match lineups as he pleases, but it also means that many players will not be on the field at times. When teams have established lineups, playing time isn't a big issue because everyone is accustomed to their role. Maddon has to manage the emotions in the dugout that come with the uncertain playing time.

By all accounts, Maddon is a whiz in the locker room as well. His support for the players is obvious just watching games. He also extends that support to the internet, where he operates on Twitter, under the handle @RaysJoeMaddon. It is not uncommon to see a tweet from Maddon after the game talking about some small play that would not have really been worth mentioning to the casual fan, but he points it out and praises his players. It could be something as simple as advancing a runner with a productive out or moving from first to third on a single. Maddon acknowledges all the little things that make the team successful. As a leader, supporting those around you makes them more likely to listen and respond. Maddon is obviously smart guy and a talented manager, but without the respect of his players that wouldn't matter. He recognizes the importance of building up those around him in order to lead effectively. Whether or not the Rays continue their winning ways and make the playoffs, you can be sure that Joe Maddon will guide their ship as well as any manager in the league.

1 comment:

  1. Hadn't realized this about Maddon. I love the platoon/mix-match idea and do think it makes sense. But most of all, I like the way you link unorthodox not-by-the-book thinking to the general matter of leadership. This might be the best lesson for you of all. Everyone is a "role player" and what's important is someone coordinating things to realize the value of the "role." And roles change constantly--one must see that too. Nothing is fixed.