If you pay attention to Vegas odds, or to sports sites that follow Vegas odds, you may have seen odds released for the likeliest managerial firings in 2012. Padres skipper Bud Black topped that list. It’s not clear what criteria was used in developing the odds – which is always the case with Las Vegas oddsmakers – but anyone taking that bet is wasting their money. Bud Black will be the Padres manager for years to come.
There are two main reasons to fire a manager; Performance and personality. Let’s hold off on the performance discussion for a moment and focus on personality. While we do not know who will ultimately become the Padres majority stakeholder, Bud Black has given us little reason to assume his personality clashes with that of upper-management and ownership. In fact, his stoic demeanor and calming presence should be a welcome trait in any clubhouse. We know Black is loved by his players. He’s fair, he has a pitcher’s background which helps in Petco, and he know how to build clubhouse chemistry (last year not withstanding). Black motivates many of his players to, well quite honestly, play beyond their abilities. Aside from Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres did not have a talented team in 2010. Yet, they won the fourth-most games in team history. But maybe that’s a plus we should add to the performance discussion.
If anyone were looking at performance as reason to fire Bud Black, they’d need to think long and hard about the teams he’s managed and the results he’s produced. Despite very subtle changes to the lineup between 2008 and 2009, Black helped lead his team to an overall improvement by 12 wins. From 2009 to 2010, Black helped lead the team to another year-over-year improvement of 15 wins. Then, without Adrian Gonzalez, Jake Peavy, Yorvit Torrealba, or Miguel Tejada, Black’s Padres dropped to 19 less wins in 2011.
If we’re looking at overall winning percentage, Black has managed a .478 with some of the worst offensive teams baseball has seen. In 2011, they ranked near the bottom in almost every offensive category. In 2009 and 2008, they did the same. Some may blame this on Bud Black, but considering the payrolls of these teams, he has done an incredible job of getting the most out of his players.
In 2007, Black was given a roster worth $73 million in payroll. In 2009, that dropped to $42 million. In 2010, it was $37 million. Last season, there was a slight uptick to $45 million. And this year, he’s working with the lowest payroll in baseball at $55 million. This, of course, is not to suggest that teams can’t win on low payrolls. I whole-heartedly believe that money is only half the battle. Picking the right players makes up the other half, and those players don’t always cost a lot of money. In the Padres case, they did not have a strong farm system until the end of last year and this year. They were essentially out signing aging veterans and paying them very little on one-year contracts. This was no Bud Black’s doing, but rather Kevin Towers’ and Jed Hoyer to a lesser extent.
Given the state of the farm system, Josh Byrnes’ moves to date, and the slowly increasing payroll, Bud Black is in good shape for the future. His ability to motivate his team and inspire them to play harder and better than they otherwise would is an invaluable trait. But the odds in this case go back to a stigma associated with small-market clubs; they simply don’t get enough attention. Most analysis that involves small-market, perennial losers, ends with a quick look at the win-loss record. That’s probably the case here.
But worry not. Bud Black isn’t going anywhere. He is a good manager with one Manager of the Year award under his belt already. A changing of the guard in the dugout is not what this club needs. They need an owner willing to spend a little more money. As you can tell from the fact that the Padres increased payroll by $10 million and are still las in the league, there is a shift going on in baseball. Teams are spending money because they have to. The new C.B.A. requires it. Winning on a budget is still possible though, and the Padres need a manager like Bud Black to do so.