INTROITUS (AND A LOOK BACK)

More and more often I’m beginning to find some of my friends (mainly R.J.) telling me to write baseball, so I thought I’d give it another shot. I’ve done it before; I had a Rays blog during the 2005 offseason that dwindled after I became busy with school. During the short lifetime of that blog I wrote quite a bit about Joe Maddon and what we, as Rays fans, could expect.

His two years thus far have been more or less what I anticipated given the talent we had on the club. Since then I’ve began to realize that baseball managers don’t play a large role in the win/loss column, or at least, they shouldn’t. Only things like pulling a pitcher too early or too late, or continually trotting out the wrong players or relievers could have a noticeable effect if he was consistently stupid.

Joe Maddon

Like it was written in Moneyball, ideally you just want a “strong chin,” or in other words, a manager who will give the media and fans the idea of leadership and an inspiring, unflappable presence. However, for the most part, the best kind of manager is one that plays the right players as much as possible without running them into the ground, and one that exploits statistical mismatches while at the same time emanating positivity to the club and press even in rough times.

I think, for the most part, Joe has done well fulfilling these parameters. Sometimes fans, not to mention myself, have to wonder at some of his personnel decisions (Tomas Perez in RF comes immediately to mind) and his management of the bullpen, which is not always sensible. However, if you’ve watched the Rays over his two seasons here you know for a fact that he hasn’t had much to work with, especially in the ‘pen.

With his .392 winning percentage he’s third out of the four total Rays coaches (Piniella .412, Rothschild .411, McRae .366) and he looks like he’s in a good position to improve on that mark during the 2008 season with the bevy of moves the Rays have made to shore up the pitching staff along with the probable arrival of A+ prospect Evan Longoria and a legitimate defensive shortstop in Jason Bartlett.

I used to be a skeptic, but I believe now that his continually positive outlook is just what a team like the Rays needs. Where young players might be doubting themselves and the team itself, he can keep their chins up somewhat in this extremely tough division. Time will tell if this year the much improved team can make Joe Maddon look good — and more importantly, make him proud.

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