Some people may disagree with me, but I think that John Gibbons is actually a very good manager. He doesn’t look like a smart guy because of his accent and his appearance – he looks like the guy who changes the oil in your car when you take it in for its scheduled maintenance. But he’s not the sort of manager who tries to avoid criticism by playing it safe – for better or worse, he’s willing to try something different.
Examples of this are easy to find:
- He’s sometimes willing to move players to defensive positions they’re unfamiliar with, or not particularly good at, in order to fill a hole in the lineup. Examples include Juan Francisco at third base, Brett Lawrie at second base, and Chris Colabello in left field. The team sometimes had to live with less-than-optimal defense, but it was arguably better than signing a replacement-level player and putting up with mediocre offense and defense. At least a hitter who is out of position is doing something well.
- He remains the only manager who has platooned Adam Lind. Looking back, it seems obvious that Lind can’t hit left-handed pitching:
- In 2012, his last year under John Farrell, Lind batted 89 times against lefties and hit .202.
- In 2013, under Gibbons, Lind hit .208 against lefties.
- In 2014, Gibbons took away Lind’s at-bats against left-handers almost completely (33 at-bats; 23 as a starter against lefties), and he responded by hitting .354 against righties. (He was .061 against lefties.)
- When Lind was traded to Milwaukee in 2015, he was given 104 at-bats against lefties, and hit .221.
- He was willing to bring David Price out of the bullpen in a key postseason game, basically anointing Marcus Stroman as his #1 starter. He was widely criticized for this, but at least he tried something.
- He was willing to use 20-year-old Roberto Osuna as his closer. And he stuck with him, even when given veteran bullpen help.
And it’s not as if Gibbons is lacking people skills – in his second go-round as the Jays’ manager, I don’t recall reading about anyone complaining about him, even when the team was sinking fast in the divisional race in 2013 and late in 2014.
However, managers are hired to be fired, and Gibbons now has Eric Wedge looking over his shoulder: Wedge, who managed for the Jays’ new president Mark Shapiro back when he was the GM for the Cleveland Indians, has just been hired as a player development adviser. If the Jays stumble out of the gate, it’s quite likely that Gibbons will be given the boot and that Wedge will take his place in the dugout. Life isn’t always fair.