Here’s a bar bet you can win: Name a six-figure-salary job you can get in Seattle with zero computer literacy. Answer? Manager of the Seattle Mariners!
I give you new M’s manager Lloyd McClendon. Recently McClendon was asked if he had a Twitter account. “Heck,” he responded, “I have to learn how to use the computer.”
McClendon’s disdain for technology may be tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also a window into how he’ll manage the Mariners. McClendon won’t be crunching Excel data late into the evening to find a statistical edge; he won’t be trolling Fangraphs for the latest analytics breakthrough. McClendon’s information won’t come from a computer, but from his eyes and his experience.
Here’s how McClendon explained his decision to assign former second baseman Dustin Ackley to left field: “Because that’s where I want him.” Ha! You won’t get Pete Carroll–esque disquisitions on personnel philosophy from McClendon, even behind closed doors. And so I have dubbed him Lloyd the Infallible.
McClendon’s approach is not one I, an insufferably well-informed child of the Information Age, would take to managing a baseball team. But then I don’t have McClendon’s experience. McClendon has played, coached, or managed 4,162 professional games. If you’d watched a baseball game every day since Obama became president, you’d be nearly halfway to McClendon’s total.
Many managers have succeeded betting on experience over analysis, including the Mariners’ only decent skipper, Lou Piniella. (McClendon and Piniella also share an affinity for uprooting bases during arguments with umpires—YouTube it.) You’d rather have McClendon stick to what he knows than use stats he doesn’t. And, much to the dismay of me and other stat-loving know-it-alls, no conclusive evidence exists that modern baseball analytics provide an in-game advantage. The Pittsburgh Pirates improved their defense using unorthodox positioning last season—but that was one season. This isn’t football, where tactics are a coach’s main job. A baseball manager’s primary goal is still what it was in Casey Stengel’s day—motivating and leading players. Or as Stengel put it: “keeping the guys who hate your guts away from the guys who haven’t made up their mind.”
Lloyd McClendon, a 55-year-old baseball lifer from Indiana, does not keep up with the latest trends in baseball, technology, or, probably, anything. But hopefully he can still make as good a steak in his cast-iron skillet as you can cooking it sous-vide.