Yesterday, AN introduced you to Bob Geren in Part I of my three-part interview with the A's new manager. Today is part two. Enioy!
Blez: What do you think helped prepare you more for the position, being a minor league manager or being the bench coach at the big league level?
Geren: Oh by far minor league manager, by far.
Geren: Because you're the manager (laughs). Every single decision you make has an impact. You're not only the manager, and let's use Sacramento for a second, I wasn't just the manager, I was the third base coach, I was the outfield coach, I was the baserunning coach, I was kind of the infield and catching coach. I had Roy White who helped a little bit with the corner infield, the outfield and the baserunning, but we kind of did those jobs together. I did have a pitching coach. I was kind of the advanced scout, I had to write reports on prospects.
Blez: Don't forget team psychologist.
Geren: Yes, well you do have one of those too. But you do do a bunch of that as well. You just have so many different things. It gives you a tremendous advantage for thinking about managing at a higher level. I could've never thought about being a major league manager if I wasn't a minor league manager for as many games as I did. At least for me. There are guys who do it, but for me I had no chance unless I was in the minors first.
Blez: Do you think that experience came into play as a part of the reason you got the job as well? A lot of the other candidates didn't have that.
Geren: I was never told that, but down in my heart I would say that it didn't hurt. I just know how there are so many decisions you have to make during the course of a baseball game. I think back to early in the minor leagues and making so many mistakes. I was just thinking I'm glad that this is at the rookie level where nobody noticed it. It definitely helped me personally. I'm sure that was a consideration.
Blez: How much did you learn what to do and what not to do from watching Ken Macha operate last year?
Geren: First of all, I like Ken Macha and I would never say anything bad about him. He's a good man. He was very prepared, very focused and very knowledgeable. He had a tremendous memory. He knew what pitch got hit two years ago in a certain game. He was a tremendous asset in that way.
Blez: Did you learn a lot from watching him operate?
Geren: Sure. Every manager that I've ever played for or worked under or worked around has taught me something. I try to gain something from them for sure.
Blez: Much of the criticism of Macha, at least from the fans perspective, was around how much he stuck with his starting pitcher even when he was struggling to throw strikes or was getting hit around the yard. I think people felt that way especially because the A's had such a strong bullpen with so much depth. Fans felt like it wasn't taken advantage of enough. Do you have a set philosophy on when to pull a starter?
Geren: No, you can't have a set philosophy because it changes so much. Only people on the inside really know who is available that day in the bullpen and what they have to offer that day. So sometimes on the appearance that let's get this guy out because you have a full, great bullpen down there, but on a given day that might not be true. You might be very limited on some days. I have a system where I use my pitching coach and a little card I keep that tells me how many times a guy has pitched and how many pitches he threw the last time out. Even if they got up and weren't used, and what I do with my pitching coach is have a meeting every day about the bullpen. It can be as simple as 30 seconds or it could be as complex as 10 or 15 minutes. We do have a gameplan going in that addresses what do we do if he gets roughed up early or what if he goes five innings and is done, or six or seven innings. We discuss what the approach will be for all the different scenarios and line it up against the opposition. I might look at this part of the lineup and think it might be great for Alan Embree or this would be perfect for Calero and his breaking ball. You kind of have plan A, B and C for every game. It makes it impossible to have a set one for the whole year other than try to get numbers on pitchers as to when their performance levels are the best. Some pitchers drastically drop off after 110 pitches or a certain number of pitches so I try and keep that in the back of my mind. Certain relievers pitch better if they get regular work, so pitch better if they don't throw back-to-back days. These are things that constantly have to be monitored.
Blez: Do you think that you learned those nuances of this pitching staff because you were the bullpen coach for a while?
Geren: Yeah, but I think I learned the nuances being a manager. What I did learn as a bullpen coach was a little bit of the relievers attitudes where they talk down there like, "why is he going back out?" It was interesting to hear and was quite amusing, really. It was great for me because a lot of times a guy would ask me if I thought he was going to go back out, I could basically say because I knew the manager and the pitching coach so well that what he's probably going to do here is he's going to have him face these first two hitters and I wouldn't be surprised if the phone rings here any minute because I imagine that you'll have to be ready for the third guy. And sure enough the phone would ring and it would be exactly that. It was really fun down there. It helps to train you to be a manager down there in the manner of training you on how to run a pitching staff. But yet the game part of it, you're so far away from it that it didn't help you with the game portion of it. As far as being behind him as a bench coach, you can see when you play down the lines and play no doubles. And other things like are you going to bunt here, are you going to hit and run, are you going to pinch run if Frank (Thomas) gets on board here...you learn all that as the bench coach. So it's kind of great opportunity to do both. It really was.
Blez: A lot of A's fans get frustrated, especially the old school A's fans who saw Rickey Henderson and a lot of the stolen bases, hit and run style baseball, and just a lot more action on the bases. What's your philosophy on that? Do you plan on being more aggressive with stealing and hitting and running or do you plan on keeping the A's system over the last few years in place?
Geren: If I had a 27-year-old Rickey Henderson, he would steal 100 bases, there's no doubt. I don't have anything against that. I know that there's a certain percentage of stealing a base that has to make it even worth trying it. There's been all kinds of statistical studies done on that and I believe in that. The hit and run can be a questionable thing because what you're doing there is starting a runner and you have to have a reason to do it. Are you trying to stay out of a double play? Are you trying to create something?
Blez: Well, the A's hit into so many double plays last year it might make sense to be more aggressive.
Geren: True, very true. Also on the hit and run, my philosophy on that has to take into consideration: what if the hitter swings and misses and what are the chances that he's going to still steal it? If the chance is like zero, it's not really worth it on the risk/reward factor.
Blez: So you don't send a Dan Johnson on a hit and run then?
Geren: Not too often, but if I had a 3-2 with one out and Jason Kendall hitting who is one of the lowest strikeout totals in baseball, he's going to run because you're putting it on the hitter and not on the runner. My philosophy on sacrifice bunts is that statistics show that no outs and a runner on first, you're probably going to score more runs than with one out and a runner on second. But if moving that runner into scoring position has a chance to win a game or tack on an extra run to help you win a game, I'll do it. It's really difficult to talk about hypotheticals. You have to manage the situation first and what is going to benefit the team on that day. I'm not against anything, but right now we don't have the personnel to steal a ton of bases. But if a pitcher is slower than normal in his delivery or a catcher is struggling or something, I would say sure, we'll be a little more aggressive than we've been in the past.
Blez: How do you like your team's rotation?
Geren: If everyone is healthy, I love it. If everyone stays healthy all year, I absolutely love it. You have Rich Harden, who is an electric pitcher and is one of the best pitchers in baseball. All you have to do is look at his batting average against the last few years. I remember late last season I was standing off to the side while Rich was getting ready to pitch a simulated game because he was getting ready to pitch in the playoffs. Sandy Alomar Jr. who has been in the big leagues between 17 and 19 years and I've known him since the minors and he's just a great guy. Sandy waves me over and asks, what is this guy doing? I said he's getting ready to pitch to get ready for the playoffs. He said, "That's the nastiest guy I've ever seen in my career." When a guy that was a catcher that has played in both leagues and played for how many teams...
Blez: And caught a number of great pitchers.
Geren: Yeah, exactly. What a compliment. Loaiza had a tremendous second half. He's a quality guy who pitches both sides of the plate. Dan Haren is tremendous.
Blez: You mentioned Rich Harden. Can this team survive if Rich Harden only starts a few games?
Geren: It would depend on who took his place. I don't want to talk about that. I want to stay positive. Rich is healthy and he's going to be healthy (laughs).
Blez: I was going to go into health later, but I might as well do it now. Obviously health has been a huge issue for this team the last couple of seasons. It will likely have a big impact as to whether this team has success this year or not. Is there anything the manager can do to help the team avoid the injury problems that have plagued it in the past, or is that out of your realm? You mentioned having pitchers and catchers report early, but is there anything else?
Geren: There are a few things. As far as running a game, we can start by making sure we monitor how many pitches a starter goes. But everyone has done that in the past, so that shouldn't be that much of a change. You could possibly spread the bullpen daily work a little more evenly or just not let guys throw three, four or five days in a row. I think that could help the health of the reliever. As far as position players, certain guys that maybe have chronic-type problems we could schedule their days off around travel days where maybe they could get two days off in a row. Or someone that might have a foot problem or a back problem you can limit their time on turf. That's the main thing you can do. You certainly can't tell Bobby Crosby to not run into a catcher or slide hard because you might get hurt, because you can't play the game that way. You have to play it hard and you have to play it right.
Blez: Billy Beane mentioned that Joe Kennedy would have the first crack at being the fifth starter in the rotation. Can Kennedy lose that status in spring training with poor performance and if someone like Windsor pitches really well? Or is it too dangerous to make decisions based on spring training performance?
Geren: I think Joe Kennedy has the inside track because Kirk Saarloos was traded and that narrowed the candidates down. He also has the most experience in showing what he gives to a team as a starter. I think that anything can happen in spring training, but he definitely has the inside track.
Blez: The team lost Frank Thomas who was a huge catalyst for the team making the playoffs. Most experts seem to think, and I brought up the offense a little earlier, that the offense is the team's biggest weakness. How do you get this team to generate more runs?
Geren: We talked about it a little earlier. A better approach to hitting with runners in scoring position will generate more. We talked about health earlier and with good health we will generate more runs. The added power of Bobby Crosby and a healthy season of Eric Chavez will generate a lot more run production there. I think that Shannon Stewart is a great addition. Dan Johnson is going to have a better year. Nick Swisher had a great year and he's still improving. I feel positive about the offense, I really do.
Blez: How long do you stick with a player in the lineup if he's struggling offensively? How long of a leash do you have on a player like that?
Geren: It depends on our options, really. Is it a player that needs to get sent down to get straightened out, or is it a veteran player that you know has a track record and will get back into the groove? It's a really difficult question to answer. In general, you confer with your hitting coach and find out what he needs to improve on. Will some time off working with the hitting coach improve it? Will staying out there and grinding it out improve it? And sometimes it's not just the statistics. It might appear to the naked eye that he's struggling because he's not getting hits, but his approach and his swing might be going in the right direction and he might not be having any type of success. But his approach is good so you stay with him.
Blez: If it's someone like say an Eric Chavez or Mark Ellis, do you keep them in the lineup no matter what because of their superior defense?
Geren: That definitely comes into play. Our strength is definitely pitching and defense. To take someone out of the game when he's one of the key defensive players because he's struggling offensively, you have to weigh out who you're going to replace him with. How much more offense are you going to get and how much less defense are you going to get and is it really worth it?
Blez: Do you believe in moving a struggling bat down in the lineup if you're going to have him in there for defensive purposes?
Geren: Yes, I most definitely do.
Blez: One of the things A's fans felt last year or maybe it was the year before was frustration because Chavez kept getting slotted in the third or fourth spot in the lineup despite his struggles offensively. The fans wanted to see him sixth or seventh in the lineup and move some other guys up. Do you believe in doing that?
Geren: I do, I do. I don't have any problem with that. That's one of the decisions you get paid for as a manager. If someone is struggling and is coming up in key situations where you'd rather have someone else in there, you just talk to the player ahead of time and let them know that you're considering doing that. You don't just surprise them. You let him know what you're going to do and that's part of the responsibility of a manager is the communication.
Blez: Since I live in Sacramento, I remember reading stories about you where some of the younger players would talk about what a funny guy you were and how you're good at keeping a clubhouse loose. Do you plan on remaining a manager who keeps things loose or because this is the big leagues do you take a more "buttoned down" approach?
Geren: (laughs) Well first of all, when I managed in Sacramento and you say the clubhouse was loose, it was never loose when it needed to be tight. When we were having meetings no one messed around. When we were discussing the opposition, no one was messing around. When we were practicing, no one was fooling around. It's more of a professional approach with a relaxation to it. Nobody was ever not doing their job.
Blez: In other words, it's sort of like being in tune with your team and realizing that maybe they're holding the bats too tight and need a lighter moment.
Geren: Yeah exactly. We'd do some different funny things that would bring the team together in unity. We used to have this great one where every time a new position player would come in we'd have these signs that we'd go over. They were the most ridiculous, impossible to figure out signs. We'd have these different scenarios about if it's a left-handed hitter facing a righty, I'd start with my right hand and do this, this and this. If it's a left-handed starter and we're on the road, you reverse it. And if it's the seventh inning or later and it was close, the belt would be the indicator. We'd really just make all this stuff up and the running joke would be whenever I finished it up, the whole team would say "bunt" and the second time they'd say "steal". The players knew I was joking but the new player would think that they just weren't getting it. Then at the very end the team would all laugh and welcome the guy aboard. Things like that. You know, funny things, but very serious on the field.
Blez: Obviously Ron Washington got a lot of credit for being so great on teaching the infielders great defense. Are you afraid of the impact of his loss on some of the players here or is more of a worry long-term with the franchise?
Geren: Wow, I was just going to say that. That's a good question and you're exactly right. I don't think Eric Chavez with six gold gloves is going to forget what Ron taught him all these years. And Mark Ellis had only two errors and set a major league record for second basemen. These players aren't going to forget the great schooling they got. It's more of a long-term thing where we have to develop the style that he taught through the minor leagues and the major leagues. Bob Shaefer is going to do that at the major league level. He's going to speak to the players about what drills they did with Ron and go that route and stay with the same approach.
Blez: In other words, trying to make sure the same things are taught throughout the organization.
Geren: Yeah, I spoke to the players about Shafe and the best thing to do would be to get with him in the mornings and show him exactly the drills that keep you locked in the way Wash showed them to you. Crosby, Ellis, Chavy, they all said it was perfect and that was exactly what they needed. They were a little concerned that things might be taught differently, but they're going to keep the same drills and the same approach so the players were very happy to hear that.
Coming Tomorrow: Geren talks about what managers he admired and whether or not he's willing to get kicked out of a game to make a point (hint: you'll find it refreshing).