For a very long time it seemed like the writing for John Gibbons was – as they say – on the wall.
When Mark Shapiro (and subsequently Ross Atkins) took over the for Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos in the Blue Jays’ front-office at the end of the 2015 season, speculation was high that the incoming executives would look to replace Gibbons with someone to their own preference.
Just two days after John Gibbons received a resounding standing ovation from Toronto Blue Jays season ticket-holders, the organization announced that former Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge was being hired as player development advisor.
So does that mean Gibbons’ replacement as manager is now in-house? That’s the obvious conclusion, since Wedge was the first manager hired by Shapiro with the Indians – Shapiro fired Charlie Manuel on July 12, 2002, after Manuel demanded a contract extension – and was the manager when the Indians made two trips to the post-season under Shapiro.
Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star, citing “experts” figured that Atkins “would bring his own manager on-board.”
Gibbons was unperturbed about the presence of Wedge in the front-office, publicly calling him a “great baseball guy”, and denying any worries about Wedge taking his job. Whether or not that was truly the case is for only John Gibbons to know.
Nonetheless, the Blue Jays began the 2016 season with Gibbons at the helm of the team. And when the Blue Jays started the season with a 20-23 record, Shapiro said all of the right things about his confidence in John Gibbons:
“To spend time around Gibby is to be incredibly confident in his leadership and to recognize that he’s part of the solution. We feel that he’s a guy who’s consistent. He is strong. He is tough. He is committed, and I feel like he’s the right guy to help guide us through the challenges that we’re facing now,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro and Atkins’ confidence is Gibbons was rewarded with 89 wins and a second-straight postseason berth. And though the team stumbled down the stretch, Gibbons did not make any unforgivable gaffes that would have thrown his managerial prowess into question.“[Gibbons is] one of the few real ‘characters’ left in the manager’s chair.”The Jays played for the American League Championship for the second year in a row, before losing to a Cleveland Indians team that still bore many of Shapiro’s fingerprints; a Cleveland Indians team that took the World Series to a seventh game before losing in extra-innings.
Considering all this, should it be any surprise that John Gibbons received an extension?
It wouldn’t be the first time a previous regime’s holdover was forced out by Shapiro.
But this vote of confidence in John Gibbons from Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins is also vindication from Alex Anthopoulos, whose decision to hire Gibbons in 2013 was called “a misguided choice” at the time.
To have that choice validated by someone as highly-regarded Shapiro all these years later really does make it look like Alex Anthopoulos knew exactly what he was doing all along.
Gibbons still has his detractors, both among the fanbase and the media (a 2016 ESPN ranking of all MLB managers last year placed Gibbons dead-last). Some dislike his bullpen management or his lineup construction, and others have questioned his in-game management decisions.
Gibbons is widely-known to have his “limitations” with “advanced” statistics (such as BABIP).
For whatever it’s worth, Gibbons had the worst replay challenge success rate last year, at 36.36%. The second worst belonged to the Braves at 41.46%. There isn’t a whole lot of correlation between winning and replay challenge success rate, so it’s difficult to determine whether the Blue Jays’ poor success rate is a detriment to the team’s chances of winning.
And though Gibbons was once considered MLB’s most meddlesome manager, it is still unclear what all of that lineup meddling, position tinkering and in-game adjustments really do to a team’s outcome.“Gibbons is widely-known to have his ‘limitations’ with ‘advanced’ statistics.”For all of the metrics we have and all of the different ways to measure players, we have very little insight into a manager’s influence on a team. The most basic measure, simply, might be a team’s wins and losses; and Gibbons has been piling up the wins.
And perhaps it is because we have yet to figure out a way to accurately quantify a manager’s effect on a team’s outcome that the intangible things (like clubhouse chemistry and clubhouse management) are most often-cited as what makes Gibbons successful.
Who knows whether Gibby will actually manage through to the end of his contract. For now, enjoy the ups and downs, and the fun that comes with John Gibbons managing your favorite team.
Of John Gibbons, the New Times’ Tyler Kepner said “he’s one of the few real ‘characters’ left in the manager’s chair.”