Dial M for Jimy?

added 11/5/2001 by Todd Brody

When Jimy Williams was named as a potential manger for the Astros immediately after Larry Dierker was fired (errr resigned), I supported his hire. And, admittedly, my support was not based on watching a whole lot of Red Sox games this past season. I didn't even remember that he was the third-base coach for the Braves (and according to the Sporting News, that fact may have been key to his hire). No, my support was based on the fact that Williams kept the Red Sox in contention despite losing three of the best players in baseball (Nomar and Pedro and Everett) for significant portions of the past season. It was also based on the fact that the Sox were a contender in previous seasons despite a real lack of talent. If he could do that with no talent, surely he can take a team like the Astros (who are loaded with talent) to the World Series. But when Williams was actually hired, I began to wonder whether he was the right choice for the team.

First, was Williams actually responsible for the Red Sox's run at the playoffs or did Joe Kerrigan deserve the credit for keeping the Red Sox's pitching staff together? This is really an unanswerable question. But the fact that the Red Sox collapsed shortly after Williams was fired does lend some credence to those who say that Williams was responsible for the Red Sox staying in the race that long. Second, and more important, I started reading about Williams and, frankly, a lot of his managerial decisions scare me. If you read the articles about Williams, you get the sense that he does the following on a regular basis: (1) pull his starting pitchers quickly; (2) change his lineups on a regular basis; (3) avoid the running game - either through the hit and run or the stolen base; (4) sit players who had great games the night before based on a hunch; (5) rely on his instincts and not on a player's past performance vs. the opposing pitcher or hitter.

Now to some extent, Williams's decisions as manager of the Red Sox were based on his personnel. If you don't have quality starting pitchers (and outside of Pedro, the Red Sox did not have good starting pitching) you don't give your pitchers a lot of rope. If you don't have players with speed, you don't run. If you have a lot of people who play the same position (like the Red Sox did at second and DH in particular), and none of them are superior to one another, you might change your lineup on a regular basis.

Having said that, if Williams continues to do things like this with the Astros, he is going to drive me crazy. I am a firm believer (and I know that Ray disagrees with this) that players want to be comfortable with their place in the lineup and hit better when they know their roles on the team and know that they are going to bat 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 7th in the lineup. Is Williams going to start moving Jeff Bagwell around the lineup? Is Lance Berkman going to bat in the two-hole some games? In the fifth spot in others? I also think that starting pitchers (but not relievers) should be allowed to work out of jams, particularly when you have starting pitchers like Wade Miller and Roy Oswalt who are better pitchers than the available middle relievers. I think that hot players should be ridden until they are no longer hot. I think that the running game has to be employed and that teams can't rely on the homerun as the Astros seemed to do so many times last year.

At the end of the day, I am still a big believer in Williams. As I said in my last column, there is a real lack of veteran leadership on the Astros. Dierker clearly did not provide leadership from the bench. His players didn't even listen to him. Everything I read and hear says that Williams is able to motivate his veteran players and, particularly the role players - who are so important if you want to contend. Williams's reputation also is as a "teacher" and, frankly, Richard Hidalgo, Julio Lugo (if he stays), and others could use some tutoring. The Astros have to learn how to hit a breaking ball. John Lauck is right when he says that there is an organizational bias towards waiting on the fastball. The Astros get beaten by too many off-speed pitchers. Williams and his new batting coach, hopefully, will be able to refocus the Astros hitters. The other reason why I like Williams is because he is not going to take crap (sorry Ray) from Craig Biggio and the other veterans on the team. He sat Everett when Everett missed practice. He even sat Pedro when Pedro showed up late. Williams is not going to put up with the nonsense that appears to have taken place in the Astros clubhouse this past season.

Most important, Williams is not going to hang the Astros laundry in public for the world to see. Disputes in the clubhouse should remain in the clubhouse. And that was a major problem this past season. While the press loved Dierker's "off the cuff" remarks about the players and their performance (or lack thereof), the players certainly didn't appreciate being scapegoated in the media for a loss. Jimy Williams simply is not going to do that. And that alone should gain the players' confidence in him.

The Astros have a lot of decisions to make for the 2002 season. The first decision, to get rid of Dierker, was the right one. To second decision, to hire Williams, also was a step in the right direction. It appears that the Astros will keep Burt Hooton (which I believe is a key to continued improvement from the young pitchers) and are about to give Gerry Hunsicker a new contract. Outside of the owner, the Astros have a world championship front office. Now they just have to bring in world championship players.

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