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Kirk Gibson: Should he stay or should he go?

Conflicting reports this week as to the future of Diamondbacks' manager Kirk Gibson. Will he be here in 2015?

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today Tweeted

However, Arizona's Chief Baseball Officer La Russa quickly issued a statement denying that any such decision had been made, and referring to comments made on Monday, when asked about the job security of both manager Gibson and GM Kevin Towers: "I don't think the timing for each of those has to coincide..  I've been around three months, I've observed a lot, talked to and met with a lot of people in the organization. I have a much better idea. The season is a month and 10 days from being over. So it won't be long until you have to trot out your plan officially."

I'm kinda in three minds as to whether or not retaining Gibson would be a good thing or not.

In favor of Kirk Gibson

It does seem unfair to link Gibson directly to the coat-tails of Towers. After all, Gibson was here first, being installed as interim manager after the departure of A.J. Hinch in the middle of the 2010 campaign. After Kevin Towers was appointed GM, he then approved the appointment of Gibson permanently, even though Gibby's win percentage that year was just .018 better than the man he replaced. At the time, Towers said he felt comfortable they shared the same vision: "For me, sometimes it's gut intuition on people. I've always felt that was one of my greatest strengths, knowing in a short period of time who I want to align myself with and who I don't."

So this wasn't a case like Josh Byrnes bringing in A.J. Hinch for purposes of "organizational advocacy." You can make a case that the question should be, is Gibson a good manager, who can be worthwhile going forward - and evaluate him separately and independently from Towers. The problem is, how can we tell if he's good or not? I think 90% of baseball management is people skills, forging 25 disparate personalities into a cohesive role, and anyone on the outside will have very limited knowledge of Gibson's skills there. But is there any evidence someone else might do better? Not that I've heard.

One point in support of retaining Gibson is, it seems to make it almost certain Towers is toast. There is absolutely no way that the status quo can be maintained - not after a team record Opening Day payroll and a side currently on pace for less than 70 wins, with a run differential going the wrong way for the third consecutive season. If both Towers and Gibson are around next year, so many fans would be done with the team. But I think more people would probably be okay with Gibby staying, realizing he can only play the hand he has been dealt by those who construct the roster.


Compared to people management, I tend to think that the in-game stuff, while most open to criticism, is a relatively minor part, and 90% of those decisions could be made by a well-written AI program. Not that La Russa quite buys into that, saying, "I think the biggest problem I see is there are teams that have gone way overboard and are really interfering with the way the managers and coaches conduct strategy during the game by running the analytics and forcing them into it." So, don't expect the ManageBot 3000 to come to the Arizona dugout anytime soon.

Overall, I don't tend to think a manager makes that much difference to record - as shown by the near-identical 2010 records of the fired A.J. Hinch and the made permanent Kirk Gibson. That wasn't an aberration. I looked at this very thing, later that season and discovered that teams which fired their manager mid-season had an average win percentage of only .016 better after the change, That's about 2.5 wins over a 162-game campaign: not negligible, but certainly not a game-changer (literally). So, it probably doesn't make that much difference WHO manages the 2015 Diamondbacks: Gibson, LaRussa or the ManageBot 3000.

Against Kirk Gibson

The main argument against retaining Gibson, if Towers goes, is it would cramp the style of whoever replaces Towers at the helm, since it 's never going to be successful if the General Manager and Manager of a team are pulling in different directions. The presence of an incumbent, especially one who has been given the seal of approval and awarded security of tenure by the new GM's boss, is going to be a bit like trying to sell a home with a sitting tenant. Would you be interested in buying a house if Kirk Gibson was living in it? I rest my case. I'd rather have the best GM we can get; if Gibson is collateral damage for that, so be it.

Firing Gibson would also send a "clean house" message to fans. It's valid point that Gibson has been part of the problem, the team going from the brink of the NLCS to jostling for a #1 draft-pick in less than three years.Initially,  it seemed La Russa looked favorably on Gibson, saying just after the All-Star break, he was happy the "club never lost its heart" despite the bad start, and "I’ve been impressed. I really like it when a star like him comes back into the game. He loves the game. He’s very open." However, since the date of that story, the Diamondbacks have gone 10-19, close to the worst record in the majors, and its heart now seems in question.

Gibson certainly seems helpless to stop the implosion which has been August, and any pretense at "sound, fundamental baseball" is increasingly a joke, with the team already having racked up 17 more errors than all of last year. Part of that is, of course, due to injury - but repeatedly playing Trumbo at 1B seems more like a self-inflicted injury, along the lines of a manager repeatedly stabbing himself repeatedly in the eye with a spork, in an effort to remove a mote of sand.