NEW YORK (AP) — Long before Buck Showalter had access to analytics departments and all their graphs, spreadsheets and heat maps, he had his wife, Angela, hand-drawing spray charts to inform defensive positioning for the 1987 Fort Lauderdale Yankees in the Class A Florida State League.
Is the New York Mets 65-year-old manager going to resist the info cooked up on his analysts’ computers?
Just the opposite.
“There are going to be some guys there who are going to say, ‘Sheesh, can I get a break from this guy?’” he said.
Showalter insisted Tuesday at his introductory news conference that if the Mets don’t succeed during his tenure, it won’t be for sabermetric ignorance. He’s eager for advanced analytics, he said, even bemoaning the lack of data brewed up by Baltimore’s bare-bones front office when his previous job with the Orioles ended in 2018.
“If you think that I’m going to let somebody beat us by having better analytical information or because someone on staff doesn’t understand it, well, I’m not going to talk about it,” Showalter said. “We’ll show you.”
Thirty years after George Steinbrenner gave him his first big league managing job with the New York Yankees, Showalter is back in the Big Apple. His boss this time also has deep pockets and ambition to turn coin into championships.
Second-year owner Steve Cohen committed $254.5 million to ace Max Scherzer, infielder Eduardo Escobar and outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha before rosters froze when ownership locked out the players on Dec. 2. The club then turned its attention to finding a replacement for Luis Rojas after the 40-year-old manager was dismissed in October.
Showalter interviewed with general manager Billy Eppler and team president Sandy Alderson before meeting with Cohen as a finalist last week. Cohen tweeted Saturday that Showalter was his man and signed him to a three-year deal.
Showalter beat out Houston Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro — both up-and-comers in their 40s who are known to be well-versed in baseball’s data revolution.
The edge went to Showalter, who convinced Mets leadership of his ability — and excitement — to adapt, along with all the other skills he’s developed since taking his first minor league managing job in 1985.
“We looked at a number of criteria spanning from culture and connectivity with players and staff, to embracing new practices in both player performance and analytics,” Eppler said. “We wanted to assess how the candidates problem solve, how they communicated and most importantly, how they would shape a culture with high operational standards.
“It was Buck’s ability to connect to a wide range of people, his drive to compete, his curiosity blended with his experience, and his overall adaptability that led us to naming him manager.”
Showalter, a three-time AL Manager of the Year, is 1,551-1,517-1 (.506 winning percentage) in 20 big league seasons with the Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers and Orioles. He’s been to the playoffs five times but never won a pennant. He said winning a World Series isn’t “going to define my life,” but that it “does wake me up every day now.”
He has been away from the dugout for only three seasons, but several strategies have boomed or evolved in that time. Relief openers have gone mainstream after the Tampa Bay Rays first experimented with them during the 2018 season, and defensive shifts have nearly doubled, occurring in 31% of plate appearances in 2021. Showalter’s Orioles ranked eighth in the majors with a 23% shift rate in 2018.
“We would have loved to have a lot more analytics, for instance, in Baltimore,” Showalter said. “We just didn’t have the funding for it, and I’m looking forward to having (a program), to be honest.”
Showalter was at ease facing dozens of New York reporters on Zoom, cracking jokes with a few journalists who covered him with the Yankees from 1992-95. He also has worked on TV for ESPN, MLB Network and the Yankees’ YES Network. His comfort in front of a microphone was a selling point, Eppler said.
“This isn’t something you put your headphones on and say, ‘I don’t listen to it,’” Showalter said of New York. “It’s there. But there’s no place like it when you get it right.”
This news conference came with an odd challenge — because of the ongoing lockout, team representatives have been advised not to discuss players publicly, meaning Showalter wasn’t supposed to mention the names of any Mets. He made it through most of the hourlong session before slipping up a few times.
Showalter won’t be allowed to communicate with players until the lockout ends. In the meantime, he and Eppler have a coaching staff to build — only pitching coach Jeremy Hefner remains from last year’s group. Showalter said he and Hefner already have begun strategizing for how to ramp up the pitching staff if spring training is shortened due to the labor stoppage.
Showalter joins Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra and Joe Torre as managers of both the Mets and Yankees. Dallas Green held both jobs as well.
“I just want everybody to know that it’s going to be a priority from Day 1 to put a product out there that we can be proud of,” Showalter said.
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