- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Colorado Rockies won their 11th straight game Sunday, a remarkable winning streak given their struggles earlier this season. All of a sudden, a club that was stuck in the basement of the NL West in late May finds itself 3 1/2 games out of the wild card in mid-June.

Oh, it just so happens this streak began less than a week after the Rockies fired longtime manager Clint Hurdle and replaced him with bench coach Jim Tracy.

“All of us in this clubhouse realized that we were capable of this; we were just playing really poor baseball at the beginning,” closer Huston Street told reporters. “A manager lost his job because of it. We just weren’t living up to our ability.”

So is the Rockies’ dramatic turnaround a direct result of the managerial change? Or is this team just finally realizing its potential?

This is the question major league general managers and owners are faced with when a managerial firing is considered. It happens every season in multiple towns. A team gets off to a horrible start, fans start calling for the manager’s head and eventually the front office gives in.

But what effect do these changes have? They actually tend to improve the product on the field.

From 2001 to 2008, 27 managers were fired in midseason. In 22 cases, the new manager posted a better record than the guy he replaced.

There are some notable instances this decade of a ballclub’s fortunes turning completely around after a change of managers. In 2003, the Florida Marlins fired Jeff Torborg after a 16-22 start and replaced him with cigar-smoking grandpa Jack McKeon. From that point on, the Marlins caught fire, going 75-49 the rest of the regular season en route to a World Series title.

One year later, the Houston Astros, sitting at .500, fired Jimy Williams. Phil Garner took over, posted a .649 winning percentage and led the Astros to the playoffs.

And though they didn’t guide their clubs to the postseason, the Blue Jays’ Cito Gaston and the Mets’ Jerry Manuel did help resurrect their teams after taking over in the middle of 2008, earning full-time gigs in the process.

So managerial changes tend to produce improved results - but perhaps not as improved as you might think.

Of those 27 managers, only eight posted winning records. Twelve had winning percentages between .400 and .499. Seven won less than 40 percent of their remaining games, which underscores just how bad some of these teams were when the original manager was fired.

This season has already seen two managerial changes: Colorado and Arizona. Obviously, the Rockies have righted the ship under Tracy. The Diamondbacks, though, have essentially played the same since Bob Melvin (12-17) was sacked May 7 and replaced by A.J. Hinch (15-20).

There is no magic formula that predicts whether a team will improve under a new manager. It comes down to how the players perform - no matter who fills out the lineup card.

The Rockies don’t care how they’re doing it. Right now, they’re just happy they are doing it.


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