- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Each week, Nationals beat writers Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling debate an issue in major league baseball. This week’s question: Do early-season managerial firings work?

BEN GOESSLING: We’re a month into the season, and we’ve already seen our first manager axed. Bob Melvin, who took the Diamondbacks to the NLCS two years ago and nearly got them to the playoffs last year, is out. I know there’s a history of these working from time to time (the Marlins winning the World Series in 2003 after firing Jeff Torborg, among others), but on principle, I’m not sure how much they accomplish. Sure, they send a message, but unless you have a manager who was having fundamental issues getting the best out of his players, all they really do is make a flashy statement. Maybe you have to go on a case-by-case basis with these, but I don’t think they’re a panacea.

MARK ZUCKERMAN: I think in the right situation, an in-season firing can have a positive effect. To me, there are two criteria for such a move: The team in question must be underperforming and have a legitimate chance of turning things around to get back into contention. Or the manager must have lost the confidence of his players to the point that it cannot be regained. In either case, a shakeup can be the kind of jolt that saves a season. But to fire a manager just to fire him, well, ask George Steinbrenner how well that works.

BG: I’d agree with those criteria, but I’m not sure how often they’re actually used. To me, it seems like firing the manager is sometimes an easy way to make a statement to players or fans that something is being done, even if it’s not something productive. I’m not sure how Melvin could have lost the team at 12-17 unless the move was in response to a continuation of things that built up last year. Otherwise, it seems a little rash.



MZ: No, you’re right. Too often, a manager gets fired simply because an owner or general manager wants to show fans he is trying to do something — anything — to make the situation better. Funny how that’s often a diversionary tactic to take the heat off said owner or GM. But I do think it makes sense in some cases, and from talking to some of my well-placed sources in Arizona — OK, my father, a Diamondbacks fan — it sounds like Melvin didn’t have many supporters left.

BG: Can’t argue with that.

MLB POWER POLL

Rank, team Record Comment

1. RED SOX 20-12 They went 5-2 last week with the same boring consistency we can expect all year.

2. BLUE JAYS 22-12 Aaron Hill (.353, eight HR, 29 RBI) could be an early All-Star candidate.

3. DODGERS 22-11 They lost Manny, then lost at home to the Nationals. How will they be without him?

4. CARDINALS 20-12 The pitching will have to be better to stay in front of a tough division.

5. TIGERS 17-13 Lower-profile lineup than last year continues to get the job done.

6. METS 17-13 Johan Santana (4-1, 0.91 ERA) is enjoying the best start of his career.

7. ROYALS 18-14 Zack Greinke is arriving as an ace: 6-1, 0.51 ERA, 59 strikeouts.

8. BREWERS 18-14 They could hang around if unproven starters continue to deliver solid results.

9. CUBS 17-14 Starters will be better than this in the long run; now Derrek Lee just needs to hit.

10. RANGERS 17-14 Same old story: great lineup, little pitching. Will it last?

* Records through Sunday

AWARD TRACKER

Looking at the front-runners for baseball’s season awards. This week: NL Cy Young

Johan Santana, Mets

Here’s the scary thing: Santana (4-1, 0.91 ERA, 54 strikeouts) has a reputation as a slow starter. Either he’s going to struggle later, or he’s heading to a new place in the stratosphere. He is thriving in his second year in the National League, and though his strikeout totals might not be as impressive at the end of the year because of shorter outings, he’s also not showing his occasional bugaboo of giving up too many homers. (He has allowed just two so far.) After an impressive first year that fell short of dominant, Santana might be giving the Mets what they paid him all that money to do.

Others to watch: Chad Billingsley, Dodgers; Johnny Cueto, Reds; Dan Haren, Diamondbacks

— Ben Goessling

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