Young, first-year managers are a growing trend in Major League Baseball. That’s good news for David Wallace. The 34-year-old wasn’t a candidate for any of this off-season’s openings, but he almost certainly will be in future years.
A catcher in the Cleveland system for six seasons, Wallace moved from the playing field to the coaching ranks in 2009. An assistant on the Indians’ big-league coaching staff in 2009 and in 2010, he has spent the past three seasons as a minor-league manager. This past summer he skippered Cleveland’s high-A affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats.
Wallace — a product of Vanderbilt University — recently discussed the approach he’d bring to a big-league managerial position.
Wallace on what his managerial style would be: “It will have a lot to do with the team I have. If we have a bunch of boppers, I won’t be afraid to sit back and let them hit. If we’re more of a team that has to manufacture runs, we’ll do that. Just as important, I want to be a guy the players know has their back. This game is about the players, not the managers or the coaches. My primary role would be to put guys in the best possible position to succeed. And I don’t want them out there afraid to make a mistake. Go play fearless baseball.
“I follow the numbers. For instance, not sacrifice bunting with a runner on first. If you watched some of our games in Carolina, you might not have seen that. I’d have our guys bunt in pretty much any situation old-school baseball would have you giving up an out to move a runner. My natural instinct, and preference, is to let guys hit, but I bunted them because it’s good for their development. If they get up to Cleveland and Tito [Terry Francona] asks them to lay down a bunt, they need to have done it before.
“Even if we’re not a sit-back-and-wait-for-the-three-run-homer team, there are different ways than laying down a bunt. It might be a hit-and-run, or it might be trusting a guy to shoot the hole — shoot the gap with the first baseman holding the runner on. I’m not a huge fan of giving up outs with sac bunts. I’d rather see a ball driven in the gap.
“I’m always open to new things and trying to find better ways to put our guys in the best position. Right now, I’d say it’s a combination of what my gut tells me and what the numbers tell me. Situations and which players are involved dictate many of a manager’s decisions.”
On lineup construction and knowing your players: “At the minor-league level, I have to go with what’s best for the organization. I like to look at the Indians’ lineups, and see what Tito is thinking. But down in A-ball it’s more about getting guys the at bats they need. I don’t really have any outside-the-box thoughts on lineup construction. I’d say I’m pretty traditional in that respect, and again, a lot depends on who you have on your team.
“I would put more emphasis on OBP in the first two spots. If we have a leadoff guy like Michael Bourn, once he gets on base, he can get to second and third by himself. I don’t necessarily need my two-hole guy moving him over. I’d like him to get on base and let those three- four- and five-hole guys drive both of them in.
“Would I [consider hitting a pitcher in the eight-hole]? That’s something I’d have to look into. The fact that Tony LaRussa did it makes me think there’s definitely some validity to it. But to be honest, I haven’t looked at those numbers deep enough to have a strong opinion.
“The numbers will have some influence on 99 percent of the decisions I make. They won’t be the only factor, but they will definitely be looked at and analyzed.
“I feel you have to pay attention to the situations impacting the numbers. If we have a guy with a high OBP, when is he getting on? Not that all situations don’t matter, but at the same time, not every at bat is the same. I like guys who put up the slugging in their OPS in high-leverage situations. When the game is on the line, some guys step up because they want to be in those moments. Other guys want no part of it. They feel comfortable when there’s no pressure.”
On relievers and leverage: “That’s something we struggled with this year in Carolina. We had trouble making that transition to our closer. Our starter kept us in the game, but we couldn’t always get the ball to our closer. As a result, we started bringing him into the higher-leverage situations, whether it was the sixth, seventh or eighth.
“That said, I’m one of those people who believes it takes a special mentality, or mindset, to get those last three outs. I’m not someone who believes the last three outs are exactly the same as the first three outs. The importance is the same — you have to get all 27 — but not everybody can get those last three.
“Multiple innings is something that gets discussed in player development. Do we sometimes coddle these guys a little too much? When they get to the big leagues, they might be asked to get four or five outs, and what if they’ve never done that in the minor leagues? Of course, some of that depends on the pitcher. Every case is individual, but I think it’s good for guys to at least have been in those situations before.”
On defensive shifts and organizational continuity: “If the spray charts show a shift is warranted, I have no problem doing that. But we don’t shift in A-ball. If we know a guy is a pull hitter, we’ll play him to pull, but we’re not doing a complete shift. There’s definitely some movement — some defensive positioning — but at this level our focus is more on pre-pitch repetition and the fundamentals of executing plays.
“In the spring, we had a couple of meetings with Tito, Brad Mills and the entire player-development staff. Tito and Brad talked about their philosophies, then opened it up for questions. One thing I asked about was no-doubles. Tito gave us his philosophy on that. He’s not a huge no-doubles guy. There are certain situations where he’ll guard the line, or play his outfielders back, but mostly he just wants outs. If they earn that double by hitting the ball over our heads, then they earn it. But Tito doesn’t want to give up an out, with an enormous hole on the left side of the infield, because the third baseman is standing on the line.
“By no means did they tell us what we have to do. They give us, as minor-league managers, the freedom to play it the way we feel is best to play it. That’s something I appreciate. But as far as things like bunt plays and first-and-third defense, it’s the same in the minor leagues as it is in the big leagues. It’s just not as well-executed down here.”
On priorities and mentors: “There’s so much more information in the big leagues than what I deal with now. At this level, I’m mostly thinking about how can I help our players get better. It’s more of a player-development mindset, whereas in the big leagues it’s more about how to put yourself in the best situation to win tonight’s game. You’re analyzing a lot more information.
“There’s a lot more going into learning and studying the opposing team, and coming up with a game plan. That includes the pitcher and catcher, how you’ll defend certain hitters, how aggressive you’re going to be on the bases — a number of things. I look forward to being in the middle of that one day. I can’t wait to sit down with my staff, or to simply be part of a staff. I got the chance to watch Eric Wedge and his staff, in 2009, and then Manny Acta and his staff, in 2010. I wasn’t as involved in the strategy aspect, but I got to be there and watch how they went about it.
“[Wedge and Acta] were big influences. An even bigger one would be Torey Lovullo. He was my manager for a few different stops in the minor leagues. During games, and preparing for games, I often find myself thinking back on how Torey handled certain situations — player situations, team situations, in-game situations. He’s probably had the biggest influence on how I manage, and how I view my role as a manager.”
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