There are currently four managerial openings in Major League Baseball. The Cubs, Reds, Nationals and Mariners are all in need of a new skipper. Torey Lovullo is likely to receive serious consideration from one or more of those teams.
Currently John Farrell’s bench coach in Boston, the 48-year-old Lovullo has managed in the minor leagues with the Indians and Red Sox. He interviewed for the Dodgers job in 2006, only to see it go to Grady Little. Boston interviewed him prior to the 2012 season, but hired Bobby Valentine. He was Toronto’s first base coach in 2011 and 2012.
In the second of a series of interviews with up-and-coming managerial candidates, Lovullo discussed the approach and philosophies he would bring to the job.
Lovullo on what he’s learned since interviewing with the Dodgers: “When I had my original interview, I probably didn’t fully understand just how good major-league players were. I’d played at that level, but then stepped out of it for six years and became a minor-league coach [and manager]. Today I have an incredible respect for the pace at which the game is played, and the strength these guys have. At the time, I’d gotten away from it just long enough to where I’d become unaware of how fast this game really is.
“I don’t think my views on using data have really changed. I think maybe I’d be a little more specific on what I’d ask for and what I’d acquire. Match-ups and all the basic stuff is very accessible. There are certain projections that programs can now produce. They’ll give you percentages as to what the outcome may be, and I would utilize that to the best of my ability. Five or six years ago, when you and I first talked about this, I think it was more raw data. It was kind of an upstart idea that has come closer to being perfected today. Things have gotten very specific and that’s information I pore through and pass on to John [Farrell] every day.
“One thing I look at a lot is projected strikeout percentage, and projected ground ball and fly ball percentages. There have been several situations where John and I have gone back and forth this year, especially early in the season. To stay out of the double play with runners on first and third, because there was a very high projection the batter would hit into a double play, we elected to go with the safety squeeze. In hindsight, that didn’t work either, but we made the decision for a reason.
“There’s no perfect science to it, but there are many situations where we’ve stayed with a particular hitter because his fly-ball probability off a pitcher was very high. We believe in it, we utilize it, we talk about it, and when we’re on the fence for a certain situation, we can go to those projections.”
On the sacrifice bunt: “The equation changes depending on things like where you’re playing, who you’re playing against and what you have available in your bullpen. Overall, I’m not a fan of it. I think it’s needed from time to time, but we led the league in runs scored this year and had the fewest sacrifice bunts.
“At times, it can work to advance a guy into scoring position, but by and large, I’ve learned over the years that the sacrifice bunt can be a rally stopper. Every out is precious. You’re playing with 27, so if you give up two or three a game, you’re playing with 24 or 25. You’re giving up an inning’s worth of outs to sacrifice guys into scoring position, and the law of averages shows that just because you’re at second base doesn’t mean you’re going to score. If you’re at first base with no outs, you have a better chance of scoring runs. The numbers show that. That’s what we’re all about. We’re about putting up big innings and scoring a lot of runs, especially in [Fenway Park].”
“What we’ve tried to do here is be very dynamic. We want to be able to say, ‘Look, on a given day, were going to go up there and hit the ball. We’re going to score runs because we’re going to bang the ball around.’ But there might be situations that pop up over the course of the year where we’re not hitting the ball, we’re not executing offensively. We want to have the weaponry in our arsenal — in our backpack, as Butter [third base coach Brian Butterfield] likes to say it — so we can pull it out and beat you in a bunch of different ways. That could be a bunt or hit-and-run.”
On adaptability and dynamics: “What we’ve done here is create an environment that these guys have bought into. They understand what we might be asking for. We might be asking for something in April you won’t see again until August. But these guys will be ready to execute it, and understand it, because we talked about it and believe in it. We want to be dynamic. We want to be able to switch roles if we need to, and score a run a different way than a three-run home run.
“As coaches, we do a little bit of homework, a little bit of reconnaissance, a little bit of video research. We pay attention and show John our presentation: If we execute we can take advantage of a soft spot here.
“As coaches, we all try to build credibility. If you don’t have that, you can’t keep pushing forward with these guys. Early on, they looked at us like we had two heads when we were talking about some of these concepts. We’ve created a totally different language. That’s our system. There’s a great amount of trust between the players and coaches, and that’s what makes what we’re doing special.”
On defensive shifts: “That’s Butter’s baby, and I’m a big fan of it. I’m a fan of moving a bunch of defenders into one area where you know there’s a very good chance a player will hit the ball. The reason I’m a fan of it isn’t just because of probability. There’s a tail on that. I know how much it frustrates hitters. I was over-shifted from time to time and I looked around the field and thought, ‘What in the world are these guys doing?’ I was going to show them I could hit against the shift, and that was a distraction for me right away. It’s a built in distraction — a hitter is taken out of his comfort zone — and that is a victory for the team shifting.”
On bullpen usage and leverage: “I’m a big fan of putting players in the best position to be successful. I think there is a conversation you need to have with each individual. I’m a fan of roles and structure, and staying with it. If you come out of that, you should have a conversation that it might be coming down the pike. It’s better to be proactive than reactive.
“We change roles here every now and again. We’ve asked Koji [Uehara] to go into high-leverage situations that may not be a save. He’s executed that perfectly. But he has also asked for that. John has had that conversation with him, as has [pitching coach] Juan [Nieves], prior to him going into that situation. Koji welcomes a high-leverage situation, followed by a save situation. He’s versatile. He’s a very dynamic guy and he’s very different. Each closer might be different, and each situation might be isolated, and the conversations between that potential pitcher and the manager happened beforehand.”
On player acquisition and communication with the front office: “That’s something I very much believe in, and it is ongoing here. That’s what’s so great about our front office. From top to bottom, they’re always seeking information and acquiring thoughts about guys. If there is a conversation regarding free agents, they want to get as much input as they can from every area. This past off-season, a bunch of scouts went in and [director of baseball information services] Tom [Tippett] told them the list of candidates they wanted to bring in. Several of them are here.
“I believe in that. I believe in one unit moving forward. I believe in open communication and there being no barriers between the front office and the dugout.”
On lineup construction: “Tony LaRussa was on the cutting edge of hitting his pitcher eighth. He didn’t always want his leadoff hitter hitting behind the ninth hitter, and I think there is some value to that. I might be a little traditional in some of my thoughts, but I’m certainly open to lineup construction that’s going to lead to the most runs.
“The mentality of a baseball player is such that they love the routine. To pull somebody completely out of their routine — out of their comfort level — I’m not in favor of that. You don’t want to hit Dustin Pedroia leadoff one day, third the next day and second the day after that. I like the idea that the leadoff hitter is going to come to the ballpark knowing he’s hitting leadoff. Same for the second, third and fourth hitter. There are other spots where you can maneuver a little bit. And if you have a player like Ben Zobrist, who can be at his best moving around, I’m all for that, too.
“I think the second hitter should be able to hit a fastball. If your leadoff hitter is your typical leadoff hitter, and is on base, they’re going to be calling for more fastballs, so your second hitter has to be able to handle a pitcher’s best fastball.
“You want your best hitters at the top of the order to give yourself the best opportunity to score runs. Over the course of the season, the ninth hitter is going to get about 150 fewer at bats. You want your best hitters up as often as possible, so if they’re hitting one, two, three or four, they’re naturally going to get more plate appearances over the course of a full season. That’s what every team that wants to score runs should be looking for.
“The National League is a little different from the American League. Runs are at a little more of a premium because of the pitcher hitting. But a player like Joey Votto has to be hitting at the top of the lineup, whether it’s first, second or third. Exactly where is the manager’s decision, but I see him as more of a third hitter because he’s a run producer. You want him up to bat with runners on base.
“Your cleanup hitter has to be able to drive in runs. He can be a swing-and-miss guy, but he’s got to be able to generate some offense in any part of the count, and with any number of outs. Ideally you want him to be able to drive in runs with two strikes.
“The old adage is that if you have runners at first and second with one out, and your number-four hitter strikes out, you want to have your five hitter be able to put the ball in play. In a perfect scenario, that would be great. Michael Young would be a great five hitter, right? He can do anything with the bat you ask him for. But I think that type of hitter would be my six. My five hitter would be more of a poor man’s four hitter. He’d be someone who can drive the ball and generate the long ball at any time in the count.
“Ideally, you want perfect balance. You’d like to go left, right, left, right, and you’d like a good contact guy after a big swing-and-miss guy. But it’s often tough to go by those standards.”
On platooning: “I’m in favor of platooning. We have great value here in Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes, with their ability to go back and forth. I know they’ll hit second and I’ll platoon them there. I know they’ll hit fourth and I’ll platoon them there. We can utilize their abilities in a way that puts them in the best situations to help our team score runs. So I’m in favor of it, as long as the players know. But I’m not going to pull a surprise on David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia. They’re going to know they’re in there hitting every day, every time their spot in the lineup comes up.”
On sample sizes and matchups: “I believe that after 25 at bats you’re going to start to see a good sample size. Anything less than that, you can’t really rely on it. If a guy is 1-for-2, he’s hitting .500, but it does nothing for me. If a guy is 12-for-25, that’s a sample size that tells me he’s locked in and seeing the ball well. Slugging percentage is the same way. The more at bats, the more meaningful it is.”
On advance reports: “We combine a lot of information. I think [general manager] Ben [Cherington] says it best: We get a notebook’s worth of information that we condense down to two pieces of paper we can reference quickly. We can look at it and understand what we’re trying to get to. We rely a lot on advance reports. We have great advance reports every time we play a team and we use that in combination with the other data we’ve compiled. We’re very thorough. I feel you have to be.”