Trey Hillman: 2010’s First Sacrificial Lamb

[Author’s added note, May 14, ~10:20 A.M. EST: You really should check out Posnanski’s post that really lays out Hillman’s clubhouse issues that I hinted at below. Do so if for no other reason that to find out that by the end of his first season, “the players were rather openly comparing Trey Hillman to Michael from “The Office.” Hmm… I wonder where they got that idea?]

The first manager of the 2010 season has been “let go”: Thursday afternoon, immediately after Zack Greinke‘s first super-duper meaningful pitcher win of the season, the Kansas City Royals announced the firing of manager Trey Hillman. I’m not an “insider,” so I won’t get into analyzing the specific politics of the organization. That sort of stuff will hopefully come from the almost-always outstanding work of Joe Posnanski, Rany Jazayerli, Sam Mellinger, and others.

It is tempting to run through a sampling of Hillman’s “greatest hits.” (Who can forget Kyle Farnsworth pitching to Jim Thome on Opening Day 2009?) We’ll always remember Hillman’s response to the person who asked why left-handed reliever Ron Mahay wasn’t brought in to face Thome : “Mahay isn’t a lefty specialist.” Hillman handled the bullpen poorly, made bizarre playing time decisions, had an amazingly poor grasp of the platoon, and allegedly lost the clubhouse in his very first Spring Training with the club. I personally soured on Hillman fairly quickly. I didn’t appreciate the condescending tone Hillman tended to take when he felt cornered, and it was clear that part of the problem was his personality and attitude (he didn’t have time to “educate” us).

Nevertheless, even when someone has lost their job deservedly, it is difficult to take much joy in it. Hillman clearly loves the sport, and went to great lengths to be “in baseball” any way he could — working his way through the Yankees’ minor league system as as manager, leading the Nippon Ham Fighters to Pacific League championships in 2006 and 2007, and finally getting a shot at the American major leagues with the Royals in 2008. This is what happens to managers who preside over terrible teams. I would be shocked if Trey Hillman ever managed in the American major leagues again, and while that’s an accurate reflection of his abilities, it is sad to see that part of his dream end. Like just about every defeated political candidate I’ve ever heard, he never sounded better than during his ‘concession speech.’ All the best to Trey Hillman in his future endeavors. I’m just glad he got to stay long enough to see Jason Kendall‘s emotional 250th hit-by-pitch.

The least surprising post-firing announcement is that Hillman’s replacement, at least on an interim basis, is former Brewers skipper Ned Yost. You aren’t going to believe this, but Yost was a coach for the Atlanta Braves at the same time Dayton Moore was working there. Some blame Yost for the Brewers’ pennant race problems during the last part of his Milwaukee tenure, but it is safe to say Yost probably won’t have to deal with that situation anytime soon with Kansas City. The truth is that it just doesn’t matter all that much, from a pure baseball perspective. You’ve read the sabermetric “managers don’t matter all that much” thing before: yes, managers often make bad strategic decisions, and sometimes they blow up in their faces, as in the Farnsworth/Thome example above. But over time… sometimes you pinch-run Tony Pena, Jr. for your designated hitter Billy Butler in a close game, Pena gets stranded, then, in extra innings, one of the worst hitters in the history of the major leagues, playing DH, gets the game-winning hit. Within a few games, random variation limits the amount of damage (or good) a manager can do. Yes, Hillman played Jose Guillen too much, but he’s not the person who gave an obviously declining outfielder in his early thirties a guaranteed $36 million dollar contract, either.

Back to the matter at hand. If you’re reading this, you probably know how this usually plays out. A new GM (Dayton Moore) comes in, quickly gets rid of the current manager (Cf. Buddy Bell) and brings in “his guy” (Trey Hillman). If after two or three seasons, if the team is still losing, the manager gets canned, and the GM’s leash gets shorter. Dayton Moore was quite emotional during Thursday’s presser, but it would be cynical to suggest that it was for any reason other than his personal relationship with Trey Hillman. Still, this is a clear sign (especially if one thinks the order to make a change came from ownership) that patience with the Royals’ lack of progress at the major league level is running thin. Pre-Moore acquisition Alex Gordon has been successfully neutered, but the most valuable on the team are still pre-Moore draftees Zack Greinke and Billy Butler. Hillman was Moore’s last line of defense. Some may say that Moore needs time to “see the end of what he started” in the minor leagues. Did anyone say that Allard Baird should be allowed to see what became of Greinke, Butler, and Gordon?

Trey Hillman (about whom Moore once said had a chance to be “one of the best baseball men of his generation”) needed to go, if for no other reason than showing that there is some level of “accountability” within the organization. The signals indicate that ownership isn’t going to wait around indefinitely on Dayton Moore, either. Again, we’ve seen this movie: new general manager comes in, honeymoon period (he isn’t the old guy!), seems to have a plan (I bet no one has ever thought of building a “farm system” before!), hires new manager (new ideas from Japan!), spends lots of money of free agents… then, when/if things go south, one of the last lines of defense is that the GM’s managerial hire gets fired. The typical next step isn’t to fire the new manager: after the first hire-and-fire, it’s usually the GM’s turn.

Now that is a process worth trusting.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
6 years 10 days ago

For some reason, clicking the “pitcher win” link without opening the full article leads to a

“You have encountered an unexpected error. If the problem persists, please fill out a contact form.

Thank you for your patience.”

message. I thought that was more amusing than linking to the scoreboard, since the self-contained joke is that wins(for a pitcher) aren’t that important anyway.

Josh
Guest
Josh
6 years 10 days ago

I’m a little upset by this, because I thought Yost would jump to Atlanta after the season was over, as a natural fit.

Maybe he still will. Or maybe it’s been promised to Pendleton or Cadahia already.

D-Rock
Guest
D-Rock
6 years 10 days ago

“had an amazing poor grasp of the platoon concept”

amazingly

“This is what happens to manager presiding over terrible teams.”

to a manager

Other than the small errors, a solid article on Hillman and his reign of error. Though, I thought people were supposed to take joy when someone was fired deservingly.

MC
Guest
MC
6 years 10 days ago

Hillman was a butcher as a first hand witness (Twins fan). It’s helped me appreciate what we do have in Gardy.

That being said, the company I work for is doing some re-org and many leaders were essentially re-interviewing for their job as a result, and some I think generally respected people seem to have lost out and others who were less respected lost out. It’s hard to find comfort in that result given you see people on both end of the spectrum’s end up without work.

It’s just not fun to watch others encounter that adversity, for me anyway.

Best of luck to Mr. Hillman and those Seniored people at work who are now trying to find that next thing.

vivaelpujols
Guest
6 years 10 days ago

How fucking happy are you right now DF?

hoser
Guest
hoser
6 years 10 days ago

The Sam Mellinger link seems odd and doesn’t work for me.

3rd Period Points
Guest
3rd Period Points
6 years 10 days ago

A process worth trusting, indeed. Godspeed, Trey. May you once again find gainful employment in Japan, where the sac bunt is revered and your nonsensical ramblings will be lost in translation.

Sabean's Folly
Guest
Sabean's Folly
6 years 10 days ago

I, on the other hand will dance in the streets when and if Tweedledumb (Bruce Bochy) and Tweedledumber (Brian Sabean) ever get the firings that they truly deserve.

Baseball management is such an inefficient market though that it may be possible for these two hacks to remain employed for much longer than anyone with a brain can believe possible.

Paul
Guest
Paul
6 years 10 days ago

Odds on Kila starting tomorrow night (and batting down in the order a bit instead of cleanup like last week – “Oh, 0 fer 3, I gave the kid a chance, back to Hosey.”).

I think the point about the situation is a good one. Seems to me that going into a situation like KC’s is always going to lead a manger to over-manage. This really just another way of saying they lose the ability to think rationally. In a way I think this situation is harder to handle than being Yankees manager. I get that there is a ton of pressure in New York, but I think the pressure in a situation like the Royals’ is a type of negative pressure that leads otherwise normal people to turn into Planet Hillman.

Skitch
Guest
Skitch
6 years 10 days ago

Get a clue boys — it wasn’t the managing. Look at the roster. Your big acquisitions are Podsednik (34 yr old .270 outfielder), a 37 year old catcher who’s basically a .240 hitter now, and a pitcher turned outfielder, Ankiel who’s a backup… oh, wait, I forgot, your “stud” returning outfielder has played for about 18 different teams! Anyway — it was a matter of time, any baseball person could see that they handed him what amounts to a ginned up AAA club. Whoever “built” this club is who should be fired, not Trey.

3rd Period Points
Guest
3rd Period Points
6 years 10 days ago

I don’t think anyone claimed that the team’s performance was Hillman’s fault, so I’m not sure who you’re arguing with, Skitch. The team IS a bunch of scrubs, has-been’s, and never-were’s. Additionally, Trey Hillman was overwhelmed and incompetent. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Reuben
Guest
6 years 10 days ago

Man I wish this is what the article was about!

Oh wait, it was.

David MVP Eckstein
Guest
6 years 10 days ago

TO be fair, the manager is in charge of line up setting/mgmt and Hillman sucked at that. Viva el Kila

UZR is a Joke
Guest
UZR is a Joke
6 years 10 days ago

“You’ve read the sabermetric ‘managers don’t matter all that much’ thing before”

I tend to agree with this, but not in Hillman’s case. If you were to track all managers bonehead decisions, most would be even out over time, but Hillman made so many mind boggling mistakes he could never get that much luck to overcome them. He has easily cost this team 4 wins this year.

They have a better wOBA than the Rays and are scoring 1.5 fewer runs a game. Part is poor execution, but part is constantly giving away outs. And giving away outs from a better hitter so a lesser hitter gets the opportunity.

His bullpen management was ridiculous. Anytime someone got on base, he’d panic. They have 88 inherited runners, 25 more than the next team. And he was always bringing in a lesser pitcher to relieve a better pitcher and it was hardly ever because of a platoon advantage.

4 more wins has them at 16-19, 74 win pace. If Yost is halfway competent, that is probably the pace they’ll continue at. They’re not good, but 70 wins is what I’d guess they end the season instead of their current 55 win pace.

MetsFan
Guest
MetsFan
6 years 10 days ago

This argument kinda sucks. You cherry-pick the Rays who have been awesome in the clutch and bad in the non-clutch, so of course the Rays have a better runs:wOBA ratio. Not to mention, bad managerial decisions should factor into a lower wOBA (giving away outs), so that shouldn’t factor into such an argument. “Poor execution” sounds like bad luck to me. Also, I highly doubt he cost them 4 wins. Maybe it seems that way, but certainly not in expectation, ie. bringing in reliever A vs. reliever B in a high leverage situation and reliever A loses. Even if a dumb decision, this did not “cost” the team a win in expectation.

I have nothing to say about the bullpen management. I’ll take your word that he wasn’t very good at it.

David
Guest
David
6 years 9 days ago

I feel like most fans of most teams complain about their manager (and their 3rd base coach!) a lot – heck, studies have shown that Tony LaRussa is one of the best managers in the game in terms of getting his players to overachieve, but he’s also one of the most criticized managers in terms of in-game decisionmaking. That said, as a non-AL Central fan, I think Hillman is one of the worst managers when it comes to pitcher management.

The latest example – a couple of days ago, Gil Meche had a game where he gave up 6 hits, 7 walks, and struck out 3. Somehow he limited the damage to only 3 earned runs. Guess what? Hillman left him in the game for 8 innings and *128 pitches*. This is a guy who was on the disabled list in April with a shoulder injury. It’s one thing when Roy Halladay throws 133 pitches in a game where he records 14 strikeouts and 1 walk, as he did on June 2, 2009 (amazingly he threw a complete game shutout with only 97 pitches in his next start). But it’s objectively stupid to leave a pitcher – with recent injury concerns – in for 128 pitches in a game where he was pretty much ineffective.

Casper
Guest
Casper
6 years 9 days ago

You should take our word on the rest of it, also, because yeah, he probably really did cost the team, over a schedule of 162 games, probably about 3-4 each season with his lineup’s/in-game strategy/bullpen management. It just really was that bad with him. No exaggeration.

MC
Guest
MC
6 years 10 days ago

Bunting runners over in the first couple innings of games when the game was even, or they are up or down a run is just plain stupid. I Hillman do that several times this year just against the Twins. There are players on that team that know better. It’s gotta be disheartening when you work for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Paul
Guest
Paul
6 years 10 days ago

The real question is, will Ned Yost have his first player meeting with Billy Butler and tell him he’s not a second baseman? Hillman was just thrilled to have his (should be) DH hitting an empty .330. He is right back where he was in the first half last season, and this is not luck or park effect. Until his manager sits him down and tells him it’s big boy time and to stop popping line drives over the second baseman’s head with nobody on and a 2-0 count, he will never consistently hit for any power. Which makes him useless as a DH. Free Kila! Bring Hosmer with a quickness!

Casper
Guest
Casper
6 years 9 days ago

Or, you know, maybe let him develop in the minors instead of having a Gordon redux and rush him to the Bigs. You know, whatever.

Jamie
Guest
Jamie
6 years 9 days ago

Yes, I am quite sure the reason Billy Butler only has 3 home runs is because no one has specifically asked him to hit more.

BX
Guest
BX
6 years 9 days ago

How soon does Dayton Moore go?

I say deadline.

Casper
Guest
Casper
6 years 9 days ago

Na, he just got a 4 year extension last year. Not that is necessarily an solid barrier to being fired, but I bet Glass gives him at least thru next season.

NYRoyal
Guest
NYRoyal
6 years 9 days ago

An important step on the road to firing Dayton Moore. I don’t think that is close, but this had to happen first.

Bannister19
Guest
Bannister19
6 years 6 days ago

The most ridiculously stupid, short-sighted, and useless article ever. Don’t ever compare yourself to Sam Mellinger and Rany again. FanGraphs is a disgrace. Just change your name to Anti Dayton Moore / Anti Royals. As you obviously, once again, as in every Royals article written by the FanGraphs crew, failed to mention the facts about Dayton Moore, and every move he makes. FanGraphs is truly worse than Corporate News, and that’s just sad.

Go with your Posnanaski buddies and plot your Dayton Moore takedown a little further.

FYI: It’s not working. Moore’s leash hasn’t been shortened. His five year extension didn’t come on a misguided thought that David Glass thought the Royals were a competitive team this year.
“Hey, Rick Ankiel! Can you say AL Pennant?……no”

Everyone went into the season knowing more than likely it was going to be a sub 500 team, and Moore’s extension didn’t come from a little fairy tale that we’ll compete much in 2010.

All you’re doing is grabbing the same idiots who listen(ed) to Steve Phillips and Joe Morgan all day. It’s going nowhere.

Ben F
Guest
Ben F
6 years 6 days ago

Funny that you would use fan-favorite stats-analyzing Bannister as your moniker then rant–with a general lack of coherence–against such analysis on a site where statistical analysis is being used as a foundation for discussion. If this were your first meaningless rant, I would just ignore like usual. But this time I’m more annoyed.
1. For someone who’s looking for “facts” this seems like a pretty silly thing to claim.
2. He didn’t compare himself to Rany, Poz, etc. If anything he suggested that the readers consult them for more-detailed insight.
3. I suppose “disgrace” is in the eye of the beholder.
4. Once again, I’ll suggest that, instead, maybe Dayton Moore should change HIS name to “Anti-FanGraphs”.
5. Maybe you could enlighten as to just what “facts” have been omitted?
6. Now THAT is kind of an interesting thing to say. Hard to rebut a claim with no factual basis or evidence presented, but if everyone else thinks one thing, and YOU think the other….
7. I don’t know if I’m a “Posnanski Buddy”, but we already have a plot — it’s called The Process.
I’ll stop there b/c at least you get a little more, well, not “coherent”, but “presentable”. Of course Moore’s leash has been shortened: the team has not improved and Moore had to fire his choice of managers.

japanese last names
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Interesting entry. I was reading something like this a bit earlier. Nice that it is getting covered. You know, I need to make my blog theme more like this.

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