A recent comment about Bochy on Raising Cain got me thinking. He was compared to Dusty Baker. And I've added on, as usual.
First off, I loved Dusty Baker while he was manager of the Giants. He was an excellent player manager, getting a lot out of his players. The team won under him (and having Bonds and Kent helped greatly). He also led the charge from the old era to the new Magowan era, so there was a lot to like about him.
However, I was done with him after the 2002 World Series. How do I count the ways? First and foremost, I would have started Reuter in Game 7 over Livan. Yes, he did win key games for us along the way, but you want a bulldog going for you in that game, not a marshmellow like Livan. I was not surprised by the results. Secondly, searching around for a DH was bad enough - he should have just used Shinjo in that spot, he had the most regular play, and when he was used properly - in the bottom half of the order - he was actually valuable there. Instead, he started Feliz in Game 7, a rookie he barely used all season, and just threw him to the wolves in the most important game of the year.
Thirdly, given that Nen's shoulder was weaker than a wet tissue paper AND Ortiz was pitching well enough up to that point, he could have left in his veteran to get out of the inning, perhaps get a ground ball (he was 50/50 in that game up to then) double play. As a fan, it was enough to know that I would have left Ortiz in to try to get out of the 7th, but finding out later that Nen was not 100% just made the decision all the worse. And if you ever get into Dusty's doghouse, forget about ever getting out of it.
Mainly, his problem is that he's always the players' buddy, but never the parent he needs to be when it's time to win a series. A series need to be managed differently from a season, when you are playing for all the marbles. At some point, the players need to understand that he's making moves that will bruise egos, but at that time, he has to in order to win that game, that day. He never realized that distinction or, worse, did know but just didn't know how to get his players to stay loyal to him and motivated to win while doing it.
Why I Love Bochy: From Player Manager to Playing to Win
I think Bochy has a spectrum of how he manages. He imperceptibly moves along that spectrum from Player Manager to Playing to Win over the season.
Early on, it's showing confidence in guys and letting them show what they can do, managing as a player manager. In addition, he doesn't always put players into boxes or doghouse forever, as some do, he will sometimes give players chances to succeed or fail early on, even if that player had failed a lot before. He realizes that it's early in the season, no time for knee jerk reactions, and he doesn't focus on the negatives about what a player does, but appreciates the overall positives that he can provide. He's managing to get through the first half or so of the season, until the stretch run, while keeping in mind that he needs to step on the accelerator so that the team never gets too far back to win.
Stretch Run Transition
Around mid-season, that's when he starts to get his ducks in a row, as he heads into the stretch run. Roughly half the season is gone now, should have a pretty good idea of where you stand in the battle for the division title. Also pretty good idea of who is producing. He starts lessening the flexibility and experimentation that characterizes the start of the season, and starts to stick with set roles and lineups, playing the guys who are producing. He will bench people (Rowand, Tejada) and starts to manage for the win more and more often. He will, as I would characterize it, go for the kill more often, in order to get the win.
Playing to Win: Showing the Killer Instinct
By the playoffs, the transition has reached the other end of the spectrum. He don't care who you are, he will manage to win each game, then worry about the next game. He will bench people (Zito) or demote them (Lincecum), as necessary. He usually goes by merit who gets to be on a playoff roster, with Lincecum in 2014 as the exception, due to his stature and ego, most probably. He will bench people (Sandoval) while starting others (Renteria) who had done much up to then. He will take them out very early (Hudson and others) and use others in roles they hadn't been used in all season (Lincecum, Bumgarner). And it's all hands on deck to win the series (Phillies, Royals).
He seems to have learned that from his failure to win with the Padres in their only trip to the World Series with him. I recall an interview with him where he expressed his disappointment with how that series went. And all the Padres' fans' complaints about him favoring veterans and such seemed true until late in the 2010 season when he was making moves to win, damn the consequences, like starting Torres over Rowand. And I was full blown in love when he left Zito off the playoff roster. Again and again!
How he does it, I would like to think that he's very open with everyone about how they are producing and what they need to do if they don't like their situation. They might not be happy about it, but if he's fair about it and consistent, then it's up to the player to prove him wrong by producing, and he gives them that chance early in the season. How else does he get Sandoval to still play for him after benching him, or, even more, Zito to continue to pitch well enough for him after being left off the playoff roster throughout the playoffs? There is no 2012 Championship, most probably, if Zito was not there winning key games for us.
People seem to think they could have gotten a better pitcher, but eating that much money, they probably could have only afforded a Wellemeyer type pitcher, who is willing to take the veteran's minimum to pitch for you. There has also been some blowups (Rowand and Tejada) where there was no going back, and they were summarily let go, but mostly players just seem to love playing for him. And that's because he plays to win while balancing that with being a player's manager, something that is truly a rare skill to have.