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Deep Left Field Q&A: Ex-Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on bullpen philosophy and massaging egos – Toronto Star

By Mike WilnerBaseball Columnist

Sat., Aug. 21, 20213 min. read

Excerpts from Mike Wilner’s Deep Left Field podcast with two-time Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons:

At this point in a season, six weeks left, you want to use your best relievers to stay within two or three runs, but you still have to save guys for tomorrow and the next day. What’s that balancing act like?

Every game is important. They’re important from Day 1, but now everything’s magnified. There’s no doubt that when it gets late in the year, you’ve got to call on your go-to guys more often. You look at some of the winning teams. (High-leverage relievers) pitch a lot, and that’s where I’ve got a little beef sometimes with all the analytics now. Analytics are a good thing — the numbers don’t lie — but sometimes we get carried away with them. There are nights when the starter’s good and maybe the numbers dictate that he needs to be taken out at this point. But every time that you do that, somebody else is pitching. It catches up to those guys in the bullpen more than it does the starters. So why not try to stretch the starter out as long as I can, maybe buy an inning or two, get those (relievers) the night off, and if things get hairy I’ve got my go-to guy waiting there. But the bottom line is if you’ve got a good bullpen, you’re probably going to be all right.

You always seemed to be able to have a good read on what a guy’s got left. How were you able to do that?

There’s the old expression: Go with your gut. But I’d rather say: Trust my eyes. I kind of got the reputation that I’m anti-analytics, which is so far from the truth because everybody in baseball has been using numbers since Day 1, just not to this extreme level. Numbers don’t lie. But in baseball on any given night — you’ve seen it, as many games as you’ve seen — there could be average Joe that’s pitching a game for you and he may be on, man. It may be his night. You let him run with it. That’s why you have great performances in baseball, even from guys who have very (short) careers or bad careers. They shine every now and then. So on that particular night, let’s say the starter is just good, you know? Let him ride it because you know what? The boys down in that bullpen, they’ll thank you.

There were some strong personalities on those playoff teams you had with the Blue Jays. (Hall of Fame manager) Sparky Anderson had that old line where he said you have to keep the five guys who hate you away from the five who are undecided. How do you keep those personalities all lined up and working toward that same end goal?

I think that could be your biggest challenge as a manager. I’ve always felt that baseball isn’t all X’s and O’s like some of the other sports. I think the manager’s number one job is holding the team together and running the pitching staff. We had a bunch of big personalities. You’re always going to have some sour guys in there, and you got to keep everybody focused. I played a little bit with the ’86 Mets. These guys fought each other. They were out of control. You name it, it happened. But they came together when that game started. The manager, he’s got to hold them together, got to put out some fires, cover some things up, whatever it is. But there’s no doubt it’s a challenge. Some people (said I) didn’t have enough discipline, too loose, but it depends on what kind of team you’ve got. The team brings in Josh Donaldson and everybody loves him. The team already had José Bautista — big personality, flamboyant, volatile, whatever you want to call it. That’s part of what makes them good, so you want me to dampen that? It’s like you have a very active child. Do you want to kill their spirit and all that by saying no, no, no? You know what I mean? So you’ve got to let them be them, and they’ll be at their best. If things get out of control, you figure out the problems and you put out the fire.

Click here to hear the full interview with John Gibbons

Ex-Jays manager John Gibbons on how to get the most from pro ballplayers: “You’ve got to let them be them, and they’ll be at their best. If things get out of control, you figure out the problems and you put out the fire.”

Mike Wilner is a Toronto-based baseball columnist for the Star and host of the baseball podcast “Deep Left Field.” Follow him on Twitter: @wilnerness


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