Following up: Rick Renteria winning the culture war
To the extent I follow the Chicago Bulls these days, it’s mostly so I can understand all the jokes about Jim Boylen.
Boylen is completely overmatched as a head coach, but he’s working with a gambit that I find fascinating: If he never changes his tone or expression, he can claim his messaging is consistent.
Most people should be worried about a 37-80 record, the 0-19 record against the East’s current playoff teams. And even if he wasn’t worried about the record, most people would worry about the rampant disrespect he’s fostering among his players, most recently with the pointless timeouts he’s calling at the end of losses.
But Boylen isn’t most people. He instead plows ahead with a half smile and utmost confidence in whatever he just said, even if the people tasked with listening and documenting his statements can’t square it up with everything he professed to be true before. That’s their problem, not his.
At any rate, those stories were swirling when James Fegan wrote about Rick Renteria, who is on the cusp of his first-ever season where his record does matter. There are similarities between the two, because both are very much the result of the search process of a Jerry Reinsdorf team. Like Boylen, Renteria came from the coaching staff of the previous guy in charge with no real process behind it, and he was given an extension under questionable circumstances. And like Boylen, Renteria was tasked with creating a culture during a process of intense, intentional losing with underqualified players, which usually results in a manager wearing out his welcome.
But Renteria has emerged from the worst of the rebuild on stable footing, and not just because of the weirdness of the front office that employs him. He seems to have the respect of everybody he has to deal with, including opposing managers.
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona paid Renteria the only type of compliment you want to hear from a division rival. Francona blamed the White Sox, and the 11-8 record they compiled against the 2019 Indians, for keeping them out of the playoffs. Asked what defined the Sox under Renteria, Francona spoke not about tactics but an element of their culture.
“They hustle every play and that may seem easy, but on a team that didn’t necessarily have the best record, they play hard,” Francona said. “They’ve always played hard. That’s a direct compliment to the manager and the coaching staff.”
The emphasis on hustle can seem superficial and outmoded to some; a demand of effort for the sake of show. But Francona cautioned that players don’t hustle because they’re lazy, but out of frustration, and combatting it is about making sure frustration never gets in the way of effort and execution. It’s a symptom of a more important concern.
Renteria flirted with overpolicing hustle in his second season, peaking with the benching of Avisaíl Garcia, who didn’t bust it on a routine flyball because of a knee that wasn’t close to 100 percent itself.
But he backed off, partially because it’s an untenable approach, and partially because he’s been able to transfer responsibility to the players. We’ve seen that with the Cuban chain of command, and elsewhere with Lucas Giolito inspiring Reynaldo López to try something different this offseason.
I have a little concern about that, although bringing in guys like Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnación keep it from being the blind leading the blind. On that side, an unhealthy reliance on imported veteran presence helped turn the 2016 White Sox into a biohazard, which is something the Sox have approached more carefully with this rebuild, José Abreu’s no-room-at-the-inn comment on Yasiel Puig being the latest example.
Renteria seems to have emerged from the rebuild with an ethos established, and before the White Sox actually got good. It remains to be seen how much that translates into wins, but I’ll give him one “W” for this accomplishment alone. It’s a difficult assignment for any manager and coach on any team, and as the Boylen and Robin Ventura administrations have shown, such attempts can quickly become a farce when the organizational chart is tangled and priorities warped.
If you want to picture the Boylen equivalent on the White Sox, it doesn’t require a whole lot of imagine. Just picture the Sox lacking the initiative to hire Renteria to replace Mark Parent, and that’ll get you most of the way there.
* * * * * * * * *
Speaking of Renteria, he amended the talking point on Nicky Delmonico’s strong start to his spring.
And getting back to Giolito, he’s starting to round into shape after the flu and a chest muscle strain delayed the start to his activities.
Lucas Giolito worked on his slider as part of a bullpen session Tuesday. It was the right-hander’s second session in four days after being slowed by a muscle strain in his rib-cage area.
“His last side (Saturday) was a little better than this one (in terms of command), but they were able to incorporate sliders (and) curveballs,” Renteria said. “He’s moving along very well. He’s moving in the right direction.”
I think the lineup Ricky put out yesterday is probably the starting lineup, with the exception of Grandal going into the 6th spot and Mazara moving to 8th. I’m pretty sure we’ll see a slightly different style of managing, now that the Sox actually have major league players throughout the lineup. No bunting, not many lineup changes. The last 3 years have allowed Ricky to see what works and doesn’t work. Now it’s time to see the finished product from him as a manager. I’m cautiously optimistic that he will do a great job.
If we are making Boylen and Renteria comparisons by say July, the season is going to be a massive failure.
I follow the bulls pretty closely and don’t feel the two are at all similar.
I am fairly confident Renteria is an MLB level Manager (its just is he a bottom third, mid tier, or top tier), Boylen is not an NBA level head coach and is a complete joke to everyone in the know. He is much more like Robin Ventura in that regard a guy who had absolutely ZERO business being the head coach of anything.
Oh, the point of comparing them as managers/coaches is over. It just struck me that establishing a culture is often an empty mission or a damned difficult task, especially with teams that are loath to attempt wholesale changes. When seeing it fail so spectacularly in the same town, it’s not something to take for granted.
Ricky is a likable guy but has been fated in his managerial career to been burdened with teams that were purposely tanking . I hope that with a Sox team that should be able to win his 2020 managerial style is an unqualified success .
Unfortunately, Dioner Navarro had spoiled before being introduced to the mix, and prolonged exposure of existing ingredients Adam Eaton and Todd Frazier produced curdling that proved toxic to anyone ingesting the product.
I like Renteria and appreciate what he’s done to establish culture. I’ve actually enjoyed watching the last couple seasons more than the awful Ventura years because the Sox did hustle and seemed to always enjoy playing with each other.
The job shifts now to protecting his young team from increased expectations. He has a pretty much plug n play lineup, barring injuries. Also the bullpen should set up nicely for a pretty standard approach from the 7th inning on.
Say what you will about Ozzie Guillen, but he always was adept at shifting the focus on himself, especially in the midst of a 5 game losing streak. I think the act grew tiresome after a while, especially because it became always about Ozzie. Should be interesting to see how Ricky changes the focus to a team with actual expectations to win.
Love Ricky in the Dwight Schrute Spring Collection.
That photo has me thinking of late-period David Thomas. My hope is Ricky’s charges are heavily influenced by The Art of Walking LP.
Even though I am not a big fan of Renteria, I believe he can win when he is provided with a good team. This is something I couldn’t say when Ventura was here
Boylen is fascinating to me. That he has fooled enough folks to get to where he is amazes me to no end.
He could be President
Culture does seem like an org strength now, though maybe not yet to the same extent it was a liability before. I think their cultural issues were deeper than just clubhouse dysfunction and might have been an understated cause behind the teardown decision. They also seem to have brought in a group of players interested in improving themselves and supporting each other.
Given that they were intentional about due diligence on Kopech’s character that’s probably not an accident. It’s to Ricky’s credit as well that he’s fostered that environment and empowered the clubhouse leaders in a way that gets other players to buy in. They seem to be pulling in the same direction.
It’s showing up in a lot of different ways, like Anderson & Moncada’s off-season work and Abreu getting Jimenez to adopt more rigorous pre-game prep. In addition to Lopez (& post-TJS Rodon) buying in to the pitcher dev program. Lopez is particularly interesting because it shows that they’re bridging potential fault lines not just bonding over similarities.
Good points here.
I’m interested to see if, in the end, it really matters. I’m not sold on the idea that clubhouse leaders are all that important. The 2019 World Champs had Adam Eaton as their most vocal guy in the clubhouse, and their other two starting outfielders were a 20 year old and 22 year old. Not exactly an inspiring veteran presence there.
I’m sure it’s fun to be around guys you like, and I don’t see any possible downside to guys getting each other to buy into an organizational philosophy. But at the same time, I’m not convinced there’s some sort of huge benefit to “playing the game the right way.”
I mean, to be fair, the 2019 Nats also had Zimmerman, Dozier, Kendrick, Rendon, Scherzer, Suzuki, Sanchez, and Cabrera, all of whom would probably be considered good ”clubhouse” guys and veteran leaders. I’m not sure why you restricted your list to OFers. They weren’t exactly lacking in this department.
I’m not sure what to make of the value of “clubhouse” guys. It can’t really be quantified, unfortunately. But players seem to put stock in it, and anecdotally my job is easier/better when I’m around (a) people I like and even more importantly (b) people that have been there before. My job is very different than theirs, but I can’t see why the same principles wouldn’t apply. It’s probably overblown for some players, but it makes sense that some players help get the most out of their teammates than other players.
Anecdotally, the loudest player in the Nationals clubhouse also said that a teenager could be a great MLB leader.
I just don’t think there’s much evidence that great teams have great leaders, while bad teams have bad leaders. If the 2020 white sox are any good, it’s probably going to be because they brought in talent, not leadership.
You are conflating “veteran presence” and “clubhouse leaders.” Although they are often go hand-in-hand, you can surely have a clubhouse leader who isn’t a veteran (possibly Soto?) and a veteran who isn’t a leader (possibly Eaton?).
I don’t think anyone—even someone like Hawk—would say having good leaders = good team (or vice versa) *automatically*. The claim is more about leaders contributing to a good team, or making a good team more likely.
As for the evidence…I think you’d be hard pressed to find any good teams (let’s just say 90+ wins) from the last 30 years who lacked at least one or two guys recognized as “clubhouse leaders” to some degree. I’d guess that task is much easier for bad teams. That may not be great or, ultimately, compelling evidence, but it is evidence.
I’m pretty sure if you find the worst teams from the past 30 years, you’re going to find guys considered as “clubhouse leaders” too.
I just wonder if there’s really that much of a value add from having your clubhouse leadership come from veteran players rather than the manager/staff. I doubt it’s much.
To your first point, see the second paragraph in my previous post.
To your second, maybe—but your doubt is just as substantiated as another’s belief. As I’ve said from the beginning, we really don’t know the value of it. I think there are some good reasons to think it has *some* value, but doubting it because the 2019 Nats had Adam Eaton just isn’t a good reason.
No, doubt isn’t as substantiated as belief. You asking me to prove a negative isn’t the same as me asking for proof of a positive.
I’m not asking you to prove anything. Nor am I trying to prove anything. I think there are some good reasons to think having leaders matter, because they seem to in pretty much every facet of life. That’s fine if you doubt it, but citing Adam Eaton’s being on the Nats isn’t a good reason to doubt it.
The difference between 1st and last is going to be about ability not chemistry, sure. The studies of team chemistry suggest the effects can be +/- 2 wins. That can be the difference between 1st and 2nd or a Wild Card.
And that’s just generic culture stuff like the Nats being clubhouse disasters during Harper’s tenure and having a better vibe in 2019 after Rizzo made it a point to overhaul the team’s makeup.
In the Sox case, they’re not completely lacking for talent though they are projected to be short compared to the frontrunners. But they also haven’t just found guys who get along–which isn’t exactly how the studies would define team chemistry anyway. There are demonstrable ways that they are helping each other improve actual baseball skills that should have tangible results we can see in their performance. If, for example, Cease and Lopez have developed fastball control and command that’s something that can be attributed to the cultural emphasis on a growth mindset and deliberate training. It’s potentially worth a lot more than 2 wins.
Stack enough of those improvements together and they solve the issue with variance in their projections, closing the gap to the frontrunners. And then maybe the fact they also get along puts them over the top.
See, this is what I’m looking for. I’m interested in “studies of team chemistry” that suggest a net positive effect. Do you happen to know of any specific studies out there that show this?
There have been a bunch and they cover a bunch of different aspects. The 1 ESPN The Magazine wrote about for baseball found a 3-game swing due to cultural overlap vs cultural fault lines, though it was heavy on demographic essentialism. Harvard Business Review had a non-sports write-up about Deloitte’s model for worker roles, how to manage them to build overlap and reduce fault lines to improve team performance. Another sports study found that whether teams had already won together was a better predictor than just skill ratings alone. Russ Carleton at BP has written a lot of stuff on it as well, some of it was also in the book he co-wrote when guys from BP were allowed to run a minor league team.
But, again, all of that is measuring the baseline chemistry stuff that has more marginal effects than the specific examples we’re talking about with the Sox.
I remember listening to a podcast where someone wrote a book on leaders in championship winning teams and that the leaders usually weren’t the best players on the team. They usually did the small things that no one else would do and rarely got credit for it.
The best example I could give would be Pierzynski running after the dropped third strike. You wouldn’t say he was the best player we had in the postseason but he took care of the small things that needed to be done.
Mikeyb, HofF is right, Eaton is not one of the clubhouse leaders of the Nats, loudness notwithstanding. Just like Eloy is not more of a leader on the Sox than Abreu simply because Eloy is more gregarious.
The Nats’ leaders were/are Zimmerman, Scherzer, Kendrick, and Suzuki. No Nats fan I know thinks of Eaton as a leader of the team. Team leaders inspire and support their teammates, which is why it means something. What and how much it means seems to be a team-to-team assessment. Talking loud, by itself, means nothing.
Ryan Zimmerman – 0 playoff series wins in his first 14 seasons
Howie Kendrick – 2 playoff series wins in his first 13 seasons
Kurt Suzuki – 0 playoff series wins in his first 12 seasons
I guess that clubhouse leadership sure takes some time to develop.
Your point is akin to saying Mike Trout isn’t all that good since he has 0 playoff series wins in his career, or Frank wasn’t all that special during his career.
Ah no, I can point to actual statistical evidence that they are good baseball players that provides value to a team in terms of runs, runs saved, etc. I see no statistical evidence that any of those guys “inspire” their teammates to do anything more than they would do without their leadership.
You won’t see “statistical evidence” of such because it cannot be quantified that way. If you need a calculator to establish value for anything that matters, you will end up undervaluing a lot of things that do matter. In other words, not everything that can be counted matters and not everything that matters can be counted.
I think uniform color matters. Teams that have the best uniform colors are going to win the most. It’s very important. I have no evidence to support this, but just trust me that it matters. Do not underestimate uniform color.
It doesn’t matter what you think and it doesn’t matter if it can be quantified. All that matters is a lot of players believe it does. The best example: the 1979 “We are family” Pirates.
A lot of players believe that God is the reason they win too. So maybe we should build a chapel in the white sox clubhouse.
You joke but, in appropriate contexts and setting aside complicating factors like the fraught history of religion and the impact of evangelizing in a diverse space, shared faith and worship contribute to community building. They also have replicable psychological benefits for dealing with anxiety, failure, and the kind of grinds associated with a professional baseball season.
Obviously not the only or even the best options but definitely not an example that supports your point.
@mikeyb Time to go do your reading then. You can start with a search for “team chemistry studies.” You can also go read Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck and Peak by Anders Ericsson then consider how team culture contributes to adoption of a growth mindset and deliberate practice training methods.
Yeah, I started with “In Search of David Ross” from the MIT Sloan Analytics conference. I found it interesting, but there are quite a few people who dispute their methodology. I found a Northwestern Engineering article about it that is a bit intriguing. I’m just starting on the BP articles by Russ Carleton that you mentioned; those seem really interesting and worth a deep dive.
Adam Eaton was hardly a leader or loudest voice for the Nats in 2019. This is from a long time sox fan living in DC who is also a big time Nats fan with season tickets.
Gestures vaguely at an Astros team that has had all of its success completely tarnished.