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Perrotto: John Russell May be New Manager

John Perrotto:

There were strong indications Friday night that the choice was former Pirate third-base coach John Russell.

Russell, 46, who was on the Pirates staff in 2003-05, is currently the manager of Philadelphia's Class AAA Lehigh Valley farm club.

Boston pitching coach John Farrell was considered the favorite to replace Jim Tracy, who was fired on Oct. 5.

However, Farrell said Friday that he decided not to interview with the Pirates.

"I just decided that what's best for me right now is to remain with the Red Sox," said Farrell, who just finished his first season in Boston and helped the Red Sox win the World Series.

There's no quote in support of Perrotto's speculations about Russell, and Perrotto tends not to be the world's most reliable reporter, so take this with a grain of salt for now. We'll see whether it gets confirmed.

Personally, this would surprise me a little bit, if only because I wouldn't think Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington would want to hire someone with ties to the old regime. Also, there's this:

Russell said he is firm believer that pitching, defense and basic fundamentals win ballgames and that is what happened with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

"You manage with what you had. We were not a big power hitting team, so pitching and defense was obviously the key, and that's key with any team," Russell said. "We had to create runs. We had to hit and run, try to move guys over when we could. We took advantage of any scoring opportunities. We then pitched, played defense and hung on."

Granted, we don't know a whole lot yet about Huntington's approach to the game, but that just doesn't sound consistent with what Huntington says in a Q+A today:

We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) , WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), BB%, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqAve (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating.

That said, we will continue to stress the importance of our subjective evaluations. Succinctly stated, we believe that a combination of quality objective and subjective analysis will allow us to maximize our probability of success and to make the best possible decisions.

Now, it's likely that any GM today could rattle off a list of fancy statistics whether or not he actually cared about them, but the fact that Huntington volunteered so much specific information indicates to me that he probably does care, at least to some degree. And if he actually understands VORP and Probabilistic Model of Range, he's got to know that the managerial approach Russell's advancing is not a very good one.

By the way, if you're curious about Russell's performance with Scranton in 2006, both the team's runs scored and its OPS were a hair beneath league average. They didn't win because they bunted and hit and ran - they did exactly what their OPS predicted they would. And the Toledo Mud Hens, who won the International League championship, finished second in the league in runs scored, led by our own Josh Phelps.

UPDATE: WTM in the comments:

Pitching, defense and basic fundamentals: Damn, what a brilliant idea. That hasn't been tried in Pittsburgh since... uh... Jim Tracy.
Yeah, exactly. The thing is that there's nothing inherently wrong with a team built around those things, as long as that path is not pursued blindly. If you're acquiring pitchers and defenders because they're the best value, that's great. The problem is that when someone invokes "pitching, defense and basic fundamentals," it's usually code for "I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT." The "pitching, defense and basic fundamentals" concept has no substance; it's just a cliche, usually designed to show a resistance to them newfangled statistics rather than an actual commitment to pitching, defense or fundamentals, much less an ability to actually identify those things. Someone like Tracy or Dave Littlefield can't even pursue that pitching/defense thing because they couldn't actually identify a good defender if they bobbled one and it smacked them in the face. And it's not like Tracy showed any ability to actually teach fundamentals. Hell, he ran Ronny Paulino out there last year on a near-daily basis even as Paulino consistently did things that would've gotten him chewed out in American Legion ball. He defended Jeromy Burnitz for failing to run out grounders. And yet, when he was hired, he was all about "the little things".

The fact is that every manager is concerned, or should be concerned, about "fundamentals." So a managerial candidate saying he's into fundamentals, or "[taking] advantage of scoring opportunities," really should be like a new CEO telling her stockholders that she's interested in making money. Well, duh. (On second thought, maybe new CEOs really do say things like that. I don't know.)

But that's not what "pitching, defense and basic fundamentals" actually means. Usually, what it means is "I understand this game and I don't need you statheads giving me a bunch of crap about drawing walks. And I know what a good defender looks like, so I don't want to hear about UZR." It's very likely to be a pronouncement of ignorance, more than anything else. Perhaps I'm reacting too strongly, and I realize that Russell didn't actually use the word "fundamentals." But it's also pretty clear that the author's summary using that word describes what Russell was saying pretty well. I'm wary of anyone who talks like that, because when someone invokes "pitching, defense and basic fundamentals," it's usually a code for what they reject, not what they affirm.