The worst manager in the world could win a championship with the right players, and the best manager in the world could lose everything with the wrong players. Does that mean he needs the best players? Not by a long shot. The right players are the ones who can fill the right roles to win games. The right coach is able to tie them all together and build a champion from the pieces he assembles.
Four years into the Mike Gambino era, he now has a majority of players that are his. Almost all of the players in his lineup on a daily basis are guys that he recruited, that he brought to Chestnut Hill. Yet, as we saw yesterday, the team's talent isn't translating to wins. Does that mean the players themselves are to blame? Or is there something greater that's lending itself to their inability to consistently pick up W's?
For that, we have to look at Coach Gambino's job of in-game management. To his credit, this is an area where he improved. When he arrived at Boston College, he employed a starting rotation by committee. John Leonard and Andrew Lawrence were stalwarts who made a combined 25 starts, with six other pitchers making 26 starts. The next year, it was more of the same, with Eric Stevens and Hunter Gorman making 26 combined starts and eight other guys making the remaining 29 starts. In 2014, he settled on a rotation early and stuck with it the entire season - John Gorman, Andrew Chin, and Jeff Burke started 41 of a possible 55 games, and only five other players made up the difference, with Eric Stevens and Justin Dunn making up nine of the remaining 14 games.
But the management of the bullpen wasn't great. Granted, the players themselves weren't normally performing with the best of results, but the back end of the bullpen never really came together. John Nicklas was trusted with the closer's role, and in 20 appearances, he had a team leading four saves. But Nicklas struggled throughout the year, and he finished the season with an ERA over 7.00.
Across the board, watching teams in the NCAA Tournament is maddening because they have a set end-of-game rotation. Cal State Fullerton had JD Davis and Michael Lorenzen. Maryland had a guy like Kevin Mooney. Virginia had Nick Howard. The Eagles never really settled into a rotation that they stuck with to close out games.
In all fairness, anyone trusted with the role seemed to lose the role, but Coach Gambino never really stuck with any players. Eric Stevens, a guy who fell out of the starting rotation after a good start to his career, could've been converted to that role, in my opinion. As a senior captain, it would've shown great leadership for him to come in and use his starter's mentality to get three outs, and it could've continued a trend where a number of starters made the conversion or at least attempted it. Steve Green never really got a fair shake at the end of games. And Luke Fernandes was trotted out of the bullpen at the end of the season for far too many innings.
I agree that there were issues in the back side of the bullpen, but if I'm in Coach Gambino's shoes, I'm assigning the role and sticking with that person throughout the season. If there's anyone on the staff I would've liked to have seen hold that role more frequently, it's Bobby Skogsbergh. Skogsbergh appeared in 19 games, all out of the pen, and went 4-0 with a bullpen-best 2.22 ERA. He pitched roughly an inning per game (a little over), and he allowed only six earned runs the whole season. As a freshman, it would've been a good start to his development, but the key is to find a guy to end games and stick with him. That didn't really happen, and I think his bullpen-by-committee approach was inconsistent at best.
One thing I will never understand about Gambino's rotation, though, is the decision to start Gorman on Fridays and Chin on Saturdays. I can't come up with a rational thought process. I thought Gorman could go toe-to-toe with any team, but he finished the year 3-8. Chin was dominant on Saturdays, and he went 5-2. The two of them combined went 8-10, which shows they didn't do enough together to win games. I would've loved to have seen a couple of weekends with Chin outdueling some of the league's best and Gorman settling into the mid-weekend slot against a team's second best starter. I don't think this is a huge deal, but I feel it's worth mentioning, especially if both players decide to leave the Heights after this summer's draft and subsequent summer development season.
In terms of the lineup itself in the game, I always thought there were some holes in the game management. Tom Bourdon was a good centerfielder, but I always felt his injury took a step off his game coming off last year. Bourdon probably could've shifted to right field, but that's where Chris Shaw was playing. Shaw is the one player who absolutely had to remain in the lineup because of his bat, but he had a .978 fielding percentage as a freshman. That necessitated a move out of the infield for defensive reasons. Instead of working on improving Shaw's defense, he was just moved to the outfield, which essentially meant two-thirds of that was a little slower.
Does that change anything? No. Neither Bourdon nor Shaw played badly over the course of the season. In fact, Shaw was the only Eagle who played regularly who had a perfect fielding percentage. But I think there was something more that could've been done at some point. All of this is merely a splitting of hairs.
That said, there were other issues with the lineup. For whatever reason, nobody could hit. Only one player hit over .300, and that was Shaw at .329. Joe Cronin was near .300 with a .291 average, but there was considerable drop off. Six players hit under .200 in some capacity. But while that points towards a lack of talent, it's kind of funny to point out that most of the guys who hit poorly were upperclass members of the team. That, instead, points to a lack of player development, something we'll cover later this week.
All in all, I pass Coach Gambino on in-game management based on the success of the starting rotation. That's enough to get him credits much in the same way my D+ got me the requisite credits in Macroeconomics while the Red Sox were winning the World Series 10 years ago. I laugh because at the end of the day, I got the same credits as the guy who went to class every day, sat in the front row, and rolled out an A- average while I spent that semester crushing countless Keystone Lights off my head before passing out on a random beer pong table in a dorm room of someone I'd never met. I passed that class because I got an A on the midterm. For two glorious weeks, I was the best student in the class. The rest of the semester was Darwinism of my brain cells.
In terms of lineup management, Mike Gambino showed up for class for like two weeks and managed to ace an exam. So even though he bombed the remaining tests, didn't do any homework, and slept through any of the alarms reminding him to go, he did just enough work to not fail this part of the exam. So I'm raising a Keystone Light to you for this one, Coach, despite the massive amount of CTE I've probably incurred through the years.