Best Astros’ managers: Dierker tops my list, but Hinch inches into discussion


Today, we’ll kick off an Astros’ Best of the Best series. We’ll look at all positions, from the top down in the coming weeks leading up to opening day. (By special request, please limit discussions to today’s topic and don’t jump ahead!)

TODAY: Manager.

In three short years, A.J. Hinch has already served notice that he may soon be in the discussion of best Astros’ manager in history.

  • Years: 3
  • Record: 271-215.
  • Winning seasons: 3.
  • Losing seasons: 0.

Despite winning a World Series and enjoying the best winning percentage of any full-time Astros’ manager, his length of service may not yet qualify him to join in the discussion with the likes Bill Virdon or even Larry Dierker in some minds. Or does it?

Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow finally got it right with Hinch after suffering through four other choices (two full-time, two interim), but Brad Mills, Tony DeFrancesco, Bo Porter and Tom Lawless were sometimes brutal before Hinch stabilized the boat in 2015.

Players play for him, the clubhouse seems smooth and he meshes with Luhnow. Fans often quibble with some of his moves, but you can’t argue with the results overall.

Virdon, who is at the top of most Astros’ managerial lists, was in Houston for eight seasons and owns the most wins of any manager: 522. No other manager has lasted more than five seasons in Houston, though Dierker’s sometimes volatile five-year run may be the best thus far. Take a look at the list of Astros’ managers.

Here are my Top 5.

  1. Dierker. 1997-2001. If you include his entire career as an Astro, from pitcher to broadcaster to community to manager, Dierker wins hands down. Just on his managerial merit, he also rates in my book, though his old school run-ins with veterans like Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and others might taint his appeal somewhat. He oversaw some of the great teams and players, the move to Enron/Minute Maid Park and four first place finishes in the NL West (remember that division?).
  2. Bill Virdon. 1975-82. Hard to argue with 522 wins and the man who led the team to the vintage 1980 playoffs. He had only two winning seasons (one .500), but his long-time tenure in the seat garners him the all-time leader in wins and respect.
  3. Hinch. 2015-present. It’s been only three years, but Hinch has earned his way onto a list that doesn’t include many long-timers. He’s seventh on the all-time wins list and will likely climb into fourth place in 2018 with 90 wins.
  4. Phil Garner. 2004-2007. He joined the team in the middle of the 2004 season and left in the middle of 2007. Ol’ Scrapiron is fifth on the all-time wins list (277-252) with that 2005 NL pennant and World Series team to brag about.
  5. Hal Lanier. 1986-88. Depending on how you look at it, Lanier beats out others like Art Howe, Bob Lillis or Terry Collins. Of course, Lanier (254-232) was the overseer of one of the most exciting teams in Astros’ history (1986) with Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Glenn Davis, Jose Cruz, Billy Hatcher, Charley Kerfeld and Dave Smith.

Honorable mention: Howe, Lillis, Collins, Harry “The Hat” Walker.

To be sure, the list of successful Astros’ managers isn’t long and while you may quibble with the order of my choices, you’re likely to end up with the same list in your Top 5.

Let the debate discussion begin.

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71 comments on “Best Astros’ managers: Dierker tops my list, but Hinch inches into discussion

  1. Maybe this is the time for a suggestion I’ve been wanting to make. A nickname for our manager based on his seeming ability to “read” his players, exemplified best in Game 7.

    Instead of A.J. Hinch…..A.J. Hunch.

    Corny, I know, but I haven’t been qualified to engage in the recent upgrade speculations.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. On mlb TV they just said that A.J. Hinch is going to stay at Dodger Manager Dave Roberts’ house when visiting for George Springer’s impending marriage.
    – I am very close to putting Hinch on the top of the manager’s list, but agree he needs another year or so under his belt. Dierker had a great bunch of seasons but never won a playoff series (because guys like Biggio and Bagwell slumped at the wrong time).
    – Virdon was really a very good manager – never had the talent most seasons that Dierker and Hinch have had.
    – The thing I liked most about Dierker was how he stuck with his pitchers and made them learn to go deeper into games and to get out of their own jams.
    – I always liked Garner – maybe not the greatest strategy manager – but the way he kept his team calm when they fell behind in seasons and how he steered them to the great comeback from the Chronicle RIP headline always stuck with me.
    – I was living elsewhere when Lanier managed here. What happened with him – did he just have such a short fuse that he wore out his welcome?
    – I could never understand why so many of the Astro managers never managed again after losing their jobs here.

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    • Lanier was a pretty good manager, but very demanding. I remember after one game (I think it was him), the Astros were dressing/eating and getting ready to go home. He had the field guys set up batting cages and called an immediate batting practice after the game. Didn’t go over well, as I recall. Good x’s and o’s guy I think, just not very good with the relational side of things.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The tough part about this conversation is that no one had a level playing field. If we’re comparing managers, I bet Dierker wouldn’t have burned out his bullpen in 2015 and 2017 by the All Star break. On the flip side, Bo Porter would have thrown his team under the bus after getting swept in NYY last October and prevented the thrilling wins to take us to the World Series through negativity.
    Would Brad Mills have fallen asleep on the bench in game 6 last year?

    Like

    • What do you think a DH has to do to be worth $6.7 million a year?

      I say slash at least .275/.330/.825, with 25 HR, 75 RBI, less than a 18.5% strikeout per at bat ratio – and, of course, in a speedster like Gattis’ case, leg out at least 5 triples!

      Like

      • He should probably check the water levels in all the coolers and shine Altuve’s bat during defensive innings as well. If we still had bullpen cars he could drive one, I suppose.

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      • 1.0 WAR as a DH. As far as the Astros are concerned that would be 1.3 WAR more than they got physically from the DH position in 2017.
        What they got out of Beltran other than the WAR might have been more valuable.
        What they get out of Gattis extra is a good teammate and a third catcher they may not use much, but who provides security in an emergency, something to consider when noting McCann’s age.

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      • Just to put this in context: that $6.8 million just happens to be $700,000 more money than the MVP of the American League will be making next year.

        Liked by 4 people

  4. $13.2 M for Dallas Keuchel. What does a #2 starting pitcher have to do for you to be worth $13.2 million?

    My two cents:

    1. Pitch 200 or more innings;
    2. Spend no more than 2 starts off the DL;
    3. Pitch at least one complete game shutout;
    4. keep your ERA under 3.00;
    5. keep your WHIP under 1.1;
    6. Keep your K/9 over 8.0;
    7. Keep your BB/9 under 2.1;
    8. Keep your HR/9 under 1.0.

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  5. Best manager- Dierker.
    Most liked- Hinch
    Worst manager- Cooper
    Runner up- Porter
    Springer is worth EVERY PENNY . PAY THE MAN.
    Giles is probably not to far off from what he’s asking for
    McHugh….sorry dude you were kinda invisible until September.

    Astrocolt45- I answered your question about Tanner on yesterday’s blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think Dierker was overrated as a manager. He did not work all that hard. He sent guys out to play. He had pretty good talent. His most endearing trait was that he kept things simple.

    Hinch gets the nod from me because even having the best talent to work with, he got the prize. And he got most everything right during the post season run in 2017.

    Porter was on the defensive from day one. He was overmatched. It really was not a healthy scenario for him. It was a mistake hire.

    Funny, I think back 40 plus years and I remember the guys that were on the field. Not so much the managers.

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    • daveb, I actually believe one of the good attributes for Dierker was that he did just send his players out to play. He let them play, they didn’t have to look over their shoulders. Now, that may not work in 2018 with all the pitcher-versus-hitter stats, matchups and late-game replacements. No, I don’t think Dierk was into all the analytics and specialty stats, but he did have good rapport with many players and understood the game the way the Stengel and Durocher did. Perhaps the times just caught up to him, I dunno, but I wish he were still involved with the Astros, if only on radio.

      Yeah, I just couldn’t put Hinch on top just yet, but he’ll probably be there in another year, especially if the Astros win the division and make a deep run.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep Chip, I meant that as a compliment to Dierk. But you are also right in that it would not work in today’s world. Imagine the geeky guys bringing him the book on all the shifts before each series?

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      • I could’ve sworn Dierker WAS a big stat guy into playing the percentages, and that was a source of friction while he was here. I don’t remember where I heard that but I’m almost certain it was in response to I post I made years ago asking about why Biggio and Bagwell had issues with him

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      • Billy, I read the article and it does seem to imply that Dierker relied somewhat on stats. However, I’m not sure the “stats” during Dierk’s era are the same “stats” that Hinch and Luhnow rely on today. Dierker has the old-school mindset that began with the four-man rotation and 300+ IP. I think his baseball knowledge could still be useful in the dugout and I am certain it would be a welcomed addition and useful again in the radio/TV booth!

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  7. According to mlbtraderumors.com
    – Springer filed at $10.5 MM team at 8.5
    – Giles at 4.6 – team at 4.2
    – McHugh at 5.0 – team at 4.55

    Like

    • Based upon what I’ve read and heard would you think Springer will bolt after 2020 to the Red Sox? It looks like he’s on his way to that 20+MM salary based on the arbitration #’s . Sure would be great to lock up Altuve and Correra this year or else we run the risk of losing them also. Maybe I’m wrong but if I were Jose I might be a little miffed at my current deal when others not performing to his level are getting so much more. Yes he signed a deal but we need to be realistic about his worth.

      Like

    • Dan, that’s a pretty good gap for Springer. I hope it gets settled before arb. But it could well be a sign of things to come with George though. Assuming he keeps producing, there will always be multiple clubs prepared to pay him more than he’ll get in Houston.

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      • Guys, I’m getting a little anxious about locking up someone. And I’m not talking about Hillary! At what point do you just break the bank and lock up Altuve, Springer, Keuchel or even go to Correa and/or Bregman about an team-friendly, Altuve-like deal? Or do you just let them all go to the end of their arb years?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I really expected them to do something this offseason – extension for Altuve or early shot at Springer or Correa where they lock up a FA year or two.

        Like

  8. Josh Donaldson gets $23 million for 2018 to avoid arbitration. Now this sentence is in the story. “From Aug. 1 through season’s end, Donaldson batted a ridiculous .302/.410/.698 batting line with 22 homers in 227 plate appearances. ” Altuve gets $6 million and he batted those “ridiculous numbers” except for the HRs, for the entire year.

    Like

  9. Its hard for me to judge manager’s because a large part of this time, I lived in exile in Arlington. But if there was ever a worse manager than Brad Mills, I don’t know who it was. If he was still managing, with several weeks to go until Spring Training, he would have 3 pitchers warming up tonight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He was terrible. I think it’s telling how much better the team played when Tony D took over.

      I posted a link above thst points out something interesting. Dierker actually was a sabre metrics guy. Him and Hinch may not be that different after all. I’ve said here before that AJ reminds me of Dierker and now it’s more clear. Larry was just ahead of his time.

      Like

      • Dave, I dint know if the rest of the book mentions any of that, but I do know that he was real big on “playing the percentages ” as he put it. I think he was a hybrid of the “old timey baseball guy” and the modern manager.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Hey, Mr. Bill, what ever happened to that boring book you were going to read about saber metrics and report back? I have it here on Kindle somewhere, but I forgot the title. All I remember that it worked better than sleeping pills.

    Like

    • Well, Dave, here’s what happened. I sat down in my recliner, in front of the fireplace, with that book in one hand and a glass of my favorite beverage in the other. About ten minutes into the book I looked up and realized the fire needed some more fuel. And . . . well, you know – the log pile was just so far away, and it was so cold . . . .

      Like

  11. Jeff Luhnow indicated yesterday that the Astros are addressing the needs of the team for 2018 with only the goal of repeating as World Series champs. He said that any voids in the team that occur after the conclusion of this coming season will be addressed as needed then.
    He said Stassi will be given “first shot” at the backup catcher spot, because of his “no options” situation.

    Like

    • OP/daveb, I “endorse” that mindset as well, but I find it hard to believe there isn’t some balance to his approach. Yes, strike while the iron is hot, but if puts off all attempts at negotiations with core players and waits until they become free agents, he will have lost all the work and effort of the past few years. Then, that puts us back to 2012-13 by the time Springer, Altuve et al have left via free agency.

      I suppose if Keuchel is in the rotation all year (healthy), wins 15 games and the Astros get back to the WS, it will be worth it whether the Astros trade him for a haul or just get a second round pick. But somewhere along the way, you have to tie up some of the core to build around, no?

      Imagine what Spriner, Altuve and Correa may be worth if Houston wins another title in 2018! If Keuchel is a key player in 2018 and the Astros win again, he could get his $120-$150 million too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chip, that was what I was alluding to in the note above about Donaldson at $23 Million. We have guys that are of his value, that any 4 of them would bring $100 million a year or more. To keep our key players would push payroll to LA Dodgers numbers. Our only salvation is to bring back the “Reserve Clause” for about 3 years.

        Liked by 1 person

      • AC, I’m just saying that Luhnow is a smart guy and while he says all that matters is 2018, he has a strategy for beyond. He already knows which of the Fab 4 or 5 he is focusing on and may have the best shot at locking up. But yes, with actually perhaps 4-6 players worth $100 million or more, he’ll be picking and choosing before the decade is out.

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      • Chip, what I get from Luhnow is that he’s working on 2018 right now. We all know that there are short term, medium term and long term strategies in place. I agree with you. Unfortunately, maybe we are already going to lose Springer. Maybe that’s part of the medium term plan. Maybe that’s why the club only wants to give him 8.5.

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      • The things that are hidden in all of this discussion is the Astros farm system and the huge effort that the Astros are putting into developing that system. This front office leaves no stone unturned and has a huge amount of information that they USE to help their entire organization move forward.
        I can only imagine the mirrored family trees they must have to picture lineups of the future including the players they have drafted and signed.
        The Astros won the WS in the year of the home run/strikeout, by using their entire lineup to produce BA/OBP/SLG/OPS, even though they did not have anyone in the top of the HR/RBI leaders.
        Look for them to follow this prototype in the future with their signings, drafts and scouting.
        And it would not surprise me a bit if the Astros have a rotation made up of many of their current prospects four years from now.
        No team has the core the Astros have right now and it is a mistake to even consider the Astros being able to keep all those players long-term. Look at the D’backs. They went overboard with Grienke and now we hear that they are facing the fact they can’t afford JD Martinez or Paul Goldschmidt because of it.
        We wanted the trophy and we got it. We may be able to get it again, but it is inevitable in this age of huge salaries and the player’s thirst for those salaries that the Astros are going to have to use their brains to keep a team on the field that will satisfy the fans and still be able to afford it.
        The Astros might want to use this $50 million windfall to get those extra fans coming to MMP, so that they can keep the players they believe can return the value once they are signed to a huge contract and let some others walk that they think might not deliver into their mid -30s.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Brad Hand has signed an extension with the Padres and Addison Reed has agreed to a contract with the Twins.
    The reliever market continues to outpace anything else this offseason.

    Like

  13. Dick Enberg and Keith Jackson gone.
    To an old sports fan like me, they live on in my world.
    Dizzy, Gene, Howard and Dandy Don. I can replay them in my head whenever I want to.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I don’t know about you who are as worried as me about locking up players, but I like the way this sounds!

    “It’s what we want to accomplish. We want to be able to not win just one championship, we want to be able to win five if we can,” Correa said. “But we got to start with one, then two. This is the second year so hopefully we can accomplish that.”

    Like

    • You’re right Grayson. And Luhnow is looking at winning while you can. Take for example:
      * Kansas City won it all in 2015, then finished .500 in ’16.
      * The Giants won it in ’14, then finished six games over .500 and didn’t make the playoffs in ’15.
      * Red Sox won it all in ’13, then finished dead last in the AL East in ’14, 20 games under .500.
      * Giants win it in ’12, then 10 games under in ’13.

      Much to be said to win it while you have the goods!

      Like

  15. Well, if the Cole deal is really done this time, I think we’ll miss Joe Musgrove down the road and I’m happy for Colin Moran, as he was not going to have much of a shot here. Overall, I think a potemially excellent trade for our guys. This is what Luhnow was talking about….winning the prize again in 208.

    Like

  16. Good-bye Joe, we gotta go, me-o-my-o;
    we gotta go, you gotta throw far from the Bayou;
    Grab that glove, kiss your love, me-o-my-o;
    son of a gun, guess Cole’s the one, for Jeff Luhnow.

    Liked by 2 people

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