The San Francisco Giants are epitomizing the term “transitional year”. Farhan Zaidi, modern baseball cogitator, is in for his first year. Bruce Bochy, old-school traditionalist, is in for his final year. The overlap will last for one season and then, just like that, it will be gone.
It’s easy to pit the two against each other. There’s an obvious dichotomy. Bochy went to college to study baseball; Zaidi went to MIT to study economics, then got a pHD at Cal for good measure.
Bochy has spent his entire adult life in the dugout: since being drafted in 1975, he’s spent every single year as a professional baseball player or manager - and even one year as both. Zaidi has worked exclusively indoors.
The contrast is stark, and as such, there’s been a tendency to paint a picture of the two figures in rampant opposition. All of the moves the Giants make seem to be sorted by an imaginary postman, and tossed into one of two piles: the Zaidi Bin, or the Bochy Bin.
Pablo Sandoval’s inclusion on the opening day roster is pointed to as being a concession Zaidi had to make to counter putting unknown commodities Connor Joe and Michael Reed on the team. Trading for Kevin Pillar - a player with peripherals that are antithetical to many of the qualities Zaidi preaches - is dismissed as a move made to appease the “antiquated” manager.
And much of that is fair. There will be tiptoeing from each side - Zaidi’s side, in particular - and compromises will be reached.
But to reduce it to opposite sides of a spectrum butting heads like two excited goats on a spring day is . . . well . . . reductive.
Alternate styles don’t need to breed compromise. They can also breed collaboration. Zaidi has noted that he not only trusts Bochy, but has a lot to learn from him. The new guy has praised the old guy’s intuition, pointing out that what we call a gut feeling is really just subconscious pattern recognition.
At some level that’s just Zaidi saying the right things. At another level, it’s the honesty of a person who realizes that creating a successful baseball team isn’t a kin to taking a true/false quiz. Sometimes there are numerous right answers. Sometime there are no right answers.
And even when compromise rises to the surface, it’s not an inherently bad thing. Compromise isn’t always about both sides leaving something off. Sometimes compromise is about finding ways to bridge gaps, so that you can plant the seeds of collaboration.
A few days ago, Andrew Baggarly wrote this about Zaidi:“He gets that he cannot assume organizational advocacy from his coaching staff if he does not demonstrate some advocacy toward them.”
You can easily take that quote and use it to paint a picture of why Zaidi is biding time until next year, when he can hire a manager cut from the same cloth as he is. Or you can use it to remember that baseball is a fluid game played (and for now managed and officiated) by humans.
The math and modern approaches and philosophies are more than just important - they’re vital in this era of baseball. You cannot win without them. But that doesn’t mean those in the offices and behind the computers have all the answers - and more importantly, it doesn’t mean they presume to have all the answers. There’s still something to be learned from the old heads.
There will continue to be some concessions, but this year will feature copious doses of collaboration between the departing Bochy and the settling-in Zaidi. And I dare say, most of it will be fun to watch.