What is Pedro Grifol's ceiling for his first season as manager?
What is Pedro Grifol's ceiling this season? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Pedro Grifol has worn many hats while working in MLB.
Before becoming the White Sox' new manager, he worked a slew of different positions, notably as a bench coach with the Kansas City Royals for 10 years. And before that, he worked seemingly every conceivable position in the minor leagues of the Seattle Mariners organization.
He certainly has the experience, the references and the skills to start his career as a major league manager. But, he inherits a tall task with the White Sox organization, as he attempts to squeeze out the remaining success of a team years into their championship window.
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What's more, he's never managed a major league ball club. How often do first-year managers see success in their premiere year?
Only five times in major league history has a rookie manager won the World Series. The last to do it was Alex Cora in 2018 with the Boston Red Sox.
And only 92 times in major league history (by my count) has a manager – rookie or veteran – made the playoffs with a team in his first season with the ballclub. There have been 835 managers in MLB's history. That's less than an 11 percent success rate.
It's been done twice in White Sox history. Tony La Russa helped lead the club to the playoffs in 2021 after succeeding Ricky Renteria. Before him, it was Kid Gleason in 1919 with the notorious "Black Sox."
Let's broaden the sample size. How have baseball's all-time greatest managers faired in their first years with a new club?
Joe McCarthy, manager of the perenially glorious Yankees in the 1930s, won the World Series in his second year with the Yankees, before enduring a three-year playoff drought. His second playoff appearance (and second World Series) didn't come until his sixth season with the team.
John McGraw, longtime skipper of the San Franciso Giants, didn't make the playoffs with the Giants until his third season with the team. Like McCarthy, he didn't take the Giants back to the playoffs for five straight seasons until they returned in 1911.
For Sparky Anderson, manager of the Detroit Tigers from 1980-95, he didn't lead his ballclub to the playoffs until his fifth year with the team, when they ultimately won the World Series in 1983.
Interesting, and somewhat discouraging.
History tells us managers in their first year usually aren't successful. There are outliers, but putting the blinders on to argue for those instances would be an act of survivorship bias, or ignoring an overwhelming population of failed instances and focusing on successful ones to argue an improbable outcome.
The White Sox may not fly deep into playoff contention this season, despite the organization's insistence on its readiness.
Certainly, they've endured some hits this offseason. The loss of Jose Abreu, the news of Liam Hendriks' cancer diagnosis, stepping into a moral trap with Mike Clevinger and bringing in their third different manager in the last four years.
I'm not breaking any news here. But, the expectations for the White Sox this season should be subdued. You can't hire a new manager without hitting a reset button, even if the button isn't as big as rebuilding the organization.
It seems to me, however, as it should many White Sox fans, that Grifol is as ready as one baseball mind could ever be to take on his first managerial position. He's seen a baseball organization run from all angles, and he's solemnly paid his dues.
The keys are in his hands to steer what the White Sox organization believes to be a championship-ready ballclub.
What will he make of this opportunity?
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