As our own Jon Heyman reported on Monday, the Marlins have replaced the recently fired Mike Redmond in the dugout with Dan Jennings. Jennings is the Marlins current GM, which makes this move a bit of a curiosity on those grounds alone. As for the rest, here's what you need to know ...
Hiring managers with no managerial experience isn't unusual
Jennings has never helmed a team above the high school level. However, the hiring of a manager without previous managerial experience at the professional level isn't unusual these days. Redmond himself was just such a hire. In St. Louis, Mike Matheny has enjoyed a successful tenure despite never managing before. Paul Molitor with the Twins numbers among this rising prototype (although he brought major-league bench coach experience to the job). Robin Ventura, Craig Counsell ... it's no longer a novelty.
Hiring managers with no managerial or playing experience is unusual
Jennings, though, is different from those previously name-checked skippers in that he never played at the highest level. Jennings played in college but beyond that never rose above a minor-league spring training stint. That makes him an unusual hire.
Yes, plenty of current managers never managed before, and a number of managers have succeeded despite never playing in the majors (greats like Joe McCarthy and Jim Leyland, for instance). But a manager who's done neither? That's highly unusual. Which brings us to ...
Prior to Dan Jennings the last non-player/manager to manage an MLB team was Ted Turner for one game in 1977. http://t.co/WtR2erNY36— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) May 18, 2015
When your peer group consists of a carnival barker of an owner who in essence made himself manager in a fit of pique, then, yes, you're an unconventional hire.
A manager's skills are different
All that said, baseball lends itself to such experimentation. MLB managers are far less tactically involved than, say, head coaches in the NFL and NBA. Baseball is structurally such that the kind of "scheming" we associate with coaches in other sports is either impossible or self-defeating. The most important things a manager can do are keep the clubhouse running smoothly, strike the right balance between discipline and a player-first approach, put players in a position to succeed, help merge front office analytics with the day-to-day operations and otherwise stay out of the way. Certainly, a manager can distinguish himself by running his bullpen properly, platooning based on a variety of considerations and getting his bench guys reps in the right spots. But it's a also a job full of "soft factors."
Often, it seems to come down to whether a new manager is substantively different from his predecessor in terms of outward demeanor and his approach toward handling the personalities on the roster. Players may get complacent after a long run under a "player's guy," and they may ponder mutiny after too much time under a "drill sergeant" type. Going to the other extreme with your next hire can provide needed change. It remains to be seen whether that's the case with Jennings, who, as mentioned, has no dossier to speak of.
Maybe this is Jeffrey Loria's way of exerting more control
Loria, the Marlins' capricious and behaviorally cynical steward, typically sees no need to stay out of the way of his baseball ops people. This extends all the way down to the manager. Loria's reportedly clashed before with those managers of his who bristled at his "suggestions," so perhaps by installing Jennings, an underling since around the time Loria swung his unseemly and highly leveraged purchase of the Marlins in 2002, Loria now has a skipper who'll be more open to his unsolicited input.
The Marlins' roster remains flawed
As is usually the case with fired managers, the outgoing manager wasn't the biggest problem. Per FanGraphs, the Marlins now project as a 78-win team this season. This isn't entirely a consequence of the poor start, as coming into 2015 they projected as an 81-81 finisher. Thin rotation, questionable bullpen, unsettled catching situation -- All those shortcomings (and others) were obscured by the Marlins' noisy winter. Maybe Jennings moves the needle a bit, but it almost certainly won't be enough.