The Argument for Ken Oberkfell

Amidst all the buzz about who should be the next Mets manager, there is a name that is somewhat under the radar, but gets tossed into the conversation here and there depending on who is talking: Ken Oberkfell.

People like to bring up “Obie” because he has “put in his dues” managing in the Mets farm system for the past several years. And he has managed many current (and possibly future) Mets when they were playing at the lower levels. Is that enough justification to make him manager of the big club? Let’s take a deeper look at this candidate.

Why the Wilpons Like Oberkfell

- He will cost next to nothing
- He fits in with the “building from the farm system” hype
- He is a very safe choice, from the standpoint that he is unlikely to embarrass the organization in any way
- He is a good soldier who is likely to “go with the flow” – i.e., do as he’s told from the powers-that-be
- Owners tend to look good when they “promote from within”
- His hiring would make a nice “rags to riches” story

Why the Fans Like Oberkfell

- He’s not Jerry Manuel
- He’s a relative unknown, and fans like to “discover” people, particularly from the minors
- He is a no-nonsense, blue-collar guy
- He’s from the Mets farm system
- They also like the “rags to riches” / “loyal hard worker finally getting his due” story

Why Ken Oberkfell is Not Getting More Attention as a Candidate

- He is not particularly flamboyant or a big personality
- He does not have any MLB experience as a manager
- He has not done anything noteworthy / newsworthy
- He has a career record of 676-708 (.488) in 10 seasons as a minor league manager

For me, that last fact is the one that removes Oberkfell from serious consideration. I don’t believe it makes sense to promote someone simply for showing up and hanging around for a long time. That may sound harsh, and of course Oberkfell does more than just “show up”, but the point is, he hasn’t shown the ability to lead a group of men to consistent winning. I’m sure he knows how to win as a player — he does have a World Series ring — but that doesn’t mean he can translate that knowledge as a manager. Certainly, his minor league record does not give an indication that he’s a “winner”. Including this year at Buffalo, Oberkfell has managed a team to a record above .500 four times in ten seasons. He managed one team to a first-place finish — the 2007 New Orleans Zephyrs.

I know what the argument is going to be: “But in the minors development comes before winning, so you can’t judge Oberkfell on his won-loss record”. Let’s put aside for a moment the stupidity of that kind of thinking, and say this: if you can’t judge a manager based on his won-loss record, then what DO you judge him on? His personal knowledge of players? Because he’s done a good job of developing players’ skills? OK, then you will have a manager who knows the players and can help them with their skills. But there is no evidence of the connection between those skills and winning ballgames — you’re taking a shot in the dark that someone who has spent ten years “developing skills” but not worried about winning, is suddenly going to be able to win games with people whose skills should already be fully developed.

I am of the opinion that young players can and should learn to win while they are “developing” their skills. Moreover, the two go hand-in-hand: winning IS part of a player’s “development”. Yes, there is the issue of the illogical pitch count limits that can affect a game, but every minor league manager has to deal with that, and the great managers find ways to win by getting the most out of their entire roster. That’s what winning is all about, actually — conquering challenges by adapting and adjusting to constantly fluid situations.

There is the other argument that Oberkfell’s losing records are due to not having enough talent to win. That could be true. And if it is, there are two problems. First, if Oberkfell hasn’t had talented teams in 9 of his 10 years, will he know what to do with a talented team at the MLB level? Second, if Oberkfell can only win if he has a talented team, then what is his point of differentiation? In other words, what does he bring to the table that Jerry Manuel didn’t?

The last (and only?) manager to be promoted from the Mets farm system to the big club was Davey Johnson. Like Oberkfell, Johnson had spent a few years managing in the minors, and therefore was familiar with many of the players who were on the MLB team. Unlike Oberkfell, Johnson had a winning record at the minor-league level: 190 – 155 (.550). Maybe that was because Johnson had better teams / more talent than Oberkfell. Or maybe Johnson just knew how to win; after all, he did wind up with a .563 winning percentage in 14 years as an MLB manager.

Opinion and Analysis

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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