By now we have all seen the commercials and heard the rally cry: Never Ever Quit. Unfortunately, the Rangers were the last team in Major League Baseball to win consecutive games this season, and many perturbed fans have taken to social media, changing the phrase to “Never Even Win.” But newly hired manager Jeff Banister knows real hardship, and has refused to let a rough first month of the season derail the plan he has for the Rangers.
Banister developed his love for baseball at a young age. A native Texan, he played baseball at his high school in La Marque. During his sophomore season, Banister actually developed bone cancer, which almost caused doctors to amputate his left leg. After undergoing several bouts of chemotherapy and radiation, Banister eventually went into remission and has been cancer free ever since.
“That burning desire, that internal fire that burns inside of me to have success, to pass on, to push forward, was melded a long time ago in a couple of different hospital rooms.” Banister said.
After making a full recovery, Banister went on to play at Lee College. During his first season, he suffered a collision at home plate that would break three vertebrae in his neck, leaving him paralyzed for ten days. Yet again, Banister would complete a rigorous rehab program and the next season would be named a Junior College All-American before transferring to the University of Houston, where he would finish his collegiate career. In 1986, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, an organization he would spend 27 years with before coming to the Texas Rangers. And despite spending 7 years in the Pirates system, Banister only appeared in one major league game, recording a hit in his lone at bat.
“I was a little, small, scrappy guy that had to kind of work his way around the neighborhood from time to time,” Banister said, flashing a wry smile.
Banister, however, is known by many Rangers fans to be a “sabermetric” guy, and many compare him to the likes of Billy Beane. To spare everyone the long, agonizing explanation of sabermetrics, I’ll keep this brief. However, if you would like a more in depth explanation on sabermetrics, feel free to go here.
During his tenure with the Pirates, Banister and manager Clint Hurdle relied on statistics to set pretty much everything: batting order, pitching rotation, and even defensive shifts. On offense, the most important statistic for someone using sabermetrics is OPS or On Base Percentage. Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh led the MLB in hit batsman and walks in the years Banister was with the Pirates as a bench coach.
For example, Hurdle would often switch his lineup, rearranging the 2nd and 7th man because the guy in the 7 hole has walked quite a few times the past few games. As for pitching, sometimes Hurdle would leave a pitcher on the hill even after having a terrible outing just to see what he would do. Sometimes, the Pirates got blown out. And other times, the plan worked to perfection. Make no mistake about it. Sabermetrics is an imperfect system. I didn’t say it wasn’t entertaining to watch.
Unfortunately, these “math nerds” have long been scoffed at by the “old school” guys, and many think sabermetrics is a joke altogether. Banister, however, has kept the faith in his system. If Texas Rangers fans don’t think it will work, just remember it took a few years before Pittsburgh was back on the map. Nevertheless, Hurdle and Banister definitely turned that organization around. And while many analysts can’t quantify what exactly made their system work, it is without question they were playing on a different level by the time Banister left last season.
We’ve already seen flashes of sabermetrics this year, especially in the leadoff spot. Banister has cycled through Leonys Martin, Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and others, trying to find that perfect guy to start the Texas order.
It must be only a matter of time before the numbers kick in for Banister here in Texas.