Also, if you need another reason to go read Rob’s column about Czar Bud (or Budzilla, or Seligula, take your pick), you’ll see that Lumberjack Rob is back. After, what, 4 years of having his picture displayed in a flanel shirt, they finally changed it to a picture of him in a blue dress shirt that made him look like a cross between Pat Boone and John Stamos. Thankfully, Yuppy Rob only lasted a week, and the classic picture has returned.
And hey, while we’re plugging our favorite ESPN columnists, let me nominate Alan Schwarz, who has quickly become my favorite baseball scribe.
Derek and I talked about this a little bit at Tuesday’s game — we really shouldn’t be surprised with the way Melvin has managed this team, because he learned under Bob Brenly in Arizona. When Brenly managed the Diamondbacks to a World Series win two years ago, he became the poster child for the “bad moves paying off; this guy must be a freaking genius” school of managers. Brenly did all sorts of stupid things that post-season in terms of in-game decision making (not to mention batting Tony Womack in the leadoff spot, but that was a season long problem), but somehow his choices worked out more often than not and his team won the whole thing. So he must have been doing the right thing, right? I know some people have a hard time with this concept, but just because you get good results from a decision does not make said decision a good one.
I doubt there are many people who read the U.S.S. Mariner who don’t read Rob Neyer, but still, today’s Neyer column is some fine ranting, and I highly recommend it. I think Rob Neyer and Jim Caple are two of the best sports columnists working today, and ESPN.com is lucky to have them both.
I agree totally with Dave here. Bob’s been making decisions that please the broadcast booth, even when those aren’t the smart decisions. I like that he’s been resting players more than Piniella did (despite Piniella’s frequent lip service to same). There’s a problem with criticism though, which is that the team is so successful that the defense is “well, it works.” Angry about having Cameron bunt twice in a down-by-two, two-on situtation? Can’t argue with the results, can you? Mad that Carrera’s been so bad? Well, he can’t be that bad, or the team wouldn’t win so much. I feel like I’m arguing against Piniella’s more mechanical traits during the 116-win season (“Boy, I wish he wouldn’t have McLemore steal every time in situations a,b, and c, not only because it’s not a good move, but everyone knows it’s coming and it becomes an even worse move.” “Hey, he’s winning.”). To a point, this argument has merit: it’s like when people say that Barry Bonds would be an even better hitter if he swung at more pitches outside the zone. Barry Bonds in the last few years has been the best offensive player in the history of baseball, and changing anything about what he does at the plate to make him more like every other hitter will almost certainly have the effect of making him more like those other hitters and so less powerful.
That said, for all the gushing praise Melvin’s constant little-ball strategies have earned him from the press box, this is still a team that hasn’t won a game where they score fewer than four runs, while they’re 7-4 in games decided by one run, and 3-4 in two-run games. They’re not winning games where they bunt a guy over early for a run that stands up, they’re winning games where Cameron bails the team out with a dinger late.
Here’s where my worry really comes from: say the team makes it to the playoffs, and in round one, they’re facing a team with comperable talents but a much better bench. I can see Melvin conceding games where the team is behind, saving his best relievers for the next day. I can see where he could be badly outwitted by another manager who traps him into bad matchups based on Melvin’s L/R fixation, or the M’s losing a game where Melvin fails to make good pinch-hitting decisions in a situation where they could have generated some runs. The Torre-Zimmer duo particularly would give Melvin fits.
Down by two in the 9th inning with a righthander on the mound, Jeff Cirillo stepped to the plate. Bob Melvin had three choices:
1. Let Cirillo hit for himself. He’s been a decent hitter for the past two months, but he’s miserable at Safeco Field and not especially good against righties. So, pinch hitting was probably the right choice.
2. Pinch-hit Greg Colbrunn, who is hitting .277/.333/.477. History says he’s better than that, and he sports a .317/.398/.531 line against righthanders the past three seasons. In 8 at-bats (8!) against righties this year, he’s got 4 hits, so he’s not showing any new fangled problems with pitchers who throw from the north side.
3. Pinch hit Mark McLemore. Mac is hitting .233/.323/.367 for the year. Against righties, its .208/.295/.340. He’s clearly the worst hitter of the trio, and inserting him for Cirillo represents no real upgrade at the plate. It also removes our last legitimate pinch runner from the game, since Bloomquist had run for Edgar previously.
So, of course, Bob Melvin chose #3. As he’s done all season long, he simply sent the only left-hander he had up to face a righty, because thats the “percentage play”. Unfortunately, this is just stupid. There’s a lot more to platoon advantages than which side of the plate a player stands on. Using an awful lefty is not more advantageous than using a good righty.
Bob Melvin’s a rookie manager in every sense of the word, so hopefully he’ll improve as the season goes along. So far, his usage patterns with the bench and the bullpen have been nothing short of dumb. The Mariners get strategically outmaneuvered in nearly every close game. Somebody please show this man how to effectively use your reserves.