McLaren’s Bullpen Not Old Enough

Dave · April 5, 2008 at 11:05 am · Filed Under Mariners 

From the Times today:

“The mind-set’s so much different because we don’t have guys in those roles,” manager John McLaren said after the defeat, in front of 14,429 fans at Camden Yards, evened his club’s record at 2-2. “Usually, in that situation you think about [Sean] Green, but he has to go back [further in the bullpen]. If you go to him too early, you’re going to need him [later]. And if you need him, you don’t have him.”

“I think when your big boy goes out, it’s got more of an impact,” McLaren said of Putz. “I don’t know if one guy can replace him, to be honest with you.

McLaren later hinted that his team’s experiment with an 11-man pitching staff might soon be over. Not as quickly as tonight’s game, but soon.

“It’s something we’re going to have to talk about,” he said. “We have talked about it.”

If there’s one undeniable fact about John McLaren’s managerial tendencies, it’s that he absolutely craves experience in every single situation. More than talent, ability, matchups, logic, or reason, McLaren is most comfortable when he can go to a player who has performed some specific task in the past.

Right now, his bullpen is one of the least experienced in the majors, and it’s freaking him out. Four days into the season, and he’s already talking about how he doesn’t have the options that he wants, and it’s a given that the team will be back to having 12 pitchers on the staff within a few days. Last night, he obviously didn’t want to go to Cha Seung Baek down by one, but he felt like he had to, in order to save Sean Green for the later innings.

Well, can I just point something out here? The Mariners have played four games in five days since the season started. Ryan-Rowland Smith has thrown seven pitches to three batters. Mark Lowe has thrown nine pitches to three batters. In four games, with an off day to boot, Lowe and Rowland-Smith have combined to throw 16 pitches, and we’re talking about the team not having options in the bullpen?

Perhaps it’s not a lack of options, but it’s the fact that McLaren doesn’t like the options he has? Faced with four lefties coming up in the bottom of the 9th against Texas on Wednesday, with a three run lead, Ryan Rowland-Smith wasn’t even considered for the job. Why? No experience pitching in the 9th inning. Clearly, he couldn’t be trusted to get out a bunch of LH hitters who suck eggs against left-handed pitchers – he’s just not old enough. Or something.

There’s no question the injury to Putz weakens the bullpen. Rather than react to the situation by adapting to the talent on the roster and utilizing it in the best way possible to help the bullpen succeed, McLaren is instead choosing to whine that he’s stuck with a bunch of inexperienced kids that he doesn’t trust. Note that, in his mind, the lack of trust is the kids’ fault, not his own.

With Green, O’Flaherty, Lowe, and Rowland-Smith, you have four solid relievers on this staff. If you can’t figure out how to use them efficiently enough to get through a single game against Baltimore after an off day, why on earth should we believe that you’re qualified to run a major league ballclub?

I’ll even make it easy for you. Rowland-Smith and Lowe can both get RH and LH hitters out – use them when the other team has a balanced mix of hitters coming up. Green and O’Flaherty are better against same handed hitters, so try to use them when you have a run of RH or LH hitters coming up if you can. You can’t get through the season by assuming that your entire bullpen is incapable of succeeding, so give them a chance. I know you wish you had your precious Rick White or Chris Reitsma around to blow the game, but you don’t, so try winning with the youngsters instead.


39 Responses to “McLaren’s Bullpen Not Old Enough”

  1. pygmalion on April 5th, 2008 11:29 am

    Bavasi’s comment about David Samson just about sums up my response to McLaren’s reasoning.

  2. Tek Jansen on April 5th, 2008 11:47 am

    McLaren is quickly proving to be a worse manager than Grover. I hope that the M’s don’t make a lousy trade or FA signing for some veteran scrub to stick in the bullpen.

    Here is what I might do. Insert Baek into the rotation and skip his start at every opportunity. Move Batista to the pen. Call up Dickey. Release the bench player who will used the least. I vote for Cairo, the M’s would vote for Jimerson.

    I realize that Batista isn’t the best arm around, but he is a better reliever than anyone else the M’s have in Tacoma, and Mac, who values experience, would utilize him. I realize that there is the danger he would be over utilized since he was Toronto’s Kyra Sedgwick in 2005. Once Putz comes back, Batista can go back into the rotation and the M’s can release/trade Baek, who is best used as a #5/6 starter. Dickey is a much better long reliever who can work consecutive days if necessary. The M’s will be reduced to a four-man bench, but Mac, much like Grover, could presumably survive with a two-man bench. Niether Jimerson nor Cairo will see any significant playing time, nor should they.

  3. JMHawkins on April 5th, 2008 11:51 am

    Given the cost of gas these days, you’d think Bavasi would tell Mac to go easy on the gas cans.

  4. JWay on April 5th, 2008 11:55 am

    I have a question, not sure if its been asked or talked about before (I’ve lurked for a long time, but never seen anything in this) How much value do players on the bench actually have to a team. Other than freak injuries or off days couldn’t a team manage with a back up catcher, infielder, and outfielder? But yeah, the bullpen was plenty rested, last night wasn’t much fun to watch.

  5. Russ on April 5th, 2008 12:12 pm

    Does anyone have a bio on Mac? Has he successfully managed at any level or did he get this job because he’d been there the longest or he was the oldest or what?

  6. kyoko on April 5th, 2008 12:16 pm

    If you want a contrast to how the Ms are run, watch the Rays – Yankees game now. The Rays’ young, cheap guys with talent who are awesome to watch and cost virtually nothing are making the $200 million team of vetrans look terrible.

  7. Paul B on April 5th, 2008 12:18 pm

    Absolutely it is about not liking the choices available, which Mac has translated into meaning not enough pitchers in the bullpen.

    It is some sort of cognitive dissadence.

    The fact that we don’t have Putz, somehow translates into we need more than 11 pitchers.

    Well, gee, maybe the pitchers they have available to call up aren’t any good, and if so, why would calling up an extra one help?

    Maybe it would help Mac feel better if he could use 5 or 6 pitchers in every game?

  8. David M. on April 5th, 2008 12:41 pm

    kyoko: The ‘Rays’ had to be basement dwellers for about a decade to amass that much young cheap talent. Be careful what you wish for.

    I think this post is unfair to McLaren. I don’t read his comments as pining for veterans at all, but rather as pining for a ‘settled’ bullpen in which each reliever knows his ‘role’. Ridicule that, if you like, but I don’t see him saying “gosh we need more Rick Whites around here” – especially since the one reliever he’s been actively wishing for is Brandon Morrow, hardly a veteran presence. He wasn’t reluctant to use Green last night – he was just reluctant to use him so early in the game.

    Again, there’s room to criticize, but let’s not misread the substance of his argument.

  9. Dave in Palo Alto on April 5th, 2008 12:45 pm

    Excellent White/Reitsma blast. I assume the omission of Parrish was to avoid overkill.

  10. HamNasty on April 5th, 2008 12:49 pm

    I didn’t even need to read past the thread headline to know what McLaren was going to say. It hurts my head.

    Dear McLaren,
    Us fans like baseball, the rest of out lives are clouded with other stuff we don’t like. Please don’t ruin baseball!

  11. terry on April 5th, 2008 12:53 pm

    Where are the ponies?

  12. HamNasty on April 5th, 2008 12:53 pm

    8- It is McLaren’s job to set roles for those players. He can not complain the players don’t know their ‘role’ if he is the one setting them. I mean it took Dave 15 seconds to figure out the roles the relievers should play in a game. McLaren can’t figure it out in the 2 months they have been at Spring Training??

    Also I have no idea what a ‘settled’ bullpen is but I bet its full of Jose Mesas, Rick Whites, and John Parrishs in McLaren’s eyes.

  13. David M. on April 5th, 2008 1:02 pm

    12: McLaren’s not saying they don’t know their roles, he’s saying that everyone’s role is in flux due to Putz’s injury.

    Outside of mind reading, do you have any evidence that McLaren really wants another Rick White or John Parrish? Is there any quote in this article that could give someone that impression?

  14. Dave on April 5th, 2008 1:04 pm

    Explain the decision to use Batista instead of Rowland-Smith on Wednesday night with any argument that doesn’t involve experience.

    Good luck.

  15. David M. on April 5th, 2008 1:09 pm

    a. it was his throw-day
    b. he’s a better pitcher

    I’m not saying that experience is a non-factor for McLaren, but I don’t see any creepy veteran-love coming out of this article – only (less creepy) bullpen-role love.

    Your argument doesn’t jive with his comments about Morrow, or why they went with Lowe and RRS out of spring training rather than Dickey or someone on the waiver wire. Explain. Good luck.

  16. HamNasty on April 5th, 2008 1:11 pm

    The second part was a cheap shot at McLaren. But I do remember him using White and Parrish in situations that were not best for their skill level (little league pitcher) and it blew up in his face. As Dave said McLaren likes experience. We have seen it in all his past decisions when given a choice.

  17. Joe C on April 5th, 2008 1:13 pm

    He wanted to test how much ground the outfield could really cover with a three run lead late in the game.

  18. scott19 on April 5th, 2008 1:15 pm

    For some reason, I once again sense the sighting of one or more Mesa-esque gas cans come mid-season. I hope I’m wrong.

  19. Dave on April 5th, 2008 1:17 pm

    a. it was his throw-day

    How many times has McLaren ever used another starter in relief because it was his throw day?

    b. he’s a better pitcher

    Batista, vs lefties, 2007: .295/.375/.458
    Batista, vs lefties, 2006: .321/.405/.493

    Rowland-Smith, vs lefties, 2007: .275/.322/.412

    Try again.

    I’m not saying that experience is a non-factor for McLaren, but I don’t see any creepy veteran-love coming out of this article – only (less creepy) bullpen-role love.

    Perhaps my inference of McLaren’s love affair of veterans is not simply based on this one article?

    Your argument doesn’t jive with his comments about Morrow, or why they went with Lowe and RRS out of spring training rather than Dickey or someone on the waiver wire. Explain. Good luck.

    Dickey doesn’t have any experience either. They tried to give jobs to lousy, washed up vets Rhodes and Reitsma, but they were physically unable to pitch on back to back days. It wasn’t for lack of effort that they ended up with an inexperienced bullpen.

  20. David M. on April 5th, 2008 1:31 pm

    “How many times has McLaren ever used another starter in relief because it was his throw day?”

    Batista did this last year in San Diego, though McLaren was not yet the manager.

    And the same pitcher will have different numbers out of the bullpen vs. starting, so you’d really have to use Batista’s 2005 #’s, and how valuable would those be anyway?

    Actually, apparently the reason McLaren was thinking about Batista as a closing option on Wednesday was because of a fortune cookie:

    The Mariners’ bullpen was a mess after just two games. All-Star closer J.J. Putz had just gone on the disabled list with a ribcage injury. And the fortune cookie Batista had to finish off his pregame dinner declared: “Someone will need your help this month.”

    When Batista showed John McLaren what fortune cookie he had drawn at dinner, the Mariners manager exclaimed: “Oh, no you didn’t!”

    So, whatever.

    Anyway, my original point was that this article adds nothing to a pre-existing argument (which may have some merit) about McLaren’s ostensible veteran reliever fetish.

    Plenty of veteran relievers got money in the off-season. Heck, those inexpensive and awesome Rays decided that Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler didn’t provide enough veteran grit, and threw a bunch of money at Troy Freakin Percival. Did the Mariners do that? No.

  21. Dave on April 5th, 2008 1:57 pm

    Batista’s arsenal is not setup to get lefties out – this isn’t news. Fastball/Slider right-handers struggle against LH hitters, and always have. Batista got the call on Wednesday because he had closer experience – McLaren will tell you that if you ask him. Trying to spin it as anything else is just rewriting history.

  22. HamNasty on April 5th, 2008 1:57 pm

    No, the Mariners threw it at Cairo, the position player version of Rick White. However that argument has nothing to do with McLaren. John McLaren doesn’t sign the checks or add players to the team.

    Also you just said he makes in game decisions from fortune cookies. Which would make him as valuable as any person who has ever been to an Asian restaurant. Not exactly the type of person I want heading on field decisions of a multi million dollar business that I have followed for almost 20 years. You want fortune cookie guy leading your team?

  23. BigB on April 5th, 2008 2:33 pm

    I’m just happy they haven’t called up Morrow yet… what are the chances he actually spends the season in the minors to be groomed as a starter? 1/50? 1/100? 1/100,000,000?

  24. Teej on April 5th, 2008 2:45 pm

    The ‘Rays’ had to be basement dwellers for about a decade to amass that much young cheap talent. Be careful

    Not really. The whole organizational overhaul has taken place over only a few years.

    Also, why haven’t other basement-dwellers amassed that much talent? Why aren’t the Pirates and Nationals brimming with talent? It takes much more than just “being bad” to find that much young talent.

  25. David M. on April 5th, 2008 2:46 pm

    Next time I talk to him, I’ll be able to confirm your suspicion.

    But to rewrite history it would have to be written in the first place. Batista ‘looked to the cookie’, McLaren got a kick out of it, thought, ‘heck, I guess I could use him, and save the bullpen guys an inning’, and did so. He didn’t say, ‘let it be known that I love veterans, and was just so excited to use a veteran in the 9th inning today’. So I don’t think he’s etched an inscription about veterans that I’m trying to ‘rewrite’ – I just think Batista on Wednesday was a blip and it’s a thin thread on which to hang your argument about McLaren’s veteran fetish.

    Here’s what bothers me, a post like this allows #10 to say something like “I didn’t even need to read past the thread headline to know what McLaren was going to say.” Well there’s something wrong with that, because McLaren said nothing in the article that would make someone think he’s pining for more veteran presence. Again, it’s not a non-factor, but you’re establishing a bias against him and using the quotes above for evidence even though they don’t support your argument. If anything, I read the bullpen configuration this year as an acknowledgment that ‘stuff’ trumps experience for McLaren. Hence his repeated desire to get Morrow back up to the big leagues as soon as his ‘stuff’ comes around. Hence Lowe’s comeback allowing them to drop a sad-sack like Reitsma, etc. It’s not like he moved Baek to the 5th starter and crowned Batista the closer. If he dreamed of veteran arms finishing games, why not do that? Because he’s comfortable with Lowe, Green, Flaherty, et al.

  26. jlc on April 5th, 2008 3:01 pm

    The Mariners’ site says Mac was the bullpen coach in 1993-4. What was he like then? I was shocked to read that.

  27. north on April 5th, 2008 3:04 pm

    Uh Oh No …

    Giants released LHP Steve Kline.
    Any team can now sign him at the league-minimum, with the Giants picking up the rest of his $1.75 million salary. Nobody came forward looking to trade for Kline in the past week, but at this cheap, he should garner some interest on the waiver wire.


    I have actually enjoyed watching Kline in the past, but that was the past.

  28. David M. on April 5th, 2008 3:08 pm

    24. Upton, Young (i.e Garza/Bartlett), Longoria and Price were all drafted in the first three picks of their respective drafts. That’s four years of having either the worst, second-worst, or third-worst record in baseball. Sure they haven’t got all their talent that way, and they are to be commended for getting real talent when other terrible teams haven’t improved.

    But the Pirates have had 1 draft pick in the top three in the past ten years (cough, Bryan Bullington). The Nationals (an odd choice, since they do have talent), have had zero top three picks in the past decade. You just can’t tell a story about the Rays’ young talent without mentioning that they had to be non-competitive, 100-loss teams for a long stretch to get that talent (and it goes beyond the four I mentioned).

  29. Breadbaker on April 5th, 2008 3:14 pm

    This is the worst aspect of McLaren’s management style. He is looking at what he thinks players can’t do and acting on it, rather than encouraging them to do things they have not done in the past. With a young bullpen, wouldn’t it be better to say, “Rowland-Smith hasn’t proven he can’t pitch the ninth inning. so I assume he can” than to reinforce their inexperience and not show confidence in them?

  30. Tek Jansen on April 5th, 2008 3:18 pm

    I think that it is safe to say that the M’s FO, including their on-field manager McLaren, highly value experience in all facets of the game. Last year, Weaver was signed because he, rather than Baek, had experience. Wilkerson was signed because he has more experience than Balentien/Reed/Morse. Cairo has more experience than Chen. Need I go on. To be fair to Mac, the M’s reliance on veterans extends beyond him.

  31. north on April 5th, 2008 3:34 pm

    The task of a manager is to place people in positions in which they can succeed.

    This involves recognizing young talent and (re)evaluating veteran talent – figuring out what players can do – and then showing complete confidence in them in their new roles until they have enough experience to recognize it themselves.

    McLaren is not good at this and we aren’t even forced to guess at his abilities. His recent media quotes are basically an admission that he doesn’t know what being manager entails.

    By revealing his lack of competence to the media, he is also indicting Bavasi for hiring him. Good interviewers draw out candidates until they reveal their own deficiencies.

  32. Sentinel on April 5th, 2008 3:51 pm

    Maybe we can get the guys making the fortune cookies to run the team?

  33. msb on April 5th, 2008 4:14 pm

    Mac has noticed that Arthur Lee is getting closer to ready ….

  34. Axtell on April 5th, 2008 4:28 pm


    it’s no secret to see McClaren’s past moves to see he favors vets with ‘experience’ over more talented younger players. Look at how little he used Adam Jones last year, even once it was apparent the M’s had no chance of hitting the postseason. Look at last year when Vidro hit all of 6 HRs in the DH slot, and he continued to get plugged in every day. Same with Sexson, same with everyone.

    It doesn’t take someone with a doctorate in psychology to see what McClaren favors – vets with playing time over younger players with less. To continue to sit there and say ‘no he doesn’t’ is akin to a child sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming ‘nyah nyah I can’t hear you!’

  35. Breadbaker on April 5th, 2008 5:06 pm

    33: And Arthur Lee is one guy who’s proven he can’t pitch the ninth inning.

  36. Rain Delay on April 5th, 2008 5:57 pm

    35 – We know this, but dollars to dough nuts McLaren would tell you differently.

    He’s been a closer, he’s been through wars.

    Same song, different verse.

  37. oh poker on April 5th, 2008 7:00 pm

    Only a partially tongue in cheek question:

    Why, when the closer is injured, wouldn’t you constantly use the “it’s his throwing day” starter in a save situation?

  38. mark s on April 6th, 2008 2:45 am

    Too bad we couldn’t just give everyone in the bullpen some fake IDs.

  39. BigJared on April 8th, 2008 4:55 pm

    Mac is beginning to make me long for the quiet placidity of Bobby Melvin or the endearing doddering of the Human Brain Delay.

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