Assessing Wakamatsu

Dave · April 28, 2009 at 5:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

When you have a rookie manager, your expectations have to be toned down, because what a manager says he’s going to do and what he actually does are often quite different. Wakamatsu said a lot of intelligent stuff during spring training, and he impressed a lot of smart people, and I had hopes that he’d be a pretty good manager, but there was always that nagging feeling of “you never know”.

A few weeks in, and while we still don’t know, we actually have some evidence of what Wak values and what kind of manager he is. And I couldn’t be any happier.

At the end of March, I wrote that the measure of Wakamatsu would be how he handled the Griffey situation. It was an exaggeration, but not a huge one. In seeing how he dealt with a beloved superstar who the fans adored, who simultaneously had an inflated sense of his defensive value, was a pretty big litmus test for what kinds of things Wakamatsu valued. As we wrote about extensively, Griffey could help the team as a DH vs RHP, but would hurt the team in pretty much any other capacity. Whether Wak would be able to convince Griffey of that was going to tell us a lot about him.

He gets two thumbs way up on that so far. Junior played 23 innings in the outfield while Ichiro was on the DL and hasn’t touched a glove since he returned. Despite telling the media that he wanted to play the OF regularly and would only DH once in a while, Junior hasn’t said one peep about his relegation to bat-only player, and has reportedly been nothing short of fantastic in the clubhouse. For those that were afraid Griffey’s return would lead to Ibanez 2.0 in left field, I think those have been chased away.

While the Griffey scenario was the biggest challenge, he’s also proven adept in other areas. His handling of the bullpen has been very good so far, finding the right options for high leverage situations and relegating Batista to a back-up role despite his vast experience lead over the rest of the relief arms. He’s shuffled the line-up depending on opposing pitcher handedness, something the previous managers simply weren’t willing to do. He’s stuck with struggling starters when the team needed innings and managed the workloads without riding anyone excessively hard.

He hasn’t been perfect – the team is bunting too much for my tastes, especially Lopez and Gutierrez, and I’d like to see him be a bit more willing to pinch hit for platoon advantages late in games – but he’s been very, very good. After a short period of reservation when Zduriencik was hired, we all justifiably got excited when he gave us reasons to. I think it’s time to get excited about Wakamatsu as well. It’s hard to think of anyone I’d prefer as manager of this team.


29 Responses to “Assessing Wakamatsu”

  1. Gritty Veteran Poster on April 28th, 2009 7:03 am

    The M’s being run smartly in the front office and on the field!? What the hell is going on here?

    And to think . . . this is all being done while still dragging around a good deal of Bavasi’s baggage on the roster. It’s exciting to think of what might lay ahead with a few years of Zdurncik and Wakamatsu.

  2. DarkKnight1680 on April 28th, 2009 7:14 am

    Wak’s been very solid. Sure there are things I would have done differently, but the general direction is fantastic. Now all we have to do is get him Stephen Strasburg to shore up the rotation in September…and October.

  3. davepaisley on April 28th, 2009 7:36 am

    I see the point about pinch hitting, but with the very limited bench, does he really have that option much? Given that you often need move / counter-move / counter-counter-move, he just doesn’t have the horses to go there.

    If they got rid of the 12th pitcher and had a more versatile bench, and a not-so-right-handed lineup we’d get a better chance to see how he’d handle that.

  4. wabbles on April 28th, 2009 8:31 am

    I heartily agree. I don’t know if the four man bench is his idea or not and SOME of the lineups have you scratching your head A LITTLE. But that’s such a welcome relief from banging your head against the wall as past managers have made us do. As I said, I think the bunting is temporary until our bats come around. I don’t think you’re going to see Ichiro! getting on and then one of our lead power guys (Lopez) bunting him over purely for the sake of it, anywhere near as much as McLaren did.

  5. NorthofWrigleyField on April 28th, 2009 8:33 am

    I think Wakamatsu has done a fair job managing the resources he’s had available given the roster’s limitations and the injury situations. I don’t like to be results-oriented, but you can’t really argue with the results. I would like to see Balentien get more time, Betancourt have a shorter leash and Branyan not get so much time against LHPs. If Sweeney can’t handle 1b so Balentien can get in there somewhere, then he shouldn’t be on the roster.

    Also… how the heck am I going to play Wakamatsu and Zduriencik in scrabble? Has to be the highest scoring gm/coach scrabble combination ever.

  6. Sports on a Schtick on April 28th, 2009 8:56 am

    Please no more Sweeney batting third. Or in the lineup.

    And I’d like to see Yuni reprimanded beyond the short leash that’s seemingly been extended since 2007. But overall a vote of confidence to Wak.

  7. JMHawkins on April 28th, 2009 9:17 am

    I’ll add that he seems to understand flyball vs groundball pitching, and tries to get the best defensive alignment for the guy on the hill that day. It’s a small thing, but it’s another indication that he pays attention and knows his players.

    I’m happy with the way he’s used the bullpen, but I’d like to see what he does with a couple of lefties to call on. Will he degenerate into doing the “Mac”-arena (tap the left arm, next batter tap the right arm, next batter tap the left again…) and burning three guys in one inning? I hope not, but it would be nice to find out, if only because it meant we had a lefty to call on.

  8. JerBear on April 28th, 2009 9:21 am

    Yeah, I’m already a pretty big Wakamatsu fan. I don’t think he’s perfect – as mentioned, he bunts too much and has run out a couple head-scratcher lineups. But have to keep in mind that between his already limited bench and all the little injuries, he’s kind of had one hand tied behind his back so far. And the way he has used Griffey and kept everyone happy has been one of the biggest surprises/bright spots of the season for me.

    I know we talk alot about how mangers usually don’t impact winning and losing that much, but I think Wak is on the “definitive impact for good” side of the spectrum and I’m really excited to have him.

  9. edclayton on April 28th, 2009 9:24 am

    The fact that Endy has played so well has made Wak’s decision a little easier. If Chavez was batting .229 instead of .329, you’d have a lot more people clamoring for Griffey in left field.

  10. abun24 on April 28th, 2009 9:28 am

    A little credit goes to Griffey for swallowing his pride and seeing his role. Chavez playing well and winning generally breed chemistry, but Griffey could have made it more difficult.

    Still, Kudos to Wak. My days are so much nicer with the new GM and coach.

  11. Jeff Nye on April 28th, 2009 9:38 am

    Also… how the heck am I going to play Wakamatsu and Zduriencik in scrabble? Has to be the highest scoring gm/coach scrabble combination ever.

    “How did you get so many Qs?”

    “…Don’t worry about it.”

  12. TomG on April 28th, 2009 10:21 am

    I actually kind of like the aggressive smallball (ick) approach Wakamatsu has been implementing. We all knew this was an offense that was going to struggle to get on base (currently the third-worst OBP in baseball) and score runs without using speed to their advantage. It kind of reminds me of Riley’s Knicks from the early 90s: grind them down defensively and be pesky enough on the offensive side of the ball to eke out a lot of close games. It’s not pretty but, given the current roster construct, it damn well works.

  13. Dave on April 28th, 2009 10:29 am

    There’s a difference between bunting with Endy Chavez and bunting with Jose Lopez. We’re all fine with the former, but the latter is just a bad decision in almost every case.

  14. TomG on April 28th, 2009 10:36 am

    True. That may be my only pet peeve with Wakamatsu, though.

  15. Mike Snow on April 28th, 2009 10:53 am

    What about Gutierrez, though? That’s somewhere between Chavez and Lopez, I suppose, but where does it fall on the scale? I guess part of the issue is how you evaluate Gutierrez as a hitter. We know he’s great defensively, but I think there’s more variation in how people see his bat, and that might be worth a post of its own sometime.

  16. Dave on April 28th, 2009 10:54 am

    Gutierrez should never bunt against an LHP. Against an RHP, it depends on the situation.

  17. Mid80sRighty on April 28th, 2009 11:01 am

    Might be worth pointing out I’ve heard several times that a lot of the bunting is not manager directed. Also, seems to me most of the bunts have been of the drag bunt variety…even in sacrifice situations. Which, personally, I don’t mind as much.

    And as JerBear pointed out, managers don’t have THAT big of an impact on wins and losses. Time will tell if Wak can be a manager that actually adds wins to the team, but I think it’s safe to say he’s not going to lose us any games.

  18. Mike Snow on April 28th, 2009 11:08 am

    Might be worth pointing out I’ve heard several times that a lot of the bunting is not manager directed.

    If Wakamatsu gives Chavez and Gutierrez license to bunt at will, as has been reported, he still has to bear responsibility for that decision even if he’s not directing the specific situations in which they bunt.

  19. joser on April 28th, 2009 11:09 am

    I don’t mind a few “head scratching” lineups, especially early on in the season. We don’t really know what’s going on in his head, but from his comments it sounds like Wakamatsu is experimenting with things to see what his players are capable of. And that’s fair enough, especially for a first-time coach handed a roster with a fair number of guys who haven’t played together before. It’s certainly better than the stuck-in-the mud thinking we’ve seen from past coaches. We all know that actual lineup ordering doesn’t make an enormous difference beyond a few obvious things, and sometimes particular players seem to fit together better even though their traditional “roles” would argue otherwise. (Hey, look! Wakamatsu is defying roles!)

    I would like to see Balentien get more time, Betancourt have a shorter leash and Branyan not get so much time against LHPs.

    I tend to a agree, though I’d temper that just a bit: at just the point the desire for a Betancourtmartial reached its apex, Cedeno got injured… and simultaneously (and coincidentally, or not) Betancourt started fielding a little better. So as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on that point. We’ll see what happens if Yuni starts booting balls again when Cedeno is healthy.

    As for Branyan: Zduriencik said when he signed him that he envisaged him as an every-day player, which presumably means he expected him to be able to hit same-handed pitchers and not be a platoon partner… career splits he damned. So it could be that Wakamatsu is just following Zduriencik’s direction… at least until he accumulates evidence to the contrary. Thus my jury is still out on that situation as well.

    I’ll add that he seems to understand flyball vs groundball pitching,

    And that, in itself, means he’s a better manager than any the M’s have had at least since Lou.

    One thing that has bothered me a bit about Wakamatsu is his tendency to not get bullpen guys up as things start to go bad for the guy on the mound. I can argue that both ways too — there’s something to be said for showing confidence in your pitcher, and emphasizing that he has to get himself out of situations he creates (or, next time, not create them in the first place); and you certainly don’t want to be getting guys up and sitting them down again and wearing them out in the process. But more than once we’ve seen a pitcher get himself into a deep hole with no one warming up behind him. Results — the high-wire, walk the bases full then somehow get out of it act we’ve seen so many times already — would argue that he knows what he’s doing and it’s working. But we don’t like to argue from results, and I worry that he’s just been lucky so far. Then again — who knows — perhaps he’s doing the whole “it’s early, let’s see what they can do” thing with the bullpen also, and when he actually has some lefty arms in the pen maybe we’ll see more of the standard “get up one guy of each handedness just in case, and to keep the other skipper guessing” thing.

  20. UpOrDownMsFan on April 28th, 2009 11:28 am

    I like it. It’s been refreshing to see us managed in a way that makes sense. Even if I don’t always agree with the decisions, there are far fewer “What the hell are you doing?!” moments this year.

    He’s been the smartest manager since Piniella when it comes to managing the pitching. Specifically, when starters go deep in the game, and have pitched well, he takes them out if the tying run gets on base (a well known edict in the clubhouse– “don’t let a guy who goes 8 innings and gives up 3 or less runs take a loss, if you can help it.” You can almost call that the Piniella rule– and pitchers LOVE it!)

    As someone else mentioned, I wouldn’t mind seeing him be a little quicker to get someone going in the pen when a starter’s day is obviously headed south (ie- Jak’s and Washburn’s two last starts). Mainly because we have 12 pitchers, so it’s not like we don’t have the arms to come in early.

    And honestly, as much as folks are worried about us sustaining our winning, I’m not really worried about the offense as much as the bullpen. For the most part, most of our bats are actually gonna correct to the norm in an upward direction at this point. We still have a lot of key guys batting well below their averages: Beltre, Junior, Guty, Lopez, Cedeno, and even Yuni currently. I can’t help but think Guty, Junior and Cedeno will pick it up the 2nd and 3rd times they see AL West starters and bullpens.

    So yeah, all in all, I like Wak’s approach and the way he’s used his defense and offense. Although, the Griffey thing isn’t settled yet, we’re still very young in the season and he’s gonna want to see the field with a glove at some point. Period.

    Best thing about his managing– he’s got us playing winning baseball, which is putting pressure on the front office to work towards finding a bullpen lefty, another left handed bench bat, and gonna force us to make some hard decisions about guys like Batista as some key injured pitchers start coming back over the next month.

  21. et_blankenship on April 28th, 2009 11:56 am

    I figured Griffey would be cool with the DH arrangement the moment I saw how fat he was:

    Wak – “Hey, Junior. I was thinking about starting you in LF today. You up for it?”

    Junior – “Hmmm . . . ”

    Wak – “No rush. Just let me know before 5. Saaaay . . . check out these mini pizzas.”

    Junior – (“Let’s see, what do I feel like doing today . . . I can be the old fat guy who covers 15% of the outfield – man, that’s so embarrassing – or I can be the old fat guy with unlimited access to the buffet table when the team is in the field. Those mini-pizzas sure look – oh wow is that Andouille sausage? And just look at those donuts!”)

    “Hey Wak! I’ve made my decision!”

  22. Steve Nelson on April 28th, 2009 12:09 pm

    With some of the lineups we might also not have all of the information. For example, last Saturday Gutierrez sat for Silva’s start, with Chavez in center and Balentien in left. It seemed as if this was just Wakamatsu juggling the lineup to get some playing time for Balentien, and comments were made that a Silva start was a bad time to put that lineup on the field.

    Later in one of the local game stories or blogs it came out that Gutierrez had an eye infection; hence the decision to have him sit that day.

    This is the kind of information that we don’t get unless one of the beat writers asks the question and posts a reply. If the question isn’t asked, we tend to assume everyone is available and are left scratching our heads about the lineup logic.

  23. wrob4343 on April 28th, 2009 1:34 pm

    I rally hate to do thsi Dave, but you mispelled Wakamatsu in the thrid line.

  24. wrob4343 on April 28th, 2009 1:40 pm

    About the management of the bullpen, if Batista keeps being utilized in the form he is, that me first mentality, you guys so carefully pointed out will hopefully have him either demanding more playing time because of such little leverage use, or just plain bad and off the team.

  25. Mike Snow on April 28th, 2009 1:50 pm

    I rally hate to do thsi Dave, but you mispelled Wakamatsu in the thrid line.

    Fixed now. Would you like yours fixed as well? From your next comment it appears you can spell perfectly well, so I presume that was just an ironic touch.

  26. MKT on April 28th, 2009 2:27 pm

    just the point the desire for a Betancourtmartial reached its apex


    So as far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on that point.

    Nice juxtaposition with a portmanteau there — but don’t courts-martial have panels, and not juries? 😉

  27. beckya57 on April 28th, 2009 4:46 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more, esp re the handling of the touchy Jr situation. I’m very impressed with both Wakamatsu and Jack Z, and am looking forward to going to games again, after boycotting the team for several years. As others have already said, it’ll be even more exciting to see what they do after they’re rid of all of the deadweight contracts.

  28. wrob4343 on April 28th, 2009 9:27 pm

    It was ironic touch but judging by your response, it missed the mark.

    I just hope all of this isn’t beginners luck or Wak being the Tony LaRussa of this generation.

  29. notanangrygradstudent on April 29th, 2009 10:30 am

    So far this has been a dream. I even disagree somewhat with one of your criticisms: I think pinch-hitting for the platoon advantage is somewhat overrated, and I like that Wakamatsu doesn’t knee-jerk those situations like some of our past managers have. I agree about the bunting, but every manager has a foible.

    Oh, and “Zduriencik”, n’est-ce pas? Third from last sentence.

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