More on evaluating Wakamatsu

DMZ · April 29, 2009 at 5:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s have bunted way, way too often so far this season by any reasonable measure. But here’s the thing… let’s say Wakamatsu has two and only two things to do in a day: fill out a lineup card and make a decision on whether to sacrifice two runners over.

Wakamatsu’s frankly amazing ability so far to keep Griffey at DH and seemingly happy about it, run out not-insane lineups far outweighs the bunting.

Take the Endy Chavez/Griffey in left scenario. Defensively, every time he runs that out instead of Griffey in left and Sweeney at DH, he’s come out in the good. I did some rough calculations and it’s like a quarter of a run a game so far, and that’s without punishing Sweeney for looking pretty helpless at the plate so far.

That buys him two bad bunt-the-runner-over decisions. Or a really bad steal decision. And it doesn’t incorporate, as Dave said, how well he’s been managing the pitching staff.

Really: think about the effect of batting Vidro in the middle of the order. Wouldn’t the team have been better off trading a competent hitter against an extra hit-and-run call?

The most important part of a manager’s job, game by game, is putting the right players in the right positions. Before the season I was desperately worried about how they’d defuse Griffey (and the media’s) expectation of playing left every day (and Dave, presciently, was talking some sense). But they’ve managed the lineups well, especially considering some of the strange injury constraints. And that’s a lot more important than anything else so far.


29 Responses to “More on evaluating Wakamatsu”

  1. fermorules on April 29th, 2009 5:20 pm

    I know some fans will begin to second-guess Wakamatsu, but you’ve nailed it right on the head: his good things far outweigh the bad.

    For starters, Wak has a clue about how to manage a pitching staff, and his emphasis on defense shows a fundamental grasp of baseball that so eluded the previous administration.

    Moreover, after the 8-0 pasting Sunday and the rain-out Monday, he had the team ready to play two on Tuesday.

    So yes, I’m very impressed with what Wak has done with limited resources. Bunt too much? Yes, indeed.

    But when I compare Wak to McLaren last year, and the way the whiny veterans just mailed it in day after day, I like what I’ve seen so far.

  2. westfried on April 29th, 2009 5:24 pm

    I was also very happy to see Wak pull Felix last night. Cold, 100 pitches, up by 9. The only reason to leave him in would have been the old-school “give him the chance” to finish it out. Uggh.

    Taking out Felix last night was a great decision for the team. 8 good innings in the bag, no need to push in an April blowout.

  3. Breadbaker on April 29th, 2009 5:30 pm

    I’m very pleased so far. My hope, though, is that he’s going to learn that he can win even more without the bunting and the other things that take us out of big innings, and just tones them down. It’s good to know who can and can’t bunt or hit and run, the thing is to use it only when it makes sense (ninth inning at home, tie game, for instance) and with whom, and then simplify the repetoire.

  4. CMC_Stags on April 29th, 2009 5:34 pm

    While the good so far outweighs the bad, why can’t we point out the bad?

    Dave & DMZ – You both continually say it’s about the process not the results and that there is no reason not to maximize every advantage. Yet you’re both giving Wak a degree of a free pass on the non-maximizing decisions because overall he makes mostly good decisions.

    I’m looking forward to the point when we can assume our manager will make mostly correct decisions and then debate the hard decisions that he makes. I want to know that Wak is going to start Endy and Griffey versus RH pitching and that Wlad will be in the line-up versus LH pitching. I want to know that bunting will be when appropriate only. I want to see the team send every runner versus the White Sox next time. I’d love the team to realize that they’re not using the 12 pitcher on the staff enough to make it worth carrying him.

    Is Wak the best manager we’ve had since Lou? So far, the signs are very positive that he is. Is there room for improvement? Of course there is with any first time manager.

  5. Dave on April 29th, 2009 5:38 pm

    Yet you’re both giving Wak a degree of a free pass on the non-maximizing decisions because overall he makes mostly good decisions.

    Think of it like Ichiro or Beltre or even Felix – they do stuff we don’t like, but the whole package is awesome, so while we point out that they do stuff they don’t like, the overall feeling towards them is warm.

    Same deal here.

  6. Breadbaker on April 29th, 2009 5:39 pm

    Remember that Wak essentially never had his full team during spring training because of the WBC and injuries, so there is still a bit of a shakedown cruise going on in April.

  7. DMZ on April 29th, 2009 7:24 pm

    Beyond what Dave said, there’s something else here, too: very few managers are truly great in all aspects of the game, in the same way that few general managers are. Some work well with young clubs, some do much better with a collection of veterans. There are managers who do a great job running the pitching side and insist on carrying two Bloomquist-types for late-inning pinch-running.

    I want to try and be realistic about this, and weigh my distaste for overuse of small-ball tactics against a recognition that he’s also doing a really good job at something I know is even more important. I don’t think that’s turning a blind eye.

  8. BillyJive on April 29th, 2009 7:35 pm

    So far I am enjoying watching this team soooo much more than last year….but I still see glimpses of last year’s team which makes me a little nervous. A nice five or six game winning streak would make me a little more comfortable..that and a Yuni benching…

  9. Axtell on April 29th, 2009 7:39 pm

    I don’t see any glimpses of last year’s team at all. Bedard not lifting himself after self-imposed pitch counts, veterans who actually hustle and want to earn their paychecks, and a team that understands the ‘team’ concept isn’t a bunch of ‘me’s.

    I’m enjoying the surprising run, and, with the rest of the division’s troubles, a division title isn’t unattainable.

  10. BillyJive on April 29th, 2009 7:41 pm

    What I meant was…the mental errors we’re seeing and the lack of offense at times….1st place is obtainable but there still needs to be improvement…the Angels are only going to be banged up for awhile and Texas is coming on strong…

  11. henryv on April 29th, 2009 7:54 pm

    Here is what I want to know:

    Is one of the reasons that Wak bunting so much is because we have a team that has very, very little power.

    Currently, we’re on pace for 110 home runs.

    With such minimal power, isn’t bunting necessary?

    I mean, with how bad some our hitters are, aren’t we basically looking at moving runners along like an NL pitcher?

    For instance, lets say you have Chavez, or someone fast, on first. Realistically, you are going to need 2 hits to get him home, or a bunt and a single.

    Are you more likely to have two successful hits, or a successful bunt and a hit? Yes, by bunting you’re give up an out, but given the offensive prowess of some of our players, they practically give up their outs anyways.

    Beltre, Lopez, Ichiro, Branyan should’t be bunting, but doesn’t it make sense with this team to bunt a lot?

    (I’m just asking, not advocating…)

  12. Breadbaker on April 29th, 2009 7:55 pm

    All true, Derek, but the man has been a manager for less than month. Managers do change their tendencies over time (compare Sparky Anderson as Captain Hook with the Reds with his behavior with the Tigers). I just hope Wak’s development is in the right direction.

  13. gwhitney on April 29th, 2009 8:42 pm

    The guy is calm and handling the players and the game without issue. He’s going to make mistakes with the field and lineup.

    Something a little concerning though is if you do a quick analysis of the run production and run allowance of who the M’s have played so far this year it doesn’t look good when they will go up against the teams that they haven’t played yet. Granted, small sample size but it’s a trend.

  14. hiskeyd on April 29th, 2009 9:25 pm

    “Bedard not lifting himself after self-imposed pitch counts”

    You do know he was injured on day 1 of the year right? The only reason he was out there pitching at all was that he was very aware of the fact that the team traded 5 players for him. He was in a lot of pain just going out there on pitch 1 game 1. He chose to not tell anyone and try to pitch through it as long as he could because he wanted to help the team win. Every game he would pitch until he couldn’t take the pain anymore then he’d sit. It’s all in his 10 minute long interview with Brock and Salk (also notice he’s willing to talk long interviews with people if they don’t constantly insult him 🙂

  15. Sinking Away on April 29th, 2009 10:10 pm

    I have the same question as henryv, Isn’t bunting a necessary option when the batter is not likely to get a hit, but rather strike out/popup/GIDP? I agree it makes no sense to give up an out to move a runner along if the batter would just as likely not strike out/popup/GIDP. It can be used to keep the defense honest, (and make them commit to playing in or out) as long as Wak considers the speed of the runner and the bunting skills of the batter, as opposed to the hitting skills of the batter, it seems like a good choice in the right situation.

  16. DMZ on April 29th, 2009 10:14 pm

    Every action can be a good choice in the right situation.

  17. Axtell on April 29th, 2009 10:25 pm

    If he was injured on day 1, then he did the team an incredible disservice in playing all year with it.

    And I don’t buy the argument that one has to bunt because of a lack of power hitters. To give up an out because the guy might not hit a home run doesn’t seem like a valid tactic.

  18. Sinking Away on April 29th, 2009 11:00 pm

    Axtell – I did’t suggest that one needs to bunt because one is unlikely to hit a homerun, or at least I didn’t mean to suggest that. I meant that if a hitter was more likely to GIDP/popout/strikeout, then the out would be more productive if it moved the runner on first into scoring position. It’s an out in either case, but the runner is in a better state.

  19. wabbles on April 29th, 2009 11:25 pm

    Exactly Sinking Away. Pitchers bunt because they can’t hit. So if you have hitters that can’t hit (or haven’t started hitting yet), I think bunting makes sense. At least you move the runner over versus the strikeout or popup or GIDP. The other thing too is the surprise factor. We’ve all seen “The Double” a million times. Griffey was on first, he had singled. Cora was on second, he had bunted for a base hit.
    The surprise factor is the beauty of bunting in less than obvious situations. If the football game is winding down and you score and need to get the ball back, OF COURSE you try an onside kick. But the other team knows that and they are ready for it. But if it’s the second quarter and you’re up by a touchdown, the other team is NOT NOT NOT expecting an onside kick. So it works. (Jack Patera’s Seattle Seahawks did this beautifully.) It CAN, not always, but CAN be the same way with bunting. (Albeit NOT the way McLaren did it.)

  20. hiskeyd on April 29th, 2009 11:54 pm

    @Axtell: Normally, i’d agree with you on players doing the team a disservice when they hide major injuries and try to play through it. People in the media and coaches and what not always act like “Wow, what a great player for doing that. he’s so selfless”. But in fact it’s a very SELFISH thing to do if you have a major injury. You are doing nothing but hurting the team so that you get to play and don’t have to sit on the “sidelines”. Minor injuries are a different story so long as you can still perform better than the guys on the bench or waiting in the wings in the minors.

    However, in his case i can understand why he did it. And because he is so ridiculously talented, he’s one of the few players who can still go out there and put up good numbers through that. Most can’t. So in this case, I’d hardly say he did the team a disservice. Who else on the team last year not named Felix could have put up 3.67 ERA in 15 starts going 6-4 (with very little run support). His only real knocks were that he is a much better pitcher than that and he only averaged about 5 and 2/3 innings a start. However, again who else on the team last year not named Felix did much better than 5 and 2/3 innings a start?

    He addressed this in his interview, when asked if he would do anything different in retrospect (knowing how the season would turn out for the team and all that). And he said no because it was a situation where he was “damned if i do and damned if i don’t so i might as well pitch”. He knew the media/fans wouldn’t like him if he went on the DL for the year and he also knew if he played injured he wouldn’t be nearly as good as expected so they’d not like him there either. So he figured he might as well pitch and try to earn the money he was making and attempt to justify the big trade for him.

    He also had some great things to say about the clubhouse this year over last. it was a really fantastic interview and he was a chatterbox. My respect for him skyrocketed from listening to it. Go listen to it on under the brock and salk podcast.

  21. Osfan on April 30th, 2009 4:36 am

    Every action can be a good choice in the right situation.

    What is the right situation for batting Vidro 4th or 5th?

  22. DMZ on April 30th, 2009 6:48 am


  23. zjmuglidny on April 30th, 2009 8:41 am

    To answer henryv, according to a Baseball Prospectus article the threshold for sacrifice bunting with runners on first and second with 0 outs is .218/.253/.266. (Meaning if a batter has a line better than .218/.253/.266, in terms of expected runs, it’s better to let him swing away in this situation.) Not even the Ms have regulars who hit this poorly.

    Really the only time it might make sense to sacrifice bunt is if you only need 1 run with a runner on 2nd and 0 outs. In this case the threshold is .277/.350/.451.

    I like Wak, but his propensity for sac bunting is definitely hurting the team’s offense.

    (Note: I’m only taking about sac bunting, bunting for hits is a different story.)

  24. PaulMolitorCocktail on April 30th, 2009 8:55 am

    The most important part of a manager’s job, game by game, is putting the right players in the right positions.

    That’s true for any manager, IMHO, even outside of baseball. Knowing the weaknesses and strengths of your players/employees, and making sure that they are in the right positions to maximize their effectiveness, is key. And it’s harder than it sounds.

  25. henryv on April 30th, 2009 9:07 am

    Mr. Z,

    Do you have the link for that BP information? I went looking for it for quite a while, and I couldn’t find it. (I did however find several videos on “How to bunt”, which might help Yuni quite a bit.)

  26. henryv on April 30th, 2009 9:10 am
  27. zjmuglidny on April 30th, 2009 9:27 am

    henryv, the article is titled “When Is One Run Worth More Than Two?” and it’s written by James Click. It appeared in BP’s book “Baseball Between the Numbers” (great book for baseball nerds, by the way). I’m not sure if it’s available on-line.

  28. DMZ on April 30th, 2009 9:28 am

    Look for Click’s articles @ BP, he did a whole series on the bunt.

  29. daleos on May 1st, 2009 2:52 pm

    Not to state the obvious; but the team is in first place which might be a valid criteria for judging a managers’ performance; even for the stat heads.
    There is one instance where I wish Waku had bunted. Game one of the DH, seventh inning down 2-1, second and third , one out, Gutierrez up, infield back at the corners. You know you are going to see Jenks in the ninth, so essentially you have five outs left. Bunt down the first base line and the righthanded pitcher must field it, pivot, and make a good throw. Not exactly Colon’s strength. Tie the game and hope to win it later.

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