Managing Like Mauch

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Billy Martin said (it was in one of his books that he’d had ghostwritten) that when he managed against Gene Mauch, all he would do is sit back and wait for Mauch to make a mistake due to overmanaging—bunting, pitching changes, some control-freak maneuver that would backfire.

In 1986, the Red Sox benefited from one such mistake in game 5 of the ALCS in Anaheim. The Angels were ahead 3 games to 1 and leading in game 5 by the score of 5-2 when Don Baylor homered off starter Mike Witt with one out and a runner on in the top of the ninth inning to make the score 5-4. Witt got Dwight Evans to pop up for the second out; with Rich Gedman batting, Mauch pulled his starter in favor of veteran lefty Gary Lucas. Witt later said that not only could Baylor not have hit the low and outside pitch out of the park again, he couldn’t have hit it at all; Witt also said he regretted not fighting harder to stay in the game.

Lucas, who wasn’t the Angels closer, had pitched to Gedman three times in his career and struck him out each time. Gedman was 3 for 3 that day at the time and had homered off Witt earlier in the game.

There was an argument to go with the percentages and yank Witt for Lucas; there was also an argument that his staff ace Witt could handle a hitter whom he’d dominated to the tune of an .095 batting average in the regular season before that playoff series.

Lucas drilled Gedman with the first and only pitch he threw.

The Red Sox went on to win the game and the series.

In retrospect it was a ghastly mistake; in practice, it was an arguable decision.

But Mauch was a slave to the numbers and it exploded in his face.

It’s easier to go by the stats; it’s easier to have an numerical explanation for why a manager does what he does than to trust his instincts and his players and do what could be criticized later.

Mauch managed nearly 4000 games in the big leagues without making it to the World Series in part because he had some bad teams; and in part because he panicked and squeezed when he should’ve let up.

Last night as Chris Carpenter was pitching a gem against the Phillies to lead his Cardinals into the NLCS against the Brewers, there were calls on Twitter for him to be yanked as the Cardinals led 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth with Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Ryan Howard due to bat.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa—oft-criticized for overmanaging and using 5 relievers to get 5 outs—left Carpenter in the game in part because he doesn’t have a dominating closer; in part because it was his horse pitching and pitching brilliantly.

The pitcher that was supposed to come into the game in the eyes of many was Marc Rzepczynski. The reasoning for this was Howard’s 4th trip to the plate against Carpenter and that Howard is awful against lefties.

It was stat-based; it had reasoning behind it; and it was ludicrous.

What those who are so invested in the numbers don’t seem to quite understand is that baseball is not a strictly scientific endeavor in which you mix the formula and achieve the desired result. For LaRussa to take Carpenter out of the game at any point in the ninth inning as it transpired would’ve been maniacally controlling and borderline deranged.

If he had a Mariano Rivera-style closer, then okay; but he didn’t. He had Arthur Rhodes and Rzepczynski; the rest of the Cardinals bullpen consists of pitchers who have all been interchangeable in the role of late-inning reliever and should not be given precedence Carpenter—a Cy Young Award winner and one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 7 years.

Utley hit a rocket to the warning track in center field; Pence grounded out; and Howard grounded to second base and collapsed in a heap between home and first with an achilles injury.

The Cardinals won.

But that’s secondary to the premise of there being a nuance to managing that the hardest of the hard-core stat people simply do not get. They don’t know the history; they don’t understand people; and they adhere to the numbers because they don’t have a grasp of humanity to allow them to do something against their vaunted books and calculations.

The same was true when Howard came to the plate in the seventh inning as Carpenter ran the count to 3-0 and Howard swung at the pitch, just missed hitting it out of the park, and flew to right field.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was apparently supposed to tell his number 4 hitter and biggest RBI man that he should be taking on 3-0 and trying to walk.

That’s not what got the Phillies where they were; that’s not why Manuel is respected by his players; and that’s not how Howard accumulated the resume to get the massive contract he signed.

The players are there to play; you have to put the game in the hands of the players; if you don’t, you’d be amazed how fast the turn on you; how easily and quickly they can and will get you fired.

The enduring image from that 1986 ALCS isn’t what happened on the field in game 5 nor how the Red Sox came back to win the series; it’s Mauch standing in the corner of the dugout, waiting for the final out to be recorded to win his first pennant after so many years on the precipice; with Reggie Jackson standing next to Mauch in part to celebrate with his manager, in part to make sure he was on camera.

It was an out that Mauch had waited for 25 years to be recorded.

It was an out that never came.


LaRussa Picks The Wrong Time To Undermanage

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Tony LaRussa bristles at the suggestion that anyone can manage a team successfully as long as they adhere to the numbers. The Moneyball school of thought set out to mitigate what a manager could and would be allowed to do and used LaRussa as the example of the type of manager teams should avoid.

The dichotomy is striking because LaRussa was one of the more cerebral, numbers-oriented managers long before it became trendy.

So it is puzzling when LaRussa—known and criticized for his penchant to overmanage and make pitching changes just for the sake of making them—doesn’t make a pitching change when it’s clearly the correct move.

In the Phillies 11-6 win over the Cardinals in game 1 of the NLDS in Philadelphia, the Cardinals led the Phillies 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning with Kyle Lohse on the mound for the Cardinals.

Normally, LaRussa would’ve had it in mind to get Lohse out of the game as soon as it looked like he was getting in trouble.

But he didn’t.

In fact, he left Lohse in the game long enough to give up two homers and six runs.

Jimmy Rollins led off the inning with a single; Chase Utley struck out; Hunter Pence came to the plate and singled to put the tying runs on base. With Ryan Howard due up, where was a lefty specialist? Why leave Lohse in to pitch to a hitter who destroys him?

You can make the argument that it happened so quickly and yanking the pitcher at that point would’ve been jumping the gun, but this wasn’t Chris Carpenter on the mound; it was Lohse who isn’t a pitcher who’s earned the benefit of the doubt in most situations and definitely not in a playoff series with the Cardinals having zero margin for error.

Naturally Howard homered to right to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.

But that’s not all.

LaRussa stayed with Lohse, Shane Victorino singled…and Raul Ibanez homered as well.

Ibanez has spent his career ripping Lohse too.

Pence, Howard and Ibanez all kill Lohse—stats.

LaRussa knows this. He has two lefties in the bullpen, Marc Rzepczynski and Arthur Rhodes. Where were they?

It was inexplicable and none of the career-long bouts of pomposity, condescension and blatant intimidation tactics employed by LaRussa are going to absolve him from this horrific gaffe.

The Cardinals wound up getting blown out in a game they could’ve won—a game they had to win.

In order to win this series—or to even get it to a fourth game—the Cardinals have to be perfect. They executed the correct strategy early in the game by coming out swinging against Roy Halladay and took a 3-0 lead on a Lance Berkman homer; but they let the lead slip away with an uncharacteristic and mistaken decision by LaRussa to undermanage.

The small chance the Cardinals had in this series disappeared along with the strategies that LaRussa has used for over 30 years but suddenly decided to abandon for no reason whatsoever.

And I don’t understand why.


Waiving Arthur Rhodes Is A Mistake For The Rangers

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I trust my veterans in the big games more than I trust younger pitchers and I certainly don’t want to help my competition for the post-season.

With that in mind, it’s a mistake for the Rangers to designate Arthur Rhodes for assignment because if he gets through waivers (he might; he might not) he’s going to end up pitching for a team that the Rangers face in the playoffs/World Series.

Rhodes has a contract kicker in which his 2012 option vests if he appears in 62 games and isn’t on the disabled list at the end of the season. He’s pitched in 32 games this year.

Any contender could use another lefty. The Cardinals, Phillies and Giants have reason to be interested in Rhodes from the National League; the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers from the American League.

Rhodes hasn’t pitched that well this year, but he’s been good against lefties and another team will pick him up; perhaps the Rangers are going to use Matt Harrison or Derek Holland in the bullpen or figure they’ll be able to get a Tim Byrdak-type (a solid bet); plus aside from Josh Hamilton, they’re righty-heavy in their lineup.

Even with that, I probably wouldn’t have dropped Rhodes. He’s an old-school veteran whose career has been rejuvenated more times than Mickey Rourke’s; he won’t be spooked by the playoffs and everyone can use an extra lefty.

I understand why the Rangers did it, but it might come back to haunt them at a time in which they least need to be haunted.