Managers are easy targets when one of their moves doesn’t work out. If they manage by the book fans criticize them for being too numbers oriented. When they go by the gut, pundits pull their hair out wondering what on Earth they were thinking. It’s a thankless job, one where even winning a World Series doesn’t stop the endless second guessing. You have to win multiple championships for (Torre, LaRussa) for those in the peanut gallery to give you the benefit of the doubt. Joe Girardi’s bullpen outperformed all others last year in the playoffs, and he was met with withering criticism as thanks for a job well done. All too often, the effect that a good manager has on a team seems to go under the radar. Mo brought up a related point on Twitter Saturday night:
Ya know why Logan was available tonight? Because Joe “overmanaged” last night. It’s almost like he knows what he’s doing
Having a bullpen arm who’s both ready and able to pitch effectively is something managers have a huge impact on, but there are no stats on managers that show who does this well and who doesn’t. Bullpen ERA is too simplistic, you’d have to go player by player and weigh that seasons performance against his career averages to see if he performed better under one manager than another, and eliminate things like League and ballpark effects. We simply don’t have a stat that isolates the manager’s impact.
Yet bullpen management is one of the trickiest things a manger has to deal with. You never know when you’ll need someone, or for how long. Further, there’s a constant battle between under-use and over-use, either of which can diminish a reliever’s effectiveness. We’ve seen Joe Torre blow out arm after arm ‘riding the hot hand’ out there (as many fans wish) and those arms had little left come October. Spreading the workload around in an orderly way might strike some fans as ‘over managing’ but it pays dividends over the long season. Relievers aren’t robots, ready to perform to their career averages at all times as if its all some video game. They get fatigued, they get into bad habits and losing that little bit of hair on the end of your fastball can be the difference between a long fly ball and a 3-run HR.
Job security often plays a key role in all of this. Across town, Jerry Manuel was managing for his job earlier this season, which forced him to play games in May like they were the 7th game of the World Series. Now the Mets can’t buy an out from relievers who were formerly reliable, effective options. They recently released Fernando Nieve and stalwart setup man Pedro Feliciano has been horrendous of late. Joe Torre had Closer Jonathan Broxton throw 48 pitches against the Yanks on June 27th (after throwing 19 pitches the night before). He followed that up with a 44 pitch outing on July 18th facing the Cardinals. Predictably, Broxton’s ERA has gone from 0.83 on June 26th to 3.42 currently. Over the past 6 weeks since that outing against the Yanks, Broxton has given up 16 Runs in just 14.2 IP (9.82 ERA). Torre announced Friday that he is removing Broxton as the Dodgers Closer, yet another Torre special that Yankee fans are all too familiar with.
Good managers keep an eye on the big picture as well as the game at hand. When calling for a manager’s head based on his ‘over managing’, fans should hope their team doesn’t listen.
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