Tuesday, April 19, 2005

WTF Frank? Senior Moments At The Ballpark

When Big Frank got back to the clubhouse last night, he had to reach around his ankles and pull his pants up. Jack McKeon simply managed them right off Frank’s 94-year old waist.

Frank, we love ya. You’re a Hall of Famer. You’ve managed since before I was born. But, damn, that was brutal last night. (Beware: Cranky Fan Rantings From This Point Forward)

WTF #1 -- Guzman batting second? Yes, he hits lefties better, but he still stinks. When going well, he really shouldn’t be batting second. When going through a James-Brown-style funk, he shouldn’t bat anywhere north of the eight spot. (Actually, I kinda wished he wasn’t batting anywhere north of Vierra, FL, but that’s another story.)

WTF #2 -- Bunting in the first inning? Wilkerson got on with one of the ugliest bunts I’ve ever seen. But, they don’t draw pictures in the boxscores. Guzman followed it up with a sacrifice. Now, let’s give the team the benefit of the doubt and say they actually knocked in that run, which they didn’t. Woohoo. You’re leading 1-0.

BUT who gives a flying crap when your pitching staff is going to get torched for nine runs??? No, you don’t know that your pitchers are going to do that, but c’mon, it’s Tomo F. Ohka on the mound, not 1999 Pedro!

It is stupid and pointless to bunt in the first inning when you have NO IDEA whether one single run is going to be important or not. In this case it wasn’t. And you wasted an out.

As the corollary to this and WTF #1 -- if the second batter is good enough to be batting high in your lineup, why the hell are you bunting with him. If he’s a weak enough hitter to need to bunt in that situation, why the hell is he hitting second? *Serenity now. Serenity now.*

WTF #3 -- 6 innings from Ohka? Frank doesn’t know when to say when. Kenny Rogers certainly knows when to fold ‘em. Frank has yet to learn. Sometimes 5 innings is good enough. At the end of five, Ohka had given up just four hits, but allowed five walks. He had thrown only 89 pitches, but was clearly laboring out there. He had managed to keep his thumb in the dike for 5 innings, but the cracks were getting larger.

In the bottom of the inning, Ohka was due to hit fourth. Two plays to Castillo and one to Lowell later, and the inning was over. Interestingly, Tucker WAS warming up in the bullpen and someone (Blanco?) had come out for Ohka in the on-deck circle. So, we know Frank was considering the situation.

Two Marlins batters later (and two doubles later) Ohka was gone from the game, charged with two more runs.

WTF #4 -- Leaving Horgan Out For Dead? Three of the first four batters Horgan would’ve faced in the key 7th inning were lefties (the other a switchie.) After that comes the string of righty hitters -- Cabrera, Encarnacion, Lowell and LoDuca.

Perfect time to bring in a righty, huh? Nope. Frank decided he’d leave Horgan out there to get the piss beaten out of him. How’d Joe do against those righties? Single, Double, Double, Double. Great. Not only did he leave him out for dead, he didn’t have ANYONE warming?

The whole reason Frank wanted a second lefty in the pen was for match-up reasons, and yet, he left him in against a string of righties? How many consecutive hits does a batter have to give up before you realize he might not have it? Please, let this be the last time that Horgan ever faces a righty batter.

I just don’t understand that. Not at all.

WTF #5 -- Can’t resist the trap, huh? Now 9-0, it was time for the Nats patented 7th Inning Happy Fun Time. Homer, Single, Single, Automatic Double (Pedant note: NOT a ground-rule double!) and the D-Train was derailed from its Hershiser aspirations.

Frank Pinch hits to bring in Sledge, The Six-Fingered Mound Sloth comes in. Sac Fly, HBP (Probably Bennett’s best contribution of the night) and McKeon sets the trap.

There’s a lefty warming up in the bullpen, which Frank should be able to see, seeing how it’s only about 350 feet in front of him and there’s a pitcher on the mound who hit one batter and gave up a hard hit ball to the other.

Like the bug that just can’t resist the allure of the Venus Fly Trap, Frank steps right in the trap. In comes Ryan Church to pinch hit for the pitcher. In comes the left handed pitcher. For all intents and purposes, the inning’s over.

I love Church (mostly because he’s not the former CFer who shall remain nameless), but the last thing I want to see is a rookie at the plate with the game in the balance facing a lefty specialist. You just knew he had no chance. Pop Foul and a K to Wilkerson on an uuuuuggggly swing, and the rally was done.

What would I have done? I’d have brought in Jamey Carroll. We still needed base runners, and Carroll’s done a good job of getting on in his career. Alfonseca has stretches where he loses it -- maybe this was going to be one of them? Bringing in Church let him off the hook. (And, besides, Carroll against a righty is a better match-up than Church against a lefty.)

_________
Managing is not about working with computers. Nor is it working just with your gut. Frank’s won a lot of games in his career. And he’s lost a lot too. The problem seems that Frank’s still trying to manage like he did when he first wrote his name in the lineup card back in the ‘70s. The game's different now and his strategies need to have evolved.

He doesn’t have to go all Moneyball (or at least the lazy sportswriter’s stereotype of what Moneyball represents, which is actually the opposite of what it means), but he does need to put his team in the best position to win.

You can quibble with some of the decisions he’s made and some of my criticisms (that’s what comments are for!), but taken in whole, they’re troubling. We could survive a few of them, but not 5. Not against a team the quality of Florida.

It’s possible that even if he made the ‘right’ decision in each of these cases that we still would’ve lost. It’s possible that we still would’ve been blown out. We don’t know. But, we do know that these decisions didn’t put us into a stronger position to win. And this team needs every advantage it can muster.

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