Friday, April 9, 2010

Manny Acta's Attention Span, Revisited

So ... it's probably rude to come right out of the box with a Managerial Head-Scratcher after a very fine victory last night, including several clutch hits, some wonderful relief pitching by guys who were huge question marks coming into the season (Raffy Perez, Jen Lewis), and an extra-inning win on the road in April, but there was one sequence in particular (actually two, but they're linked) that made me wonder if maybe I was bending over backwards in my attribution of Clever Lineup Setting in the Opening Day lineup against Mark Buehrle.

And, of course, it should be said explicitly that it is unusual in recent years for an April Cleveland Indians squad to look prepared, focused, and energetic.  I think this reflects well on Manny Acta (and less well on the previous manager, Nameless McForgotten).

However ...

It's one thing to set up your 2-3-4 hitters in a particular way at the beginning of a game.  For example, I noted that Mark Buehrle has a reverse platoon split in recent years, so stacking lefties against him may actually have some value.

Of course, this value completely vanishes if Mark Buehrle is no longer pitching.

One of the things I remember pundits saying about the Phillies over the past couple of years, for example, was that it was foolish to put the left-handers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back-to-back in a lineup, because in the late innings, you're all but demanding a LaRussa-esque matchup of a left-handed reliever in a tight situation there.  Charlie Manuel isn't going to pull either player in the late innings, and Howard in particular suffers GREATLY against left-handed pitching.

So consider the 8th inning last night, after Asdrubal Cabrera made the last out of the 7th.  The scheduled order is Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, and Travis Hafner.

While it's true that Choo has a smaller platoon split than people might have thought a few years ago, and Hafner's wasn't big when he was awesome, it's pretty obvious that the right move in a close game is to bring in the left-hander Matt Thornton.  Which Ozzie did.  And the first two hitters struck out.

Now, admittedly: Hafner was able to pull a two-strike single into right, and he scored on the subsequent double, and huzzahs all around.  But if luck is the residue of design, this particular design doesn't seem to leave much residue behind.

Note that the same basic thing happened in the 10th, when after the lefty Randy Williams finished with his Choo-Hafner gauntlet, the righty J.J. Putz was called on to face the back-to-back right-handers in Jhonny Peralta and Matt LaPorta.

(As an aside, Putz looks really good this year.)

In a vacuum, of course, it would be great if we could declare that LaPorta is, in fact, a seasoned veteran now that he's already played in 55 whole major-league games, and move him to the 4 slot.  This would make the lineup, 2 through 6:


Would Hafner feel slighted?  I doubt it.  He's a down-to-earth guy.  He's also hitting .154 and I'm not as concerned about his feelings as I am, say, nearly anything else.  The problem here, of course, is that LaPorta is NOT a seasoned veteran and he's hitting in the 6 hole and why mess with it now?

But it's worth considering: the Opening Day gambit now appears to have a whole lot less to do with paying attention to Buehrle's stats and a whole lot more to do with, "Here is my lineup, by golly."

This having been said, I already like Acta's game management better than McForgotten's.  I'll try to crystallize this impression later on.

1 comment:

  1. Really looking forward to having TWO forums in which to read your great baseball columns. Keep up the great work Steve and I will be following all year long.