Watching Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi at work last night reminded me of one of the hardest things in managing: doing nothing.
Anybody who has managed anything, even a Little League team or a Rotisserie baseball roster, knows that feeling: you’ve set your team, things go well, then they start getting tight, and you feel like you need to be doing something. Pull some levers, make something happen. Not just sit there.
But at the end of the day, the manager isn’t the players. Sometimes the best thing to do, once all the pieces are in place, is trust the men under your command to do their jobs. Yes, the manager needs his head in the game at all times, be on top of all the options. But that doesn’t mean he has to insert himself into every at bat. And in fact, being a leader of men – a significant part of the job – sometimes requires you to convey to them your trust in their abilities.
Hence, the contrast between the two fateful decisions that set up last night’s game-winning double by Jeff Mathis off Alfredo Aceves in the bottom of the 11th. On the Angels side, when Mathis doubled to lead off the tenth and then reached third with nobody out on a botched throw by Mariano Rivera on Erick Aybar’s bunt, Tim McCarver announced that Scioscia should replace Mathis with the speedier Reggie Willits. McCarver’s observation made a lot of sense – it’s the winning run on third with nobody out, and the Angels carry three catchers, so even with Mike Napoli out of the game, Mathis isn’t the last guy left. McCarver and Joe Buck repeated the point about ten more times the remainder of the inning. But Scioscia sat impassively in the dugout. Scioscia is certainly an active manager – the Angels play a lot of little ball, witness Aybar’s bunt – but on this one he made a decision and didn’t budge just because he had another more active option. A few times in this series we’ve seen him do that, just remaining outwardly calm and immobile in the dugout when he could have pushed another button. As it turned out, the Angels didn’t score in the inning and wouldn’t have with Willits unless he stole home, and Mathis won them the game the next inning.
Meanwhile, the less experienced Girardi – who has been burning through pitchers as if he’s worried the’ll cut his pitching budget for next season – pulled the righthanded David Robertson from facing the righthanded Mathis after just three batters (groundout, flyout, single), in favor of the righthanded Aceves, who promptly lost the game.
It can be hard for a manager to accept when doing nothing is the better move. Girardi is getting roasted today by the NY papers anyway, but managers always prefer to get criticized for doing too much than too little, since it’s the latter criticism that gets guys branded as stupid (I could recite here chapter and verse of what the Boston press did to several generations of Red Sox managers) rather than just overly aggressive. Nobody wants to feel stupid. But sometimes, if you want to win, that’s a risk you have to be willing to take.

21 thoughts on “Unmanaged”

  1. Crank, if you are referencing the Grady Little disaster, that was an objectively stupid move at the time. I guarantee you that the vast majority of Red Sox fans were screaming at Little the entire inning to take Pedro out. We all knew that Pedro’s performance declined dramatically after 100 pitches. We also knew that the bullpen had been lights-out that postseason (Timlin, Embree and Williamson in particular had been tremendous). Nobody wanted to see Pedro stay in the game. Sox fans have not been second guessing Grady, we were first-guessing him.

  2. Girardi should not have pulled Robertson based on the “different stuff” he brought to the table. A lefty/righty matchup would have been a different story, or if the batter had any significant track record against either pitcher.
    I think he overlooked the fact that you don’t always know how -good- someone’s stuff is going to be when you bring him out of the bullpen. If Robertson had been pitching poorly, then maybe the decision would have made sense, but he was pitching well and should have been left in.
    That being said, I don’t blame the loss on Girardi when the Yankees left a man on third in two consecutive innings, each time with only one out.

  3. Paul – Grady, Zimmer, McNamara, Darrell Johnson, you name it.
    MVH – I don’t totally blame Girardi, just thought this was a good illustration of this point.

  4. I didn’t think you were blaming Girardi. I was just stating that I wasn’t blaming him. It was a great example of what you were saying. I hope he learns from it.

  5. While I don’t blame Girardi for the loss-players lose the games really. But I did not see why he took our Riveria. I also don’t see why he took out Robertson.
    I agree with the comments about McCarver. I usually turn the sound off when he is on the air. Another case of a guy who has outlived his usefullness as the color commentator. Also, I don’t think McCarver has every said a catcher did anything wrong. If the guys misses a pitch, it was a tough play. If a guy makes a play, it was the best ever done. You mean there are no better guys to put in the booth then him? C’mon!

  6. The Yanks win what 103 games, then win the first 5 games of the playoffs and now Girardi sucks because they lost an extra innings game, after leaving men on base the whole game,. to a team that 1) had to win 2)was the home team and 3)is a great team.
    It was a great game, very exciting, lots of good plays and someone had to lose. Last night it was the Yankees. If today Sabathia goes 7-8 innings and only gives up a run or 2 on Thursday we will be going for the clincher.
    I probably would have left Robertson in, that said, we don’t know what charts they have, whether Robertson’s weakness is the other guys strength, etc. Also Aceves has been good for them all year.

  7. I hate Fox doing sports in general. The graphics, the music, the announcers, they all annoy me. I remember them playing “Drift Away” at the start of one of the Yankees-Marlins world series games. I mean, “Drift Away??” You want to hear something that generates excitement, not something to put you to sleep.
    I believe it was McCarver who also commented that he liked the move where Damon was replaced by Hairston, which wasn’t a move I thought was all that smart.

  8. I thought the Harriston sub was smart. Damon couldn’t throw out my grandmother tagging up from 3rd on a short fly to left. It preserved the game, which I thought needed to be reflected in less churn on the hill. Robertson looked strong and Aceves hasn’t impressed me at all. Plus, IF Robertson gets in trouble you have more options. I don’ tthink bullpen management is Girardi’s strongest suit, but it’s not a crutch either. Torre would have stuck with Scott Proctor.

  9. Girardi would definitely be taking less heat if Robertson had blown the game – nobody has more confidence in Aceves than Robertson, and there was no obvious reason to make the change. So doing nothing would have not only been the better choice, but also the one he’d be less suceptible to criticism for.
    I thought most of Girardi’s other moves were sensible, although if he’d used Guzman to run for Matsui instead of Gardner, he wouldn’t have run out of hitters and lost the DH. Taking Damon out was something he had to do, though. You can’t lose the game because of Damon’s arm.

  10. There have been generations of Red Sox managers that deserved the vast degrees of criticism they received: Jimy Williams-nearly certifiably insane (go find a transcript of interviews with him; he was nuts). Grady Little-worst, most unreal non-move in the history of baseball, a fireable offense. Don Zimmer-please. Darrel Johnson-old stoneface was a do nothing sort of guy who had one great team (’75). McNamara-hello, anyone home? Anyone? Anyone? Billy B. needs to ride the pine this inning. Hello? Nothing. Butch Hobson, Ralph Houk. C’mon. Terry Francona can manage this club until the day he dies as far as I’m concerned.

  11. Crank, evert Red Sox manager you named deserved everything he got, especially Little and Zimmer. Paul H. covers GrAdy. As for “Zip” Zimmer, in ’78, he let his personal dislike of Bill Lee impact his choices on the field. He really was a gerbil.
    Girardi over-managed, but he is a rookie at this, has to deal with front office second-guessing, and should get some slack.

  12. I don’t deny that a good deal of the criticism of those guys was deserved. My point, again, is that it’s a type of criticism managers fear.

  13. CORRECTION: Robertson only faced two batters, both of which he got out. Aceves was brought in with 2 outs and no one on, then gave up the single and the double to lose the game.
    It was a weird move. Robertson was going well. There’s no one on base. Aceves is a long reliever so I don’t see the point of bringing him in mid-inning. Let Robertson try to finish the inning, then bring in Aceves for 2-4 innings (as necessary). There was simply no apparent advantage to the move. Maybe Joe knew something, but I wouldn’t have a clue what it was.
    Of course, compared to the umpiring in the AL playoffs so far, Joe looks like a freaking genius. Where did they get these umps? Awful.

  14. I have to wonder how many times Brett Gardner has to come off the bench cold and get caught stealing before the mythology of Dave Roberts in 2004 starts to fade. Aparently at least twice.

  15. Everything is magnified in the playoffs. Just as players will at times respond poorly to playoff pressure so will managers. I won’t say it is the same as umpires where we say “if you notice them then they aren’t doing well,” but it is along the same lines. Managers should not be the major story line the day after a game.
    Even with kids a manager should be secondary to the players once the game starts. If I’m having to remind the LF to cover on a potential throw down to third or something like that then we are failing at practice. My players are just 13 and I feel the more involved I am during a game the worse I’m doing overall. I’ve seen some coaches that are yelling all the time and their players are tense and not ready to play.

  16. “I don’t deny that a good deal of the criticism of those guys was deserved. My point, again, is that it’s a type of criticism managers fear.”
    True enough Crank, I’m still bitter that Johnson took out Willoughby, and I was only 7 at the time!

  17. real simple for the Angels. Bench Napoli. He just doesn’t catch a very good game. Been watching him lead pitchers astray all season.
    Angels would have won Game 2 if they had not had Fuentes pitching. Don’t care how many games he’s won. This year he folds under pressure every time.
    The battery of him and Napoli, much as I like them, is just not made in heaven. Mathis is a rock behind the plate.

  18. Small ball strategies remain overemployed to this day because of the psychological fear that losing while doing nothing will be frowned upon more than losing while trying to steal bases, bunt etc.

  19. The absolute worst was letting Buckner hit against Orosco in the 8th inning of Game 6. He had already pinch hit for the pitcher, Buckner had done nothing at the plate, had Don Baylor on the bench and could have inserted Stapleton and double switched.

  20. I think pinch-running for ARod last night might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen a manager do, which is covering some ground.

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