Monday, 1 April 2013

Hire Manny Acta - March, 31st Edition

Hire Manny Acta

This is the flipside of the Fire Jim Tracy series.  Fire Jim Tracy is focused on all the terrible managerial moves made by the field bosses around baseball, while Hire Manny Acta is the exact opposite.  Its a lot harder to come up with good managerial moves, since managers in baseball are so bad.  As a result, this one might appear less frequently, but I figure if I’m spending time tearing down questionable moves, I need to highlight positive moves when they are made as well.

Its key to note here, that these plaudits (and infractions in the Fire Jim Tracy series), are not based on the outcome of the decision, rather the process that has gone into the decision making.  Its quite possible that many of the decisions I highlight will have worked out poorly for the manager in question (or well in the case of the FJM series).  However, that is because no decision is 100% correct, or incorrect.  Just that some decisions are MORE correct than others. 

That being said, in his first game rookie Astros manager Bo Porter covered himself in glory with not one, but two plaudits I’m going to give out. 

Bo Porter – First time of the Year

Plaudit – Creative Bullpen Usage
When – Top of the 6th
Game Score – Ahead by 2 runs
Game Situation – 2 out; Runners on 1st and 2nd

Starter Bud Norris had been cruising through the first 5 innings of shutout baseball.  However, in the top of the 6th inning he ran into trouble.  He walked leadoff man Ian Kinsler, then gave up a base hit to Lance Berkman, and back to back run scoring singles to David Murphy and Nelson Cruz.  Since, he was approaching 100 pitches, it was clearly time to turn this game over to the bullpen, and see if they could lock down the remaining 10 outs left in the game. 

However, Mr. Porter, who was managing his first major league game, did some very out of the box thinking in selecting the reliever he turned to.  With left handed batter AJ Pierzynski due up, it was clearly the spot to use a left handed reliever.  The conventional options that Mr. Porter had were, like much of his roster, highly unproven youngsters in Wesley Wright, and Xavier Cedeno.  Knowing that this was likely to be the highest leverage situation of the game, and also knowing that his 5th starter wouldn’t be needed the first time through the rotation, Mr. Porter decided it was time to use his 5th starter Erik Bedard here.

Most of the time, managers would be worried about extra strain on a starters arm (especially someone with as many injury concerns that Bedard has had in his career).  In general, managers would be reluctant to turn to a starter mid-inning, since that’s so against the routine their used to.  Porter didn’t give a damn about any of that, and went with a starter, who hadn’t been used out of the bullpen since his rookie season in 2004.  Despite all these conventional reasons not to, Porter’s went with his best pitcher in this spot, and his creative usage worked very effectively.

Result – Bedard induced a fly ball from Pierzynski to get out of the tough jam.

Bo Porter – Second Time of the Year

When – Top of the 6th til Top of the 9th
Game Score – Ahead by 2 runs
Game Situation – N/A

Here’s where my love for rookie manager Bo Porter truly grows.  Not only did he decide to turn to Bedard in the 6th inning, he left him in for the rest of the game.  For those unaware, the concept of the super reliever (that being a relief pitcher who is used for multiple innings) is one of the tactical roles that members of the SABRmetric community has been advocating for quite some time.  

This isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s a very old one.  This is how relievers were used throughout baseball history until the increased specialization that was ushered in by Tony LaRussa and the Oakland Athletics during the late 1980s.  Look back to the careers of relief pitchers before the 1980s.  Dan Quisenberry & Rich “Goose” Gossage would scoff at modern day one inning relievers.  They would come in whenever the game was on the line, even as early as the 6th inning, and usually remain in the game til it was finished.

There are many reasons why I believe this is a preferable way to run a bullpen. 
First, it reduces the number of pitchers that you are forced to carry on the roster.  As a result that allows you carry a more productive bench.  Since so many teams have decided to gain the platoon advantage from the pitching side, this will give teams going in the opposite direction a distinct tactical advantage.  Also, for a team like the Astros who lack overall talent, there are more opportunities to utilize pinch hitters than other teams would.

Second, it saves the other members of the bullpen from having to pitch in games they otherwise would’ve been used in.  For instance, had Porter turned to Xavier Cedeno in the 6th inning last night, he likely would’ve needed to use 3 other relievers to close out the game.  This means those pitchers may not have been available for up coming games. 

This doesnt seem like it is a permanent role for Bedard, since he'll be shifting back to the #5 spot once his turn in the rotation comes up.  However, it wouldn't shock me if the Astros might decide after seeing how effective he was, to instead call up one of their many options in the minor leagues, and transition Bedard full time to being a super reliever.

You may be thinking that I've just given Porter credit twice for the same move, however I'm not.  These are two very distinct decisions.  First the decision to turn to Bedard in the first place.  The second, not to take him out of the game.  Both deserve to be credited.

Result – Erik Bedard’s first career Save, and the Astros first win as a member of the American League

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