Friday, June 09, 2006

The Big Picture

I just realised that while covering Torre over the past few months, I have not summed up my entire arguements to dispute Joe's overall style of managing. I've pointed out little things, individual moves, putting the wrong player in the starting lineup, or favoring a pitcher or two, but I would like to take a moment and show you guys the big picture.

After years of watching him, the one thing I can definatively say about Torre is he likes to make his job easier. He likes to set people into defined roles. Mariano Rivera is the closer. He only pitches in A, B, and C situations. Tom Gordon is the setup man. He only pitches in X, Y, and Z situations. Tanyon Sturtze is the 7th inning guy. He only pitches in M, N, and O situations. Conversely, when O situation comes up, Tanyon Sturtze must always be out there. Sturtze not pitching too well? Too bad, he's our 7th inning guy. Our pitchers have fallen in to the following roles:

Farns/Rivera - you know.
Villone - Blowout or 3 run deficit innings eater
Proctor - 6th or 7th inning when leading.
Myers - Twice a week for the big lefty in the 6th or 7th inning.
Matt Smith - Blowouts only, and only after Scott Erickson has blown up
Scott Erickson - Spots where we haven't lost the game and need a "proven veteran" to put the game out of reach.

This does not stop on the other side of the plate. Torre does not like to change his habits regarding players. Over the past few years, since we acquired Matsui, Sheffield, and Arod, Torre has been unwilling to platoon players. He also has been resistant to trying out young players to replace or split time with diminishing veterans. You guys witness that with my nightly complaints about Kevin Thompson sitting on the bench.

Young players have a difficult time breaking in under Torre. Look at Melky Cabrera. In his first week or so, while we still had Crosby and Sheffield, Torre was not trusting Cabrera the least. He was replacing him instead of Bernie Williams on defense in the later innings. He was hitting him behind Stinnett and Cairo. And he even said the quote that I have repeated many times on this blog, throwing Melky under the bus. Luckily, Melky proved himself with his glove and his bat, while injuries gave Torre no other choice. Melky won Torre over, and now he is here to stay.

In general, Torre loves his proven veterans, even if they are not-so-proven. Wayne Franklin. Alan Embree. Scott Erickson. Aaron Small. Tanyon Sturtze. Ruben Sierra. Bernie Williams. Terence Long. Do these names sound familiar?

Joe Torre assigned a role to each of these players. Despite how bad they hit, pitched, or fielded, Torre stuck with that role until injuries or free agency forced change.

Baseball is all about making adjustments. Batters take a half step back when they are being pitched inside. Pitchers throw more curveballs when their fastball is getting hit. Managers need to do the same thing.

A manager's job is simple: give your players the best possible chance to win the game. Joe Torre can't hit for Andy Phillips. He can't throw for Scott Proctor. However, what he can do is put Andy Phillips and Scott Proctor on the field in the best possible situation. He can write the best player available's name into the lineup each night. He can call in the correct pitcher, instead of Scott Erickson or Aaron Small. He can give his team the best possible chance to win.

What could Torre do to make me shut up? First of all, he could play Bernie less. Put Kevin Thompson, who is superior with both the glove and bat to Bernie, in the game a few times every week. When Crosby returns, Torre could play Crosby against right handed pitchers and Bernie against left handed pitchers. Second, he needs to use Matt Smith more. Smith has shown everyone that he can be a good big league reliever. Giving him meaningful innings can only help the team. Third, be flexible with the bullpen. Use guys like Farnsworth, Proctor, Myers, Villone, Smith, and maybe even Rivera interchangible depending upon the situation. Play the matchups. Don't arbitrarily assign an inning where Farnsworth or Rivera or Myers or whomever automatically gets the ball. The 6th inning last night would have been an important spot for Farns or Rivera, as it was when the game was decided. But most managers do that these days, unfortunately.

That is my long rant for the day. Should be a good game tonight.