Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss

When the Phillies replaced Charlie Manuel with Ryne Sandberg as manager last seaeson, no one expected a completely new modus operandi. Both are cut from the old-school cloth. But there was the hope that a changing of the guard would signal a willingness to adapt and modernize. To the Phillies’ credit, there has been some of that with the implementation of an analytics department and GM Ruben Amaro acknowledged a potential willingness to platoon Ryan Howard. Through the first two games of the 2014 season, however, Sandberg has shown the same flawed bullpen management that plagued Manuel during his tenure with the Phillies, particularly in the last few years.

On Opening Day, Sandberg brought in Jake Diekman to relieve Cliff Lee in the sixth inning. Diekman faced two lefties, Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, retiring both in what was a perfect, 11-pitch inning. Rather than bring in a right-hander to start the seventh against four consecutive right-handed hitters, Diekman came back out for a second inning of work. As good as Diekman has been, the lefty has shown a severe platoon split in a small sample of innings at the Major League level, allowing a .222 wOBA to left-handed hitters and .339 to right-handers. Diekman walked Adrian Beltre and allowed a single to Alex Rios, putting runners on first and second with no outs.

Sandberg went out to the mound and replaced Diekman with B.J. Rosenberg. Rosenberg wasn’t awful, but he also wasn’t sharp, allowing both of the runners he inherited from Diekman to score. Rosenberg, or Justin De Fratus or Brad Lincoln, should have started the inning. This is not some highly technical Sabermetric concept; it’s a simple recognition that some left-handed pitchers don’t do so well against right-handed hitters. A big part of managing is putting your players in the best positions to win and not putting them in situations where their weaknesses can be exploited.

On Tuesday night, Sandberg’s bullpen management directly contributed to the team’s 3-2 loss. In the bottom of the seventh, Diekman retired Prince Fielder for the second out of the inning. There a runner on third base, Choo, as Beltre came to the plate. Beltre isn’t to be trifled with — he’s a future Hall of Famer who has hit .315 or better with 30-plus homers in each of the past two seasons. Diekman should have been taken out of the game in favor of a right-handed reliever. Beltre laced an RBI double to right field, scoring Choo from first base to tie the game up at two apiece.

In the bottom of the ninth, with the game still tied at 2-2, Sandberg had rookie Mario Hollands make his big league debut. Adhering to the old rule that a manager shouldn’t use his closer in a tie game on the road, Jonathan Papelbon remained seated out in the bullpen. Hollands walked Choo, retired Elvis Andrus on a sacrifice bunt, and walked Prince Fielder before departing.

Sandberg brought in Rosenberg for a second consecutive day of work, rather than calling upon Papelbon or De Fratus or Lincoln. Really, either of the three would have sufficed. Rosenberg promptly threw a fastball over the plate to Beltre, which was laced back up the middle for a walk-off RBI single.

Sandberg is a relatively new Major League manager and he will make plenty more mistakes throughout the season. And that’s okay. It is important, however, that he and the Phillies’ front office recognize and fix those mistakes, rather than allowing them to pass by unnoticed as they did under Manuel, leading to countless avoidable losses.

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14 comments

  1. The fish

    April 02, 2014 08:05 AM

    It is strange why men with so much baseball experience can’t wrap their minds around concepts that seem obvious to the fan watching.

  2. Boo-urns

    April 02, 2014 08:06 AM

    Analytics analytics analytics. Why do the Phillies continue to ignore such a strong, valuable, proven methodology?

  3. Ryan

    April 02, 2014 08:25 AM

    I think that Sandberg will be much more willing and quicker to adapt than Manuel was. I like how he’s playing more of his bench/getting opposite handed hitters in versus lefty starters. Hopefully the analytics department is telling him exactly what you said, Bill.

  4. Beez Nutz

    April 02, 2014 08:42 AM

    Why pitch to Beltre PERIOD in the 7th. Let alone letting a lefty pitch to him.

  5. Carmine Spellane

    April 02, 2014 09:10 AM

    Mystified why Lincoln has yet to appear. Equally mystified why B. J. (inherited runners score) Rosenberg still has a major league job.

  6. BeninDC

    April 02, 2014 09:30 AM

    Not that this matters to your analysis at all, but I think Choo was on third when Beltre hit his double in the seventh inning. Choo got to second on Andrus’s bunt, and then attempted to steal third when Fielder hit a ball to second base where Rollins scooped it up and threw to Howard for the out. There were two outs at the time, so it doesn’t matter whether Choo was on first, second, or third, but I think that was situation. Probably makes Sandberg’s bullpen decisions worse because he basically had the same inning occur twice with minor differences. Certainly easy to get them confused.

    • Bill Baer

      April 02, 2014 09:46 AM

      Good catch, a few details I tried to recall from memory. This is why we don’t rely on my memory for anything.

  7. BDF

    April 02, 2014 10:45 AM

    This was not a sabrmetric concept that Sandberg failed to grasp. No complicated analysis was required to know that Diekman, Hollands, and Rosenberg should not have been pitching in that situation. It’s laughable to think that the Phillies “analytics” department will have the pull to make Sandberg see the obvious. Pretty clear that he’s going to be an enormous failure as manager.

  8. Bob

    April 02, 2014 10:57 AM

    Zolecki made a good point on WIP today that I agreed with. Bastardo should not have started the 8th with the Rangers weak 7-8-9 hitters coming up of which only one was LH. In that situation, Sandberg should go to a RH like Lincoln, Rosenberg, or De Fratus. Like on Monday, Sandberg had an inferior BP piece in in the most high leverage situation.

    If Bastardo is your best BP arm, Sandberg must place him in the highest leverage situations and get out of the old baseball mentality that X pitcher is my closer, Y pitcher my 8th inning guy. I’m encouraged by Sandberg’s use of platoon shifts and defensive alignments (although I need to see more in this regard), but it will be for naught if he continues to employ his already sub-par bp in a less than optimal fashion. The 7-9 whole hitters should not be facing your best BP pitcher when you have Choo, Beltre, Fielder, etc. coming up.

  9. Duane

    April 02, 2014 01:31 PM

    I agree with you, Bill. I was wondering how anyone who was familiar with the team, as Sandberg is, wouldn’t know that Bastardo is the best Bullpen arm, and should have been in the Game during the 9th inning. Then as I was reading everyone’s comments, I considered that it being the first 2 games of the season, there won’t be a less important time to evaluate the “Clutch Factor” of some of these Bullpen Arms you have. I know for you Sabermetricians, the idea of “Clutch Factor” as a term doesn’t sit well, you would prefer “High Leverage” situation. My point is this: Let these young arms try and build some confidence by facing some of the toughest hitters in the game. Obviously they can’t improve on their confidence without having the opportunity to fail. That said, I hope this is not a trend that continues too much further into the season.

  10. Bob

    April 02, 2014 05:20 PM

    How did Rosenberg do alright? He couldn’t even hit the strike zone.

  11. selfreliable

    April 02, 2014 07:51 PM

    What game were you watching where Pabelpon wasnt up in the bullpen? He most certainly was warming up. Also, why would you say that he should have been brought in, when you have numerous articles about how ineffective he is?

    • Scott G

      April 04, 2014 01:12 PM

      I think it’s the principle of the thing. He’s the Phillies “Closer”. He is likely considered the Phillies best reliever. It becomes a tricky situation for people analyzing the games when the closer is seeimingly ineffective. So long as he is the closer, talking about using him in high leverage situations is appropriate.

  12. Roger Freed

    April 03, 2014 01:59 AM

    If only Sandberg would have kept Papelbon seated in the bullpen Wednesday night.

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