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.