The Curious Handling of Jake Diekman

Ryne Sandberg‘s managerial decisions in the second game of the season understandably raised some eyebrows, but his most egregious mistake wasn’t sending Mario Hollands out to make his major league debut in the bottom of the 9th of a tie game. While that move was hardly defensible, it was at least understandable if you squinted your eyes and tilted your head a little. No active manager in baseball would go to his closer in that situation and with two dominant left-handed batters due up in Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, you can at least understand where Sandberg was coming from when he turned to Hollands, the only lefty remaining in the bullpen. What defies understanding, however, is Sandberg’s usage of Jake Diekman through the first two games.

Diekman is a left-handed pitcher with overpowering stuff and a funky but incredibly effective delivery that makes the ball appear to be coming from behind left-handed batters. Good luck to those lefties trying to discern whether the pitch is his 96-98 MPH fastball or his wipeout 83-85 MPH slider. He has, unsurprisingly, absolutely dominated left-handed batters to the tune of .154/.222/.154 since returning to the majors in June of last year after refining his control in AAA. The delivery that makes Diekman so dominant against same handed batters, leaves him notably more susceptible to right-handed opponents. Over the same time frame that he’s held lefties to a .376 OPS, he’s been hit by righties at a .307/.390/.409 clip for a .799 OPS. Those of you doing the math at home may notice that’s a remarkable difference of over 400 points of OPS.

It’s not that Diekman, should never face a right handed batter. He is much, much too good to be relegated to a LOOGY role. In both of the first two games, he was brought in to face the Rangers’ best left-handed hitters, Choo and Fielder with the light hitting righty Elvis Andrus batting between the two. This is an absolutely perfect situation for Diekman and Sandberg should be applauded for bringing him into the game at this point. However, Sandberg extended Diekman’s outing on opening day by inexplicably leaving him in the game for a second inning with right handed hitters Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios due up. As you may recall, Beltre and Rios both reached base leading Sandberg to pull Diekman in favor of B.J. Rosenberg.

If this was an isolated incident I’d be inclined to write it off as part of Sandberg’s learning process, but then he went and did nearly the same exact thing the very next night. In game two, with a one run lead in the bottom of the 7th Diekman faced his three guys (Choo, Andrus, and Fielder) but this time only retired two of them. Two outs, a runner on third and Adrian Beltre due up. Surely Sandberg learned from the previous night and went to one of the five right handed arms that were sitting in the bullpen.

Nope. Beltre doubled to tie the game and the rest was history.

Mistakes are to be expected, especially from an inexperienced manager, but repeating mistakes is inexcusable. Bill Baer noted this earlier today, but it’s worth reiterating that one of a manager’s primary jobs is to put his players in the best possible position to succeed and on that count he failed Jake Diekman twice in the first two games of the season. I’d argue that he also failed John Mayberry, Jr. and Jayson Nix, two right-handed hitters with major platoon splits, when he left them in the game for a combined three plate appearances against right-handed relievers last night while Domonic Brown and Cody Asche sat on the bench.

It’s important to keep an open mind and not rush to judgment, but it’s also fair to say that, at the very least, Ryne Sandberg’s first two games this season haven’t instilled any confidence in his in-game tactical skills as a manager.

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  1. TakeYourChances

    April 02, 2014 01:27 PM

    The second guess logic does make some sense, but I’m still giving Ryno the benefit of the doubt this early in the season. If you watched all of spring training, it was clear that Diek was throwing really well, well enough to possibly give him a shot to be “the man” in any situation late in games. Rosenberg was not as good as Diek in ST, but also good. Batardo was looked locked in. All the other guys were a bit spotty.

    I think Ryno is a) playing the hot hand coming out of ST & b) cultivating & giving Diek every opportunity to be something special.

    I’m sure people would also be second guessing if JDF or Manship or whoever was brought in & they blew the lead…

  2. Bob

    April 02, 2014 01:58 PM

    My big take-away from Sandberg’s reliever-usage is that he does not think that De Fratus and Lincoln are major league players. It’s the only way to explain his aversion to using either in any situation. It’s terrifying that our best RH reliever, outside our closer, is Rosenberg by a mile. I was hoping that Lincoln could regain his 2012 form, but those closest to him – the coaching staff – seem to have grave doubts in his ability to get even the bottom of the lineup out. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year.

    As for Brown and Asche, I had the same initial thought. Yet, what is more valuable in a close game – having the ability to go to the bench for a PH to replace a BP pitcher or weak batter in a high leverage situation or simply substituting in Brown or Asche for Mayberry/Nix so they can get multiple innings of ABs vs. RH pitching? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s something to think about.

    Another thing to consider is that the numbers seem to indicate that the Mayberry/Nix combo are better defensively than Brown/Asche – so, what’ s more valuable in a close game: the added offense of Brown/Asche or the defense of Mayberry/Nix. Again, I don’t know what’s the best usage in that context. Off the cuff, I would think that if a runner was in scoring position, Sandberg would’ve gone to Brown/Asche should a righty have been on the mound. But I don’t know if that situation was presented once TX went to its BP.

    • Corinne Landrey

      April 02, 2014 02:31 PM

      Mayberry and Nix led off top of the 7th with a right handed reliever on the mound. The Rangers had just cut the lead to one and Sandberg essentially gave the Tigers two outs by not making the substitution at that point. For me, there’s no question that was the time to make the switch. I think you’re right that there’s a defensive drop off with the substitution, but it’s minimal and doesn’t outweigh the offensive gain of having Brown and Asche in the lineup for the 7th and 9th. The other thing to consider is that Washington could’ve countered with a left handed reliever, but even in that case, Brown/Asche vs. LHP is a better offensive option than JMJ/Nix vs. RHP.

      I might be misinterpreting what you’re saying, but I think you bring up a good point about keeping a bat available for the pitcher’s spot. Obviously this wasn’t necessary in an AL park, but had this game not used the DH, the better play could’ve been a double switch rather than a straight substitution. Given yesterday’s lineup, the only position in the batting order weaker than JMJ/Nix vs. RHP was Ryan Howard vs. LHP and I find it hard to imagine that pinch hitting either Brown or Asche for Howard was ever a real option.

      • Bob

        April 02, 2014 04:12 PM

        I don’t think that you’re misinterpreting me as I was going from specific (that game) to general (a close game) and thinking of the examples of when a substitution should be made. As I said above, my initial thought was that it was the right move to substitute; however, I continue to wonder what the value of defense is as compared to offense in a close game and which is more important. For instance, a batter will only bat a tick more than once every three innings while a fielder has the opportunity to field a ball the entire three innings. Consequently, I think that you under-state the value of defense that Mayberry and Nix bring to the table particularly with the Rangers potent lineup.

        By way of explanation, Mayberry posted a 0 DRS in LF last year and 2012 when he had more GP in LF. He also had a UZR/150 of 5.8/3.9 last two years. Conversely, Brown had a DRS of -7 in LF and a UZR/150 of -13.6. Likewise, Nix was far superior to Asche defensively. Last year, Nix had a DRS of 1 at 3B and -.2 UZR/150. On the other hand, Asche had a -7 DRS and a -10.6 UZR/150. These are not insignificant differences and, based on these metrics, I hardly consider the Mayberry/Nix combo providing only a minimal benefit. It’s just that we’ve been so ingrained to focus on offensive numbers that I find myself devaluing defense. I attribute this to offensive stats being much easier to quantify. Yet, that doesn’t mean defensive isn’t equally as valuable as offense.

        In looking at the Rangers BP, it seems it could’ve been the right move to substitute because Cotts was the only LHP likely available after Figueroa’s implosion the day before. Even if Washington would’ve brought Cotts in to face a substituted Asche or Brown, he likely would not have come back out the next inning and the heart of the PHils’ order would’ve faced a RH reliever.. In sum, I see the positives and negatives in both scenarios but continue to wonder about the value of defense in close games.

  3. Scott G

    April 02, 2014 09:54 PM

    Sandberg used Bastardo in the 8th against the 7,8,9 hitters. Why not use Hollands then, and then use Bastardo in the 9th if you refuse to use papelbon (which is infuriating in itself)?

    It’s simply ridiculous to not use your closer in the highest leverage situations, and Sandberg had 4 batters to insert Papelbon last night. I’m sure some coaches use closers in tie games on the road in the 9th.

    • G Todd

      April 02, 2014 11:26 PM

      I think the goal was to avoid using Hollands at all. He was in a tie game and opted to use his best relievers first, in the hope that his team would score and he could use Papelbon for the 9th. The Phillies’ failure to score left him with no good options for the 9th.

  4. BJ Rassam

    April 02, 2014 09:27 PM

    Some good points made in your article Corinne – I still want to see Ryno grow as a manager and learn from those like you who point out his mistakes. I guess if he doesn’t end up learning, then he won’t be the Phillies manager for too long.

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