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.