Credit Where Credit Is Due: Ryne Sandberg Managed Well in Friday’s Win

We — or at least I — have spent many words criticizing the strategy of Phillies managers on this blog over the years. In my quest to be fair, I try to highlight the good as well as the bad, but there’s always some bias in what gets published. The bad gets your attention while the good slips on by unnoticed. Recently, I wrote about Ryne Sandberg‘s questionable decision-making in handling his bullpen. On Friday against the Cubs, his bullpen management was wonderful.

Sandberg took starter Roberto Hernandez out of the game after just 73 pitches and 5 1/3 innings of effective baseball. Considering how well Hernandez was pitching, how few pitches he had thrown, and how inept the Cubs looked, letting him get the final two outs of the sixth inning to notch the quality start wouldn’t have been a big deal. But after Hernandez struck out Starlin Castro to begin the sixth, the Cubs had three left-handed hitters due up: Anthony Rizzo, Nate Schierholtz, and Luis Valbuena. Sandberg opted to bring in lefty Jake Diekman for the favorable match-ups and it worked out: Rizzo lined out to left and Schierholtz struck out swinging.

Though the Phillies were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the sixth, it wasn’t a high-leverage situation. The Rizzo at-bat had a leverage index of 1.14 (slightly above average) and the Schierholtz at-bat had a leverage index of 0.74 (below average). Hernandez could have gotten the final two outs and Diekman could have been saved, perhaps, for a more dire situation. As it turns out, though, the Phillies tacked on four more runs in the next three innings and they never needed to use their most important relievers.

Justin De Fratus, at long last, made his 2014 debut and tossed a perfect seventh inning. Antonio Bastardo pitched the eighth and worked around two walks.

The one questionable decision Sandberg made was to replace Mario Hollands in the ninth, as the lefty had recorded the first two outs and the Phillies enjoyed a five-run lead with one out left before notching the victory. Hollands, a rookie, was due to face Mike Olt, one of the Cubs’ many highly-regarded prospects. Sandberg decided to bring in right-hander Jeff Manship to get the final out, which he did on two pitches, inducing a ground out. It wasn’t terrible strategy; just a bit of over-managing that extended the game by the length of one commercial break — more frustrating for fans in the stands at Wrigley Field (who booed lustily) and fans watching at home.

As an aside, Sandberg’s lineup with Jimmy Rollins missing has been as close to optimal as anyone could realistically expect. The biggest difference was Carlos Ruiz in the second slot. Considering his career .358 on-base percentage, it’s not surprising that he’s drawn three walks, been hit by a pitch, logged three hits, knocked in a run, and scored three runs in two games. It’s a small sample of course, but it may be worth considering dropping Rollins and his career .327 OBP — including just .316 since the start of 2012 — to sixth or seventh. Jayson Nix, who will return to the bench with Rollins back, shouldn’t have been hitting seventh ahead of Cody Asche, either, but it’s a rather pedantic complaint in the grand scheme of things.

Kudos to Sandberg on an excellently-managed game, resulting in a well-deserved victory.

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9 comments

  1. Bob

    April 05, 2014 10:02 AM

    For the most part, I think Sandberg has been doing a good job. There’s some room for improvement and some questionable decision-making, but you can at least see the wheels turning in his moves unlike Manuel’s more plug and play style.

    My concern is that Diekman and Bastardo have pitched in 3 of 4 games. They’re on pace to pitch in a total of 121 games respectively and 242 games collectively. A quality reliever will generally pitch between 60-70 games. From a practical stand point, it’d appear that Sandberg might want to come out of the gates hot and, to do so, he’s using his best with more frequency in the early going. But, with the Phils already fragile bp, pitching these guys every game in the early going might lead us to a rough September.

    • ballerstatus

      April 05, 2014 10:55 AM

      good point. but hopefully as the weather warms and the starters (cole hamels)get more healthy, they can start to stretch them out into the 6,7,8 innings so the BP doesn’t have to take on quite as much work.

  2. boyboat

    April 06, 2014 03:13 AM

    Didn’t mind the Manship move. Seemed like Sandberg just wanted to break his cherry and throw him a bone…he had already warmed up, anyhow – who knows how long it will be until the next chance to get him into a game. We still need to get Lincoln into a game and hopefully he too can be baby’d into it.

  3. WayneKerrins

    April 06, 2014 05:18 AM

    Bill
    I thought Cliff’s velocity was a bit off last night on both his fastball and cutter. The latter sat 88/89mph and touched 90mph 2 or 3 times in the latter innings. That’s a notch or 2 below his usual metronomic stuff.
    Also whilst his location and tempo was excellent I think he had 2 or 3 strikeouts less than a usual Lee quality start of this sort.
    ‘Cold day in the Windy City in week 1’or something to keep an eye on? Did he ever have such velocity last year in a game? I can’t recall it.

    • Bill Baer

      April 06, 2014 08:00 AM

      Here is his velocity data since the start of 2009. Yeah, it’s a little low, but it could be the weather as you said, or it could be poor calibration on the Pitch F/X machinery. We’ll have to see what it looks like his next time out.

      • MattWinks

        April 06, 2014 12:19 PM

        I think there maybe have been something up with the Chicago PitchFx machine. The other day it had both Bastardo and De Fratus as 88-90 which seems really low for both of them. Also had Diekman 93-95 (both games) when he was 95-97 in Texas.

    • WayneKerrins

      April 07, 2014 06:46 PM

      Cheers guys. Not that Tim Mac is a guru but he noted that the Cubs’ closers 94mph fast ball was a “fast” 94 mph fastball.

  4. mark66

    April 06, 2014 02:34 PM

    What is wrong with Howard ?? Why is he limping while running the bases ??

  5. Scott G

    April 07, 2014 12:37 PM

    If the goal was to get Manship work, why not have him start the 9th? I don’t think it’s a huge deal either way, just a little worried that this manager (like the last), might not understand how hard it is for a ML pitcher to give up 5 runs in an inning.

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