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.
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.