Oakland A's: Bob Melvin's Smartest Moves of the 2014 Season
Serious question: Would the Oakland A's have the best record in baseball—the first and only team with over 70 wins so far—without manager Bob Melvin?
Perhaps. But having the 2012 Manager of the Year at the helm certainly hasn't hurt the team.
One could make the argument that there is no manager in baseball today that could run a Billy Beane roster more effectively. Between his mastering of platoons, clear communication, player's manager persona and faith in his guys, Melvin may very well be on his way to a second Manager of the Year award.
Just consider these five moves he's made in 2014 as examples of smart moves.
Giving Jesse Chavez a Starting Rotation Spot
Pitcher Jesse Chavez may have been inserted into the starting rotation purely by default. During spring training, Jarrod Parker suffered an injury that would lead to his second Tommy John surgery. A.J. Griffin began the year on the shelf, and Bob Melvin went with Chavez until Griffin returned.
Then the A's shut Griffin down for the year as well.
In addition to a need due to injuries, Chavez made it hard to ignore a brilliant spring training in which he finished with a 5-1 record and a 2.22 ERA in 28.1 innings pitched.
So why chalk this up as Melvin's decision?
At the time of Parker's injury, the A's had Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone as the most likely candidates for four spots. In the fifth spot, Melvin could have gone with Chavez—formerly a long reliever—or starting pitching options such as Drew Pomeranz, Josh Lindblom or Arnold Leon, to name a few.
He went with the reliever.
Melvin recently removed Chavez from the rotation after the team acquired three starting pitchers at the trade deadline. However, before returning to the bullpen, Chavez earned eight wins and kept his ERA under 4.00. His performance this season is highlighted by a 5-2 record with a 2.32 ERA at home.
The A's skipper made a fantastic decision going with Chavez to start the season.
Allowing Derek Norris to Hit Against Righties and Lefties
In his first season with Oakland, catcher Derek Norris played in 60 of the 162 games in 2012. Norris faced a learning curve and finished with a .201 batting average. The next season, he played in 98, or 60 percent of the games. He feasted on left-handed pitching but struggled against righties.
With the way the Athletics are run, it would not have been surprising to see a platoon at catcher. Norris hits against lefties while someone else takes catching duties against right-handers.
Instead, Melvin handed Norris the starting role, against both types of pitching.
In 89 games so far (75 percent), Norris is hitting .288. That includes a stellar .356 average against southpaws and a decent .245 against the rest. He's had a short career, but in nine less games than 2013, he has more hits, home runs, RBI and walks. Not to mention, Norris earned All-Star honors this season.
Melvin must have seen the signs.
Finding Room for 3 Catchers in the Lineup
Bob Melvin. Oakland A's manager. Master of the platoons. Believer in catcher Derek Norris.
And catcher John Jaso.
And catcher Stephen Vogt.
Melvin may very well be the only manager in all of baseball who can fit three catchers into one lineup. Four if you count former catching prospect-turned-All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson.
The aforementioned Norris is an All-Star and serves as the primary catcher. Yet Jaso has played in 92 games thus far, hitting .267 with nearly as much production as Norris (nearly equal hits, doubles and home runs). In just 56 games, Vogt has maintained a .316 average with seven home runs and 29 RBI. With guys hitting this hot, Melvin's left with little choice but to play all three.
But that can be tricky. Hence the brilliance of Melvin.
Throwing one behind the dish while giving another DH duties is a no-brainer. But finding room for a third makes this move a true masterpiece. So far, Melvin has played Vogt at first, moving Brandon Moss to the outfield. He's also tried Vogt in right field. Scary? Sure. But Vogt has not committed a single error yet.
Melvin is the gatekeeper of a three-headed beast that feasts on baseballs.
Trying to Let Jim Johnson Work Things Out
Credit Bob Melvin for trying to make Jim Johnson work in the A's bullpen.
This could have gone so many different ways. The A's could have had another Bob Geren-Brian Fuentes-like situation. The A's could have dumped Johnson a lot earlier. Melvin could have stubbornly insisted on keeping Johnson as the closer.
Instead, it played out quietly (minus fan boos).
Melvin removed Johnson as the closer but still used him out of the bullpen, often in hopes the former All-Star could regain his form. Melvin simply said he was "giving Johnson a break," according to MLB.com writer Jane Lee.
The manager used his former closer in quite a few scenarios. Johnson pitched everywhere from the fourth to the ninth inning. He pitched in blowouts and high-pressure, close games.
He could have ditched the guy, but Melvin made every attempt to help save Johnson's 2014 season.
Ditching the Committee and Using Sean Doolittle as Closer
After removing Johnson from closing duties, Melvin intended to go with the ol' closer-by-committee shtick. Somewhere in early May, Melvin must have seen enough from the committee, needling it down to just one reliable lefty.
Since May 10, in which Doolittle finished the game and earned the win, the bearded reliever has earned 17 more saves, blowing just two. His ERA between the 10th and present day is 1.56. What's most impressive is his current walk-to-strikeout ratio of 4-73, or one walk every 18.25 strikeouts. The best in history? Dennis Eckersley's 18.33 in 1989, per Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk.
And to think, Doolittle used to play first base.