Rob Neyer, Rany Jazayerli, and Joe Posnaski are complaining about the Royals losing their 10th straight game Wednesday night, and it's hard to blame them. If I were a Royals fan, I'd be complaining too. Other medium-sized Midwestern cities field competitive teams, at least occasionally, so why can't the Royals do it?
I don't know, and frankly, that's beyond the scope of this post; which I'm writing mostly so I can get some credit for all the thinking I've done about this, and not just post a comment on Rob Neyer's blog.
Posnaski is always the most fun to read about this stuff. Here's his explanation of what happened as an 8-3 lead slipped away:
"And then Brendan Harris loops a fly ball to right field that looks like it very well could be the third out. David DeJesus should run that down and...Wait a minute. David DeJesus is not in right field. No, that’s, um...Ross Gload in right field. Why is Ross Gload in right field? Oh, right, Hillman pinch-hit for DeJesus the previous inning. So, no, wait...why did Ross Gload pinch-hit for DeJesus? I’m very confused.*
*OK, I just got a call from Royals TV voice extraordinaire, and good friend, Ryan Lefebvre...apparently, in the seventh inning, DeJesus broke out in hives. Yeah. Hives. Now this team has biblical plagues descending upon them. Hives. I mean, seriously. I still couldn’t tell you why Gload didn’t go to first, where he’s actually pretty good, and Teahen go to right field, where he’s played all year. Trey Hillman’s explanation is that he didn’t want to switch TWO positions. Whatever that means."
You can't make this stuff up.
Anyway, the problem (at least last night) was that in a tight spot, Royals manager Trey Hillman looked at his bullpen, didn't like his options, but picked one and it didn't work out. And by "didn't work out", I mean "a miracle did NOT happen", because everyone who knows anything about baseball and/or likes the Royals (not that there are many of them), knew that this was the wrong move.
Here's Joe Posnaski again:
"...At this point, the Royals decided to take [Ramon] Ramirez out of the game. Part of me understood—Ramirez had given up four hits in the inning. But part of me cringed because they were pretty soft singles, one probably should have been caught, and Ramirez had struck out two in the inning, and he was quite unlikely to give up a home run to Monroe because of his sinker (Ramirez has not yet given up a home run this year)."
Instead, Hillman goes with Joel Peralta, a flyball, homer-prone pitcher with control problems, to face Craig Monroe, a hacker who's going to be looking fastball all the way and swinging for the fences. This was so obviously a bad move that it's hard to wonder why Hillman would even think of it, much less do it.
This is not the same thing as trying a squeeze play, or a hit-and-run in a place where everyone knows you're going to do a hit-and-run and you get into a strikeout, throw-out double play. That kind of thing happens, and you deal with it and move on. But when your manager chooses the worst of all possible options from his bullpen, and then the inevitable happens, well, you have to wonder.
You can't blame Hillman for not having better options available to him than he has (that's GM Dayton Moore's fault), but you can blame him for not seeing the options he actually has.
—Ramon Ramirez, for just one more out. Go up there, calm him down. Remind him that they still haven't hit him hard, and that the defense will pick him up. Granted, this is a lie, but it sounds good. Tell him to give you all he's got, as this is the last guy he'll have to face tonight. Let him buck up and try to make you proud. Maybe he'll surprise you.
—Jimmy Gobble. Sure, he'd thrown 33 pitches the night before, but he tossed two scoreless innings, which might have given him some confidence, right? In any case, those pitches hardly take a toll on you like having guys on base all the time, or whatever. You only need half a dozen pitches out of him for crying out loud. Gobble's a lefty though, and an extreme flyball pitcher, so I can understand leaving him in the bullpen. No argument here, not really.
—Ron Mahay. He'd also thrown two innings the night before, but he used only 17 pitches to do it. Craig Monroe is hitting .118 with ZERO homers against lefties this year. Make him prove you wrong. What's the worst that could happen? Monroe gets a homer, wins the game, Mahay gets hurt and his career is over. He's 37-years old, it was gonna happen sooner or later anyway, and he's only Ron-freaking-Mahay!
—Joachim Soria. Sure, 31 pitches the night before, but he pitched very well, and again, you're only asking him to get one lousy out. Throwing half a dozen pitches on short rest ONE TIME is not going to kill him.
—Yasuhiko Yabuta. 6.80 ERA, righties hitting .426 off him. Put the bullpen phone down, and slowly step away.
So it seems to me that obviously, short of an in-game trade for Mariano Rivera; Ramirez, Soria, or Mahay would have been much better options. Why I can see that and Trey Hillman can't is beyond me.
For the most part, maybe 85 or 90 percent of the time, a manager's job is probably pretty easy, at least during a game. According to Fangraphs.com, there was a 99.8 percent chance that the Royals would win that game, with a five-run lead and two outs in the ninth. I mean, you really had to go out of your way to screw this one up, right?
Everyone who watches a significant amount of baseball generally knows what strategies to employ at what time. What kinds of pitchers to use when, etc....
Having more talent on your team can make that easier, but failing to understand the situations you find yourself in ("They're going to be swinging for the fences...maybe I should use a ground-ball pitcher?") is an unforgivable sin in this business.