Dodgers-Phillies: Joe Torre Compounds Blunders by Ignoring Matchups

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer IOctober 16, 2009

Joe Torre is a Hall of Fame manager.

Take that to the bank. Play the Lottery with it. Bet the mortgage. Use your wife and kids as collateral, if you like. It’s as sure a thing as the Earth being a spheroid (a trifle flat at the poles), our Sun being ridiculously hot, divorce rates being on the rise, and our President’s approval ratings being on the decrease.

Just reporting the facts here, people.

Now, I didn’t say whether or not Joe Torre deserves to be a HoFer based on his managerial career. That’s an article for another day. His 2,246 wins, four World Series titles in five years, as well as six AL pennants in eight years are pretty hard to argue with.

But let him keep making such fundamentally poor decisions as he did last night in an 8-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies and yours truly promises to write that article on a day in the not-too-distant future, as a companion piece to the one calling for the Dodgers’ manager’s head on a platter.

The problem that I have with Torre is this: he picks odd times to eschew the idea of “playing by the numbers,” all in the name of managing by (choose whichever of these banal expressions you prefer) “feel,” “gut,” or “instinct/intuition.”

Last night, he just seemed to manage senile.

Typically, as Dodger Featured Columinsts, PJ Ross and I try to touch on entirely different aspects about the Dodgers. However, even though Peej wrote about Torre’s decision-making in last night’s game with this brilliant article, we both agreed that it would be appropriate to amplify just how monumentally bad some of the moves were.

In the fifth inning, Clayton Kershaw allowed a Raul Ibanez single to left, and wild-pitched him to second. He then walked Pedro Feliz and allowed a three-run jack to Carlos Ruiz to the Mannywood seats in the left-field corner.

I wanted to pull him then. The “feel/gut/instinctive/intuitive” manager certainly would have done just that. However, I do agree with the “buttress his confidence” angle by allowing the lad to pitch to the pitcher’s spot in the order.

Kershaw, though, the 21-year old fireballer with a 12-to-6 curve and a proclivity for wildness, then walked the opposing pitcher on four offerings to turn the lineup over for the Philadelphia Phillies.

I was screaming for a reliever by then.

Keep in mind, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are switch-hitters (and good ones), so it really didn’t matter (from a platoon standpoint) who was on the mound when they appeared at the plate. The decision on whom to face them was largely irrelevant, except from the standpoint of “does the pitcher on the mound need to be there?”

My contention is that Kershaw did not need to be toeing the rubber.

So really, at this point, Joe Torre should have been managing two batters ahead instead of just living in the moment. He should have been preparing for the Chase Utley-Ryan Howard duo who were likely to come to the plate, unless a double play ensued.

Now, I admit, it would have been enticing to try to get Kershaw to coax his way out of the inning and have the lefty-lefty platoon advantage on Utley and Howard.

Kershaw, after all, was scheduled to be the second batter up in the bottom of the frame.

However, after walking the opposing number with four pitches, I think Kershaw needed to be gone. I would have made a “feel/gut/instinctive/intuitive” decision and pulled Kershaw and gone with Hong-Chih Kuo (not Scott Elbert, who was up in the ‘pen.)

Sometimes, in this age of advanced sabermetrics, there is such a proliferation of numbers to digest that it’s easy to overlook or ignore some of the most important ones.

Because surely, Joe Torre had the following information available to him (and I’m certain it would have been easier for him to find it than it was for me, and it took me all of five minutes):

Hong-Chih Kuo has remarkable success against the top four in the Phillies’ order. True, the sample size is very small, but Rollins, Victorino, Utley, and Howard have a total of one hit —an innocuous single, at that—versus the lights-out Dodger lefty with the twice-rebuilt elbow:

Jimmy Rollins is 0-for-4 against Kuo with two strikeouts, a fly out and a groundout.

Shane Victorino: 0-for-1 with a K and a hit by pitch versus Kuo.

Chase Utley has the lone hit (single) against Kuo (back in 2006 ) and is 1-for-4 against the hurler with a K, a fly out, and a pop out in the infield.

Ryan Howard has gone hitless in three ABs versus Kuo, with two Ks and a groundout.

That’s 1-for-12 with a single, no runs, no RBI, a batting average of .083, an on-base percentage of .154, slugging percentage of .083 and an OPS of .237.

Where do I sign? I like the odds against those four guys with Hong-Chih Kuo on the hill.

Assuming that Kuo would have gotten out of the jam with no further damage, the Dodgers would have come to bat in the bottom of the fifth with a deficit of only 3-1.

Some have argued that it would have been foolish to burn through Kuo so early in the game. That's ridiculous. The situation was tailor made for him; I don't care if it was the first inning, the fifth, or the seventy-fifth.

Anybody can come in with the bases empty to start the seventh and minimize damage. Kuo was most needed to pitch to some formidable guys whom he has owned in order to keep the deficit manageable in the fifth.

Making another assumption—that the Dodgers would have begun to rake against Cole Hamels in the bottom of the fifth—is dicey. After all, Hamels likely stiffened up during the extended top of the frame, which might have contributed to his struggles when the Dodgers came up.

Let's rather assume that Hamels would have come back out sharp, making it time to manage for a tight game by both managers.

With Ramon Troncoso in reserve, I would have still used Ronald Belisario in the top of the sixth. After the fireballer looked so sharp in the frame—he retired the Phils on a mere eight pitches—I would have sent him back out to the hill for the seventh.

This would have left Elbert and Sherrill (lefties), Troncoso (righty), and closer Broxton (righty) available for the top of the eighth, allowing the luxury of the quick hook had anyone put two runners on base—as Sherrill eventually did.

Having already burned through Troncoso, Belisario, and Kuo, Torre did not have the luxury of practicing impatience with his set-up man. He ties his own hands by burning Troncoso on just one batter after Howard had doubled in two runs off Kershaw.

Of course, with Chad Billingsley on the roster for this round, he would have been available for any extra frames, had they become necessary. I would not have hesitated to go to Broxton in the top of the eighth inning, if Sherrill ran into problems.

In the end, the Dodgers fought hard, down to the very last out. They were done in by questionable—hell, downright ridiculous —decisions by Joe Torre. The team now has an unenviable mountain to climb against the defending World Series champions.

Leroy Watson, Jr. is a Los Angeles Dodgers Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report


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