With the Oakland A's mired in last place in the AL West, I've begun to wonder: Is manager Bob Geren on the hot seat or not?
Only general manager Billy Beane knows for sure, but if Geren is not close to being replaced, he should be.
Here are five pieces of irrefutable evidence I'll offer in support of this conclusion:
1. Geren Has Ruined the Team's Greatest Strength: Its Bullpen
Ruined might be a bit severe, but blatant overuse from the first week of the season has made a mess of the bullpen.
Andrew Bailey, the rookie closer—who Geren won't name him as the closer despite all evidence to the contrary—is on pace to throw more than 90 innings.
Throughout his Minor League career, almost all of which was as a starter, Bailey through between 110 and 125 innings a year.
As a reliever, this is completely uncharted territory. Many veteran relievers struggle badly the year after throwing more than 90 innings.
Geren's misuse of his bullpen was evidenced in Wednesday night's win over the Chicago White Sox. With a two-run lead, Geren went to Bailey in the eighth and then asked him to come back and close in the ninth.
He was successful, but with so many other clubs carefully protecting their young talent, Bailey seems to be on a collision course for elbow surgery sometime soon.
It's one thing to be a young closer. It's another to consistently have to earn two-inning saves.
2. Geren's Lack of Clarity is Hurting the Performance of His Pitchers
Baseball fans will recall Boston's famously failed "closer by committee" experiment in 2002, shortly after GM Theo Epstein took over.
Straight out of the Bill James playbook, which said closers were overvalued, Epstein believed he could use a cast of characters at various times in the game. It looked great on paper and in fantasy leagues, but with real humans, it was fatally flawed.
Relievers need clear roles. Closers have a switch in their brain that many other capable pitchers just don't have.
Geren refuses to name a closer.
Huston Street, a capable closer before Geren took over, crashed and burned under new management.
Brad Ziegler came on as a record-breaking rookie, posting 11 saves last season, but somehow ended up in Geren's doghouse when all evidence of his on-field performance suggested he had done nothing to deserve it.
It's no surprise that Ziegler hasn't pitched well since returning from an illness, only to find he'd been replaced as closer but never told. Geren's style doesn't work.
Likewise, the regression of starters Dana Eveland, Gio Gonzalez, and Sean Gallagher, which could be attributed to the revolving-door rotation employed by Geren, is at least in part a reflection of his leadership.
3. Geren is Responsible for Oakland's Shoddy Offense
I could practically write a book on this topic—and nearly did once already—but I'll keep this quick. When you have the worst offense in the league for most of the manager's tenure, the manager is part of the problem.
Clearly, the hitting coach this year should pack his bags right along with Geren, but when you have a slate of proven veteran hitters all playing below their ability, something is wrong with the team's approach.
That falls at the feet of the manager.
4. Despite a Strong Farm System, Geren Has Not Help His Hitters Mature
Bobby Crosby's failures can't be entirely blamed on Geren. His injuries and struggles started before Geren took the helm.
Crosby is, however, the first of virtually every young player on Geren's roster who has failed to live up to expectations.
Daric Barton, once a top prospect, is now struggling to hit at Triple-A. A slate of players, including Travis Buck, Jack Hannahan, Gregorio Petit, Aaron Cunningham, and Eric Patterson, have done nothing to show they will become strong Major Leaguers.
Only Kurt Suzuki has emerged under Geren.
5. Geren Protects His Players, But Does Nothing To Shake Them Up
The only reported move so far to break the A's out of a season-long maliase was made by Orlando Cabrera, who held a hitters-only meeting before a game last month.
Geren has gone out of his way to protect the likes of Jason Giambi, while shifting younger players in and out of the roster on a daily basis.
His in-game decisions have drawn plenty of criticism, but his inability to fire up his locker room is perhaps the greater sin.
The team has rarely gone on a tear—and not yet this year—to show the manager can get his team to play above its head, even for a short time.