Rays Blue Jays Baseball

The GBT – The Good, The Bad and The Telling sandwich, where The Bad is nice and lean and the The Telling is ripe.

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THE GOOD: Dave Kingman Lives. Carlos Pena smacked 2 more home runs last night. He now has 6 in the past 5 games and 3 multi-home run games in the last 12. But he also now has more home runs (37) than singles (35) on the year…James Shields. It was typical 2009 James Shields. Good, not great. He walked 2 and gave up 2 home runs, but he did manage to grit his way into the 7th inning. And the offense rewarded him with strong run support for the second straight start…OBP Hotness. Everybody in the lineup was on base at least once including 7 walks.

THE BAD: Short Bench. With Carl Crawford nursing a bad back and the Rays going with 8 men in the bullpen, Joe Maddon was left with only Willy Aybar available off the bench. JoeMa also had Gregg Zaun but generally the backup catcher is used only in emergencies.

THE TELLING: The Rays are now 8-2 in their last 10, but remain 3 back in the wild card race…For only the fourth time all season it was a two-fer Gabe-o’-the-Day, with both Gabe Kapler and Gabe Gross in the starting lineup.

SUNBURST PLAYER OF THE GAME: Carlos Pena.

DEVIL DOGS WEBTOPIA

  • Carl Crawford says he is out until at least Friday. Joe Maddon said there is still a 50-50 shot he plays tonight. [The Heater]
  • The Rays Party attempts to find reasoning behind Jeff Niemann’s success. [The Rays Party]
  • Jim Leyland has no intentions of making Edwin Jackson a closer, but thinks he could be a great one. [Detroit Free-Press]
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15 Comments

  1. bobrittner says:

    It's interesting to observe Maddon's bullpen usage the last few days to learn something about his approach. Once again he relieved Shields right after a walk and in this case after just 93 pitches. I am guessing that because the results were better than last time there will be less criticism.

    Of course it was not as high leverage a situation. But essentially he did the same thing. Does it demonstrate that he does not trust Shields? I doubt it. Was it wrong because a manager should let his "ace" work his way out of tough situations? That is a nice cliche, but virtually meaningless if other factors are involved.

    Certainly there is little evidence that Maddon is impatient and uses his bullpen too much. After all, if there was ever a moment when it would appear reasonable to relieve his starter it was Niemann's dreadful second inning the other night. Yet he stayed with him even after he gave up still another run in the 3rd. Does he trust Niemann more than he does Shields? That view really stretches credibility.

    So perhaps as fans we need to jettison the handy and comfortable "rules" our little league coaches taught us and learn what really happens in the pro game. We need to speculate about why a decision is made, not criticize it based on presumptions we learned as pre-teens or from experience in school or college or semi-pro ball.

    Perhaps the walk suggested a loss of command as well as control. Perhaps those 93 pitches, even with a 4 run lead, were high stress pitches. Perhaps Shields's mechanics were a bit off. Perhaps Maddon did not like the Shields/Lind matchup. Perhaps the team is built to maximize bullpen matchups, and Maddon is making the best use of that particular team structure. Perhaps the catcher told him that Shields's pitches were flat.

    Regardless, before evaluating a decision, we should consider as many reasonable options as we can that a manager may consider and determine whether they are at least defensible. The decision last night could have backfired. Choate, Bradford and Shouse have been very unreliable lately. But it worked; that does not make it right, but should give us pause before we assume that he is using the bullpen incorrectly.

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  2. Michael says:

    Great post, Bob. There have been many frustrating losses and moments this year, but it really kills me when a guy at work will say the next day "God, why did Maddon take Niemann out at that moment last night?!?!?" Maddon maybe got a little too much credit for all the success last year and most certainly too much blame for any disappointment this year, when ultimately it is the players' responsibility to get outs on defense and help score runs on offense. The second guessing of moves and non-moves after every loss is totally overblown by most.

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  3. Gus says:

    Big difference taking out a guy up 7-2 in the 7th than tied 1-1 in the 6th. Big difference bringing in a middle of the bullpen guy with the bases loaded in a tie game than matching up lefties (I think that is what he did there; I didn't see that portion of the game) in a rout.

    I know the Rays are watching Shields workload closely and when they have a big lead, no sense going too deep with him. Again, I think the biggest criticism in the O's game was that they threw Cormier into a tie game situation bases loaded situation in the 6th inning when Shields should have been llowed to get out of his own mess and keep himself alive for the win. Last night, nowhere near the leverage, later in the game, I think that was reasonable to lift him even if the bullpen lit iself on fire.

    Maddon does a good job with the guys. But that doesn't mean he is above criticism. I'd rather him go deeper with starter like you see the Rangers and Rockies doing this year. I'd also like some public explanation for what the rationale was sticking with Upton for so long at leadoff. Do we have enough sample size now to conclude that managerial mistake cost them several games? On the upside, it reivigorated the offense during the dog days. Tougher to quanitfy the beneficial effect of the hair color change . . .

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    • bobrittner says:

      I agree with you Gus. Nobody is above criticism.

      I have disagreed with many of Maddon's moves this year (not the ones you mention, but many others). My point is that while I disagree I do not necessarily criticize, and there is a difference. Before criticizing I try to work out reasons for his decisions, and even if I still think he is wrong, I do not simply list those disagreements as marks against him. That sort of thinking is plain silly-or rather simple-minded. In most cases, I chalk the difference of opinion up to different priorities or emphases rather than labeling them right or wrong.

      It is only in hindsight that sticking with Upton at leadoff was "wrong". I know, many were calling for the change much earlier, but that does not mean they were right. It just means they were more impatient, and in that particular case it appears they turned out to be right.

      But there were good and sufficient reasons for Maddon to do what he did, just as there were to continue playing Kapler when he was awful. Since then, Kapler has been better than good in his assigned role and an important part of some victories. And it may turn out that sticking with Burrell may also turn out correct, although that is obviously still much in the air.

      Every decision the Rays make (and I mean that as an organization from Sternberg through Friedman to Maddon)* calculates both immediate and longer term consequences, and balances them. If the Rays (via Maddon) had not stuck with Zobrist when he was worse than any current player on the roster, he would not have become Zorilla here. If they had not stuck with Howell when he had a 7+ ERA, he would not have become the iceman.

      Having confidence in one's initial judgments may mean sticking with someone too long. I hope that is not the case with Upton for example (I don't think it is.) It may work out well, as for the moment it seems to have with Wheeler & Kapler. Or one may miscalculate as may have been the case with Edwin Jackson and Hamel, both of which deals were absolutely correct at the time but may turn out poorly (or not).

      *I stress organizational approach because anyone who thinks that Maddon takes orders from above has no idea what s/he is observing. This organization certainly has a hierarchy of responsibility, but its decision making is far more collegial than hierarchical. Nobody pressures Maddon to use a particular player or not, or to use particular tactics. They work together to be on the same page as to such issues in general and then trust him to apply that organization-wide consensus in particular cases.

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    • bobrittner says:

      Incidentally, I just read an article that says batters hit significantly better against Shields as he reaches the 80-90 pitch mark-and I mean dramatically better. The Rays have all sort of proprietary data that we do not have. It is possible that Maddon has numbers that convince him to remove Shields at particular times. He is not bound by numbers, but they certainly enter into his calculations, so removing Shields for Cormier may have been influenced by such data.

      Again, not really an issue of "right or wrong" but of giving different weight to different factors.

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      • Gus says:

        Not good news if your No.1 starter falls off a cliff after 80 pitches! Going back 2-3 years, I think of Shields the other way. A guy who gets hit early (1st or 2nd inning) and then gets stronger because his change moves more as he fatigues. In the at bats in the Orioles game at least, his stuff was still good and usually missing too low with his change up (which was moving too much). Not the usual missing up in the zone (except when the catcher wanted him up there). But the data is the data. He' s been a horse; he could be wearing down some after 2 long seasons. But the relievers wear down also.

        CC's back is a concern. I guess if he's DL'd you bring Aki back to the No.2 hole and move Zobrist to OF. But a huge element of speed is gone.

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        • bobrittner says:

          Just to be clear, I did not want to suggest that the numbers are definitive. There are all sorts of caveats that go along with them, including small sample size. I am again just pointing out that there can be many factors influencing a decision so that labeling them in one of two categories-right or wrong-is ordinarily oversimplifying, and frankly not very interesting. It is far more interesting to seek out the subtleties than to rely on gross generalizations which are fine for the barstool, but useless on a blog.

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  4. Beth says:

    Hey, am I the only one losing sleep over CC's back problems? Anyone who's had a bad back knows that these things can be hard to diagnose, and harder to treat. The Rays management keeps saying he's "day to day" but today's newspaper reports that as of Tuesday he could barely walk.

    CC's been really critical -- I don't care how many Gabes we have or who gets called up in September, an injured CC is very bad news.

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  5. Gus says:

    And on the Dave Kingman thing, Pena's power is the only comparison. Kingman couldn't field and was terrible in the clubhouse. Pena is a gold glover and by most accounts a great guy.

    Since 2007, he leads the league in homers, is 2nd in walks and 3rd in RBI. Not sure there has ever been a better late bloomer in MLB history. 1st round pick to washout to rock solid.

    Many thanks to Greg Norton's cranky back . . .

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    • bobrittner says:

      Exactly. And Kingman did not walk very much either.

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    • Beth says:

      Thanks for this note -- I was also taken aback by the Kingman comparison -- I remember him as a guy it was hard (for teammates and fans) to like. My grandfather, who had a kind word for and about everyone, would yell "you're a stiff!!" to the TV whenever Kingman came up to bat (presumably "stiff" was a pretty devastating insult in his Papa's day). Carlos, in contrast, is a guy you want to see succeed. And Pena's an above average fielder, too.

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      • Gus says:

        Make that Norton's cranky KNEE (in 2007); he had a habit of hurting himself on the last day of spring training so I got his injury confused. Late in that spring, Pena was only hitting .160, so its not like they had a whole lot to go on and yet (to his credit) Maddon said nice things about him ("he's a guy we can build around"). Have to give Merlot Joe a fair amount of Pena love (Cantu appeared to be the more reasonable option at 1B at the time of Norton's injury).

        Hard to believe what a mess that team was just 2.5 years ago.

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  6. Don says:

    To try to analyze Maddon is trying to second guess a woman....you can try but he (& she) won't have a good reason for what they do(did)!
    But what he is responsible for.... are the results for those decisions...so far this season... not great for the talent he has....But
    the big tale will come next few weeks....good manager decisions should be the difference....playoffs or no...the talent is there!

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    • Beth says:

      Gosh, Don, here I was wondering why everything I did was so lacking in basic logic and now I know the answer! It's because I'm female! Thank goodness we have deep thinkers like you around to explain this stuff.

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