Okay, I will apologize in advance because this is going to be longer than it probably should be and likely poorly formatted but I wanted to try and express an alternate opinion on Bob Geren.
As a disappointing season drags on, the tide of public opinion here on AN has turned overwhelmingly negative in regards to manager Bob Geren. So being a natural contrarian I decided to take a shot at trying to defend the work he has put in this year. First I would like to establish my natural bias when evaluating managers. I tend to believe that the effect the manager has on the outcome of a baseball game is relatively small and so long as the players haven’t appeared to openly mutiny against the manager I don’t tend to concern myself all that much with what he is doing on a day to day basis. But this doesn’t mean we can’t judge the moves we see the manager make, it is our right as fans to be critical.
In my opinion the two aspects of a manager’s job that most influence the game is filling out the line-up card and managing the bullpen/rotation. In this fan post I am not ready to take on the task of fully evaluating Geren’s performance so I am going to focus entirely on the issue of bullpen usage. This topic seems to be popping up a lot recently as proof positive that Geren is a terrible manager so I decided to take a little closer look.
I have been of the wildly unpopular opinion that Geren has actually done a good job managing the bullpen and thought that it was one of his redeeming factors. He has been put in a very difficult situation as 4 of the A’s starters are rookies and the 5th is a second year guy who spent his first year in the majors moving between the rotation and the bullpen. Inconsistency and inexperience have limited the innings that the starters have been able to throw and threatened to put a serious strain on the relievers. The biggest bright spot this season has been the potential shown by our young starters so I would consider protecting their arms to be very important to the future of this team. That generally means that the bullpen has to take one for the team.
When looking at the usage pattern of the relievers I will focus on six guys; Santiago Casilla, Russ Springer, Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler, Mike Wuertz, and Andrew Bailey. These guys have thrown the bulk of the innings from the bullpen as the 7th spot has largely been in flux this season. As an overview lets look at how many innings these guys have thrown so far this year as well as their ERA:
Casilla: 21.2 IP 7.06 ERA
Springer: 24.1 IP 5.55 ERA
Breslow: 26.0 IP 4.50 ERA (11.2 IP 2.31 ERA with Oakland)
Ziegler: 30.1 IP 3.86 ERA
Wuertz: 32.2 IP 3.03 ERA
Bailey: 44.1 IP 2.23 ERA
The first thing that jumps out is that Bailey has thrown way more innings than any other reliever and has also been the most effective. His use is cause for concern but I want to table that discussion until later. The other relievers have all been used between 21.2 and 32.2 innings and it was even closer before Ziegler and Wuertz were needed to throw 3 innings in the last two days. It is also apparent that the better relievers have pitched more which is pretty much what you want your manager to do, utilize guys who are pitching well and protect the guys who are stinking it up. The trick is to do this without relying too much on the good guys and wearing them down. So lets look at how many innings these relievers have thrown the last two years and how many they are projected to throw this season if the same usage pattern continues:
Casilla: 74.2, 54.0, 52.1
Springer: 66.0, 50.1, 58.1
Breslow: 68.2, 47.0, 62.2
Ziegler: 74.1, 84.0, 73.1
Wuertz: 72.1, 64.2, 79.0
Bailey: 125.0, 110.1, 107.1
At first glance it looks likes all of these guys are right in line to pitch about the same amount as they have over the last few years. The one caveat is that Andrew Bailey spent all of ’07 and half of ’08 as a starter which is why his inning count is so high, 107 innings is a ridiculously high amount for a full time reliever. I think I have to stop avoiding the Bailey issue so let’s address it now.
The most damning evidence of bullpen abuse is clearly Andrew Bailey, no reliever threw more than 95.1 innings last year and most top relievers throw between 70 and 85 depending on the circumstances. The interesting factor with Bailey is his recent past as a starter might indicate he has more resilience in his arm than a typical reliever. Even if he maintained his unprecedented pace it would still represent a career low in innings pitched for him. He is a 25 year old pitcher who has never really had arm trouble and is used to throwing 100+ innings in a year, it’s possible that if anybody could handle this workload it is him. I also don’t think that Bailey will break the century mark in IP this season despite his current pace. He was often used for two innings earlier in the season which skewed his IP totals; he is averaging 1.34 innings per appearance which is much higher than the 1.12 of Ziegler who is the next highest. Bailey last made a full two inning appearance on 5/23 and while he has had a couple of 4 or 5 out showings since then he has not thrown more than 26 pitches in any of those 13 appearances. I hold out hope that now that he is settled into the closer role of a team that will likely struggle to win half its remaining games his pace will dramatically slow. There is plenty of reason for concern with Bailey but I think it is far from a sure thing that he is destined for destruction.
The other bullpen member who has been cited as a victim of Geren is Mike Wuertz., but I think this case is not nearly as strong. As we can see from above while Wuertz is the second busiest member of the pen he is on a pace to have a similar workload to what he has done in the past and it is right around what you can expect of a good set up man. So from a macro perspective it doesn’t look like he has been overworked but maybe he has been throwing a lot of pitches which might wear him down. Well, his WHIP this year is a sparkling 0.95, compared to 1.43 and 1.37 the two previous years which suggests that his innings have generally been less taxing this year than ever before for Wuertz. If we look at the game logs we can see that he has broken the 20 pitch mark 7 times in 33 appearances. Only once was he asked to pitch the day after throwing 20+ pitches and that was to get one batter which took him 5 pitches. He has thrown on back to back days a total of 7 times with the 41 pitches he threw the last two days being his highest 2-day total. Before that he had only broken the 30 pitch mark once over a 2-day span. Hardly a consistent pattern of abuse.
Then there is Wuertz’ recent comment that he is feeling drained. I have to admit I didn’t notice this when it happened but I’m assuming he said this on the 16th after giving up two runs to the Dodgers in a demoralizing loss. I think it’s been established that there is not much evidence from his previous usage to suggest that he had been overworked prior to that point. If we just focus on the appearances immediately prior to his comment he had pitched 4 times in the previous 11 days with pitch counts of 7, 21, 5, and 4. This was probably the lightest usage he had seen all season. So the obvious counter is “Wuertz knows his arm better than any of us so if he says he’s drained we should just believe him.” But isn’t it at least equally plausible that in the midst of his worst stretch of the season where he had given up runs in his last three outings, immediately following a tough game with reporters asking to explain why he and his bullpen mates blew the game he just wanted an excuse? Relievers struggle sometimes, it is definitely a profession marked by highs and lows. I can imagine being frustrated after a rough stretch and in an especially bad mood after the game, if reporters are pestering you for answers and explanations it’s only natural to try and give them one. I mean he has looked pretty darn sharp his last two outings and not like someone who is “drained”.
So, if anyone has lasted all the way through this long and meandering post, I think Geren has done a pretty good job in a tough situation. He has been able to adjust roles on the fly and generally get our best guys in the game during high leverage situations. I like that he rewarded Bailey’s good play and was willing to let a surprise rookie become the go-to guy because he earned it. I think he has done a good job integrating Breslow into the mix despite being a mid-season addition that was not very well known. He has been willing to let Springer and Ziegler work through issues in low pressure situations and has given them more responsibility when there play merits it. The only guy who has really been under-utilized is Casilla but he hasn’t really given any indication that he should be used more. The one issue I am concerned with is his use of Bailey but I explained above why I am not ready to tar and feather Geren over it just yet. As far as Geren only trusting “his guys” and neglecting others, I don’t see it so clearly. Relievers will have different workloads over the course of a season, all we can hope for is that the good ones will get more innings than the bad ones. I think Geren has done that well up to this point and has been willing to adjust when performance dictates.
Now that I have taken my shot to defend Geren and probably bored any readers out of the urge to respond it will be interesting to see how quickly this argument gets torn to shreds.