As an analyst, I prefer to take a case-by-case and part-by-part approach to evaluating players, coaches, and managers. People aren't just "great" or "awful" -- they're usually better in some ways and worse in others. Bob Geren has come under some well-deserved scrutiny this week, and like most managers is generally thought of as an idiot for the mistakes that are easiest to remember along with bad player performances that made good moves look bad. How has he really done so far this season?
Lost in the bad and ugly is the fact that Geren has done, for the first time, a great job distributing playing time and rest amongst not nine but 13 position players. Specifically:
* In the first two weeks, Daric Barton, Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington, Kurt Suzuki, Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Hideki Matsui have all had days off from the starting lineup while being the clear "everyday starter" at their position.
* Geren did not panic and yank Keven Kouzmanoff from the lineup just because he had a woeful first week, nor did he stubbornly stay with him because he "has a track record" -- Andy LaRoche, who started the year with a hot bat, has gotten more and more playing time the past week while Kouzmanoff has had a chance both to clear his head and to get back on the horse.
* All the bench players have been factors, while not hoarding playing time over more qualified teammates. Landon Powell is 3 for 4 (and if he starts today Suzuki will continue not to have a stretch of more than 6 days in a row starting), Ryan Sweeney has a couple key pinch hits, Conor Jackson had the game-winning hit in Chicago, and LaRoche has played all over the infield, yet the "core starting nine" have gotten the lion's share of the playing time.
Combine all this with a lineup order that makes sense and I think you have to give Geren props for his use of the position players so far in 2011.
To put it mildly, despite spewing platitudes of confidence and expectation, the A's have come out of spring training looking unprepared for the regular season. How much of this is on the manager? At least 0% but at most a lot more than 0%. Bottom line: When the team looks unprepared and sloppy, the manager is where the buck stops and Geren gets no credit for getting his team ready for prime time come April 1st.
Bullpen management. Though I personally believe Geren has managed the bullpens reasonably well in the past overall, this year has been nothing short of ridiculous. Specifically:
* Craig Breslow, who pitched poorly at the end of an abbreviated spring training and entered the season clearly behind his peers, was thrown into a tie game, and asked to pitch on back-to-back days on the season's second day.
* Bobby Cramer has been entrusted with a tie game in extra innings when Balfour was available, but not with a 6-1 lead when Balfour was tired and Fuentes was exhausted.
* The events of the last two games have been well chronicled on AN. Here's a piece I haven't seen beaten to death, though: If Grant Balfour wasn't going to stay in to face Miguel Cabrera on Friday, then frankly Brian Fuentes should have come in for a four-out save to face Brendan Boesch. Remember that Boesch took Balfour to the wall in center field to end the 8th. Yes, folks, Balfour to the power hitting lefty, Fuentes to the power hitting righty -- what could go wrong?
The only excuse for not letting Balfour or Fuentes seek a four-out hold or save is the lie Geren came up with to reporters: "Er, I really want those guys pitching one inning each." First of all, counting innings is stupider than counting batters faced, which is already stupider than counting pitches thrown. Second of all, Geren's lie was exposed as such when the very next day, he trotted Balfour out for a second inning -- this time in a 6-1 game.
The end result of the idiocy of the past two games is that the A's lost a game Friday they could have won, Brian Fuentes has thrown 59 pitches in 48 hours, Balfour has also pitched two days in a row, and Trevor Cahill has little support behind him today.