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Quickie Analysis: Melvin The Tactician

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Oakland Athletics
“Why would I bunt there, blue, with Canha coming up?”
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The part of a manager’s job that involves making in-game tactical decisions is actually not one of the biggest. it’s just the most visible. Irrespective of his skills as a tactician, Bob Melvin should be signed to a contract through his 95th birthday so that he can pass Connie Mack in games managed for the A’s.

But today, let’s zero in on Melvin the tactician and compare how fans feel to how things really are…

“He Leaves His Starting Pitchers In Too Long!”

This is a common refrain on AN, from fans frustrated when a starting pitcher struggles, is left in, and gives it up — all too predictably in the eyes of the observing fan. This complaint may even have arisen as recently as yesterday, when Chris Bassitt, leading 1-0 with 2 outs in the 6th inning and runners at 2nd and 3rd, stayed in to face a left-handed batter while Jake Diekman threw behind him in the bullpen. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well.)

In reality, though, I do not find this critique of Melvin to be accurate. In fact, recent A’s teams have been at the very top of the league in bullpen Innings pitched, meaning that the A’s skipper has had a relatively early hook rather than a tendency to keep his starting pitchers in too long.

Over the course of a 162 game season, it is generally good practice to try to get 6+ innings out of your starting pitchers whenever possible, and that is going to mean letting them try to work through struggles in the 3rd, 4th, etc. with the hope that they can hang in there and maybe even bounce back.

Sure it’s painful to watch a pitcher struggle in the 4th of a game that can still be won, to see him appear to be thrown to the wolves and then predictably continue struggling until the game is further out of reach and he has to come out anyway. But it’s still an important gamble to make most of the time, Other than yanking your pitcher at the first signs of trouble and exhausting your bullpen.

“His Bullpen Management Is Terrible!!!”

I have always been a big believer that good bullpens make for good managers, and bad bullpens make for bad managers. I think a good example of this is Yusmeiro Petit, in home I felt Melvin had unwarranted confidence last October as a “janitor” coming in with runners on base.

that being said, Petit is currently on a roll and recently has been an excellent choice in those exact situations. So while at times I have taken issue with Melvin’s choices, more often I think he looks good because his reliever succeeds or he looks bad because his reliever fails, but in fact he is generally making a reasonable decision.

One caveat, in this fan’s opinion, is that I do think he has a tendency to go to the well too often with the relievers he most trusts. as a result Melvin does tend to burn out his best relievers, yielding to the temptation to go to your best as often as possible.

However, this season may naturally mitigate against this shortcoming, because the gap between the front and back of the A’s bullpen is small. It’s difficult even to say who the A’s best 4 relievers are, since Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken are relatively unproven, Sergio Romo and Petit are on the downside of strong careers, and on a good day Jordan Weems looks as good as anyone. It’s harder to burn out your top relievers when it’s not even clear who they are.

Infield In

Here is one area where I will offer some unsolicited criticism of the A’s skipper. I think he brings the infield in too often. There is definitely a time and place for drawing the infield in, such as in a 9th inning tie game, or with a runner at 3B, one out, and a slap hitter at the plate.

However, I have seen Melvin bring the infield in frequently fairly early in the game (e.g., 4th inning) with runners at 2nd and 3rd, and this is just too big an invitation for a crooked number as well as far too much of an emergency to prevent a single run.

Remember that with the infield back there are still multiple avenues to choking off a run. There is a strikeout, a pop-up, a comebacker or a bouncer to 3B. So playing the infield back is not so much conceding a run as it is helping to prevent 2+ runs. I feel this is one key adjustment Melvin does need to make in his tactical decision-making.

I will pause here to let you weigh in on these matters and others you may wish to raise about BoMel the tactician. And let’s hope he’s good at managing doubleheaders, because we have one tomorrow!