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Time To Stop The Misguided Bashing Of The Manager

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers
“Great job. Next time, maybe also get someone out.”
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a sad truth that when the A’s blew a 6-3 lead to the Tigers, and lost a game that seemed to be in hand, it was only the 5th most devastating loss in the last two weeks. Worse were the 3 late losses in a row to the Giants and Mariners, and worst of all was probably last night debacle.

In the aftermath of a disappointing loss always comes the lynching call for the manager who did X when he could have done Y. The next day it’s usually that he did Y when he could have done X. The next day Z starts to look pretty good but only because Z hasn’t had a chance yet to screw up.

When you get down to it, what Bob Melvin did last night was pretty reasonable, but only if you remember that somehow the A’s managed to throw away a game that wasn’t actually close. Yes BoMel removed Sean Manaea after only 83 pitches and no doubt Manaea could have pitched the 8th, and had this been the wild card game, undoubtedly he would have.

But even in a pennant race, even in September, you can’t feel compelled to work your starter more than 7 innings no matter what. It’s important to recognize that Manaea was pulled in a game that could fairly be characterized as a blowout. Similarly, the whole point of using Lou Trivino that inning was that it was not a high leverage situation. These are the innings where you save bullets for your starting pitcher’s arm, rest your high-leverage relievers, keep your lower leverage relievers sharp, offer a soft landing for a Trivino’s return to the mound.

It’s a fan’s job to worry that a bullpen pen won’t hold a 6-run lead for 2 innings, even though collapses at the level of last night’s happen about once every 3 years. It’s a manager’s job to manage as if that lead is safe, not to view every situation as high leverage just because weird stuff can happen. And if weird stuff happens, the manager looks bad but it doesn’t mean he has made a mistake.

If I had any quibble with how things played out, I would probably point to the choice of Yusmeiro Petit instead of Jake Diekman to get up in the bullpen behind Trivino, only because Petit leads the league in appearances and had worked in 3 of the past 5 days, and Diekman has been throwing the ball well of late. With that being said, is it really difficult to imagine Diekman walking the first batter he faced and then serving up a grand slam to a right-handed power hitter? When 3 relievers you have relied on as “plus relievers” most of the year serve up 9 runs in 1+ IP, perhaps you were going to lose this game one way or another.

That’s not on the manager for judging he could pull his SP after 7 Innings with a 6-run lead. The same manager who was forced to bring in Andrew Chafin to win a game the A’s had led 8-0, rendering Chafin unavailable last night. The same manager who turned to Deolis Guerra, and had to yank him 4 batters later without recording a single out. The same manager who twice tried putting trust in A.J. Puk, only to watch a game-winning HR one time and the failure to record an out in 3 tries the next. The same manager who was willing to yank Trivino from the closer’s role and try Sergio Romo, and how’d that work out last night?

There are only so many ways to rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. And before you complain that Melvin pulls his starting pitchers too fast, keep in mind that the league leaders in SP innings pitched... that would be your Oakland A’s.

In fact, Melvin’s flaw is that he leaves his starting pitchers in too long and he also pulls them too soon, that he overuses his best relievers but should never use those bad ones because they aren’t very good, that he is too slow to get guys up in the bullpen and that he gets them up too fast and then has to put them in when they’re not needed anymore, and especially that in this one instance he definitely should have used whichever reliever didn’t get in.

In other words, his pitchers keep letting him down. In other words, the manager needs better options than he has. It’s not that Melvin is bad at bullpen management, it’s that he’s management for a bad bullpen. The tallest midget is still short, and there’s no manager capable of making them taller.