Being the manager of a major league baseball club is an interesting job, because while the general manager selects the players, there are only a few moments when a major league manager can show his stuff. When he fills out the lineup card, a manager makes his most indelible stamp on the game. In a similar vein, his bullpen usage also provides a record that we can follow. In these moments, we are provided a window into the manager’s way of thinking. We know which players he thinks are currently his best options. With these facts in mind, and inspired by Jerry Crasnick’s look at managers on the hot seat, let’s look at the five worst managerial decisions this year.
5) Mike Scioscia shuns Mike Napoli
Some managers make poor decisions but slide by, perhaps by the grace of their resume. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has consistently run out Jeff Mathis at catcher over Mike Napoli to the frustration of fantasy baseball players alone it seems. This was a curious decision given Napoli’s eminently useful batting line (.249/.317/.478) versus the one Mathis has been showing (.196/.218/.294), but catcher defense is notoriously hard to put a number on, so the decision could be justified to a degree. The situation got a little more ridiculous, though, when Kendry Morales went down for the season and Scioscia cited Napoli’s performance with runners on base — which came in an extremely small sample size — as the reason he wasn’t getting regular at-bats at first base. Now even Juan Rivera, who has never played first base in his life and has a .249/.301/.403 line that doesn’t stand up to Napoli’s, is getting time at the position.
4) Tony La Russa buries Colby Rasmus
In St. Louis, manager emeritus Tony La Russa has made some interesting decisions over the years, and many have been lauded by the statistical community. Hitting pitchers eighth can actually benefit a team in a very small way. But playing inferior players over young stud Colby Rasmus — that decision seems borderline petty. By his comments to the media, La Russa seems to be trying to get Rasmus to hit the ball the other way, when Rasmus is showing great pull power as it is. Just look at Cito Gaston — who hasn’t complained that every single one of Jose Bautista’s 43 home runs has been pulled — for comparison. La Russa has consistently shown an aversion to playing Rasmus, who has started only 93 of the club’s 138 games, but the outfielder has turned in an impressive .268/.352/.501 line with great defense, despite the lack of confidence from his manager.
3) Don Wakamatsu goes gaga for Griffey
More often, when the manager gets it wrong, he’s sure to hear about it. Mariners fans were in disbelief when Ken Griffey, Jr. was penciled in as the starting DH most of the year when Michael Saunders could easily have pushed Milton Bradley to DH and provided excellent defense and more offense than the aging star. Here we are, three months later, and Griffey is no longer on the team, Bradley has undergone knee surgery after one of his worst years, and the Mariners’ DH position has put up the worst batting line in the American League (.187/.261/.328). In fact, that’s not far off of the combined line for pitchers in the National League (.105/.134/.120). Hyperbole aside, this was the kind of move that could get a manager fired, and Don Wakamatsu was indeed axed.
2) and 1) Jerry Manuel embraces Frenchy and Fernando
Finally, we come to one manager that may have achieved the double-whammy. Jerry Manuel is beginning to feel the heat in New York, and for good reason. For a good portion of the season, Manuel used Fernando Nieve as his setup man. He really liked Nieve, using him so often he was once on pace for close to 80 innings. It wasn’t until Nieve had made 40 appearances and his ERA reached 6.00 that he was banished to the minors. Young fireballer Bobby Parnell would have been a better option — but perhaps we can blame Omar Minaya for leaving Parnell in the minor leagues for so long.
On the other hand, Manuel squarely gets the blame for one of his lineup decisions. Jeff Francoeur has his uses — against left-handers he’s a decent option, which is apparently why the Rangers traded for him last night, and of course he owns that golden arm. But Manuel ran him out there for over 440 plate appearances, in which Frenchy racked up exactly zero WAR by hacking away at any pitch that didn’t hit the dirt. In about 300 fewer plate appearances, Francoeur’s backup, Chris Carter, has managed to rack up 0.2 WAR by walking more, striking out less and showing just about as much power. If Manuel leaves New York, it won’t all be Omar Minaya’s fault.
Sometimes a manager gets it right and usually receives little fanfare. For instance, Joe Girardi has run Brett Gardner out there in left field despite an up-and-down major league resume before this season. All Gardner has done is shown himself to be the second-most valuable Yankee by wins above replacement (WAR). He’s done this by providing a spark plug on top of the lineup — stealing 37 bases efficiently and walking over 13 percent of the time — and also by playing great defense in center and left.