Friday, August 03, 2007

C'mon Lou

Managing a baseball team is the kind of job that lends itself to some serious second-guessing. On a daily basis, analysts and fans alike get to witness and subsequently dissect most of the decisions that managers make. Because of this, skippers understandably get as much, if not more face time throughout baseball blogland than the players themselves. The denizens of 1060west are all too familiar with this fact, as Dusty Baker served as a whipping post at this page for about 3 years. This season however, there’s really been no Lou Piniella bashing to speak of at this page. That’s simply because Lou has done a pretty good job—and I think most Cub fans are in agreement on that one.

With that said, I really think Lou blew it yesterday.

Going into the ninth, the Cubs were on the comeback trail having just cut the once six run Philly lead to one. The bullpen had been huge up to that point, firing 5.1 scoreless innings of relief, when Lou called on Will Ohman. Now, I like Ohman. I don’t think there’s any question that he is a useful reliever to have. For the past three seasons he has been death on lefties, holding them to a meager line of .165/.274/.286, while sporting a K/9 rate of 9.6. However, anyone who follows this team closely can tell you that while Ohman is pretty good against lefties, he isn’t nearly as effective against righties. Compare the above split against southpaws to his .239/.349/.369 mark against righties. That’s a pretty significant difference. In fact, allowing an OBP of .349 as a reliever is downright bad. So while I question calling on Ohman, it isn’t because I think he’s a scrub like some people do—scrubs don’t strike out better than a batter an inning for three years. Rather, I have a problem with Lou calling on the lefty with Roberson, Nunez, and Coste due up—all righties. I mean, none of those guys came in as pinch-hitters, so it’s not like Charlie Manuel was counteracting Lou. He simply played right into the Phillies’ hands. But it didn’t end there. With two on, one out and Carlos Ruiz (a righty) in to pinch hit, Lou declined to call on either Howry or Dempster. I understand not wanting to overwork certain people, but the game was on the line, and we badly needed the services of one of our right-handers. After leaving Ohman in, he predictably went on to allow 3 runs on 3 more hits, ending the game for all intents and purposes.

What should Lou have done? Well, not call on Carlos Marmol. Before the game, Lou made it clear that Marmol was not going to pitch that day. This much I get. A lot of people at this page have voiced concerns over his recent workload, and I think there is credence to the idea that his overuse has lead to some of his regression of late. But where was Bob Howry? Sure he pitched in the two previous games, but along with Michael Wuertz, Howry is supposed to be our workhorse out of the pen. He’s the kind of guy who has displayed the durability to go three days in a row-- that’s why he gets paid the big bucks. Besides, he only threw 30 pitches in his two previous appearances combined. So what about Ryan Dempster? Had Lou gone to Demp, it would have only been his second consecutive appearance, something he’s familiar with as a closer. And I don’t buy the idea that Dempster was being saved for potential extra innings, because the Cubs were losing at the time.

Obviously, there’s plenty of blame to go around for this game. It’s not like Sean Marshall helped by giving up 7 runs in 2.2 innings. And it’s not like Lou himself gave up the runs. But it’s his job to put this team in a position to succeed. He did not do that yesterday.

Now, I think Lou has done a great job this year. No question there’s something to be said about the manager anytime a team experiences the kind of turnaround the Cubs have had. But the way he has handled Ohman this season reminds me too much of Dusty. Ohman really should be used the same way the Red Sox and Yankees have used Mike Meyers the past few years. Every year that guy has like 50-60 appearances, but only 30 something innings pitched. That’s because he comes in and gets the one tough lefty out with runners on and then he’s finished. If Ohman were used this way, I think he could post ERAs in the ones and twos every year, and he wouldn’t be blowing as many late leads.

Here's to hoping Lou will reconsider the way he’ll use Ohman from here on out.

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