Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Royals Win 4 of 6 Away From Home, Post First Winning Road Trip Since 2003

Some Fans Naturally Blame Manager for Both Losses

"The Royals should have swept this series."

So echoed the inevitable segment of fan board posters after the Royals took two out of three games at Arizona. The one defeat? A 12-11 loss in 10 innings, after the Royals had come back from an 11-3 deficit by scoring 8 runs between the 8th and 9th innings. The same chorus had sung after the previous series, where the Royals had again won two of three, this time against San Francisco. In the third game of the series – after scoring 4 in the top of the 6th to tie the game – a rookie pitcher one month-removed from single-A gave up 5 runs in the bottom of the inning to give the lead back to the Giants. The game eventually ended with the Royals batting, bases loaded, down by 2. The Giants held on 9-7.

Not bad, huh? You at least have to like the (new-found) ability to score runs and come back again and again. Basically, great efforts combined with awful runs of pitching. Then again, this is the Royals, right? Regardless, there's always a contingent that, far be it from crediting the manager for much of, well, anything, will openly blast every decision made that doesn't turn out well. If something turns out to work or be correct, it's usually lightly noted, ascribed to good fortune or random occurrence, then followed by a doom and gloom prediction while wallowing in the failures of the past (I call this the Neyer Syndrome). Well, unless it's another team winning or performing well, then they'll highlight it as a measure of success (which the Royals will, obviously, never achieve).

Well, the Royals of late are not really the same as they've been, even earlier this season. They actually seem to be able to pull out wins in what looks like a real baseball game. They're still not great, but they weren't supposed to be. This was to be yet another year of the "youth movement", another season of inconsistent rookies and a puzzling collection of veteran placeholders. And Mike Sweeney.

It was known from the beginning that the pitching's not always going to be there, but that's why most teams spend a lot to buy it. The rookies aren't going to consistently tear the cover off the ball, but that's why veteran sluggers cost so much. This team is not a superstar bunch – it's just a low-dollar mix of journeyman veterans and rookies that are supposed to be handled carefully. It's pretty much a given that there are going to be poor performances from some guys every few games, all in the name of "learning."

And this is somehow Buddy Bell's fault?

I mean, thank (insert invisible deity) at least Tony Pena's gone, right? Nope, apparently it's like he's still here to some fans! After the Royals pulled out a roller-coaster of a 12-inning game on Sunday in which Bell used the only pitcher in his bullpen that wasn't fresh off of consecutive game appearances and/or shaky outings (and/or pitching in single-A, though the two pitchers used in the 7th-9th innings both started the season there as well), there were still the fans that feel like every loss is the manager's fault (and close wins are just lucky). Here's a post as the Royals pulled the game out in 12:

"Well, we're seeing Buddy Bell's true colors here. Against even rudimentary wisdom, Bell throws Jensen out there, who promptly blows two consecutive one-run leads. Earlier in the 11th inning, Silverio cost us the win by sending Graffanino for no apparent reason. Feels like the Pena days again!"

Good god, no! It does not feel like the Pena days at all. From all appearances, Tony Pena was a smiling, dopey, anti-intellectual manager who loved to play favorites with marginal players (i.e. Desi Relaford, Jason Grimsley, etc.) and try to cheerlead them to victory. Not to mention (ok, I am) that Silverio is still a holdover from the Tony Pena regime.

Pena would be the first to run a young arm out of the bullpen for the 3rd or 4th consecutive game, even if the previous appearances had been disasters. He would have never been able to pull Carrasco after pitching 6 innings of 1-run ball; he was very adept at the smiling jog to the mound after his starting pitcher had just exploded in a late inning after a successful run through most of the game. By the time extra innings crept around on Sunday, we probably would have ran through so many guys that we would have needed Desi Relaford to come back to pitch the rest of the game.

Buddy Bell has been different. It feels nice to actually have a manager that makes you think that maybe, just maybe, there's an actual thought process going on before a decision is made. Bob Schaeffer was a definite step up from Pena, and Bell has seemingly waltzed in, picked right up, and carried it further. The line-up construction has been successful – people underestimate the effect batting first can have on a guy, so they write off the increased performance of Berroa since being moved to the top. The consistent playing time (a huge factor in my book) given to guys like Emil Brown and (prior to injury) Matt Diaz were large factors in their recent resurgence. There's also a scare factor in that guys aren't sure how Bell will respond to mistakes, though I don't see a uniform-clad shower in his future. He might actually do something that has to do with, you know, improving performance on the field…say, bench a guy, or not continue to run non-performers out on the field.

It doesn't matter, though. When Greinke gives up 11 runs, it's Bell's fault for leaving him in too long. When Leo Nunez gives up 5 runs on 16 pitches, Bell, of course, also screwed up by sticking with him too long. Of course, if he would have taken either of these guys out any sooner, there would be the same people complaining that our young players are *never* going to learn if he won't let them work through trouble. Or, if he would have went with someone other than Nunez and still lost, there would be cries of, "Why'd you put ______ in? Why not Nunez! Bell totally screwed this game up." It doesn't really matter what happens, if something goes wrong, the manager always obviously made the wrong call. It's always a lot of "what the fuck was he thinking?!" and very little, "Hey, look, every decision he made tonight didn't backfire."

Well, for example (once again from the same message board):

"Buddy Bell has already cost us three games by either leaving in a pitcher (Greinke) too (Nunez) long, or letting the wrong person (Jensen) close the game. I will bet anyone that he will continue making these blatantly horrible decisions as long as he is here. Pena did it, and any manager would do it. For Allard Baird, there was no room for error. Buddy has already cost us three games in two weeks."

You know, we didn't even lose one of those games he cost us! A team that started 8-25 is now 9-4 under Bell, yet to some people you'd think he's just the other half of Tony Pena's Siamese twin. Yes, the manager can have a hand in the outcome of the game, but in the games I've watched, I've yet to see Bell make a decision that really defies explanation or is inconsistent with managing what this team is: a collection of young talent that is looking to get better, not make up the 20 games in the division standings they're behind. With Pena, those bizarre decisions were a daily ritual. Bell has to see what these players are and are made of, and I have no problem with him testing young guys, especially when it's clear they haven't brought their A-game that night. I also have no problem bringing in an unconventional guy like Ryan Jensen to close an extra-inning game with a bullpen that had been used heavily in the previous few games (and relatively unsuccessfully, really..). As long as he's a member of the team, Jensen has to pitch sometime, right? I think everyone on the team is supposed to represent some form of a major leaguer in one way or another..

Basically, instead of complaining about the manager every time a player on this team doesn't perform, just be glad we now have someone that seems to realize there's a baseball game actually happening on the field.

Joe Blow

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