Monday, April 11, 2005

To quote Yoda, this is why you fail

I love Bobby Cox (as a manager) and there's almost no one else I would prefer running the hometown baseball collective, but he has never had an especially good tactical acumen, especially when it comes to utilizing his bullpen, and yesterday's game was a perfect example. Lest you think that I'm engaging in Monday morning managing, my friend Daniel and I both said after the seventh inning: "Surely that's it for Smoltzie." The players in the dugout seemed to agree, as they were all shaking his hand after he came in after the seventh. It was very obvious that, as dominant as he had been, he was losing steam. He had just gone over 100 pitches for the first time in years. He had given up a sharp single in the seventh and ended the inning by fielding a hard grounder from Pedro Martinez of all people. He only struck out one batter in the seventh, which after he had struck out 14 over the past six innings, was another sign that he was done. Aside from the tactical aspects, strategically, Cox was risking an injury to Smoltz by allowing him to run up a high pitch count on a suspect elbow.

Nevertheless, Cox left Smoltz in for the eighth inning and sure enough, a single, a sacrifice, and a homer later, he was leaving with 15 Ks and a 2-1 deficit. Cox then added to his tactical blunder by permitting Tom Martin, the very personification of gasoline on a fire, to emerge from his cave to allow a homer and a double without recording an out. (Could we get a local Infiniti dealership to sponsor Martin's statistics for the rest of the season?)

Maybe the bullpen wouldn't have held the lead. After all, Roman Colon and Jorge Sosa both looked a little shaky when they came in, although by the time they entered, the game was lost and they were stemming the bleeding, rather than trying to win the game. Nevertheless, it was OBVIOUS that Smoltz needed to come out, but Cox made the Grady Little mistake and deferred to his pitcher. And what a crock it is that a manager would ever ask a pitcher if he wants to come out. What pitcher, especially one as competitive as Smoltz, is ever going to ask to come out of the game?


Aaron P. said...

Hard to argue with any of that. In fact, no reason to argue with any of that.

Pretty indefensible, given how early it is in the year, and with Smoltz's elbow history, to run him back out there.

Perhaps Cox wanted to protect the extreme outside possibilty of Smoltz getting to 20 Ks, but to get there, Smoltz would have had to thrown an ungodly number of pitches and the risk of ruining him would have been way too high.

Really really bad call by Cox.

Michael said...

After the 6th inning when Smoltz had 14 Ks, Daniel and I discussed whether Cox should allow him to run up his pitch count if he has a chance at 20 Ks. Smoltz resolved that issue by striking out only one in the 7th, making it almost impossible for him to tie the record over the final two innings. Bobby might have wanted Smoltz to break the franchise record of 15 Ks in a game.

What Cox does do very well is engender loyalty in his players so that they'll run through a wall for him. His decision to leave Smoltz in probably needs to be viewed in that context.

peacedog said...

I think that context is part of the problem. Generally speaking, cox's players play through a lot (and that's a testament to him). He should understand this about himself, and know that despite Smoltz saying "I can do it, really", circumstances perhaps dictated a wiser course of action.

I was really ticked off about Smoltz being left in yesterday.

Michael said...

Peace, don't underestimate the importance of Cox's loyalty to his players. It makes players decide to play in Atlanta for less money and it's a factor in the Braves' ability to squeeze production out of trash heap players. Bobby gets ejected a lot to show his guys that he'll stand up for them.

All that said, it does cause him to make suspect decision, like leaving Smoltz in. He's made some truly bad post-season pitching decisions out of loyalty to his guys. Starting Glavine in games 1 and 5 against the Giants in 2002 comes to mind, as does his use of Greg McMichael in '96.

Anonymous said...

Oh Greg McMichael, you took a year off of dads life.