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October 11, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Things That Make You Go ARGH!

by Joe Sheehan

Two things stand out for me from yesterday's events:

In Arizona, Bob Brenly made one of the more bizarre decisions I've seen in a while, having Tony Womack bunt two runners over with no one out in the eighth inning of a 3-0 game. The move essentially killed a rally, as Danny Bautista and Luis Gonzalez both grounded out, scoring a run but leaving the D'backs down 3-1.

I'm not a big fan of the sacrifice bunt, especially by non-pitchers, but there are situations in which it's a good idea. First and second with no one out late in the game is actually one of them--assuming the tying or go-ahead run is somewhere on base. To have the potential tying run intentionally make an out just to move runners up is at best questionable, and at worst, self-immolation.

Tactically, Brenly was in a pretty good situation, with lots of options. For all his flaws, Womack is a fast player who is very hard to double up, so the obvious reason for bunting really wasn't present. He could have been permitted to swing away without a significant double-play risk. Additionally, with Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez to follow, it is likely that the Cardinals' Steve Kline was going to stay in the game. If he wanted the platoon advantage, Brenly was free to pinch-hit for Womack with Danny Bautista, then stick Craig Counsell at shortstop in the ninth inning.

Bautista did hit for Finley after Womack's bunt, so Brenly had effectively burnt a better player (Finley) and an out so he could be in the exact same situation--the tying run at the plate--without the potential for a double play. I understand wanting to avoid the double play, but down three runs, burning a player and an out to do so is an expensive tradeoff, especially when allowing Womack to swing away would have had just about the same effect.

I go back to Bill James's contention that major-league managers would do well to manage a thousand or so Diamond Mind or Strat-O-Matic games before taking their jobs. There are elements of the job, important ones, that will not be taught this way, but the education that the games do provide in things like how an offense works and the proper use of a roster would be important to any manager.

That brings me to Joe Torre's playoff roster.

To the sound of hosannas from the fawning media, Torre went with a veteran-laden lineup last night, playing Paul O'Neill, David Justice and Chuck Knoblauch, benching Shane Spencer against the left-hander Mark Mulder and leaving Nick Johnson off the Division Series roster.

This was the Yankee bench last night:


Todd Greene
Clay Bellinger
Luis Sojo
Enrique Wilson
Randy Velarde
Shane Spencer

That's a backup catcher, four utility infielders and a platoon corner outfielder.

There's so many thing wrong with this that I don't know where to begin. Let's start with Shane Spencer. If Spencer, whose only real skill is hitting left-handers, isn't going to start over an injured Paul O'Neill against the best left-hander in the league, exactly what is the point of having him on the roster? Gerald Williams would be a better defensive replacement as well as an emergency center fielder, if anything were to happen to Bernie Williams.

That's not even the worst of it. Four utility infielders? FOUR? What possible configuration of events could lead the Yankees to using four backup infielders in one game, when it's been made abundantly clear that Torre is never going to remove his starters from the game? I was ready to grant some leeway on this--maybe Torre planned to hit for Scott Brosius and Alfonso Soriano in certain situations--until the ninth inning last night, when Brosius and Soriano made the last two outs of the game against the A's right-handed closer, Jason Isringhausen.

Besides, even if Torre wanted to hit for them, who is he going to use? There's just one left-handed hitter on this bench, and that's Enrique Wilson, a switch-hitter who shouldn't be pinch-hitting for anyone. Randy Velarde isn't a bad player, but he's not so much better than Soriano that he's going to bat for him. Nick Johnson belonged on this roster, because he's the perfect guy to hit for Soriano late in games when you really need a baserunner.

So Torre can pinch-run for O'Neill and Tino Martinez if the run means anything. Of course, none of his bench guys are really fast, just faster than a crippled O'Neill and, well, a healthy Martinez. Other than that, he's put together a bench that with six players who look like they're only going to play if a starter gets injured.

Finally, Torre kept his gang of four intact at a cost of lefty specialist Randy Choate. Choate is a lefty-getter in the Mike Myers mold, a submariner whose delivery makes him hard on even the best left-handed batters. If used once a game to make Jason Giambi's life difficult, he'd have a lot of value, certainly more than multiple redundancy at shortstop.

It's easy to see where the Yankees would use Choate, Johnson, or even Gerald Williams. It's nearly impossible to see where Torre will use Enrique Wilson and Luis Sojo. Unless we're going to concede all points to Torre on the basis of 1) his recent success and 2) team chemistry--and you know, it certainly seems that way in most places--it looks to me that he really screwed the pooch on this one.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Shane Spencer,  Randy Choate

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