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
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
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
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
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