By and large, Bruce Bochy is an old-school manager. With four playoff berths and a National League Manager of the Year Award on his resumé (all with the Padres) he is also a successful one. He didn’t skipper the Giants to the postseason this year, but the 54-year-old former backstop did lead Brian Sabean’s pitching-rich, offensively-challenged club to 88 wins, their best mark since the Barry Bonds-infused 2004 edition. Bochy sat down with Baseball Prospectus this week at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.
David Laurila: How would you describe your managerial style?
Bruce Bochy: Sometimes you’re called a player’s manager, and you wonder what that means, but if it means that I support my players, and that I’m behind them and care about them, then that’s my style. I believe in doing whatever I can to help them be the best players that they can be, and also the most productive players.
DL: What about the style you like your team to play on the field?
BB: I think that it’s up to every manager to adjust to his ball club. Everybody likes three-run homers, and it would be great to have those guys on your team, but it’s up to you to adapt to your personnel. If that means playing a different type of game, like small ball-bunting and getting guys over-then that’s my job, to work with the guys that I have.
DL: How closely do you and Brian Sabean work in putting together the team?
BB: Well, I’m fortunate that Brian is always accessible. As a matter of fact, he has an office right next to mine, downstairs near the dugout, so we discuss the club on a constant basis, including the lineups. It’s all about communicating, and to have him around all of the time certainly makes it that much easier for me to get his thoughts on what’s best for the ballclub. I like the situation that we’re in, and the fact that we work well together.
DL: The perception of your organization is that it isn’t very statistically savvy. Is that accurate?
BB: I would probably argue that a little bit, because of all the information we get. We have a tremendous IT department that gives me all the information I need, all the stats I know, but with that being said, I don’t rely strictly on statistics or managing by the book. I still believe you use your instincts, go by your gut, and do what you think is the best thing to win that ballgame.
DL: Earlier today, Peter Gammons told me that you do a good job of handling a bullpen. Why do you think he feels that way?
BB: Well, I’m fortunate that I have a good bullpen, and I’ll say this: A good bullpen makes a manager look a lot smarter, because when you’re making moves and taking pitchers out, if they don’t get the job done, then it looks like it was a horrible move. But if they do, then they make you look good. To have [Brian] Wilson as my closer, and to have Jeremy Affeldt and Bobby Howry, [Brandon] Medders-those guys did a great job. My job is to manage the bullpen, and not just for a game, but through the season. So if people believe that, great, because it’s an important part of the game. But it still always comes down to the personnel getting it done for you.
DL: Being a former catcher, do you go more with feel than numbers when it comes to bullpen match-ups?
BB: Yeah, probably. Being a catcher, hopefully you have a little understanding of pitching. That’s what you did. You handled the pitching staff when you played, so you probably might go with your gut a little bit more than a position player. That’s not always the case, but I can see that applying with a lot of managers who were catchers.
DL: A lot of managers seem reluctant to use their closers prior to the ninth inning, even if a high-leverage situation comes up in the seventh or eighth inning. What are you thoughts on that?
BB: I believe in using your closer as much as you can, without setting him back as far as being available or risking injury. I happen to have a closer who can go multiple innings, and who I did use two-plus innings in games. I brought him in, in the eighth, a number of times. That’s up to the manager and he may not have that option with certain closers, to be able to do that. I have the luxury of having a closer who can handle that load and come back and pitch the next day.
DL: Would you be willing to use your closer in the seventh inning, in a key situation, knowing that you only want him to face a batter or two that night?
BB: No, because I really believe that it’s important for you to establish roles down there. You don’t want to keep them guessing. They have their way of preparing and getting ready to come in the ballgame, and now you’re starting to shoot from the hip a little bit, and you’re keeping them on edge down there. Even though it’s a critical part of the game, you sign guys to handle that role and you want to keep the bullpen in order. So no, I wouldn’t do that.
DL: Your career overlapped with that of Mike Marshall, who seemingly pitched every day. Would you be willing to give a guy that kind of workload if you thought he might be able to handle it?
BB: Sure. I don’t know that I’d use him quite as much as [Marshall] pitched, but we would not hesitate to use a pitcher more than probably the average bullpen pitcher gets used. In fact, Mike Marshall was Brian Sabean’s pitching coach in college, down in Florida, so he’s very much aware of Mike and his philosophy, and really, part of our philosophy is to let these pitchers go. We think it’s a great way to build strength, and also to let them know that we want them out there with the game on the line.
DL: This past summer, Kerry Wood told me that one reason he hurt his arm early in his career is that he wasn’t given enough of an opportunity to extend himself in the minor leagues, and thus wasn’t ready to go deep into games. How do you feel young pitchers should be handled in that respect?
BB: I think that every case is a little different, depending on where you get your kid, whether he’s a high school kid or a college kid, and how much he’s pitched. But I think that it’s a gradual buildup on how you do it. Now, if he’s accustomed to throwing a lot of innings, and a lot of pitches, I would let him go in the minor leagues. I wouldn’t monitor him as much as I would a guy who hadn’t built up his innings. I think it all depends on the pitcher that you have. I don’t think that there is one-size-fits-all with how you deal with a guy’s development.
DL: Thinking back to when you first became acquainted with Tim Lincecum, what were your early impressions?
BB: You look at his diminutive stature, and you just don’t see what you’re going to see out there when he throws, and that’s a mid-90s fastball with a great curveball, slider, change. Here’s a guy that’s 160 pounds who not only has incredible arm strength, but to log the pitches and innings that go with it, it makes you realize just how remarkable this kid really is, and what amazing talent he has. He has a gift to be able to throw the ball the way that he does.
DL: When did you reach the point where you no longer worry that Lincecum will break down? Or do you still worry?
BB: No, I reached a point. After watching him throw 100-plus pitches, and the next day go out and play long toss and let it go, never icing his arm, never feeling any aches or pains that go with throwing a lot of pitches-I knew that he was different. Dave Righetti, our pitching coach, and I realize it. This is not a kid that we need to be concerned about and baby, so to speak, because he did throw a lot of pitches when he played in college, up in Washington.
DL: You caught J.R. Richard. They obviously don’t look alike, but are he and Lincecum similar stuff-wise?
BB: They’re similar in the fact that their fastballs can run; they have a lot of movement on it. They were obviously completely different guys as far as the physical size, but J.R. was more of a fastball/slider pitcher, where Timmy has got the curveball to go with it, along with the slider and changeup. So he’s more of a complete pitcher, where J.R. was almost strictly a power fastball/slider. He threw his slider 92-93 and just an occasional changeup. But the comparison makes sense in that they’re both power arms with tremendous movement on their fastballs, and that they can be dominating. Still, they are different styles.
DL: As a former catcher, just how much can you impact Buster Posey‘s career?
BB: Well, hopefully I can impact him in a positive way and make him a better catcher and player. That’s our job as a manager, and coaches, to help develop these young players and have them become good major league players. That’s part of our job. It’s what you try to do.
DL: How valuable is it for a team to have a very good defensive catcher? Not simply an above average one, but a very good one?
BB: Well, I think that a very good defensive catcher can change a staff, both with how he catches and receives the ball, and also the sense of confidence he gives the pitching staff in his game-calling ability. It can make a difference in your season, because there is such a fine line between winning and losing sometimes. It can be two or three games, and a catcher can make that difference.
DL: Can a manager make more than a few games worth of difference for a team?
BB: I think that every season is different. I believe there may be a season where he can make a difference there, and in another year he probably couldn’t help win three or four games. Every season is different.
DL: What the Giants need more than anything is a couple of players at the top of the batting order who can get on base. True or false?
BB: Yeah, I’d say true. You know, our leadoff hitter, [Eugenio] Velez, there’s no question we’d like to have a little higher on-base percentage between him and [Andres] Torres. That’s an area that we’re looking at.
DL: Can a team win in today’s game without power?
BB: Yeah, it’s been done, and I think today they can, although they are going to have to throw the ball awfully well, and they’re going to have to catch the ball, and they’re going to have to play the game of baseball. What I mean by that is they have to execute sound, fundamental baseball.
DL: Your first year as a big-league manager was 1995. How different are you today than you were then?
BB: That’s a hard question to answer for me, because I don’t think I’ve changed, but hopefully I’ve become a better manager with the experience, as far as dealing with my players and managing the game. Over that time period, you learn from your good and your bad experiences and that’s how you get better. Hopefully I’m a better manager than I was back then, but it’s hard to say.