The ridiculous level of specialization in baseball leaves managers with no-win situations. Exhibit 1 -- bottom 8, one out, runner on first, Terry Francona lifts Hideki Okajima (lefty) for Eric Gagne (righty) with a 3-1 lead because the next hitter is righty Miguel Tejada. Seven pitches later, Tejada takes Gagne out and the Oreos have tied the RedSux 3-3.
The problem with the move? Before the Redyux traded for Gagne, Okajima was the full-time set-up reliever for the Sux whose 3-1, 1.26 and .173 batting average against vaulted him from unknown to Rookie of the Year candidate. He's not a lefty specialist: Okajima has limited righties to a .180 average -- lower than Gagne's .247 BAA for righties. And the HR rate against, going into yesterday's game, was the same -- each had allowed about one homer to righties for every 40-45 ABs. Without Gagne, Okajima stays in. With Gagne, Francona goes into robo-manager mode and turns the non-fireballing lefty into a lefty specialist because he has a hard-throwing righty available.
The problem with the situation: Francona cannot win. On June 26, 1998, Bobby Valentine chose to stick with Mel Rojas in a game against the Yankees. Rojas is a righty who had limited lefties to a sub-.200 average through that game; Valentine's lefty specialist Dennis Cook had allowed nearly a .300 average to lefties (for the whole season, Rojas let lefties hit just .218 against him, despite a horrid September; Cook allowed .299 BAA by lefties, .203 by righties). So with one out, two on, a one-run lead and lefty Paul O'Neill up, Valentine stuck with Rojas. O'Neill banged a homer, the Yanks won and the NY press shredded Valentine.
Valentine made the right call but went against conventional wisdom, it backfired and he got torn to shreds. Francona made the wrong call, went with conventional wisdom, and last night ESPN ripped him to shreds.
Managing from the press box has never been easier.
A couple of other comments: (1) Steve Phillips needs to shut up. His credibility regarding New York baseball teams is non-existent. The Mets fired him, so he holds a grudge (just see how often he mentions he signed Jose Reyes and David Wright). Of course, he avoids mentioning he traded Scott Kazmir for a bunch of beans -- and the Mess' rotation problems would be minimized with one of baseball's best young pitchers pitching in a pitchers' park in a pitchers' division instead of fighting the Yanks, RedSux, BloJs and Oreos for 40% of his starts. The Yanks beat the Mets in nearly every season series and in the 2000 World Series during Phillips' tenure. His claim yesterday that Seattle would win the wild card because the M's have "enough" hitting and "enough" starting pitching doesn't have any basis in sanity. Yes, the M's could win -- they do have decent pitching and a lot of games against the Rangers (who stink) and A's (who are basically playing dead). But if you're a baseball analyst, do you EVER pick against the Yankees in an even contest (the Yanks and M's are tied) over a 45-game stretch? A short series, this isn't. The Yanks have had the AL's best record four times in the past five years -- in other words, they rarely lose over a long stretch.
(2) The Giants (football version) are in trouble. Then again, we knew this when they decided to bring back Coughlin. Strahan or not, the defense is weak. Big Blue is looking like it's ready for a fight this year -- for the bottom of the NL East.
(3) Peter Abraham first started banging this drum, and the NY Post's Joel Sherman has joined in: the Yanks should keep Bobby Abreu next year. Yes, he's expensive. But even with ARod putting up ridiculous stats, the Yanks' offense goes how Abreu goes. His red-hot stats since July 2, and the Yanks' good hitting since then, are not coincidental.
(4) BTW, the Yanks' sweep of the Indians over the weekend was their first road sweep since taking all three here in Texas in early May.