Ron Washington

Ron Washington vs. Tony La Russa: not the mismatch everyone’s making it out to be

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One thing that keeps popping up as I talk to fans and radio hosts and stuff this week is the notion that Tony La Russa gives the Cardinals an edge because he’s going to manage circles around Ron Washington.  I get why people say this, but I think it gets the story way wrong, and does a disservice to Washington.

At the outset, let me be clear: La Russa is an exceptional manager. Probably the best in the past 50 years and there’s an argument for going back further. I and others take swipes at him all of the time because we don’t much care for his style or demeanor, but you can’t argue with his greatness and success. It’s ridiculous that the Hall of Fame is going to make him wait until he retires to get his plaque.

2011 may go down as La Russa’s best year ever. He took a team that was out-of-synch for much of the season and made them hum just when they had to hum lest their season end.  He angered all the prospect fanboys in driving Colby Rasmus out of town, but that and its attendant moves ended up working, at least for now. He took what was an atrocious bullpen in the first half of the season and made all kinds of adjustments on the fly to where that weakness is now a clear strength. What’s more, he did it without Dave Duncan who was with his sick wife down the stretch. Oh, and he had that case of shingles or pink eye or whatever it was and fought through it too.  Just crazy-impressive by every measure.

But at the same time, as a lot of Cardinals fans will tell you, La Russa can over think things. Anyone who thinks deeply about things is prone to that, actually.  For all of the moves that work, he’s just as capable of making moves that don’t work, such as intentionally walking a guy when it makes little sense, going too crazy with pitching changes or double switches to gain a platoon advantage when the advantage is far outweighed by the loss of the players he has burned through or — as was the case in this random game in September — doing all of those things at once.

The point here is that, while La Russa is often called a genius, it’s more accurate, I think, to call him a gambler. A smart one who understands the game he plays very, very well, but a gambler all the same. And even the best gamblers lose sometimes. La Russa loses sometimes too, and when he does, it’s often a product of the same sort of decision making process that helps him win all of those other times.

Ron Washington is a totally different kettle of fish.  He’s not the tactical manager La Russa is — no one is — but he gets more criticism for the buttons he pushes or doesn’t push than he deserves.  This is mostly because most people’s exposure to Washington’s style came in last year’s World Series when, no, he didn’t deploy his bullpen in optimal fashion, finding himself unwilling to use relievers when the situation — as opposed to the inning — dictated.

source: Getty ImagesBut that has changed as his roster has changed. Last year his pen was relatively thin, with Neftali Feliz being the only true shutdown guy he had. This year Washington has an embarrassment of bullpen riches at his disposal, and the freedom that kind of talent has given him has loosened him up considerably.  Rarely has he made a misstep this postseason, and if he does so in the World Series it will be because he had to move Heaven and Earth to do it. Feliz, Mike Adams and Alexi Ogando give a guy a hell of a lot of margin for error.

There have been managers who have achieved great success throughout history by laying the heck off and leaving the tactical games to others.  Washington is one of those guys.  He’s aggressive with base running, but it’s probably just because he has a lot of decent base runners who, when they steal, do so at a respectable success rate.  Otherwise: he more or less lets his men play.  He doesn’t walk guys or sacrifice to excess.  He’s willing to let some defense go — say, behind the plate — to make sure the best bats make it into the lineup.  Put simply: Washington doesn’t meddle that much. He lets his players play and he has a lot of good players.

If Washington and La Russa were given robot teams to manage, each with equal talent and outcomes that were predictable to a 99% degree of probability, sure, I’d take La Russa because then the tactics might make a difference. But we don’t have that here. Yes, La Russa may gain some advantages here or there with a genius move, but Washington knows when to get the hell out of the way, and that limits the downside of a tactical mistake. And, it seems, he has more of a margin for error to begin with because he has the slightly more-talented roster.

A managerial mismatch? No way. At least not one that will determine the course of this World Series.

Pete Mackanin doesn’t see the point in playing Tyler Goeddel

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 20: Tyler Goeddel #2 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a two-run home run in the first inning during a game against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on July 20, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel was included in Wednesday’s starting lineup against the Nationals. It’s notable because it’s only his eighth start in August. The Phillies selected Goeddel from the Rays in the Rule 5 draft during the winter, which means the club has had to keep him on its 25-man roster all season. If the club didn’t, it would have had to offer Goddel back to the Rays.

Goeddel is by no means a top prospect, but the Phillies deemed him worthy enough of taking a year-long 25-man roster spot, which are quite valuable. And the rebuilding Phillies aren’t exactly fighting for a playoff spot, so why not play him?

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, manager Pete Mackanin asked, “What’s the point?” in regards to starting Goeddel. Mackanin said, “I’ve seen enough of Goeddel to know. We’ve kept him this long and we’re going to keep him and we’ll see where we go next year with him. I don’t see a need to play him, especially after he hasn’t played so much.”

That seems like circular logic. You don’t see a need to play him because he hasn’t played much. Well, maybe if you played him more often, you’d see a reason?

In fairness, Goeddel hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball, putting up a .191/.250/.296 triple-slash line in 217 plate appearances. But the Phillies have chosen to play utilityman Cody Asche and journeyman Jimmy Paredes (“an extra player,” according to Mackanin), who both don’t figure to be in the Phillies’ future plans. Goeddel is only 23 years old. In May, when he was starting regularly, he posted a .794 OPS.

This isn’t a roster blunder on the Ruben Amaro, Jr. scale, but it’s a very odd way to handle a Rule-5 player for a rebuilding team.

Shelby Miller’s first start back in the majors wasn’t a disaster

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 31:  Shelby Miller #26 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the second inning at AT&T Park on August 31, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Diamondbacks pitcher Shelby Miller returned to the majors on Wednesday after a stint of about a month and a half in the minor leagues. The right-hander had compiled an ugly 2-9 record and a 7.14 ERA over 14 big league starts along with a finger injury and the minor league demotion.

On Wednesday afternoon against the Giants at AT&T Park, Miller still got the loss, but he gave up only two runs on six hits and a walk with three strikeouts in three innings. It’s the fifth time in 15 starts he gave up two or fewer runs. Opposing starter Matt Moore, who nearly authored a no-hitter his last time out, was just a little bit better, limiting the D-Backs’ offense to a lone run in 5 1/3 innings. The Giants ultimately won 4-2.

You may recall Miller was part of the trade that forced the Diamondbacks to send Ender Inciarte, Aaron Blair, and 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson to the Braves. It’s a trade that chief baseball officer Tony La Russa defended as recently as last week.