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.

Twins pitcher barfs before almost every appearance

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 18:  Ryan O'Rourke #61 of the Minnesota Twins reacts after loading up the bases in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees on August 18, 2015 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Twins righty Ryan O'Rourke has pitched in 54 big league games. He has barfed before almost every one of them.

No, really:

Through his first 54 big-league outings over the last past two years, O’Rourke estimates he emptied the contents of his stomach close to every time.

“I don’t do it in the public’s eye,” O’Rourke said Tuesday. “I go in the bathroom, or sometimes it’s just on the back of the mound. But, yeah, it happens.”

I wonder if I’ve barfed 54 times in my entire life. I doubt I have. Then again, I’m not doing anything in front of tens of thousands of people with potentially millions of dollars at stake.

Yet he who is without sin hurl the first, um. Well, never mind.

The new intentional walk rule isn’t a big deal but it’s still dumb

PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 06:  Anthony Recker #20 of the New York Mets calls for an intentional walk as Paul Goldschmidt #44 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on during the eighth inning at Chase Field on June 6, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
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Let us preface this by stipulating that the new rule in which pitchers will no longer have to throw four balls to issue an intentional walk is not a big deal, objectively speaking. Teams don’t issue many IBBs to begin with. A couple a week, maybe? Fewer? Moreover, the times when a pitcher tosses one to the backstop or a batter reaches out and smacks a would-be intentional ball may be a lot of fun, but they’re extraordinarily rare. You can go years without seeing it happen.

So, yes, the intentional walk rule announced yesterday is of negligible consequence. We’ll get used to it quickly and it will have little if any impact on actual baseball. It won’t do what it’s supposed to do — speeding up games — but it won’t harm anything that is important either.

But let us also stipulate that the new rule is dumb.

It’s dumb because it’s a solution in search of a problem. Pace of play is a concern, but to listen to Rob Manfred and his surrogates in the media tell it, it’s The Most Pressing Issue of Our Time. Actually, it’s not. No one is abandoning baseball because of 5-15 minutes here or there and no one who may be interested in it is ceasing their exploration of the game because of it. And even if they were, IBBs are rare and they’re not time-consuming to begin with, so it’s not something that will make a big difference. It’s change for change’s sake and so Rob Manfred can get some good press for looking like a Man of Action.

It’s also dumb because it’s taking something away, however small it is. One of my NBC coworkers explained it well this morning:

I agree. Shamelessness is a pretty big problem these days, so let’s not eliminate shame when it is truly due.

Picture it: it’s a steamy Tuesday evening in late July. The teams are both way below .500 and are probably selling off half of their lineup next week. There are, charitably, 8,000 people in the stands. The game is already dragging because of ineptitude and an understandable lack of urgency on the part of players who did not imagine nights like this when they were working their way to the bigs.

Just then, one of the managers — an inexperienced young man who refuses to deviate from baseball orthodoxy because, gosh, he might get a hard question from a sleepy middle aged reporter after the game — holds up four fingers for the IBB. The night may be dreary, but dammit, he’s going to La Russa the living hell out of this game.

That man should be booed. Boo this man. The drunks and college kids who paid, like, $11 to a season ticket holder on StubHub to get into this godforsaken game have earned the right to take their frustrations out on Hunter McRetiredBackupCatcher for being a wuss and calling for the IBB. It may be the only good thing that happens to them that night, and now Rob Manfred would take that away from them. FOR SHAME.

And don’t forget about us saps at home, watching this garbage fire of a game because it beats reading. We’re now going to have to listen to this exchange, as we have listened to it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT since the 2017 season began:

Play-by-Play Guy: “Ah, here we go. They’re calling for the intentional walk. Now, in case you missed it, this is the way we’re doing it now. The new rule is that the manager — yep, right there, he’s doing it — can hold up four fingers to the home plate umpire and — there it goes — he points to first base and the batter takes his base.”

Color Commentator, Who played from 1975-87, often wearing a mustache: “Don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. There was always a chance the pitcher throws a wild pitch. It happened to us against the Mariners in 1979 [Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice: it didn’t] and it has taken away something special from the game. I suppose some number-cruncher with a spreadsheet decided that this will help speed up the game, but you know what that’s worth.

No matter what good or bad the rule brings, this exchange, which will occur from April through September, will be absolutely brutal. Then, in October, we get to hear Joe Buck describe it as if we never heard it before because Fox likes to pretend that the season begins in October.

Folks, it’s not worth it. And that — as opposed to any actual pro/con of the new rule — is why it is dumb. Now get off my lawn.