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.

Blue Jays activate Jose Bautista from the disabled list

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 16: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays flips his hat off while walking from the dugout to the clubhouse after getting injured in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 16, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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The Blue Jays announced on Monday that outfielder Jose Bautista has been activated from the 15-day disabled list. To create room on the roster, the club designated outfielder Junior Lake for assignment and optioned 1B/OF Chris Colabello to Triple-A Buffalo.

Bautista was sidelined for five weeks dealing with turf toe, suffered when he banged his left foot against the base of the wall in right field at Citizens Bank Park. He’ll return hitting .230/.360/.455 with 12 home runs and 41 RBI in 286 plate appearances.

Neither Lake nor Colabello provided much in their time with the Jays. Colabello, who served an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, had just two singles, two walks, and an RBI in 32 plate appearances. Lake hit .206 with a home run in 38 PA.

Marlins showing interest in Mariners’ Miley, Phillies’ Hellickson

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 29: Starting pitcher Wade Miley #20 of the Seattle Mariners walks off the field during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Safeco Field on June 29, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Pirates won the game 8-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported on Monday morning that the Marlins are considering Mariners starter Wade Miley as a potential upgrade to the starting rotation. Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY reported on Sunday that the Phillies were scouting the lower level of the Marlins’ minor league system in preparation of a potential trade involving starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The Marlins were already on the prowl for rotation help before putting Wei-Yin Chen on the disabled list on Sunday due to a sprained left elbow. Behind Jose Fernandez and Adam Conley, the rotation is underwhelming as Tom Koehler has a 4.42 ERA, Jose Urena 5.34, and Jarred Cosart 7.98 albeit over three starts.

Miley, 29, will earn $8.75 million next season and has a club option for the ’18 season worth $12 million with a $500,000 buyout. This year, his first with the Mariners, the lefty has posted a disappointing 5.23 ERA with a 73/33 K/BB ratio in 105 innings.

Hellickson, 29, is owed the remainder of his $7 million salary for this season and will be eligible for free agency heading into 2017. The former Rookie of the Year Award winner been a reliable innings-eater for the Phillies, posting a 3.84 ERA with a 106/27 K/BB ratio in 119 2/3 innings.