Friday, May 22, 2009

Does Bob Geren Know What He's Doing?

For the editorial staff, yesterday was a good day for laying flat on one's back and not looking at a computer screen for any length of time at all. So today's something is coming up a little late and a little short. But we seem to be on the mend, so the epic post may come tomorrow or Sunday.

While I was laying there yesterday, one of the few games that ended before my 8:30 bedtime was Oakland at Tampa Bay, so when my eyes were open, I was watching that.

The A's took a 5-3 lead in the top of the 9th. Rather than send his closer (Brad Ziegler) out for the bottom of the inning, however, manager Bob Geren sticks with rookie Andrew Bailey, who had just pitched the 8th. Bailay walks the first batter, Willy Aybar, and at this point, Ziegler starts warming up. Bailey then gets Akinori Iwamura to send a lazy fly ball to left, but then serves up the game-tying home run to pinch hitter Ben Zobrist.

Now Ziegler's in the game, and he promptly serves up a ground-rule double to catcher Dioner Navarro, then walks BJ Upton to bring up the left handed hitting Carl Crawford. Now a lefty has started to throw in the A's bullpen. It matters not, however, as Crawford lines Ziegler's first pitch into center field, bringing home Navarro with the winning run.

I don't get it. I'm actually on board with not bringing Ziegler in to start the 9th, because really, your setup guy should be able to handle a two-run lead. But you should at least have your closer warming up to start the inning, right, so that if Bailey does get into a little trouble, you can bring your closer in before the game-tying HR? (You could argue that "closer" label aside, Bailey is actually a better pitcher than Ziegler right now, and I wouldn't fight you. But Bailey did throw 44 pitches in two innings two nights earlier, so Ziegler at least had a much fresher arm.)

Here's the real issue for me, though: Ziegler is a side-arming righty who has held right-handed hitters to a .222/.265/.257 mark while lefties have beat him around to the tune of .295/.392/.426. You might argue that he's miscast as a closer, since most managers will leave their closer in there against anybody regardless, but by sending the lefty to get warm in the bullpen when Crawford came up, Geren showed that he was aware of the problem. So why not send him to warm up a batter or two earlier and bring him in to face Crawford? Was he just asleep at the switch?

Geren will be criticized (to the extent that anyone cares about the A's) for not putting his closer in to start the inning. But while that was certainly a strange move, I can understand it. Aybar is a switch hitter, Iwamura a lefty, and Zobrist (who pinch-hit for the RH Gabe Kapler) another switch hitter. I'd rather have the traditional RHP, Bailey, face those three lefties than the sidearmer (unless, again, you think Bailey was tired). The mistake, though, was not getting the left-handed reliever warm quickly enough to face Crawford, three batters later. The fact that he was warming up while Crawford was hitting (presumably to face Pena, two batters after that? Either the inning or game would very likely have been over by that point anyway) makes me think that Geren just didn't think about it fast enough. And that's inexcusable.

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