MSTI’s First Half Review: Manager

With hours to spare before the second half starts, let’s finish up our first half review. Yeah, I meant to have this up earlier. I got distracted by walking past the Ed Sullivan Theatre and seeing Paul McCartney playing on the marquee; then there was an outdoor showing of “Evil Dead II” I couldn’t pass up. Some things just take precedence, you know?

Joe Torre (A-)

Last year, we had more than our share of problems with Joe Torre. There was the way he screwed Chad Billingsley’s April – and exposed him to injury – with that rain delay stunt in April. There was the constant outfield issues before Manny’s arrival, what with sitting Andre Ethier for Juan Pierre (though that did change by year’s end). There was the insistence on using the corpse of Mark Sweeney, and perhaps most egregious of all, the massive overuse and ridiculous “third base days off” abuse of Russell Martin. Plus, more issues with double-switching than I care to recount.

But so far this year, I’ve got to say? This old dog just might have learned new tricks, because I’ve been more or less satisfied with his performance in 2009. No, I know what you’re thinking – “the team is winning, so I like the manager”. With the level of talent on the roster as compared to the rest of the division, the Dodgers should be in first place, so that’s not it.

torrecardinals.jpgFirst and foremost, the Manny situation. The media intensity & attention alone could have torn a team apart, much less the impact of losing your best hitter. But you’ve got to hand it to Joe on this one; the team took a cue from his calm demeanor, said all the right things, (seriously, how many times did you hear a guy say something like “well, he’s a good hitter, but we have a lot of good hitters here, and we just have to go out and play the game with who we have on the field”?) and though the offense of course took a hit, Manny’s suspension ended with the team holding nearly the same lead in the division. Joe, as best as he could, kept the media firestorm away from the players and let them focus on the task at hand. It’s hard to say that would have been the case for every other manager in the game.

Secondly, you’ve got his overuse of the bullpen and Russell Martin. Torre’s got a bad reputation for destroying relievers – perhaps not entirely deserved, as Mariano Rivera’s still humming along after 15 years, though he probably did destroy Scott Proctor – and the local and national media has been hammering that point home again this year. Of course, as Dodger Thoughts has repeatedly shown, it’s not neccessarily the truth. Yes, Ronald Belisario got hurt, and yes, he was on pace to shatter his previous innings mark, but A) pitchers get hurt, and B) as you’ll see at DT, Torre used him in a reasonable fashion, so I can’t blame him too much.

As for Martin, he’s still among the league leaders in innings caught, but at least Torre’s made a bit of an effort to scale that back. Through 87 team games in 2008, Martin had 360 plate apperances; through the same number of games in 2009, it’s 335. That said, Martin hitting like Tom Prince has probably made that decision a bit easier.

In addition, he handled the outfield situation exactly as he should have; with Juan Pierre nailed to the bench until Manny was suspended, and then sent right back to the bench after Manny returned. He’s even ridden Andre Ethier through some massive cold streaks, far longer than I might have otherwise expected.

So why the “minus”, and not a straight-up A? Well, he still doesn’t know how to double-switch, but that demerit is entirely derived from the still-insane decision to hit Matt Kemp 8th every day. It’s just mind-blowing; in many ways, Kemp is the best Dodger hitter besides for Manny, so why wouldn’t you want to get him as many at-bats as possible?

Still, with the team humming along as it is, that’s somewhat of a minor complaint for now. (For now.) Torre’s been an improvement over last year – no doubt in part to not having to spend half of spring training in China - and it’s shown in the team’s performance.