As I often do in any column I write, I want it stated. I really like Walt Weiss. Loved him as a player with the As, he was great with the Rox and Braves, and he reminds me in voice and appearance of my eldest brother, whom I love greatly. So…I want nothing but the best for Walt. And, I think he should be retained by the organization, perhaps as an assistant GM in Player Development. He has done a good job with young player development and should keep getting a Rockies paycheck for that reason alone.
But not as a field manager. Certainly not as a tactician.
When the Rox fired Clint Hurdle mid-2009 it turned out to be a great move. Of course Hurdle was probably heading for the unemployment line in 2007 before RoxTober happened and became the Manager of the Year. 2008’s big disappointment put him back on the hot seat and the early season disappointment in 2009 caused the team to act and bring in Jim Tracy. Tracy’s expertise is taking underperforming primarily veteran clubs and giving them a confidence boost to play up to snuff. 2009 he was Manager of the Year. And then promptly proved that his gift set didn’t include day-to-day lineup or in-game managing. We all remember the Sunday lineups…how many Sunday games did they lose in a row that one stretch? Like 15 or something? Tracy strikes me as someone who would make a good bench coach or 3rd base coach, someone to help keep the team even-keeled, but not someone who should have final decisions on things (of course he rejected an extension because Bill Geivett wanted the job of running the team day-to-day but have Tracy be his whipping boy…which Tracy much to his credit said “Nein!” to and Weiss was hired.
Weiss came with very little managing background. Other than watching Tony LaRussa, the inventor of the modern bullpen (for good or evil, you can decide) and Bobby Cox (I think the most under-rated manager in baseball’s last 50 years). But Weiss didn’t learn about game managing as a bench coach or a minor league coach. So, much of my complaints of him the past 3 years really aren’t his fault. He just never was trained.
But sadly, he also hasn’t improved.
While at the end of the day a manger needs his players to perform when put into a particular situation…and thus it is true that players get mangers fired, not managers…it is still incumbent on the manager putting those players in the right position. The Rox lost 3 games in the 9th or later in August, but sticking with Carlos Estevez as the closer after his first failure is not a bad thing. Sticking with him when in an outing you can tell he doesn’t have the stuff to get outs…or worse, no control to give free base runners…well, that falls on the manager. I have harped all year on his going on autopilot, having closers or 8th inning pitchers going without a net…which makes no sense when the provide proof early on that they don’t have what it is going to take. But, I won’t harp on that now.
No, the issue is the right guy at the right time. Last Wednesday we all had to sit and watch as with a 6-run lead…at Coors Field where a 6-run lead is the equivalent of a 3-run lead elsewhere…he put in Matt Carasiti, a guy who we all hope is part of big things in the future, but who in 2016 simply doesn’t get guys out. Why was he pitching? And why did Weiss use 2 left-handers in the early game after starting a lefty? After Carasiti Weiss went on auto-pilot and despite the fact that the 9th was going to be packed with left-handed hitters, he sent out Ottavino because, well…he’s the closer right? So, he should be pitching…right? Regardless of the quality he has in Logan and Rusin, especially against lefties. On Sunday he threw Jon Gray out in the 7th inning, despite a pretty full bullpen. Yes, Gray had not thrown a lot of pitches, but in September of his first full-season in the majors, at altitude which exhausts players quicker, he didn’t need to be out there. And certainly didn’t need to throw to five batters, who produced four hits and a four runs.
But as bad as those two games were, the Tuesday night debacle against the Giants provided proof beyond the bullpen choices to a degree that shows that Weiss simply doesn’t engage in the baseball game, especially at key moments. In fact, with a roster full of possibilities, it was one of the worst managed games in Weiss’s tenure.
Going into the 8th the Rox led 2-1. Tyler Anderson had been great and began the 8th with his pitch count still in the 80s (it should be noted that Anderson, after missing a full year in 2015, seems to max out at about 6 to 6 and 2/3 innings, so pitch count is less important with Anderson). After the complete game shut-out Weiss had a rested bullpen, but also one that added on Tuesday Eddie Butler and German Marquez, so he had plenty of arms to use. So why was be kept in the game in the 8th at all?
To add insult into injury, Anderson promptly gave up two singles (one an infield hit) and then one out as the runners were moved to 2nd and 3rd. Only now was Anderson lifted.
With runners on 2nd and 3rd and less than one out there were a couple of decisions to be made. First, did the walk the next hitter, Nunez, who was the star of the game for San Francisco, so to create a force at any base? That would seem to be the wise move even thought it would add the 2nd run lead runner on-base. But with good speed at each base the double-play or at least an out at home on a simple throw…no tag…seemed wise. But Weiss did not walk Nunez (granted Pagan is hard to double-up, but again, the advantage of the force play and Pagan can be doubled-up). If they had the double-play in order then a pitcher known for ground balls made sense.
Without the double-play possibility, they had to go to a pitcher more likely for a strikeout or a pop fly.
Instead…he went for Jordan Lyles. Huh?
Look, longtime fan of Lyles. Think he is going to be a nice bullpen piece going forward (and that is important). But Lyles has trouble with two things. First, letting inherited runners score (he has done much better starting innings) and second, getting strikeouts. Down in the bullpen he had a number of options that could have gotten him the strikeout…including bringing in Ottovino then in the 8th…when the game was on the line, rather than saving him for the 9th. Zero has a significantly higher K%. Other than Eddie Butler, who set a minor league record this year for lowest K% for a pitcher with 100 innings, there is no one in the bullpen who would have been a worse option to pitch at that moment. He could have used Marquez, taking advantage of the fact that these hitters don’t know him very well. Or gone for Estevez, knowing that if he did walk the hitter, it merely loaded the bases (and then you can go with Lyles). Instead, he went with Lyles, who got…a ground ball. Had the bases been loaded it could have been a double-play. Instead it was a run scoring groundout. An outcome based on Lyles own gifting, was predictable. It wasn’t that Lyles failed Weiss. Lyles did exactly what the percentages and his past performance told us he was going to do. Weiss failed Lyles and the Rockies by putting him in a position where even success was going to be failure. With a nearly flood-stage level of bullpen arms Weiss could have literally picked an arm for each out. Instead he choose one of the two arms where their normal success was going to guarantee a run.
With the score tied 2-2 in the 9th after Tom Murphy drew a walk Weiss used Pat Valaika as his pinch runner. Valaika is not a great runner, but better than Murphy and the decision wasn’t a bad one. Alas the team Tapia failed to lay down the bunt and Bruce Bochy did what Weiss was afraid to do, mixed and matched his pitchers to each situation and Valaika was stranded. Now, in 2-2 game defense takes on extra importance. Pat Valaika isn’t going to make it to the big leagues on his bat (about a .250 hitter with around a .750 OPS top end), but his glove is that good. But instead of taking out Daniel Descalso (or moving him to another position such as first where he has defensively been better than Parra this year), he kept Descalso at short, thus leaving Valaika best attribute to the team, his glove, unused.
Daniel has had a nice season, but he would be the first to admit, he should not be your first choice as a glove option at short in a late, close game. Sure enough, first ball in the 9th found him, and…he tossed it over Parra’s head. Buster Posey was now on 2nd with no outs. Another infield hit ball against Ottovino put runners at 3rd and 1st with no outs. Here Weiss made a good decision…he pulled Ottovino (who was thus wasted on the night in just two batters in the 9th, instead of used in the 8th when his skill set might have protected the 2-1 lead) and used Boone Logan against lefty Brandon Crawford, whom he promptly struck out for the first out. The next batter was a righty, Tomlinson. While Logan has been decent against righties this year, he chose to stick with the left-hander…again, despite a very full bullpen, including a guy like Eddie Butler, a ground ball machine and a righty. Yes, Bochy might have made a switch, but Butler’s natural ground-ball approach still put the team in a better position for a double-play as opposed to Logan’s more mixed approach in a negative-handed situation. Of course Logan promptly gave up a line single for the go ahead and as it turned out, winning run. The 9th saw a brief glimmer of hope when David Dahl walked but Parra, not the most patient man…even in a coffee shop being used for a bi-polar support group (we use one for my group…bad choice, caffeine and bi-polar people)…didn’t give Dahl time to steal 2nd and get into scoring position, and rolled over as we all knew he would into a double-play. Game over.
In the last week we have seen the Rox give up three games that they had leads in after 6 innings. In each case better choices…not in terms of “hoped for” outcomes but in terms of even expected results…would have produced what was needed to turn those three games into victories. Instead, all three are loses. And instead we are now getting ready for Broncos season instead of hoping for Rockies baseball to be interesting until the first snow fall.
Jeff Bridich has said since early June this team is good enough to be a playoff team. I agree. I have since mid-May. Yes, teams with young players are going to have a lot of ups and downs. And yes, bullpens are always one game from going boom. But as I look back over the season a simple pattern has emerged. Poor performance should not get Walt Weiss out of the managers role for the Rockies. But his consistently poor placement of players, so that success is either highly doubtful or in some case, even succcess will result in negative outcomes, shows that the failure to have 2016 be a playoff season might be more about who made lineup changes, and not who was in the lineup. This team really is pretty good. Probably 88 wins good (10 wins better than I hoped for in March). But it has been managed to a 76 win or so season. And that…is sad. For us, for the team, and in the end, for Walt Weiss.
Like his own managerial decisions, it appears that Weiss’s best attributes have been used in the wrong place. So, yes, I vote for Weiss to be part of the Rockies in 2017. But please Mr. Bridich…no where near a lineup card.