On Monday night, the Chicago Cubs lost 7-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The result was rather unsurprising, as the Diamondbacks started Dan Haren – a young, groundball-inducing ace.
While the Cubs should not be shamed by their loss, manager Lou Piniella didn’t make it any easier on the team by slotting center fielder Reed Johnson in the clean-up spot. Reed Johnson. Let that sink in.
While many sabermetricians will (rightfully) argue that lineup juxtaposition is largely meaningless over the course of a full season, Piniella should still be chided for his lack of, well, smarts. Johnson, who is at this point in his career mainly a platoon player, should not bat clean-up for anyone, let alone a supposed pennant contender.
So why did Piniella do it? It appears, from examining the box score, that Piniella was aiming for the illustrious lefty-righty-lefty-righty order in the lineup, so as to stifle the opposing manager when making bullpen calls late in games. While this is a fine way to build your lineup, provided that good players occupy the spots they should, Johnson should have been the last guy to bat in the four spot.
Why not Geovany Soto? Or Alfonso Soriano? Or Shawon Dunston? Anyone?
But Piniella is not alone in his ignorance. Major League managers across the league seem to take pride in their utter and complete ignorance. Ozzie Guillen, for example, batted DeWayne Wise (and later Jerry Owens!) in the leadoff spot for a good deal of the early season – an arrangement that would have continued if not for Wise’s shoulder separation.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has contended himself, for the time being, with Brett Gardner in the leadoff position. Sporting a robust .254 on base percentage, it is no wonder that the Yankees seem mired in the purgatory of .500 baseball.
Ever wonder why people think Dusty Baker sucks? Probably because he typically puts guys like Willy Taveras and Jerry Hairston in the top two spots in the Reds lineup. Well, that and the fact that he seems to have a vested interest in running both Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto into the ground, but that’s a column for another day.
These aren’t the Manny Actas and Ron Washingtons of the world; these managers are considered premiere in Major League Baseball, and their opinions usually go unquestioned by the powerful sports media. This age-old ideology that places speedsters like Taveras – who possess little to no on-base skills – seemed to disappear for awhile, but the old-timey baseball gurus in Cincinnati and Chicago will not go down without a fight.
So, Lou Piniella should not be considered especially dim, given the nature of modern baseball managers. Hopefully, in another twenty years or so, when the old-timey baseball clan dies off, managers will finally make intelligent decisions. Like put guys who can get on base in the leadoff slot, or stop using the hit and run, or stop bunting prior to legitimate one run situations (i. e. the ninth inning), etc.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?