Change-UpJune 30, 2008
Dusty Baker Manages, Fails; Observes, Succeeds
By Patrick Sullivan

It doesn't get much more painful for the keyboard-toting baseball enthusiast living in Mom's basement than the bottom half of the eighth inning of Monday night's Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game. Down 3-2, the Reds pieced together a walk and a single to start the home half of the inning against the Bucs' Damaso Marte with Joey Votto (.283/.343/.483 in 2008), Edwin Encarnacion (.246/.332/.462) and Jay Bruce (.286/.356/.437) coming up. In 2,985 Minor League plate appearances, Votto lays claim to one (as in, one), sacrifice bunt. He has zero in the Bigs. Here is what unfolded:

  • Reds Manager Dusty Baker put a bunt on with Votto at the plate.

  • Votto offered and fouled off a Marte pitch. He offered and missed the next. He fouled off an 0-2 pitch and then struck out on Marte's fourth pitch to him.

  • Encarnacion came to the plate and battled through an impressive at-bat, only to strike out on the eighth Marte pitch he saw.

  • With two outs and Bruce set to come to the plate, Baker sent the reigning #1 Baseball America prospect back to the dugout in favor of...wait for it...Javier Valentin. "It couldn't possibly be the Javier Valentin with the .222/.275/.286 line," you say? It was. I watched it live. Valentin grounded out to end the inning.

    Baker supporters might be quick to point to Bruce's .623 MLB OPS against southpaws but he has pounded lefties his whole Minor League career. If one were to think long and hard enough, a basis for Javier Valentin appearing in a baseball game might come to mind, but I know one thing: Jay Bruce's track record in 44 Big League plate appearances against lefties is not one of them.

    So now, get this. In the ninth, the Reds would win the game. You know how? Dave Ross doubled and Ken Griffey Jr. homered. Just like that, in two plate appearances and as Dusty Baker watched idly, Cincinnati had won.

    Do you think Baker might have learned a lesson? Nah, I doubt it.

  • Comments

    Don't forget he tried to make Adam Dunn bunt back in May, just before Dunn hit a walk-off home run:

    Dusty Baker has supporters?

    @Mitch - And Encarnacion once, I believe. Maybe he thought that at 0-2 Votto would get similarly ticked off and hit a dinger.

    As for Valentin-for-Bruce, all I can think of is MR. Burns pinch hitting Homer for Darryl Strawberry, because the new pitcher was a lefty. "It's called playing the percentages. It's what smart managers do to win ball games."

    "But I've hit nine home runs today, skip!"

    "You should be very proud."

    Oh yea, he has tons of Cubs fans that love him...NOT!

    After killing Prior and Wood's arms, I wouldn't be surprised to see arm troubles in the future for Volquez, and Cueto...

    I think there is irony in the situation you describe. Traditionalists often castigate progressive analysts for relying on statistical probabilities rather than observing the actual situations of the game on the field. But in reality, the opposite is often the case, and this is an example.

    It is the dogma of the traditionalist view that near the end of the game the home team should play small ball to get the tying or go-ahead run. They also advocate platoon matchups in these cases and especially using veterans over rookies in such high pressure situations. So in this case, disregarding the actual batters involved, the auto-pilot goes on and tries the sac bunt and the veteran pinch hitter. Had it succeeded, there would be plenty of huzzahs for the good old tried and true methods. The failure does not alter the thinking.

    In other words, it is the traditionalist who is out of touch with reality and unable to adapt to actual circumstances, relying instead on dogmatic assumptions.

    HUH?!?!?!? What's even weirder is that Junior didn't start the game because he hits only .200 against lefties this year. He was pinch hitting in the ninth against a righty. So... why are his splits taken into account but not Bruce's? What kind of managing is THAT?? (reference:

    Devon glides past a point that's kind of relevant, but fails to make it: Griffey didn't hit that dinger because Dusty sat idly; he hit it because Dusty inserted him in the game following the most traditionalist of reasons - lefty/righty batter/pitcher stuff.

    It's almost as if Dusty-haters* cherry-pick examples, and shade the facts to make their arguments. But that can't be - we all know that seamheads are all about objective analysis, not hobbyhorses.

    * I couldn't care less about Dusty Baker. Pirates fan.

    JRoth, after removing Bruce he needed an OF to hit in the pitcher's spot. So he put Griffey in the game in the top of the ninth. Very impressive stuff indeed.

    I didn't say it was impressive, or genius; I merely noted that it happened, and Dusty did it. That's not my definition of "idle." Would care to define exactly when a manager crosses the threshold from idle to active? Does it have to do with whether or not you approve of the move?

    The move occurred in the top half of the inning, when he decided not to put Javier Valentin, a catcher, in right field. He decided he would put a right fielder in right field instead.

    He sat idly in the bottom of the ninth (so long as seed spitting does not count).

    It gets even better for us Reds fan unfortunately....
    This is from today out of the mouth of Dusty Baker:

    "The guy Tuesday (Zach Duke) has been tough on Dunn," Baker added. "Like I said, I'll be mixing and matching to have the best lineup in there for that day."
    Dunn 5 for 9 lifetime versus Zach Duke with 2 walks, a double and a HR.

    How can you manage a major league baseball team and be so stupid to say things like this? The day the Reds hired Dusty Baker, they took part of my soul away.

    Do you think Valentin was thinking about potato chips when he was at the plate?

    mmmmmm.......potato chips

    JRoth... Sure Dusty put in Griffey, in the right situation, but that's the reason I brought that up. He handled Griff right, but handled Bruce very upsidedown.

    Valentin bats .154 against lefties (66 points lower than Bruce). So....why would he replace Bruce with an obviously worse hitter for that situation, yet keep Griffey out of the starting lineup for the same reason (he can't hit lefties)? Shouldn't Bruce have been out of the starting lineup too if Dusty was that worried? If he starts him against a lefty, why pull him later when he's still facing a lefty? It just sounds like he made two opposite decisions, in the same situation. There must be something more to it.

    "something more to it"= Valentin is in the peak of his career, Bruce has 15 years to go.

    I am not a Baker fan, by any means, and I think pinch hitting for Bruce with Valentin is and was wrong. However, I doubt it was just that pinch hit. I think it was more likely:

    "I can get platoon advantage in this at bat, and since I plan to switch pitchers anyway I can then do the double switch and have my reliever batting ninth with Griffey coming up earlier, so if we go into extra innings I can probably get two innings of work from the pitcher if I so desire. But if I leave Bruce in the game, I'll have to pinch hit for him next inning. So this switch gives me the platoon advantage I (mistakenly) want plus gives me more pitching flexibility."

    Like I said, I'm not a Baker fan, but to say that pitching flexibility wasn't part of the overall sequence also says to me that your anti-Baker bias is showing. Since the Reds won the game and the key moves that led to the victory (Griffey's insertion batting ninth) were all in this inning and keyed to this one decision, I think we have to say it worked out. He still destroys his starting pitchers' arms, though.