I probably had to be one of the few people in Seattle who didn't think Mike Hargrove did all that bad of job with the Mariners last year. It's not that I ever really defended him, as I'd wish aloud that he'd mix up the lineup a little more, or play matchups a little more. But all in all, I felt like he did a pretty decent job with a team with pretty limited talent.
Was he great? By no means. But I don't think he screwed up the season, either.
Well, now it's 2007, and after this past series -- in which the Mariners got swept at least in part due to incompetent managing -- I'm starting to come around to the logic of the Hargrove Haters.
Whether it's a baseball manager or a football or basketball coach, all we fans really ask is for the guys leading to put our teams in the best possible situation to win. After that, it's on the players to execute.
I'm becoming ever less confident that Hargrove can do this after watching him botch this series.
I was going to spend a lot of time here breaking down why Hargrove's use of Julio Mateo in yesterday's game was a vast miscalculation, but somebody else already did it, and probably a lot better than I could have. Instead, I'll keep it short. (Kudos, USS Mariner. If you're not familiar with the situation, jump over there, check it out, then come back. I'll wait.)
My/USS Mariner logic -- thinking with numbers.
- This is the most important point in the game. Period. You can look at "game leverage" numbers at USS Mariner if you like that kind of stuff, or you can just use common sense to come to the conclusion that bases loaded in a one-run game in the seventh with Johan Santana opposing you is the most important point in the game, since you're not real likely to score any more runs off of him.
- If it's the most important point in the game, we can assume it's a good idea to go to the best reliever available for the situation.
- If we assume righty on righty (and given Sherrill's struggles), that leaves Mateo, Reitsma and Morrow. Forgetting the fact that Morrow is made of glass (as Hargrove's use of him this year would lead you to believe), he's a lifetime starter who might not have the best success coming into a mid-inning, bases-loaded jam. So that leaves Mateo and Reitsma.
- Coming into the game, Mateo had induced ground balls on just 16 percent of the batters he faced in 2007. Reitsma? He induces ground balls 46.7 percent of the time. (The Major League Average is roughly 40 percent.) In fact, Mateo has never exceeded the MLB average for ground ball percentage IN HIS CAREER. Never even come close. Conversely, Reitsma has never fallen below the average -- posting a 50.6 ground ball percentage throughout his career.
- Just to make the point clear: Bring in Reitsma, you've got a roughly 50/50 chance he induces a ground ball. Bring in Mateo, you've got a 15 percent chance he gets a ground ball -- or, more striking, an 85 percent chance the batter hits a line drive or a fly ball. To make it painfully clear: Even if Mateo gets an out, he's MUCH more likely to give up at least one run (base hit, sac fly) than not.
- My decision: Bring in Reitsma to shut down the threat, deal with the consequences later. If he gets a double play -- again, he has a roughly 50 percent chance of doing that -- he can come back and pitch the eighth, too. If he doesn't and throws 15-25 pitches, you bring in Mateo or Morrow to pitch a full inning, bringing in Sherrill to face a lefty that inning if the situation requires.
- Horacio Ramirez is a groundball pitcher (56 percent this year) -- that's why the M's acquired him, giving up their second-best bullpen arm in the process. Curiously, his start on Sunday is the day Hargrove chooses to give Yuniesky Betancourt his first game off of the year and plug in Willie Bloomquist, who, through no fault of his own, is a fraction of the defender. Bloomquist goes 0-for-3 and oh, by the way, makes a throwing error. (Good thing the other M's scored 14 runs.)
- Going right in line with his usual reluctance to change his daily lineup, Hargrove decides to start lefty Ben Broussard on Wednesday against righty Carlos Silva only when Jose Guillen is a late scratch with a sore ankle and hand. (Broussard had a career .333 average in 36 at bats against Silva coming into the game, by the way.) That might have worked on the '97 Indians, but this is most definitely not the '97 Indians.
- With the M's down two runs and the potentially game-tying run on first in Adrian Beltre in that same game, Hargrove elects not to put Bloomquist -- the team's best baserunner -- in as a pinch runner. Beltre ends up being thrown out by 10 feet at home trying to score on a misplayed single. Bloomquist might not have scored, but I like his chances a lot better, don't you?
This team has at least some potential. Is this team a World Series contender? No way. But could a competent manager squeeze five or six more wins out of this squad and keep it in contention for a playoff spot, especially in a division that is shaping up to be the worst in the American League?
That's why it's time for Hargrove to go before he screws up more games -- before it's just too late for a team with limited ability to crawl out of a five or six game hole when the A's go on their patented summer run. We need a manager who can figure out a way to squeeze out some of those wins -- not hold the team back with by-the-book managing.
We need Joe Girardi, who did precisely that with the Marlins last year.
The time to make that move is now, when we're still at or near the top of the division -- not once we've gone on the inevitable slide that has to be coming. (The one that we hopefully aren't already in the middle of.)