Managerial Review: On Bruce Bochy's 2011

A reminder: Last year at this time, you loved Bruce Bochy. Everything he touched turned to trophy. When he'd put in a reliever, take out a starter, put in a defensive replacement, send up a pinch-hitter ... it would all work. All of it.

Another reminder: Bruce Bochy annoyed the bejeepers out of this year.

Maybe you're sitting back right now, arms folded, sneering and mumbling, "Not me. He's the perfect manager." Okay. This post probably isn't for you. You can e-mail me, and I'll send you a notification when I start the eagerly anticipated Month o' Rollins series.

Today I wrote a piece on Ron Washington for Baseball Nation, in which I proclaim my appreciation for the Rangers manager. After I finished it, I realized a couple of things. First, you can make most of the same arguments for Dusty Baker, whom I wouldn't want as the Giants' manager again even if he agreed to tithe 10% of his salary to me. I guess that means that as long as I don't have to watch 162 games of a fiery player's manager, he's cool. Second, I realized that Bochy is almost an anti-Washington, respected for his calm more than his excitability.

But he's not quite the anti-Washington because both managers are more respected for their influence in a clubhouse rather than their strategical mastery. The role of a manager is more than ordering a hit-and-run or playing station-to-station baseball. A manager has to index scores of different personalities and figure out how best to motivate them. At the same time, a manager is trying to figure out how to keep all those personalities from strangling each other over a long, long baseball season.

The things I liked about Bruce Bochy before the season:

  • How he manages a bullpen and keeps his relievers from tiring out. The Javier Lopez-against-righties thing from earlier this season was a little strange, but generally he's a genius compared to Felipe Alou
  • No matter how much crap he takes from the talk-radio circuit, he doesn't like to give away outs by bunting. Do you realize how rare this is for a National League manager?
  • Players seem to like and respect him or something

The things I didn't like before the season:

  • I'm pretty sure he evaluates hitters much differently than I do, which is why it took a neck injury/FBI sting to get Cody Ross starting over Jose Guillen
  • He prefers veteran hitters over young hitters
  • Every time
  • Oh, god, those veterans

But I took the quirks with the benefits. There will never be a manager with which anyone is 100% happy, so Bochy was going to be just as maddening as any manager ever, but he also came with some good aspects. Earl Weaver, John McGraw, James Gammon ... they would all drive you crazy. That manager you're thinking of right now would drive you insane. 

Didn't see how this would change this year, especially in the post-championship glow. But Bochy found a way with the Brandon Belt/Aubrey Huff arrangement. Bochy continued to play Huff even while stunk. He refused to start Belt for most of the season, and then refused to start Belt against left-handed pitchers when he finally did put him in the lineup.

Standard Bochy. This was not a surprise. After watching Randy Winn bat third and start in right field for allllllllll of 2009 -- two home runs, 597 plate appearances! -- there was no way that Bochy was going to bench Huff, just like how Posey wasn't going to start until Bengie Molina was mailed to Abu Dhabi. I hate it, but it's not a change.

But my view of Bochy did change this year. It changed for the worse. The veteranophilia ... I'd made my peace with. Wasn't going to change. The pathology of the veteranophilia was previously unknown. 

He’s going to get back to what he did the year before, same workout routine, [same] trainer. Whether he dropped the ball last year and didn’t work out enough in the winter, he’s looking at all those things.

That's from the postmortem press conference this year. There are other quotes that lead to the same conclusion: Aubrey Huff was out of shape before season started. Then he struggled. Only when the Giants were essentially eliminated was he removed from the lineup.

That's almost pathological. There's so much we don't know as fans -- the clubhouse dynamics, the personalities, the various pulleys and levers with which different players are motivated. But when a veteran comes into camp a little soft, struggles, and doesn't have to fend off a young player who is tearing up the minors ... that's beyond a harmless quirk.

Believe it or not, I still have a lot of respect for Bochy. I know that professional baseball is filled with hundreds of potential managers who would do a worse job. Focusing on just one flaw is like focusing on Pablo's foot speed or Barry Zito's hitting. There's a lot to evaluate, and making too much of one aspect is nonsensical. But Bochy's penchant for veteran love moved from "annoying" to "negligent" this year. That's what his 2011 will be remembered for.

I'm stupid enough to think he can learn from it. Here's hoping ...

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