Not-so-secret secret: every manager is awful. Every manager does everything wrong at the exact wrong time. Read the comments of a blog or listen to talk radio some time. In every market, for every team, managers exist to do stupid, irrational things.
It’s no different here. Ever since Felipe Alou retired -- after warming up his retirement on and off right in front of us for a couple of years -- Bruce Bochy has frustrated Giants fans. Some people complain that he doesn’t know how to play "small ball." Luckily, most of those people don’t have electricity, so they can’t bother us here. For most of the eLunatic Fringe, though, the problem was that Bochy wasn’t playing the right guys. He couldn’t tell the difference between the washed-up veteran (Dave Roberts) and the obvious superstar in the making (uh, Eugenio Velez?)
Bochy is an awful manager. For a team trying to figure out its identity, that is. For a team trying to determine which of their players are going to be around for the next cycle of success, Bochy is terrible. To him, the answer is always Vinny Castilla. It might not be the real Vinny Castilla, but it will be someone close enough. Give him a choice of a couple of young players with a little upside and, hello, some dinged-up veteran a couple of years removed from success, Bochy takes the latter. Every time. It’s bizarre and frustrating. Last year the Giants had the least productive right fielder in the major leagues and the most productive right fielder in the minor leagues, and yet the former started every...single...day while the latter languished on the bench or in the minors.
Bochy is a fantastic manager, too. Give him a lineup with few ambiguities, and the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. Right now, Bochy knows about 7/8ths of the lineup before he sits down to write a new one out. Through trial and error and whiff, he’s figured out that his best lineup doesn’t include Aaron Rowand or Edgar Renteria, yesterday’s game notwithstanding. The emergence of Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe and Buster Posey gave him five fewer spots with which to do something nutty. Jose Guillen’s neck injury helped free Cody Ross, and Freddy Sanchez hit enough in the second half to secure his spot.
That leaves one lineup spot up in the air. Sometimes Bochy plays Fontenot, sometimes he goes with Renteria or Sandoval. I think the choice is clear (Sandoval) but I can understand the arguments for the others. That’s it. That’s the only ambiguity in the lineup, and it’s not that big of a deal. There aren’t any Fred Lewii or John Bowkers to get worked up about. This isn’t a completely miserable lineup looking for a piece of pyrite that the team can pretend is gold. This is an established lineup. A tick below-average, sure, but it’s about the best the Giants can throw out there.
What that leaves the Giants with is a manager who doesn’t waste a lot of outs with bunts, who doesn’t warm up his bullpen relentlessly and needlessly, who has the respect of his players, who has a temperament that’s even enough to absorb the tough losses and calm a clubhouse, who walks the fine line between the pitch-count ninnies and the complete-game fetishists, who isn't scared of using his closer in the eighth inning, and who recognizes that Madison Bumgarner is more reliable than Barry Zito. That last one is easy to take for granted, but a ton of managers out there would be starting Zito tonight because of the experience angle.
The Bochy who watches over a rebuilding team or a team trying to find an offensive identity? Maddening. Awful. The Bochy who doesn’t have to think about mixing and matching different lineup pieces? Pretty danged good.
And, yes, I’m aware that by writing this, I’ve guaranteed that four innings will end tonight on strike-them-out, throw-them-out double plays. Couldn’t help it. Remove the wretches who tempt Bochy so, and he’s a good manager, especially in the playoffs. Everybody’s borking for the weekend. Weekdays, too. Tonight, even. Go local sports team.