Those of you who get upset when I or someone else at TCR calls for Dusty Baker to go, you might want to look away, because that's exactly what I'm going to do.
Let's start by stating some obvious facts. Dusty Baker hasn't scored only five runs in the last seven games. Dusty Baker hasn't left 30 men on base over the last three days. Dusty Baker didn't go 0-for-5, ground into a double play, and make two errors last night. What he did do is take a struggling team and make it more difficult, rather than easier, to win a baseball game.
One of the few things a manager has control over on a day-to-day basis is the lineup. In the big picture, he's at least partially responsible for the type of team he oversees -- in conjunction with the GM, he tries to make sure that the guys on the team play the type of game he wants to play, or thinks is best for the club. Some managers are players' managers -- laid back, letting the players take control of the spirit of the team. Some are more hard-nosed, my-way-or-the-highway types. Some managers emphasize defense, or selectivity or hacktasticness at the plate, or (God forbid) bunting the runner over. But these are all things that take time to develop; it often takes a few seasons for a manager to get the team together that he wants to have, longer if he and the GM aren't on the same page.
What he always has control over, though, is who runs out onto the field every day. It must be difficult for a manager to be in the position Dusty is in, watching the team he's in charge of struggle the way it has over the last week. Even though it happens all the time in baseball, I imagine it's tremendously frustrating to watch these guys, his
guys, look as lost at the plate, in the field, on the bases, and on the mound as the Cubs do right now. In a situation like that, though, there's very little a manager can do. He can't hit, field, run or throw the ball -- all he can do is change the players on the team and hope that makes some modicum of difference.
And that's exactly what Dusty did last night -- he exercised control over the lineup card and sat two of his regulars. Why? Well, in an article on cubs.com entitled Cubs Trying To Rev Engines
, Carrie Muskat quotes Baker as saying "we're trying to get some speed guys in there...if we're not scoring runs...you might as well see if we can run."
So Dusty had a specific plan in mind when he ran out a different lineup last night. That's good. He didn't pull the lineup out of a hat like Billy Martin once did -- he looked at the team, looked at the makeup of the normal starters and the bench, and made a decision about who should start.
And that's where he went terribly, terribly wrong. Let me give you the batting stats on two pairs of Cubs:
Player A: 286/369/418, 2.6 VORP
, .077 MLVr
Player B: 305/333/442, 4.3 VORP, .067 MLVr
Player C: 253/296/453, -1.2 VORP, -.018 MLVr
Player D: 198/305/374, -3.9 VORP, -.148 VORP
Which pair didn't start last night, do you think? I imagine you know the answer by now; the first pair, Matt Murton & Ronny Cedeno, sat out in favor of Freddy Bynum (192/222/269, -1.8 VORP, -.438 MLVr) and Neifi Perez
(174/208/217-4.9 VORP, -.547 MLVr), while the second pair, Jacque Jones
& Aramis Ramirez
, stayed in the lineup.
According to Dusty, the fact that Murton & Cedeno were "wearing down a little bit in Arizona" led to the night off. If they really were (and since I only saw a few innings of one of the Arizona games, I can't say for sure), then I suppose it might be a good idea to rest one of them. But both of them? In the same game? With the team in this sort of offensive slump? There are only five healthy position players making a positive contribution to the Cubs' offense, and Murton and Cedeno are two of them!
Not only that, but his actions didn't seem to match his word. Dusty sid he wanted to get some speed in the lineup. Why, then, take Cedeno (tied for the team lead in triples and third in stolen bases) out? Why didn't Aramis Ramirez get the night off instead? If Murton & Cedeno are wearing down a little, how should we describe Aramis? Well, let Dusty do it:
"He's having a tough time dealing with not hitting. He's not used to not hitting, not for this long a period of time."
Sounds like a guy who's worn down, who might need a rest. If you're going to put two terrible offensive players in the lineup, why not have one of them replace someone else who is also currently terrible? Why take two of the few offensive weapons at your disposal out of the game at the same time
This is the problem I have with Dusty. It's not that he makes arbitrary decisions; it's that he makes thought-out, planned decisions which actively hurt the team's chances to win. After seeing last night's lineup, I think I might have preferred one pulled out of a hat; at least that would have been entertaining, something this team has not been in quite a while.