Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Manny 3, Nomar 4

Grady Little could not manage the Oakland A's. I'm reading Michael Lewis' Moneyball, the book that is to the baseball stat freak what Eminem is to the suburban gangsta wanna-be, and it is that opening sentence that keeps running through my brain with every page I turn. Red Sox followers could come up with a bunch of different things to fault Grady on, from his handling of his pitching staff to his refusal to admit that Doug Mirabelli is his better catcher against lefties, but I want to stick with something very traditional, which is batting order.

There is evidence that batting order has no effect at all, that you could throw your hitters out there in any order, and produce the same number of runs over a full season. The more traditional view is that you need a speed guy first, a guy who can bunt and hit and run second, your best hitter third, your power hitter fourth. I'm somewhere in the middle. I think that over the course of a single game a batting order can matter a whole lot, but that the old definitions are ridiculous. Just put guys who get on base in front of your power hitters, and you'll be fine.

I'm not even going to go into Johnny Damon hitting leadoff, even though he's having a harder time than anyone of getting on base. The thing that drives me absolutely nuts is Nomar 3, Manny 4. I'm sure that what Grady thinks is this:

"Well, Nomar hits for a high average, and Manny hits more home runs, so I'll hit Manny behind Nomar. Nomar will see better pitches to hit, will get lots of hits, and Manny will drive him home."

I'm also quite certain this is as far as it goes. And I bet that Grady decided this when he took over the job last year, and hasn't thought of it since. Even though his system can't and doesn't work, and he sees it every night, all he is capable of doing is blinking his eyes like Homer Simpson, and staring blankly off into the cold Fenway night

Why doesn't Nomar 3 Manny 4 work? Several reasons, including:

1. Nomar doesn't get better pitches to hit. Actually, he barely gets any pitches to hit. There are currently 178 major leaguer hitters with enough at bats to qualify for a batting title. In the category of number of pitches per at bat, Nomar ranks 178th.

2. Manny doesn't often get to drive him in, because Nomar is often standing on second. Last year, Nomar tied for the league lead with 56 doubles. And when Nomar is standing on 2nd, and first base is open,

3. Other teams pitch around Manny. Manny now trails only the otherworldly Barry Bonds in intentional walks, with 12.

Sometimes, Grady even goes out of his way to find places for Manny not to hit. I was at the Sox last Sunday against the Indians. Grady had given Manny the day off, even though Manny had three hits the night before (that's another argument). With the score 6-1 and two-out in the eighth, Nomar doubles to left, and Damon and Walker scores. The Indians bring in Billy Traber to pitch to David Ortiz. Grady decides to use Manny as a pinchhitter for Ortiz.

Now, one can imagine Grady thinking "Maybe Manny can hit a two-run homer to tie it", not bothering to think about what the other manager might do, even if a two-run homer could tie a 6-3 game. Wouldn't the Sox have been better off waiting to see what Ortiz could do, and possibly have Manny up with runners on 1st and 2nd, or a 6-4 game with Ortiz at first? Even if Ortiz fails, you still have Manny available in the ninth. If Manny walks, you have 1st and 2nd with Kevin Millar (who has a .678 OPS for May) batting, down 6-3, And you guarantee that your best hitter will not get a chance to hit.

Sure enough, Eric Wedge being better than, although not older than, a little league manager, walks Manny, unintentionally, but intentionally, on four pitches. After Millar singles Nomar home, with Manny going to third, Grady puts in Damian Jackson to run for Millar, before Nixon strikes out to end the inning. The Red Sox will go into the ninth down two, with Ortiz and Millar out of the game, and Manny never getting to swing the bat.

If Manny were hitting in front of Nomar, Manny would continue to be his patient self, and see more good pitches because teams wouldn't want to walk him with Nomar on deck. But right now Grady Little is the Red Sox' opponents' greatest weapon in regards to containing Manny. With Theo Epstein being as new school as you can be, and Grady certainly fitting all "good ol'boy" criteria, it is hard to believe that these things are going unnoticed. I'd bet big money that Grady is gone next year. The question is, will anything be done in the meantime?

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