Robin Ventura: Extreme manager

David Banks

The 2014 Bill James Handbook came out. With two seasons under his belt, where does Robin Ventura stand with manager statistics? Also, since it's the offseason, what suggestions might we have for next year?

While the hot stove is barely warm, The Bill James Handbook for 2014 came just over a week ago. While perusing its contents in the checkout line, I came across the manager section. Statistics to compare managers? Who would of thought of such things? Well, Bill James I guess.

While looking over Robin's numbers, he was a man of extremes. Some categories he was near the top. Others were near the bottom. Only a few numbers examined did he fit in the middle of the pack. Here's a quick review of the areas where Robin seemed to stand out from the pack and a look of some suggestions based on where these numbers seem to lead.

Platooning

One stat where Robin stands out is in platoon advantage. This measures how often a manager starts right-handed batters hitting against left handed starting pitching and vice versa. Last year, the White Sox had a platoon advantage in the starting lineup 47 percent of the time. That was the lowest in baseball and 1 percent lower than in 2012. While the section on managing starts with a discussion of old-time managing of Dusty Baker, Baker put together a 54-percent platoon advantage last season. Ron Roenicke of the Milwaukee Brewers matched Ventura's 47 percent, but with the disadvantage of batting a pitcher and bandaging together a lineup most days, I can give him a pass. To compare to the obvious leaders, the Oakland A's had a platoon advantage 77 percent of the time while the Cleveland Indians had one 75 percent of the time.

Personnel seems to be a leading cause of this issue for the Sox. After the promotion of Josh Phegley, the Sox had two right-handed batting catchers, leading them to lose the platoon advantage there most days. Also, of the players that played more than 10 games in center field, all of them were left-handed batters: Alejandro De Aza, Jordan Danks, Dewayne Wise, and Blake Tekotte. Meanwhile, right-handed hitting Casper Wells spent most of his time filling in for Dayan Viciedo as a defensive replacement.

Pitching

Just like the platoon advantage had a big impact due to the players on the team, the pitching staff molded Robin's results here. Here, it was mostly a good thing. Primarily, Robin had the second highest numbers for pitchers with long outings (starts of more than 110 pitches) with 38. Jim Leyland blew everyone away with 50 long outings for the Tigers. Obviously, while having an elite starting pitcher helps, it also shows some depth in the starting pitching. Chris Sale had 13 outings of more than 110 pitches, and three more of 110 exactly. Here's a breakdown of the long outings by starter last year.

Pitcher Long outings
Chris Sale 13
Jose Quintana 7
Jake Peavy 4
Hector Santiago 4
Dylan Axelrod 4
John Danks 3
Andre Rienzo 1
Erik Johnson 1
Charlie Leesman 1

Unlike Jim Leyland, who was probably afraid to hand the game over to the bullpen, Robin had no problems at all going to the bullpen. The only tough part was balancing out the workload. He used relievers on zero days' rest 133 times to lead the AL. Addison Reed pitched with no rest 23 times and Nate Jones added an extra 20. Ramon Troncoso pitched without rest nine times, with four appearances coming from pitching two games in two separate doubleheaders. Meanwhile, Dylan Axelrod added only one, and had seven or more days of rest between appearances seven times.

The remaining pitching related stat that stuck out was the long save stat. The Sox didn't have a save where the closer pitched more than one inning. They were the only team in baseball with zero. Also, Reed was the only pitcher on the team with a save.

Pinch running

Robin likes pinch runners. A lot. Is it his time playing with Rod McCray in the minors and for the White Sox? I don't know, but maybe it's the looks the pinch runner gives you that pierce through your soul.

Seriously though, Robin lead baseball with PR usage in 2012 with 68 pinch runners and was second in 2013 with pinch runners being used 47 times. The primary use of this tactic is to get a slower baserunner off the base paths late in the game with a defensive replacement. This is certainly a tactic that Robin believes in.

Pinch hitters

Although Robin loves the pinch runner, his pinch hitter usage in 2013 was the lowest in baseball. A Sox pinch hit only 76 times last season. Like the platoon advantage, this one is a hard one to determine whether this is personnel or a tactical tendency of Robin's. When the bench through much of year had a difficult time cracking a .600 OPS, it wouldn't inspire much confidence that setting up a handedness advantage was going to help much.

Suggestions for next season

The biggest concern in what I see above is the use of the bullpen. While having defined roles in the bullpen for everyone can help them to know when to get ready, having them too rigid has to be a detriment. The gamethreads here are filled with discussions of the white flag when Troncoso came in. There was certainly a group of pitchers who pitched when the Sox are winning and another group that pitched when they are losing with little or no crossover between the two. I'm not a sports psychologist, but that can't be helpful for your performance as a pitcher.

While I'm not suggesting that Troncoso should've received the occasional save opportunity when Reed needed some rest, the whole pitching staff needs to be worked into games with a lead every once and a while, and the whole bullpen needs to come into losses every once and a while too. The handling of Addison Reed is a prime example of this problem. In August, Reed went 1-1, picked up 10 saves, and pitched without a rest eight times. After August 27, he then sat out eight games until brought in to pitch the eighth in a 3-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on September 5. While you do want your closer for your wins, strategically, you need to think about balancing out their workload just like the rest of the team.

The other side of overuse of some parts of the bullpen has been the unused banished starter. For two seasons in a row, there's also been a banished starter in the bullpen: Philip Humber in 2012, and Dylan Axelrod last season. When they do come in after seven days or more of rest, bad things, unsurprisingly, happen. If the last man in bullpen is that unusable at the major league level, there has to be a position player or another pitcher that is more helpful for the team. Pretending there are only 24 players on the roster for months at a time isn't a great strategy.

Regarding the position players, Robin's tendencies need to be thought about when constructing the roster. He likes using pinch runners, so a viable candidate needs to be available that can play more than a couple positions, including the outfield. Leury Garcia seems to be a perfect candidate for this job. A left-handed or switch-hitting catcher also seems like a good idea for the team to allow Robin to work on the platoon advantages.

His reasoning for why he doesn't pinch hit or setup a platoon advantage really needs to be looked into by Rick Hahn. If he just doesn't like pinch hitting or if he has no confidence in the bench, Hahn needs to know so he has ideas for constructing the roster for next season. Either way, the left-right-left-right-etc. starting lineups that Ventura has favored really just needs to stop. Also, using the bench for the Sunday lineups to get playing time even though a platoon advantage isn't there isn't a great plan either. If Robin doesn't understand why these aren't good ideas, we have a different personnel issue for Hahn to look into.

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