This post was written by a regular contributor on the Pewter Plank, our draft guru, John Crimmins.
In the past 3 years we as Rays fans have grown to love our bespectacled skipper nearly as much as his own players have. Joe Maddon has an analytical mind and is not afraid to go against the grain when it comes to game strategy, he puts his defenders in the right place much more often than not and uses his bullpen extremely well. For all the good things Joe does, and he does plenty, there is one thing about him that has always kind of bugged me as a fan, the guy is loyal to his guys and stubborn as a mule when it comes making a change to his everyday line-up.
The best example of this is our leadoff hitter, BJ Upton, who is currently hitting .246 with a .329 OBP. Now I agree with Joe that BJ is too great a talent to keep stinking it up and he did start to turn it on in June before going back in the tank this month; however after half a season if this is what your leadoff man is giving you, you need to look at what your other options are for your table setter. Well it just so happens that the guy who bats last in our order pretty much every night, Jason Bartlett, is currently sporting a .345/.397 line with 19 SBs in 20 attempts – now I’m no Peter Gammons, but I’m pretty sure those numbers look like a stud leadoff hitter, not a guy who has to wait till after Dioner Navarro and Gabe Kapler have gotten their ABs till he gets to walk to the plate.
We can also take a look at Carlos Pena, our clean-up hitter, who is currently sporting a .226 BA. Granted, Pena’s other numbers are still very good, the fact that he is still sporting a .363 OBP and a .877 OPS is testament to Pena’s eye as well as his power. However, a .226 BA is what it is, the best way to drive runs in is to get hits and Pena just isn’t getting too many of those these days. Once again we look at our line-up and we see there is a much better fit for the clean-up spot in Ben Zobrist whose current line is .305/.420 with an OPS of 1.011. As we currently have it Zobrist, who is also a base thief with 11 SBs thus far, has to wait till after Pena gets done hitting a home run, walking, or striking out till he gets to take his hacks – which seems backwards to me. Let’s get the better hitter, the faster player, the guy less likely to strike out or ground into a double play up in the order before the guy who has the .226 batting average.
There are a few lesser examples, like JP Howell going a year and change of being the best arm in the pen by a landslide before he got a chance to be the closer; Giving up a Cy Young candidate for a talented young OF in Matt Joyce, who can’t get any PT because Joe loves his Gabe platoon in right despite their numbers being less than outstanding.
In summary, I still love Joe and think he is the right guy for the job. I just wish he was a little more willing to shake things up. That said this is a trait many successful managers have been accused of having, Tito Francona will bat Big Papi wherever Big Papi wants to hit for the rest of his life; Bobby Cox will not be moving Chipper out of the 3 hole during his lifetime. Hopefully Upton and Pena can get their BA’s up quickly and then we won’t have to worry about this issue.