Is Joe Maddon’s Player-Friendly Attitude Costing the Rays Right Now?

By Robbie Knopf

No matter how badly they’re performing, Joe Maddon will never lose confidence in his players. That’s an admirable quality and it’s one of the reasons that the Rays have been so successful the past six years. But regarding the Rays bullpen this year, has Maddon taken it too far? Rodney just keeps struggling yet Maddon won’t remove him from the closer role. And Kyle Farnsworth has seen time in big spots as well despite enough struggles to warrant a release from another team. Why won’t Maddon give Rodney and Farnsworth some time in lower-leverage situations to see if they can get themselves back together? How many games do the Rays have to lose because their bullpen blew it for Maddon to do something?

On Wednesday, after Rodney allowed a game-tying home run to Jose Bautista, Joe Maddon quickly removed him from the game, a clear step in the right direction. But after the game, Maddon continued to show confidence in Rodney and refused to even consider removing him from the closer role. It’s good to trust your guys, but at this point doesn’t Maddon’s faith defy reason and border on idealism based on Rodney’s only great season in his entire career last season? Maddon knows that removing Rodney from the closer role would be a major blow to his confidence and Maddon doesn’t want to do that. But isn’t he managing a team here, not individual players? The Rays are losing way too many games for no other reason besides the fact that Rodney and Farnsworth can’t get anybody out. Why not at least try Joel Peralta in a few save situations and see if you can make something happen in a bullpen that has collectively fallen of a cliff?

One of the biggest parts of the problem is that whenever Rodney and Farnsworth take the mound, you see their velocity readings and it’s clear that they still have something in the tank. They’re not locating their pitches right now, but their stuff is so good that Maddon will keep believing in them. If you ask him why, Maddon will immediately cite the example of Jake McGee, whose seasonal numbers are undeniably horrific but who also has not allowed a run or even a hit in his last six appearances, allowing a walk in only one of the six as well. Another manager would have lost patience with a pitcher like McGee and never have reaped the rewards of his turnaround. But aren’t the chances of McGee, Rodney, and Farnsworth all having turnarounds about the chances of you or I winning the lottery? Sometimes struggles are a temporary thing, sometimes they’re something that you can never escape. You can say a similar thing about success–sometimes it’s just related to luck and sometimes it’s indicative of a real breakthrough. After how successful Rodney was last year, you have to give him the benefit of the doubt, but continuing to use him as a closer when he’s pitching like this is ridiculous. For Farnsworth, though, he hasn’t pitched well since 2011. How long of a leash will he have?

Joe Maddon is a great manager who gets the most out of his players year after year without fail. But maybe this year, he’s taking his belief in his players to nonsensical proportions and costing his team dearly in the process. In the case of McGee, Maddon was right to stay patient when all of us had reached a tipping pont. But how much more time can pass before Maddon does something with Rodney and Farnsworth?