No Rest for the Weary
MetsToday reader Micalpalyn pointed out one stark difference between Willie Randolph and former manager Bobby Valentine: bench management.
Bobby V had an almost predictable rotation among his bench players, making sure everyone was well-rested, fresh, and ready to go. Randolph sort of had a good plan in 2006, specifically in his ability to keep catcher Paul LoDuca strong through the second half of the year — previously a down time in his career.
This year, however, Randolph has really been remiss in resting the regulars and working the bench guys into games. Some of it, no doubt, was due to the injuries suffered by super sub Endy Chavez and starter Jose Valentin, but in retrospect, Willie could have done a better job through the first half of the season.
His most glaring offense is the everyday workload handed to Jose Reyes and David Wright. If you ask Keith Hernandez, he’ll say those guys are under 25 and therefore should never get tired, but why push them? The entire point of having guys like Damion Easley, Ruben Gotay, and Julio Franco on the roster (and David Newhan, until he was demoted) was to offer Reyes and Wright a blow here and there. Valentin’s injury is moot, because Willie had an overperforming Gotay at his disposal — but for some reason refused to take advantage of him.
Forgetting Wright and Reyes for a moment, there is no excuse for Randolph’s mishandling of LoDuca thus far. In the first three months of 2006, Paulie played in only 59 games — while this year, he has already played in 64, and likely to total 66 by month’s end. If seven games doesn’t seem like a lot, you’ve never caught a nine-inning game of hardball. In this past week in particular, Paulie has been beaten exceptionally hard by foul tips and balls in the dirt — which can be attributed to both bad luck and fatigue. A tired catcher reacts more slowly, and gets bruised before he can get his glove or chest protector in front of a ball. Keeping LoDuca out of an extra 3-4 games per month worked wonders for his second-half performance last year, so it’s a wonder why Willie didn’t employ the same strategy this year.
It’s all the more curious when you consider that Ramon Castro has hit very well in his limited duty, and especially in light of the Mets’ recent offensive woes. You would think that Willie would give Castro a few extra starts here and there in an attempt to inject some life into the lineup, but he didn’t. Yes, LoDuca was the lone hitter doing well for a spell, but there was always the option of sending him to leftfield for a game or two — which is like a vacation in comparison to squatting behind the plate for nine innings.
Similarly, forcing Easley into the starting lineup has been one of the most confounding aspects of Randolph’s repertoire. When he wasn’t starting at second in Valentin’s absence, he was in the outfield. Willie justified it by saying that Easley was hot, but let’s get serious — he was never above .260 for a week-long stretch, and even if he was, did it make sense to push a 37-year-old out there every day, assuming you want him to play at his optimum level in late September and early October? With Gotay hitting so well, what was the point? Additionally, why was Newhan on the roster for the first 50 games of the season? His inclusion on the team was based in large part on his versatility — his ability to play 2B, SS, 3B, and the outfield. Yet, Willie Ranolph used him expressly for 6th-inning pinch-hitting, save for two starts in leftfield — and those starts only occurred because both Green and Alou were on the DL.
Speakng of the outfield, Carlos Beltran would likely have received more rest had it not been for the injuries to Green, Alou and Chavez (and Lastings Milledge, for that matter), so we can’t necessarily blame Willie if his quad never heals. However, what about Carlos Delgado, who at age 35 has played in 72 of the Mets’ 76 games? I realize Julio Franco is having some leg issues this week, but that doesn’t explain his lack of starts in April, May and early June.
As an “old school” guy, I’m not one to recommend excessive rest for young ballplayers — I lean a bit on the Keith Hernandez theory that guys in their early 20s should be able to play every day without too much dropoff. But at the same time, it’s been proven that guys who get a rest every now and then, tend to have more in the tank when October comes (could David Wright’s disappearing act in the 2006 postseason have had anything to do with fatigue?). Maybe Wright and Reyes don’t need the rest, but the rest of the lineup is over 30 — most in their mid-30s — and they could definitely benefit from a day off here and there. Further, keeping the irregulars pinned to the bench only makes their job more difficult when they finally get into a game. It would behoove Willie to get a more sensible rotation going sooner rather than later — assuming that the goal is to be playing baseball deep into October.