On the whole, I personally like Jim Riggleman. He seems like a manager who commands the respect of his players and treats them like men. He is devoid of goofy schtick like Dusty Baker and his toothpicks, Jerry Manuel and his stupid little jog and press conference jokes, or Lou Piniella and his militant stance toward the umpires and some of the other insincerity that we see from other team's managers. He just seems like a straight dude who is always going to defend his guys and his veterans during pressers. During the first half of the season, his people skills have overcome any tactical weaknesses for me because he had effective relievers that he used pretty will and we hadn't seen enough of the position players to learn what they can or cannot do.
And then the 6th inning of FAIL tonight came, which highlighted all of the reasons we should keep Riggleman's tactical tendencies under a microscope during the second half. The moves, and why they stunk after the jump.
The situation here is that the Washington Nationals enter this inning with a 5-4 lead after having scored 5 runs to chase left handed starter Jonathan Sanchez early and secure a 5-3 lead. In the bottom of the 5th, they strand the bases loaded. In the top of the 6th, they give up a run to make the score 5-4 with starter Craig Stammen being chased for an effective Sean Burnett who will be due up second and require a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 6th.
1) Mickey Mouse, aka Michael Morse, leads the club toward sixth inning success. He gets a leadoff double. Kudos to Riggleman for the right field platoon which gets more offense from right field by putting right handed Morse in against a potentially tough lefty. Kudos to Riggleman for pinch running for this butcher in right with a left handed defensive replacement named Wi......? What? Roger Bernadina's pinch running? And is that Willie Harris in the on deck circle to pinch hit for the pitcher? Roger Bernadina is a starter who starts because he bats much better than Willie Harris. Let Bernadina do the hitting and Willie Harris do the running.
2) Riggleman has a one run lead and he believes that he should play for one more run. So after Morse's at bat he calls upon Ian Desmond to bunt Bernadina, the pinch runner, from second to third. Should this bunt be successful he will have Willie Harris (he of the .180 batting average who should be doing the running and not the hitting) charged with the task of getting the runner in from third base on some kind of productive out to get an RBI to get a two run lead that he believes Clippard and Cardiac Capps will be able to hold. Sadly, this is the Washington Nationals. We choose to bunt when we shouldn't bunt. And we can't execute the bunts when we choose to bunt. Desmond lays down a bad bunt and Bernadina, who is properly running on contact, is erased at 3rd base. But Desmond (who played better defense today haters! see 1st inning double play) does his best to correct Riggles error. He steals second base. Let's call this bad process, barely passable result.
3) Willie Harris walks. Men on first and second. That's not too bad. We've got men on first and second and only one out. Plus we've got a fast guy at bat so we won't double play right? Things are looking okay, not as great as if we hadn't failed on the sacrifice bunt, but pretty good nonetheless.
4) Riggleman now makes two godawful errors in one at bat that are really and completely unforgivable. First, JMax is allowed to hit for himself. JMax was in AAA before tonight because he cannot hit righties. Why is he hitting against this righty? Not to save position players. Riggleman has an extra position player named Justin Maxwell because we sent down a position player. Defense? We have Nyjer Morgan on the bench who can play defense, right? He's our starting centerfielder? No lefties? Nope. Adam Kennedy could be double switched in with Bernadina and Willie Harris left to play the outfield or Nyjer Morgan could be brought in as a lefty to straight switch in for JMax. I'm stumped why JMax is hitting for himself.
5) Then, Riggleman decides to hit and run with JMax. This is a truly unfathomable move. I thought this was a straight double steal listening to the game. Riggles informed us during his presser it was a hit and run. JMax doesn't believe in contact. He strikes out all of the time! That's why he was in AAA yesterday. He will strike out more against righties! Riggleman hits and runs, JMax swings and misses, and Ian Desmond is gunned down at third. The Washington Nationals have run into outs at 3rd base twice in one inning. Riggleman's tactics played a large part. Bad process, very bad result.
6) The capper to this is that JMax continues to live up to his statistical tendencies and weakly grounds out to make the third out. What's even worse is that this confirms to Riggleman, Rizzo, and the guys on NatsTalk live that JMax is someone who probbaly doesn't belong in the bigs and will be banished to Syracuse where he belongs sooner rather than later. JMax did his job tonight. He got a leadoff walk in the first and worked the left handed starter in his at bats. He played effective defense. But because you let him face a righty when he shouldn't and fail twice in the same at bat (fail to make content on hit and run and then make a weak out to end the inning) you've put additional pressure on the player and additional ammunition for those who would like to see him gone. And JMax is a victim of bad managing. I understand why he will be sent back down to AAA and he probably belongs there, but he would have been better served getting his 4 at bats in AAA tonight than getting misused by Riggleman in the bigs.
I hope this analysis provides food for thought. I don't intend for it to be perfect, and I look forward to seeing how others disagree with me so that we can all learn. But I think these kinds of details are things that we need to focus on more as the season progresses. Don't pull our hair out over Craig Stammen stinking again. He's just not that good. Don't lose sleep over Clippard failing again. Either he's the wild guy that he's been every year before this one or he'll figure out the mechanics or rest needed to come back strong after the all-star break. We'll have Storen and the bullpen depth carrying the heavy lumber anyway. But if we can't make good decisions with good tactics, we'll always leave games and runs on the table, and I want to see what the dedicated readers of Federal Baseball have to say on the tactics of this game. Perhaps we can learn from the mistakes and move forward.