I wanted the Walt Weiss hire to work out so badly. I really did. What could be better than watching someone who helped put your favorite franchise on the map lead the team out of the desert and into the promised land?
There have been moments, fleeting moments, here and there of excitement with the Rockies. They’ll win a few games in a row by playing sound, fundamental baseball, and then the moments are gone in a flash and the Rockies are again playing bad baseball. I don’t blame Walt Weiss entirely for that, but there have been times when he has compounded the problem.
Since becoming the manager in 2013, Weiss’ record is 179-233 (.434). I don’t place all of the blame on Weiss for that record. After all, the players play the game. Managers rarely cause a team to lose a game, but poor managing can prevent wins.
Weiss hasn’t lost any games for the Rockies, but he has certainly prevented some wins.
2015 seems to be the year of rain delays and poor managerial decisions.
Sending Boone Logan to the mound to face right-handed hitters, pitching 40 year-old Rafael Betancourt in both games of a doubleheader, and hitting Rafael Ynoa in key late-inning at-bats are just a few examples of Weiss’ poor baseball judgment this year. I’m all for giving Weiss a chance to learn from his mistakes and I would love to see him prove that he has as the rest of the year plays out.
But here’s why the mistakes I just mentioned are becoming unforgivable: Weiss is repeating them time and again.
Take Logan for example. Boone Logan was signed by the Rockies as a left-handed specialist. Yes, the Rockies signed a lefty specialist to a 3 year, $16.5 million contract in 2013 and are paying him $5.5 million this year ($6.25 million next year). Never mind his ludicrous contract, his job is to get key left-handed batters out late in games. That means there are times when he will enter the game for one batter and then exit the game.
But that’s what gives him value. Through the first half of 2015, Logan has a .186 BA and has given up zero home runs against lefties. Contrast that with his .333 BA against righties and 3 HR given up, and you’ll see exactly why he can be an integral part of the Rockies bullpen…when used correctly.
Therein lies the rub. Boone Logan is a great left-handed specialist but he can’t seem to get right-handed batters out. Yet Logan has faced more right-handed hitters (63) this year than left-handed ones (55). Logan can’t be faulted for that. It’s frustrating that he can’t rise to the occasion and just get right-handed batters out, sure, but at the same time, his stuff isn’t tailored for righties.
There is one person to blame for the misuse of Boone Logan: Walt Weiss.
Now, Rafael Betancourt. He’s an aging, great pitcher and he is usually reliable for the Rockies in any high-leverage situation. Remember June 2? You know, the day of the split doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In game one, the Rockies won 6-3 thanks to a great 6-inning performance on the mound by none other than Mr. Coors Field himself, Jorge De La Rosa. In that game, fighting a sinus infection, our man Betancourt pitched 1/3 of an inning and got through that out in just 3 pitches. I’m convinced that Walt said to himself after that out, “Great, he’s available for game 2” without stopping to think about what actually went into those pitches.
As a bullpen pitcher, it actually takes a significant amount of work to get ready to enter a ballgame. It takes a large amount of stretching, some long-toss (well, as long as you can get in the bullpen), and then a number of full-energy pitches before a reliever is ready. For an average aged reliever, this takes a lot out of him. For a 40 year old pitcher with a lot of mileage, the cost is even higher. 3 in-game pitches aren’t just 3 in-game pitches, especially when you’re fighting a miserable sinus infection.
Fast-forward to game two that evening. After the Rockies had battled their way back into the game after David Hale gave up 4 early runs and eventually took an 8-5 lead into the 9th inning, Weiss brought in Raffy for the second time that day, this time to earn the save and preserve a huge victory. John Axford threw 22 pitches in the 9th inning of game one for the save, so understandably, he was off-limits for game two.
What happened next came straight out of the Rockies’ personalized horror story. After giving up three straight singles to center field to load the bases and then getting two quick outs, Betancourt served up a juicy 1-2 pitch (yes, Raffy was one strike away from ending the game) to Alex Guerrero that was blasted just beyond the 415 mark on the center field wall and just over Charlie Blackmon‘s glove for a grand slam to give the Dodgers a 9-8 lead. After failing to plate the tying run in the bottom of the 9th, the Rockies lost 9-8 and had to settle for a split in the doubleheader, thanks in large part to Weiss’ decision to use Betancourt for the second time that day.
Finally, the poor late-inning pinch hit decisions may be what finally end Weiss’ tenure as manager of the Rockies. Throughout the first half, in key, late-inning at-bats, with viable, potentially productive options on his bench, Walt has consistently chosen to go with a less-than-ideal pinch hitter…*cough* “tough out” Rafael Ynoa *cough.*
The most egregious example of this poor managing happened on June 15, the opener of the Astros’ sweep of the Rockies in the 4 game, home-and-home series.
Throughout the game, the Rockies looked outmatched in every way possible. Houston’s pitching was better, they were hitting for power better, and Astros’ manager, AJ Hinch was managing the game in a way Rockies fans can only fantasize about. Yet, in the top of the 9th, the Rockies were down by only 3 runs. They weren’t out of it by a long shot. Ben Paulsen led off the inning with a single to right field. Then after a flyout to right by Michael McKenry, Corey Dickerson reached first base on an error by Astros’ first baseman, Chris Carter. There were two on with one out with LF Rafael Ynoa’s spot coming up.
Mind you, Carlos Gonzalez didn’t start the game and hadn’t been used to this point in the game. With the tying run coming to the plate, Weiss decided to let “tough out” Ynoa hit instead of giving the team its best chance to put a dent in the deficit or even tie the game by having CarGo hit for Ynoa. So what exactly happened? True to typical 2015 Rockies form, Ynoa hit into a game-ending double play.
Would CarGo have been able to do a better job in that situation? Maybe, maybe not. But the problem isn’t the result. The problem is that Weiss didn’t give the Rockies the best chance to come back to win that game.
The obvious argument here is, OK so that was one game and one situation and it didn’t pan out. That isn’t enough to indict Walt’s managerial philosophy. The problem is, Walt has been making these poor choices all year. It seems like there is always someone better available on the bench when Weiss brings in a pinch hitter. With Ynoa, the logic was, well he’s a switch hitter, so he matches up well no matter what. To paraphrase baseball god, Domingo Ayala on the subject of switch hitting, if you can’t hit from either side of the plate, you’re not a switch hitter, you’re “more like a no-hitter.” That’s Ynoa in a nutshell (.250 BA as a lefty, .182 BA as a righty). Yet until he was sent down, Walt showed all the confidence in the world in Ynoa.
I wish I could say that these examples of poor management were one-time things, flashes in the pan, so-to-speak. But the truth is, while Walt has become a better situational manager as the season has worn on (he’s actually using Boone Logan against lefties almost exclusively now), he still isn’t consistently giving the Rockies the best chance to win games. It seems that he isn’t fully thinking through every decision he makes before he makes them, and it’s costing the Rockies potential wins.
For these reasons, barring some amazing second-half run (which is not completely out of the question), when the off-season arrives, Jeff Bridich and Walt Weiss need to sit down and agree to part ways.
So at that point, where do the Rockies go? Believe it or not, the potential managerial pool is actually decent right now and will likely get even better once the annual postseason firings occur. I have asked a few friends about who they’d like to see succeed Weiss. The two names that have been mentioned most are former Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire and recently fired Padres’ manager, Bud Black.
Gardenhire managed the Twins during their most recent successful stretch. From 2002 to 2010, he led the Twins to the postseason six times. Sure, his Twins got swept three times, and made it out of the AL Divisional Series just once (2002). But it could be argued that his teams weren’t built for postseason success and they played in the weak (at the time) AL Central.
Rockies fans should be fairly familiar with Bud Black and his managing style. His managerial record isn’t great at 649-713 (.477), but if there’s a manager that was more a victim of managing a bad team, I have yet to find him. His best year was in 2007, a year Rockies fans remember quite well, when the Padres lost to the Rockies in the notorious “Game 163.” Since that year, his Padres teams finished consistently with at least 75 or so wins. In 2010, his Padres won 90 games, but finished one game behind Atlanta for the wild card spot.
This year, Black ended up being blamed for the underachieving gambles of GM AJ Preller and was fired after 65 games and a record of 32-33. This was really the first time Black ever had an all-around decent team to work with. Historically, under Bud Black, the Padres had one or two aspects of the game that were pretty good but the whole package rarely came together for him. Look at any Padres roster that Black managed. There was no shortage of good players, but the team seemed to annually pinball back and forth between good pitchers and good position players.
In my humble and somewhat educated opinion, I’d like to see Bud Black be the next Rockies manager. The Rockies have no shortage of all-around talent, with the exception of probably 2 or 3 spots in the rotation. With Jon Gray, Nolan Arenado, and (maybe) Troy Tulowitzki as the backbone of the team in 2016, Black would finally have a team to prove to the baseball world that he’s a good manager that can lead a team to consistent contention.
It is also worth mentioning that Bud Black was a pitcher when he played and a pretty darn good one at that. In his 15 year career, he had an ERA of 3.84 and had a record of 121-116. He was also a member of the 1985 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. It would be a good thing to have someone in charge that knows what it takes to be a successful pitcher in Major League Baseball, especially for a team like the Rockies who desperately need pitching stability.
But why not Gardenhire? He did take a decent Twins team to the playoffs 6 times in 10 years, didn’t he? Well, sure. But he doesn’t have the NL West familiarity and he has only managed in the American League. You know, the league with the DH. Managing in the NL vs. the AL is completely different. It’s not uncommon for managers to make no offensive changes in a given AL game, whereas in the NL, it’s rare for a manager to not make an offensive change, especially late in games.
Bud Black knows what he’s going to face in the NL West because he’s managed against every team but the Padres for 8+ years. He knows the ballparks. He knows teams’ tendencies. When a team plays 76 of 162 games (47%) within their division, that familiarity makes a difference. Gardenhire would probably figure it out eventually and learn how best to manage in the NL West, but let me ask you, fans, are you willing to be patient with yet another manager and let them learn on the job again? I know I’m not.
I really like Walt Weiss and I wanted him to be the long-term manager for the Rockies. I wanted to believe that hiring a high school baseball coach with MLB playing experience would work. Walt Weiss was one of the integral parts of getting the franchise off the ground in the early/mid 90s.
In fact, throughout 2013 and 2014, I defended him as manager. “Give him a chance,” I said. “He’s learning,” I said. “You can’t blame him for injuries,” I said. But we’re into his third year as a professional manager. The learning part of the job is over. We can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt.
It’s time to bring in a manager who knows what it takes to manage a big-league baseball team in a tough division; a division that houses the “Yankees of the West,” (I’m looking at you LA). Bud Black can provide much-needed stability to the pitching staff and good experience at the managerial level for the Rockies. Bud Black can lead the Rockies out of the desert and into the promised land.