Buddy’s buds are no ombudsmen

In case you missed it, Bud’s buds are working overtime to defend the Padres’ manager for his managerial decision last Sunday which instantly forfeit roughly 5.6% of the game.

Bob Scanlan was uncharacteristically contentious on social media:

Nick Crayonepa was characteristically self-contradictory:

Baseball is the ultimate second-guessing sport. But how can we identify, for certain, that anything he’s done thus far has contributed to a defeat? Or a win, for that matter.

followed by…

I like Bud. I think he’s a good manager.

and then…

It’s too soon for everything. And managing is overrated.

Derek Togerson, who recently copped to being one of Bud’s buds in an article (ironically) dated last Friday — “I will admit I’m a Bud Black fan” — took time to interview some of those from the analytic community, while mixing in his own judgmental quips:

However, trying to assume one way of analyzing it superior to another way when all the pertinent factors are unavailable to you is irresponsible.

Not that we should have expected a fair examination of the claims made by both sides when his article begins with a laughably biased characterization of both sides:

One side says it was a galactically stupid call by Black because the analytics dictate you pinch-hit there. The other side says there are other factors to consider and maybe the call was not all that bad.

These are just a few examples displaying how these aren’t objective voices in the argument, but Bud’s buds providing a voice for Buddy’s errors. These are not ombudsmen, fairly critiquing Bud Black’s reasons. These are parrots.

In the absence of local media adequately examining the claims made by Buddy’s buds, I’ll go ahead and do it.

Fatigue and arm health

The crux of the argument comes down to bullpen management, in particular, budgeting of innings and avoiding misuse that can lead to attrition. From Togerson’s interview with Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron:

This is one of those instances where it’s May, the bullpen is exhausted and he’s playing the long game and he says, you know what, trying to win this one game or pushing my percentage points three or four or five percent to win this one game isn’t worth potentially blowing out one of my reliever’s elbows.

Hey Bud’s buds: what about Andrew Cashner’s health? The line of reasoning above appears to assume that Andrew Cashner is an infallible arm, something all Padres fans know to be absurd. The real injury analysis would include a comparison of injury odds between two Cashner innings and two reliever innings, and the value of each player at risk; but Scanlan, Togerson, et al. never bother to break the surface of that argument.

And that’s because, all things being equal, the health of Andrew Cashner is considerably more important than the health of any Padres relief pitcher not named Craig Kimbrel. If the decision is between logging additional pitches to Andrew Cashner’s arm or, say, Brandon Maurer’s arm, I’m picking Brandon Maurer. NOT Andrew Cashner. And once you consider that the Padres have a much greater need for starting pitcher health on the heels of Brandon Morrow’s shoulder injury and Josh Johnson’s slowed rehab, the argument in favor of preserving Cashner’s health seems obvious.

Let alone the fact, now conceded by Togerson among others, that NOT picking Andrew Cashner had the added bonus of roughly 1/20th a win in that specific game.

Also taken verbatim in the discussion is that the Padres bullpen was thoroughly taxed, and was therefore unable to log the three innings (at least) remaining.

Here was the recent usage of each Padres bullpen piece, by pitch volume and date, heading into Sunday’s game:

Pitcher Thursday Friday Saturday
Kimbrel 12 23
Benoit 10 19
Thayer 14 18
Quackenbush 11 33
Maurer 8 18
Kelley Disabled
Vincent 29 Demoted Demoted

Garces was completely fresh. Kelley was recently activated and fresh. Thayer and Quackenbush were usable (and were, in fact, used). And with an off-day on Monday, Despaigne – who started Thursday – was a viable emergency arm if the Padres planned on skipping his spot.

The injury concern for bullpen arms was overblown to begin with. Fresh arms were available, as were viable emergency options.

But all this misses another critical point: is Bud Black actually any good at avoiding pitcher injuries to begin with? I can’t imagine anyone can possibly make that argument based on the evidence of his Padres tenure.

The thing is, people actually are making this argument (and many others) through assumption, based on the fact that Bud Black played the game of baseball and therefore has an accurate “gut feel”. Just a sample of how this and similar arguments have been used lately before I make my point:

Pads skipper Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley have forgotten more about the game than I’ll ever know. Still, just a tip from someone with not as many baseball stripes: don’t pitch to Adrian Gonzalez!

People who are not in the clubhouse are not fully in the know.

Which leads to the final point:

Bud was good at baseball. So what?

The history of sports is littered with examples of great players who were unable to succeed in some other role within that same sport: Michael Jordan as owner of the Charlotte NBA franchise, Wayne Gretzky as Coyotes head coach, Mike Singletary as 49ers head coach, Isiah Thomas as anything New York Knick, and, in baseball, Ted Williams as manager of the Senators (273-364 in four years).

Digging deeper into baseball, take a look at the most recent World Series winning managers: Bruce Bochy was a reserve catcher, John Farrell a below-average pitcher, Tony La Russa a career .199 hitting utility infielder, Joe Girardi played fifteen seasons and never once eclipsed an OPS+ of 87 (well below-average), Charlie Manuel hit .198 in 384 career ABs, and Terry Francona was a utility man whose career high for ABs was 281. The last World Series winning manager whose Major League career wouldn’t have made him a first round bust was probably Ozzie Guillen; and even then you’re going with a career .625 OPS.

The reality is that Bud Black’s playing career or the fact that “he has forgotten more baseball than I know” does not factor into his managerial skill. What factors into his managerial skill is his ability to manage and only his ability to manage. To my knowledge, there is no study that definitively links quality or length of playing career to managerial success in sports.

And why should it? Is renowned speed-eater Kobayashi also a great chef? Is renowned chef Gordon Ramsey also a great speed-eater?

As someone who writes computer code for a living, I can vouch that some of the best coders I’ve ever known were truly awful at teaching how to code. The Nobel Prize Laureate who taught my upper-division thermodynamics class at UC Santa Barbara was, in my opinion, one of the worst professors in the entire physics department.

Likewise, the ability to be an effective manager in Major League Baseball is not borne from the ability to be an effective player in Major League Baseball.

Bud’s bud or ombudsman?

At the end of the day, you either critically examine the arguments set forth, or you’re just empty noise; an amplification of a partisan voice.

I don’t care whether Bud Black manages the Padres. Truthfully, I give exactly zero shits about the quality of person who manages the Padres.

I do care, however, that the Padres manager – whoever that may be – manages the team well, consistently giving the Padres the best odds at winning the World Series. There is little precious evidence to suggest that Bud Black has ever been that person or ever will be that person.


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