Ventura's Blunders Cost The White Sox Again

Second-guessing a manager is nothing new. A lot of the time it's unfair. There are variables at play that we don't know about, information that the manager is privy to that is not known outside of the clubhouse. There's also the benefit of hindsight. Managers can make a choice that has the highest probability of success for his team and have it not work out. Or the manager can do something immensely stupid and get away with it. Baseball is like that. Life is like that. But there are mistakes where at a certain point the burden is on the manager to demonstrate that the benefits outweigh the costs, and last night Ventura made a mistake he has made many, many times, and it is extremely dangerous.

In a 99-loss season, the White Sox let Robin Ventura rack up the 5th most Pitcher Abuse Points in the majors for Chris Sale, despite him being by far their most valuable asset — a 24-year old cost controlled ace. In 2014, Sale has already missed 5 weeks on the heels of Ventura leaving him out there to throw 127 pitches on a cold night in April. Despite missing all of that time, he is 12th in Pitcher Abuse Points in the majors after being left in to throw 115 more last night. As PAP is a counting stat, it's pretty incredible that Sale is floating around the Top 10 despite having made only two-thirds of the starts of the other guys on that leaderboard.

Ventura's impossibly slow hook last night is upsetting for a number of reasons, and none of them involve losing the game. I do not really care about the fact that they lost one out of 162 games last night. It's a bummer, and it was looking like a really fun win until the wheels fell off in rather heartbreaking fashion. But in a vacuum sometimes sublime players like Mike Trout just beat you. But I am not talking about whether Ventura managed correctly win a single game (although I think he didn't do that either here, even though he was trying to). The cliché is "baseball is a marathon." And indeed, the White Sox are planning for 2015 and beyond.

Robin Ventura does not understand this.

He manages with Sale as if every single game is Game 7 of the World Series. He shows no regard for the long-term health and efficacy of Sale and by extension the organization. In Sale, we have seen that when he is overworked he loses effectiveness and eventually starts to get hurt and needs to miss time. Conversely, we have seen that the more rested he is, the more utterly dominant and invincible he is. Robin Ventura is paid a lot of money to notice things like this. 

James had this to say about leaving Sale in as long as he was in his recap of the game: "Robin Ventura took heat for leaving Sale in as he allowed hits to four of the first five guys he faced in the eighth, and he certainly took heat for leaving him in to face Mike Trout representing the tying run. And for not warming the bullpen sooner, and for turning to Jake Petricka to put out a fire. I think there's a fair and sound, but not overwhelming argument against all of these moves. But with a cadre of meh relievers who don't even stack up all that well against Sale in his fourth time through a batting order, this is where the Sox miss Nate Jones or Addison Reed, or old-school Matt Thornton the most; someone who provides security in their own right, rather than just being the theoretical fresh reliever."

I agree with James that this situation highlights how little trust the current White Sox bullpen merits. I get it. The problem is there is a lot more that should be taken into consideration when going to your bullpen than just, "Who is the most effective pitcher right this second?" Sale had struggled through the 7th inning, and it wasn't just that he allowed hits to begin the 8th — it was obvious that his control was flagging, and he was starting to fall behind hitters. To begin the 8th inning last night, Sale's pitch count was in the low 90s. I am not endorsing yanking pitchers on hard pitch counts in the low 90s. I am not endorsing using pitch counts as the sole evaluation as to when to pull a starter, but it shouldn't be surprising that Sale was fatigued at that point in the game either — since his injury and missing five weeks, he had only thrown one rehab game wherein he threw 68 pitches, and since then he has only thrown the following pitch counts in his starts leading up to last night: 86, 40 (rain delay), 100 (and these were easy, stress-free pitches as he completely dominated the whole game).

Sale is still working back from injury, and was showing obvious signs of losing it and Ventura couldn't even be bothered to get the bullpen up. The bullpen was completely fresh, as James mentioned. They had a day off Thursday, and Scott Carroll took one for the team on Friday, doing an excellent job of soaking up innings in a mop-up situation. 

So all of Ventura's high leverage relievers were 100% ready to go, unless there is some injury we don't know about. Sale was increasingly looking out of gas, and Ventura did nothing. I cannot accept the defense of Ventura's decision that, "Well, Sale is better than all the relievers so leaving Sale in gives the team the best chance of winning." If you ignore the fact that Sale was rapidly falling apart as he was being pushed past where he had worked his endurance back to, this is a completely irrelevant consideration. First, the lead was 5-0. The bullpen needed to get 6 outs without giving up 5 runs. If your bullpen cannot ever be trusted to do that, then your bullpen is so bad you aren't a playoff contender, and if you aren't a playoff contender then who cares if you lose a random game in June anyway? Secondly, Sale is by far the best pitcher on the team, so if the only time you pull him is if he is less effective than the bullpen, by that logic he should be forced to throw a complete game literally every start.

You cannot manage with the approach of, "My bullpen can only be used in mop-up situations."

I understand that a manager's job is more than just tactical decisions on a game-by-game basis. There are clubhouse issues we will never understand from the outside*. And while minor tactical decisions are ... well, minor — the difference between an optimal lineup and the worst lineup is microscopic in terms of runs scored — they serve as a proxy for the thought process being applied by the manager. All of this aside, though, a manager needs to have a sense of the big picture as well. Sometimes you need to be willing to lose one game in the hopes of winning five or six more in the future. The goal is to win as many games as possible over the course of the season, and destroying all of your resources to win an individual game because you have no perspective is not consistent with that goal.

*Although frankly if I were a young reliever and Ventura was willing to destroy Sale's arm to keep me away from a 5-0 lead my confidence would be pretty damaged and one has to imagine that that is not a good way of managing the clubhouse.

Here you have what, on its face, appears to be a minor tactical decision that didn't work out. To me, it is a manifestation of Ventura's failure as a manager at every level. It tells your bullpen, "Hey, I think you guys are garbage and I will manage in a panicky fashion even up 5-0 in a game that really means nothing." Even after a five-week stint on the DL, the decision to leave Sale in shows utter disregard for his long-term health and effectiveness (which is probably the worst thing Ventura can do to the organization), and to top it all off, it was probably the wrong tactical decision in terms of winning the individual game as well.

At a certain point, the question isn't, "Well, why should we fire Ventura?" The question is, "What does Ventura do that merits keeping him?" Because there is no way in the world that Ventura is more valuable to the organization than Sale.