Mariners Analysis

Sunday, August 26, 2007

McLaren's bench use

Major league teams have 25 players and nine get to play at the same time. Clearly all teams are constructed with a bench firmly in place. It's up to the Manager to divvy up the playing time.

Some have argued over the years the Mariners need to rely on their bench more than any team in baseball simply due to travel. The team covers more ground and more time zones and resting players from time to time is a good idea. (or so the theory goes)

Pineilla was the first to really say he was going implement this strategy on a regular basis. In fact, he is really responsible for the career of someone like Willie in Seattle; a "super sub" who can play multiple positions and rest regulars while still collecting a lot of at bats during the year. The model for this would be someone like McLemore.

Of course when Lou left, Melvin and Hargrove instituted the dreaded "set lineup" concept where you pick eight guys and play them the entire season. Melvin did it because he was a rookie manager afraid of veterans and rocking the boat, and Hargrove was simply old school and valued veterans to an extreme. When they did use their bench, they did so in the worst way- running players like Bloomquist as if it was the only alternative.

So today we have McLaren, who likes to say he wants to rest his regulars but has a hard time figuring out how to do it. Let's recap his current style:
  • Runs set lineups for long stretches with little change
  • Little evidence of using/creating a "Super Sub"
  • No evidence he selects days off based on the opponent or the Mariners starting pticher (ie- groundball pitcher so keep Beltre in the game)
  • Instead relys on general baseball principles (eg- backup catcher on day games)
  • Conflicted on bench runners (often comments after the game about "saving" his bench for later innings)
It's pretty hard to see where McLaren has instituted a plan unique to Seattle's travel situation. It looks remarkably like Melvin's and Hargrove's plan- stick with status quo and cross fingers.

While McLaren is quoted as saying he wants to provide rest, his current plan is extremely risky. He acknowledges he must rest his regulars but in practice rarely does so. On the days when he does use his bench he is relying on players who see no consistent playing time. To expect Broussard to suddenly be effective after not playing is risky- it's a move with a small probability of success. In my mind the definition of a risky move. McLaren's been around the game long enough to understand players need to play, so rather than being a spark the bench is more of a doghouse. Whether he intended it to be or not.

McLaren's plan will work as long as the Mariners make the playoffs and he can continue to rely on running out the same lineup daily and the veterans produce. The risk is in not knowing when your set lineup is suddenly cooling off. While he can tell the papers all day long he believes in rest, the reality is he rarely does so and is close to running out the rest of the schedule with his same 8 position players.

Now when I see a Jones or Broussard in the lineup I have no expectations for success- their lack of playing time makes production not an expectation but a surprise. It seems like a foolish risk to be taking during a time when the team is so close to making the playoffs, but that's the plan.

September will be interesting, and our rookie manager seems hell bent on using his bench as little as possible.