In Defense of Bruce Bochy

I’m a stats-oriented guy. Which tends to imply a lot. I generally don’t like intentionally walking batters (with occasional exception), and I’m generally opposed to giving up outs by virtue of sacrifice bunts — most specifically when it’s a position player bunting. I often look at things through the lens of a run expectancy chart.

Therefore, most managers don’t especially appeal to me.

Bruce Bochy is relatively average in terms of standards of traditional vs. sabermetrically-inclined. In fact, in terms of intentional walks and sacrifice bunts, he’s less traditional than the majority of other managers.

Nevertheless, he does things that irritate the statistically-inclined. A few notables:

  • Often starts Aaron Rowand against right-handed pitchers, despite an ugly platoon split.
  • Often bats Rowand in the leadoff spot — even against RHP — in spite of sub-par on-base skills. 
  • Frequently benches Pat Burrell, who currently ranks second among non-injured Giants in wOBA. 
  • Occasionally allows Javier Lopez to pitch against right-handed hitters in high-leverage situations, despite an ugly RHH split.
  • Often bats low-OBP hitters in the second spot in the lineup (most notably Miguel Tejada). 
  • Under-uses Sergio Romo (by far his best reliever by FIP); Romo ranks sixth among Giants relievers in innings pitched. 
  • Seems overly-fixated on the microanalysis that is “playing the hot hand.”
That’s all that I can think of, at least at the moment. And honestly, these aren’t that bad. Lineup order is frustrating, but in the grand scheme of things, tends to have a very minor effect on run-scoring over the course of a full season (I believe the difference between an average lineup and an optimal one is roughly 15 runs over the course of 162 games). 
Starting Aaron Rowand against right-handed pitchers — yeah, that’s bad. He’s awful against right-handed pitchers. But one thing we tend to forget is that there are other factors at play, such as Andres Torres‘ sleep disorder. With that in mind, this kind of thing is somewhat justifiable. If Torres is unavailable to start in center against a right-handed pitcher, who is available? Cody Ross, yeah. And I’d probably prefer him in center over Rowand. But let’s not forget that Ross’ split against right-handed pitchers (at least over his career) is equally unimpressive: Rowand has a wRC+ of 93 over his career vs. RHP, compared to 91 for Ross.
Moving onward, his bullpen management can be frustrating. I’m a huge Sergio Romo fan, so it disappoints me that he doesn’t get more playing time. But it’s not like he’s losing playing time to replacement-level relievers who are giving up lots of runs. Bochy has the rather-difficult task of divvying up innings among a group of talented relievers — and they’ve all pretty much performed well thus far. So yes, I’d love to have seen Romo toss an extra five or ten innings by now. But this bullpen management doesn’t seem to have been too costly for the Giants in the big picture — if only because you can’t go wrong with a lot of the Giants’ arms. 
In the case of Javier Lopez, the letting-him-pitch-to-RHHs thing is probably one of my least favorite parts of Bochy’s managerial style. In close games, with runners on (especially if there’s a couple right-handed hitters in a row), this makes little sense on Bochy’s part. But I don’t think that this is necessarily a frequent occurrence. Only one instance in particular stands out to me* – and that’s when he let Javier Lopez face Mike Stanton with the bases loaded in a close game (I believe it was tied, to be specific). 
*Not to say that he’s only done it once, but rather, only one time specifically stands out from what I can remember.
There’s one last thing that particularly frustrates me: that Pat Burrell has received so little playing time. As noted earlier, he’s the Giants’ second-best hitter by wOBA. He has little value as a pinch hitter — and while his defense in left field is a liability, it’s often off-set by having Andres Torres in centerfield, and putting in a defensive replacement in the later innings. This is probably the most questionable part of Bochy’s management in 2011. But then again, Rowand’s been doing okay so far, Nate Schierholtz has shown flashes of brilliance (if only for brief moments), Ross has been the Giants’ most consistent hitter, and Andres Torres is an excellent defensive centerfielder with on-base skills and power upside. In other words, Bochy does have the rather difficult task of moving five outfielders around. 
In the department of “things I like about Bruce Bochy,” I’m a fan of his faith in this starting rotation — if that makes sense. In particular, I was quite happy that he didn’t decide to skip Madison Bumgarner’s turn in the rotation after that historically awful start. Obviously, that turned out to be a fantastic decision — and I feel like it stems from how much he “trusts” his starters. I honestly have no idea whether or not other managers would have done the same, but I was certainly glad that’s what Bochy did. I also think he’s done a respectable job handling the struggles that Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez have had at various points in this season.

Furthermore — and this is a vastly underrated aspect of managing, his players seem to love and respect him. And that’s huge. Just ask Bob Geren. I’d much rather be whining about Rowand batting leadoff than some kind of pointless clubhouse drama that’s prevalent because a manager can’t command the respect of his players.

Bruce Bochy is prone to making questionable moves, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m more than content with him as a manager. That doesn’t mean that I refuse to call him out in specific instances (such as the Lopez-Stanton decision), but I can say with confidence that I am more than grateful Bruce Bochy is not Fredi Gonzalez. Or Ozzie Guillen. Or Ned Yost.

Bochy frustrates. On a routine basis. But sometimes it’s important to take a step back and realize that: 1) there are factors at play in decision-making that extend beyond mere platoon splits (Torres’ sleep disorder as a good example) and run expectancy values; and 2) things could be a lot worse. 
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