Interview: Bruce Bochy

If you listened to the blogger interview session with Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean, you’ll notice that most of the questions were directed at Sabean. I had several questions for Bochy, but I had actually gotten the chance to ask them earlier. I asked him about Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt, and Aubrey Huff (among other things), and a few things stood out:

  • He doesn’t seem to know yet what the plan is for Brandon Belt.
  • Spring Training will definitely be used to sort some things out (though that’s not really surprising).
  • Bochy didn’t believe Huff’s struggles were just about his shape, and doesn’t have any regrets in giving him a lot of playing time to work through his struggles. He took a lot longer to answer the final two questions (the ones about Huff)

What follows is a transcript of the interview…

Giants Nirvana: Do you see Angel Pagan as your leadoff hitter?

Bruce Bochy: Well, I think that’s a question we can answer better as we get into Spring Training. He’s certainly a very very strong candidate. We got Cabrera, too, who could lead off, and these are things that we need to figure out in Spring Training.

Giants Nirvana: Right now, how does Brandon Belt fit into your plans for the 2012 season?

Bruce Bochy: Great question, ‘cause we’re not really positive right now whether it’s at first base, left field, or, you know, being a role player. It’s gonna be competitive this Spring, and certainly his position is gonna be very competitive.

Giants Nirvana: Several years down the road, do you think Buster Posey will still be catching on a regular basis?

Bruce Bochy: Uh, that’s a hard one to answer too, because a lot of that will depend on Buster and of course, our team, what makes the most sense — to have him at first base or catching. But I will say, for right now, that’s what he’s gonna do.

Giants Nirvana: One of the things last year with Aaron Rowand’s struggles and Andres Torres’ inconsistencies… the Giants had sort of a vacancy in centerfield. Nate Schierholtz was hitting well; do you think he could handle centerfield at all? That was something that was never tried…was that considered?

Bruce Bochy: Well, we have talked about Nate going to centerfield, but now with Pagan and Cabrera that wouldn’t make any sense for us because Nate is such a good rightfielder, particularly in our ballpark. So it would just make sense to leave him in right field, where he’ll give us the great defense he gives us there, and have Pagan or Melky in centerfield.

Giants Nirvana: Now that it’s been made clear that Aubrey Huff was out of shape last season, do you have any regrets in the patience you exercised in handling him?

Bruce Bochy: Uh, no, I don’t think it’s just about him being out of shape. You know, we all have our ups and downs, and I think what’s important sometimes is you stay behind these guys whether young or veterans, but he was a guy that we certainly needed to get on track because we’re losing Posey and Sanchez; you know, he had done it before, so no, I don’t have any regrets. But it’s a lesson learned from everybody including Aubrey. You know, it’s just like you talk about Aaron Rowand. We ended up sitting him on the bench. You do what you think is right, and at that time, we thought Aubrey was one of our best options as far as somebody to help drive in runs.

Giants Nirvana: So you don’t think his struggles were because he was out of shape?

Bruce Bochy: Ehhh (pause), it could be a number of things…losing confidence, not quite being in the same shape. You know, it’s hard to say, you just have a year that you don’t see the ball as well, you don’t have the same confidence. But he’s gotta get that back. He knows it, and he looks determined to get back into what he thinks is the kind of shape he was in two years ago.

On the Bochy Extension

So the Giants have extended Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean. The extensions will keep them in San Francisco through 2013, with team options for 2014. This doesn’t really come as a surprise…it was said just about a month ago that extending Bochy and Sabean was one of the top priorities offseason, and it’s clear that the organization likes the job they’ve done. But this is obviously huge news nonetheless.

Let’s start with Bochy. He’s managed the Giants for five years now, and at this point, we have a good idea of his tendencies — both his strengths and weaknesses.

– For one, he likes to play veterans. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can obviously be bad; the classic example here is the Aubrey Huff/Brandon Belt situation, one I think he didn’t handle very well. His leash for Huff throughout this season was too long, especially considering that he supposedly knew Huff was out of shape. In exercising such patience with Huff, he seems to have delayed the development of a quality hitter in Brandon Belt. And it’s hard to excuse the number of at-bats he gave to Aaron Rowand and Orlando Cabrera got this year

– He likes to play the hot hand; in other words, his day-to-day lineup construction seems to be largely dependent upon who is performing well on a day-to-day basis. Not a huge deal, though it isn’t exactly brilliant lineup optimization.

– He’s pretty good at managing pitchers, and specifically, utilizing his bullpen. This is underscored by that 2010 NLCS Game Six, when he seemed to have the magic touch with his bullpen. Granted, he’s at an advantage because he has such good pitchers to work with. And hey, he’s made several notable mistakes in recent years. The one that sticks out to me in particular is when he let Javier Lopez face Mike Stanton with the bases loaded in the Scott Cousins game. Oh yeah, and on a broader level, I wish he’d use Sergio Romo more — though I’m not nearly as informed as Bochy when it comes to injury concerns regarding Romo. But as a whole, he’s solid when it comes to bullpen usage.

– And he’s generally a solid in-game manager — in addition to his bullpen usage, I like that he’s not prone to calling too many bunts/intentional walks. He’ll make the occasional ridiculous move, but that comes with every manager.

As a whole, I don’t think managers are terribly important. In other words, the difference between Bruce Bochy and the average manager — positive or negative — is minimal at most. I imagine the Giants feel the same way — after all, I don’t think they’re paying Bochy a whole lot of money.

In any event, he’s a solid manager. I’ll criticize him on occasion, as I would every other manager in baseball. But I’m grateful that he’s no Fredi Gonzalez. And he seems to command the respect of his players, which is pretty important. It’s intangible — we can’t measure that quality, nor can we compute its significance. But it’s a valuable attribute, and one I think all managers need in order to be effective.

So overall, I’m content with the Bochy extension, if only because things could be a lot worse. But please, Bochy — just give Belt some more playing time next season.

News and Notes: Gold Glove Awards, Elias Rankings