Because using Robin [Ventura] as the manager has been a complete failure.
Monday night’s game against the Tigers was a breaking point for me, and hopefully for the White Sox organization, because it is now blatantly clear (and it can be argued that it was already) that Ventura is not a competent tactical manager at the major league level and should not be the one leading this organization despite whatever intangible benefit (if any) he brings to the team. Robin has just got to go.
Last night was a particularly insane display of Ventura’s own ineptitude. White Sox starter James Shields got off to an awful start, giving up six runs in the first two innings. He was so bad that Ventura had Tyler Danish warming up to come into the game in the second inning, but Shields was able to escape the frame alive and Danish sat down. Unfortunately, in the third inning, Shields again got into trouble, this time showing a lack of control on a throw to second base–as opposed to one to home plate–that sailed wide of the bag; an error that would put runners at second and third with one out. Once again Danish would be called on to start warming up, but once again Shields managed to escape the inning, and Danish would be able to sit down.
Then a funny thing happened. The White Sox started to strike back. In the bottom of the third, Jose Abreu struck a hanging slider with the fury of Mjolnir hitting a troublesome Loki, to give the White Sox their first two runs of the game and bring the deficit down to five. Shields followed suit with a scoreless inning and in the bottom of the fourth, Dioner Navarro took his turn with Thor’s hammer and inched the White Sox closer with a solo home run. Shields again responded to his team’s offense by turning in another scoreless inning, further tipping the momentum in the White Sox favor. Almost feeding off the flow of the game, the White Sox were able to tack on three more runs in the bottom of the fifth to make it a 7-6 ballgame. Momentum had seemingly completely swung back around to the White Sox, but Ventura had just the thing to change that: he would bring in Tyler Danish into the game.
Tyler Danish, the guy who had only been a starter in the minor leagues for the last three seasons. Tyler Danish, the guy deemed so unimportant to the team that he was asked to warm up not once, but twice when the game seemed out of reach. Tyler Danish, the guy who had pitched two days in a row and given up four hits and one walk in 1.1 innings pitched with no strikeouts. This is the guy brought into a close and very, very winnable game. The Sox already sport a too large eight-man bullpen and the only reliever that had pitched on both Saturday and Sunday was Danish himself.
To make the move look even more ludicrous, Danish was optioned to Triple-A after the game. There’s just not a plane of existence where bringing in Danish made sense or even represented the fifth-best tactical maneuver in that situation.
In what was possibly the most unsurprising turn of events ever, Danish was just downright awful and, quite frankly, was lucky to even record an out. He allowed all four batters he faced to reach base and the only out he would manage was an out on a single in the gap where Adam Eaton was able to throw Nick Castellanos out at second base. Thank God for the TOOTBLAN.
When Danish entered the game, the White Sox had a win probability of 33.6%. When he exited, that number was down to 18.9%. That’s a pretty darn significant swing. This isn’t meant as a criticism of Danish, however, but of the decision to bring him in. He’s a rookie, he’s only 21-years old, and was up with the team for three days. He isn’t used to relief work, nor the prospect of warming up multiple times to then come into pitch, nor does he typically pitch three days in a row. The odds Danish would represent a positive outcome were stacked against him and Ventura’s inability to diagnose that and act accordingly is just one more sandbag weighing the White Sox down.
It would also be one thing if this were an isolated example of Ventura’s incompetence, but it’s not. Ventura is the manager who batted Jimmy Rollins second pretty much every game Rollins played in this year. Rollins was so awful offensively that he was released by the team just a few days ago. Lineup construction isn’t a huge issue, but giving the second most plate appearances to one of the worst hitters on the team is very far from optimal and that’s the biggest issue here. Robin’s decision making this year is symptomatic of systemic, tactical issues that have been plaguing the White Sox since he took over the team in 2012.
When Ventura was hired, Kenny Williams made clear that they didn’t expect him to be the best tactical manager in the world, but the hoped that over time he would develop. But just like a slew of White Sox young players, the manager would not move beyond his apparent limitations and was so underwhelming that the current general manager of the White Sox, Rick Hahn, issued a statement this winter saying he must improve tactically. It could not be clearer that Ventura has not improved, nor will he. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a thousand times and I must be the White Sox front office banking on Avisail Garcia’s raw talent.
Robin Ventura isn’t the only issue with this White Sox team. When you’re forced to pinch hit for your DH with J.B. Shuck, there’s clearly a personnel issue at hand, but having a manager like Ventura only further exacerbates those issues. When you team has clear limitations, you need to exploit every possible margin you can to win baseball games, not further hamper yourself with poor tactical decisions. Jason Coats or J.B. Shuck starting at DH is mostly representative of the poor roster situation the team is in, but things like playing Coats or Shuck in right field and DH-ing Avisail Garcia instead of the other way around is a slight improvement that can make the difference in a one run game, and these are the types of optimizations a good manager should be looking for**.
These decisions only have a relatively small impact on winning percentage, but why choose a move that has a worse expected outcome? No blackjack player would ever say he wants slightly worse odds while he’s playing cards. Major league baseball is too competitive for any small disadvantage to be worth tolerating. And over 162 games, these small tactical decisions really matter.
If we believe the White Sox are a .518 true talent winning percentage team (84-win team) and that Robin Ventura’s management is at most three percent detriment in any given game, it means he can decrease the win total by three wins over the entire season. Three wins are massively important. Just ask the 2012 White Sox who missed the playoffs…by three games. And we all know who managed that team.
**I originally wrote this post Tuesday afternoon and later that night, Ventura filled out his lineup card and put Garcia in right field with Shuck at DH. Garcia struggled in the second inning being unable to get anywhere near a Justin Upton blooper that ended up a double. In the following inning, Garcia opened up the floodgates by misplaying an easy fly ball from Miguel Cabrera and turning that into a ground rule double.
The play was so bad that White Sox postgame host Chuck Garfien, who’s usually very positive when discussing White Sox, was motivated to tweet this.
Avisail Garcia in the outfield is not a pretty sight.. That should have been an out.
— Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) June 15, 2016
As any Greek tragedy goes, the next batter, Nick Castellanos would hit a sharp grounder to Tyler Saladino that would have been an inning-ending double play, but instead the situation was runners at second and third with one out. Robin, not to be outdone by his poor managing tactics the night before, would intentionally walk J.D. Martinez to load the bases. Naturally, the move immediately backfired as starter Miguel Gonzalez would walk the next batter and let a run just trot home. Two more runs would score in the inning, further rendering the intentional walk hilariously moot.
Robin’s influence would continue to be felt the next inning as Tim Anderson would smoke a ball to the right field fence and end up at third base with one out. The next batter, Adam Eaton, would bunt into a fielder’s choice. I understand that Eaton was probably bunting on his own, but the coaching staff has to be held accountable for creating an environment that even suggests that Eaton should be bunting to create one run while the team is down four. Eaton would triple in his next at-bat in the fifth inning, continuing his 6-for-10 performance so far this series, further illustrating that he probably should not have been bunting in that situation.
This kind of serial bad decision making is repeatedly stacking the odds against the White Sox, and it desperately has to stop if the White Sox are serious about trying to win. The decisions are completely baffling and they tend not to be consistent. This team decided a few weeks back that J.B. Shuck was a good enough outfielder to play him in center and leave Eaton in right, when Austin Jackson first went down with turf toe. Now Garcia of all people has supplanted Shuck in right field. One tiny decision, playing Garcia over Shuck, had a gigantic impact on this game. Anyone could tell you that decision wasn’t optimal, except for the man making that decision, and that’s a real problem that needs to go away.
Lead Photo Credit: Kim Klement – USA Today Sports Images