13 May 2010

Helping Hinch

In what may go down as the worst week in franchise history, both on and off the field, AJ Hinch effected his finest (albeit bitter) moment, for which he deserves praise.

With LA leading 3-2 in the top of the seventh, and runners on second and third, Hinch decided to walk Andre Ethier - to pitch to Manny with the bases loaded instead. Ramirez ultimately laced a bases clearing double, for which Hinch is the object of scathing criticism on azcentral.com and beyond.

But everybody is wrong. AJ Hinch was right. Or at least justified and refreshingly ballsy. God, this outfit needs balls.

Here's some context:

1) Ethier is the best all around hitter in the NL this year, by a variety of measures. His OPS v RHP is approximately 150 pts higher than Manny's similar split.

2) In 3 previous ABs that evening (their first ever meeting), Ethier lined three ropes off Jackson, including an opposite field home run.

3) Jackson had "handled" Ramirez all night, with a groundout, swinging strikeout and a walk. Manny failed to put a single high strike fastball in play, in five tries.

4) Manny was one for ten lifetime vs Jackson (a double) - with four strikeouts.

So, there's plenty to justify the notion Ethier's the more dangerous of the two in that matchup. It doesnt mean Manny isnt still an incredibly dangerous hitter or that Hinch didnt understand that.

Hinch further understood that Ethier's run at first (potential run #6) wasnt terribly important, especially the way his offense has slumped. He was more concerned with the runners on second and third (potential runs 4 and 5) and giving Ed Jackson his best chance to strand them.

So he spat on convention and did what very few managers would do. He dared identify Ethier as a bigger situational threat than Hall of Fame bound Ramirez. Now, the reason he was even in that position is because the Dbacks inexplicably sport not a single left handed reliever. Had there been a lefty available, you go after Ethier. But given the options Hinch had, our manager trainee made a choice steeped in wisdom rather than lore.

And his pitcher let him down. By grooving a fastball, on a two strike pitch, at least two feet from where it should've been - in any three of four possible directions. That's not AJ Hinch's fault. He showed some balls by doing the smart thing, pundits be damned.

If Ramirez had lined a 4oo ft out to Chris Young, instead of a 420 foot double, the unconventional maneuver might have inspired a fairly talented but overly sensitive group in desperate need of some confidence. Maybe it's too much to say it had a chance to turn their season around. Then again, maybe not. There's still 127 games to go.

This game isnt like games most of us know. Beyond the beauty and skills and grace, it's often little more than arrogant large men telling each other to fuck off. At least metaphorically. AJ Hinch was telling Manny Ramirez that. And Manny replied in kind. That's competition, and this was a start.

This team needs to tell alot of people to fuck off. Like Dallas Braden told Alex Rodriguez. There needs to be a boiling rage inside you. It doesnt have to surface much, but it has to be there. It's not enough to want to win. Or to like winning. An organization needs key people who stew obsessively over anything or anybody that keeps them from winning. Competitive respect, or the perceived lack of it, has to drive the day. Otherwise, you're overpaid clerks, and I'll only watch clerks play ball so long. Life's too short.

This team needs to pitch inside, below the neck, and when other teams object, they need to pitch inside some more. This team, the youngest positional group in baseball, needs to run with aggression, and some catchers and infielders need to get knocked on their ass. Are you listening, Bo? This team needs to get in a fight. It'll relax them. They're way, way way too tight. Too introspective. Far too concerned with niceties that dont matter.

They need to support teammates on the field because not doing so emboldens your competition. They need to challenge teammates privately, physically if necessary, because the unacceptable "message" isnt getting through via traditional hierarchical channels.

They need to sacrifice bunt. Not because it's a wise quantitative strategy (often it's not), but because it unifies a team over a season, by subordinating individuals to a common goal and to the will of a manager.

This is a team game. Players need to subordinate themselves to something other than decorum. Decorum is for women and diplomats. Dont be so well adjusted. This is a game about men fearing other men. Take your masculine rage and channel it into manifestations of "Fuck You". Your heretofore effete manager just did, in his darkest hour, and is taking major crap. For you.

Help him out. Fight.

Bobby Cox chatters through an entire game. He's been ejected more than anyone in the game's history. He has (or had) a habit of hitting his wife. He's going to the Hall of Fame.

I'm not advocating spousal abuse. But throw your weight around. Be heard. Be men. Fight like Braves. Like hoodlums if it helps you win. Every pitch of every game. Fight, goddammit.



Russell said...

Great post. I actually think that fight is what has been missing from this team for a long time now. Maybe Hinch did walk Ethier for the reasons you say but the problem he has is who he is.

Since his appointment the players have known that he won't challenge the Front Office so why should they let him challenge them?

Or to put it your way. If he won't tell the FO to FO then his FOs to them are meaningless.

Diamondhacks said...

Just found a podcast where Mark Grace said almost eerily similar things.

Russell said...

It's good to hear Grace calling out the players as being "too nice." and also the FO for the way that they have set up the bullpen.

The only disappointment was that he didn't ask for more signs at the ballpark, which is something that I think the team desperately needs.