In what in my opinion is one of the stupidest roster moves in recent memory, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel moved starter Brett Myers to the bullpen after two bad starts this year.
If there’s a picture-perfect example of “overreacting”, this seems to be it. Maybe Manuel can see something in Myers that the rest of us can’t, but that’s one of only two defenses I think he could make here.
Baseball Prospectus author Joe Sheehan argues (in a subscriber-only article) that it’s the right move:
Manuel is trying to make lemons from lemonade. He has a roster with six starting pitchersâ€”not swingmen, not prospects, not marginal guys, but six major league-caliber starting pitchers. He has a bullpen with one reliable strikeout guy in Tom Gordon.
Manuel tried, briefly, to use Jon Lieber out of the bullpen. Lieber hasnâ€™t pitched in relief since 1997, and as a flyball/command guy, is ill-suited for pitching late in close games.
Going through the other choices leads to similar conclusions [that the other starters are as poorly-suited for the bullpen].
Sheehan also points out that Manuel’s problem isn’t of his own making, but rather is due to General Manager Pat Gillick collecting six quality starters while letting some quality hitters (e.g., Bobby Abreu) go. While I agree with this point, I don’t think that Manuel not having created the problem has any bearing on his choosing a poor way to solve the problem.
What this move basically boils down to (for 2007, anyway) is replacing Myers’ 200-odd starting innings with (maybe) 200 innings from Jon Lieber (and whoever in the bullpen has to make up the innings he doesn’t reach), and replacing 70-odd innings from the back of the bullpen with Myers. This is only a win if you think that Lieber is a significantly better pitcher than whomever is being replaced in the bullpen, and Lieber (who, by the way, is 37 years old) was not very good last year, with a 4.93 ERA. Now it’s certainly possible that the back of the Phillies’ pen is even worse than that, but it would have to be really, really bad to make up those 120 innings of quality starting that the team is losing.
(There’s also Myers’ big contract extension, which is a lot of money to pay a guy who isn’t going to be starting for you.)
As I said, one defense Manuel might be able to employ is that Myers won’t provide quality innings from the rotation. But so far I haven’t heard of any reasons why that’s so; two bad games is such a small sample size that it’s basically worth disregarding in isolation – and there’s no additional evidence that there’s something fundamentally wrong with Myers as a starter (and two years of evidence that there isn’t).
The other defense Manuel could employ is that Myers has some correctable problem (for which there is some evidence – Myers said as much, shortly before the demotion) which he should work out in the bullpen in lower-pressure situations so he can return to the rotation. And, since baseball teams are getting cagier about what they say, that’s entirely possible, and perfectly reasonable.
Right now, though, it just looks like Charlie Manuel is making a boneheaded move which is going to hurt his struggling team (they have a 4-10 record so far, worst in the NL).
And, of course, that’s a perfectly normal thing for baseball teams to experience, too.