Thursday, August 20, 2009

Trembley On Trial

At the end of the season, Andy MacPhail will be the judge presiding over the fate of Dave Trembley, who is hoping to continue as manager of the Baltimore Orioles for at least another season. There have been a series of charges levied at Trembley this season, building steam for the upcoming verdict in the Fall. Here at ATH we have compiled the following list of accusations made against the Orioles skipper, and evaluated the evidence to see whether the ubiquitous “Fire Trembley” comments on neighboring blogs have any merit. The charge: Negligence and incompetence detrimental to the team. Here’s the evidence:

Exhibit A: He pulls his starters too early.

Not lately, since the bullpen is exhausted, but he has done this for much of the season, sometimes with disastrous results. Well, so does Jim Leyland. In fact, living in Michigan I have been able to see a lot of Leyland and his management style isn’t far off from Trembley- and I believe that Leyland is a fine manager overall. When to pull your starters is an issue, but a lot of it comes down to chance- some guys tend to keep their pitchers in there and they get shelled, others pull their starters and the relievers give it up. It depends on the composition of your team, and in the end I think it mostly balances out. At least Trembley’s way gives the starters a bit more rest, which will be important with a young staff. So yes, he might let the Red Sox come back in the 9th inning after building up a 5 run lead and your starter on cruise control before being yanked after 103 pitches, but I am not sure he can foresee the bullpen breaking down. I would say he is guilty of occasional poor judgment, but it’s hard to know for sure.

Exhibit B: His players show a tendency to turn singles into outs by trying in vain to get that extra base.
This has been really ugly. The Orioles get runners on and they run into outs, or hesitate at third when they need to go home, or just flat out don’t know how many outs there are to begin with. I cannot put a number on how many runs they have lost, and I shudder to think of how much closer to respectability this team might be without those mental lapses. Wasn’t Dave hired to bring strong fundamentals to this team? When he was brought on they talked about how only the Twins did the kind of fundamental drills that the Orioles were going to do under their new manager. We were told that he was going to win with smart baseball and a strong foundation. On that count, the opposite has been true. And it isn’t just the young players, either. Before he was traded, Aubrey Huff had gotten a penchant for thinking he was Carl Crawford, and Ty Wiggington was charging full steam into that double that just wasn’t going to happen. I wondered if they needed contacts to figure out that the ball was a lot closer to the bag than they thought it was. But what is Dave supposed to do? Emphasize it more? How do you practice that except in games? You aren’t supposed to see veteran players regress mentally- what does that say about the young players when they mature under Trembley’s leadership?

I honestly don’t know what to equate this to, and I am not sure it directly is connected to Trembley. But if not him, who else? The buck stops with Dave.

Exhibit C: This team is getting worse as the season has gone on, not better.
In fact, this might be the worst Orioles team in a long time right now, and that is saying something considering the teams we have seen over the last 12 years. Andy MacPhail said that he wanted to see improvement towards the end of the season- 8-24 since the All-Star break isn’t much of an improvement. But many of these games are close, ended by those boneheaded baserunning mistakes or a lack of clutch hitting (Melvin Mora is an inning-ending machine all by himself). The young pitching has been tough to watch to be sure, but shouldn’t these players be getting better? I mean, wasn’t Adam Eaton dropped for a reason, and Mark Hendrickson moved to the bullpen because there were better options? These are apparently it. While getting rid of George Sherrill was a huge blow, this team isn’t losing right now because of blown saves. While Aubrey Huff’s departure will hurt, he wasn’t exactly lighting it up and getting Luke Scott in the lineup more often might make this team better, not worse. However, this late-season swoon has happened like clockwork, so it may not matter who is managing this team, it just happens. But the right leadership keeps that from happening, the right leadership breaks losing patterns and creates a winner. This fanbase can’t just accept the swoon every year if they ever hope this team to be successful.

Closing Argument:
Dave Trembley is not a great manager. He looks like a manager, he talks like a manager, he acts like what people think a manager should act like. He has a presence that inspires confidence in a lot of fans and in his players as well, who have openly voiced their approval. There is other evidence against Trembley- his lack of playing experience, his lack of major league managerial experience, his losing record in the minors, and any number of other criticisms during his 2 ½ year stint here and before. But before we throw the man out, let’s ask ourselves, who will take over? There is no big-name manager who is willing to bank the next 3 years of his career on the potential of possibly winning while going up against the toughest division in baseball. No one the Orioles would want would be willing to do that. For all his faults, Trembley has shown a commitment to the franchise, and no one else is exactly waiting in the wings to take his spot.

Let’s also remember something about managers. They are not like head coaches in football, who can create new systems of play and wildly change a team, determining in many cases whether they fail or succeed (except Norv Turner, whose Chargers are a solid team despite him). Managers sort lineups, provide advice, decide who starts and sits, but at the end of the day baseball is baseball, and there is no wildcat or shotgun or spread offense to try out. You hit the ball and hope it drops, and cross the plate more times than the other guys. You could have any number of guys in as manager and maybe wins and losses will fluctuate by 5 or 10 but it won’t make a whole lot of difference. Managers are successful when they have good players and a good relationship with the team. Dave Trembley, for all of Melvin Mora’s grumbling, has a very good relationship with his players.

He’s not Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, or even Lou Piniella, but he is worth another year. You’d be amazed the difference good players could make. Let’s see what he does when he has a decent team to work with.

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