So, how does Bochy win consistently with a couple of above average infielders (Sandoval and Crawford), one top-notch outfielder (Pence), plus a collection of cast-offs, retreads, and role players? It’s not the starting pitching. Of the team’s two best starters in 2010, one – Matt Cain – is on injured reserved and the other – Tim Lincecum – is last on the depth chart in the bullpen.
Lefty Madison Bumgarner is the current horse compiling an 18-10 regular season record in 2014. The team needed every one of his wins. San Franciso’s three other post-season starters – Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Ryan Vogelsong – all posted losing records in 2014.
So how does Bochy do it? Besides Bumgarner and the very good – especially in the postseason – Pablo Sandoval, the two on-field constants during the Giants half-decade of success are obvious – catcher Buster Posey and a spectacularly effective bullpen. Bochy deserves some of the credit for keeping Posey in top form season after season and most of the credit for the bullpen.
In part 1 of this series, I identified as the two most obvious five year baseball dynasties the Yankees teams from 1949-53 and from 1996-2000. Casey Stengel, managed the mid-century bombers to five straight world championships and won a record ten World Series, once said “I never play a game without my man”.
Stengel’s man Yogi Berra was the best hitting catcher of his generation, a remarkable on-field captain, and excellent defender. Selected three times as the American League MVP, Berra also kept his health better than many other backstops.
Like Stengel, Bruce Bochy has his “man” behind the dish and like Berra, Posey is the best hitting catcher in the game, has won an MVP award, and captains his team expertly. By consensus, he’s one of the three best catchers in baseball and at least two experts call him the best. Yet Bochy deserves some of the credit for keeping Posey fresh and strong throughout the season.
Catching is the toughest position on the field. On defense catchers are in a crouch most of the time. Each game they catch
upwards of 100 balls thrown from 85 to 100 miles per hour. They take batted balls of their face mask, thighs, and feet. Sometimes, they take a bat to the back of the head when the hitter follows through on a hard swing.
For this reason, managers routinely look to give their backstops a break. But Buster Posey is the best hitting catcher in the game and one of the best in baseball so the team is at a decided disadvantage when he’s not in the lineup. Bochy dealt with this conundrum about as well as anybody could. His all-star had the third most at-bats of any catcher in the game but, in terms of innings caught, Posey was fourteenth. Posey started a number of games at first and in other games that were decided early discarded the “tools of ignorance before the ninth.
So Bochy gets partial credit for his all-world catcher. But where the Giants’ manager shines brightest is as bullpen handler. Bochy consistently figures out which of his relievers is the one to call on in any particular situation. This point is not lost on his charges. After the Giants game four win last night, bullpen fixture Jeremy Affeldt attributed his 21 consecutive playoff shutout innings and the equally remarkable success of his mates Yusmeiro Petit, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla to Bochy’s preternatural ability to plug the right reliever in regardless of circumstances.
This helps the relievers in two ways. First, when in the game each pitcher is usually squaring off against hitters over whom they have an advantage. Second, if a pitcher comes out with runners on base his successor will likely escape the jam. As good as Bochy is, he hasn’t been perfect in the 2014 World Series. In game two with the score tied 2-2 in the sixth, he made three very questionable decisions none of which worked out. One, Bochy let obviously tiring starter Jake Peavy pitch to the first two batters – both of whom reached base. Two, he relieved Peavy with Jean Machi who gave up an RBI single and then exited stage right. Lefty Javier Lopez got the first out of the inning which gave rise to Bochy’s third bad decision of the inning. He brought in erratic flamethrower Hunter Strickland who promptly served up a double to all-star catcher Salvador Perez and then a home run to Omar Infante. By the time Strickland was out of the game so were the Giants.
Bochy’s strengths clearly outweigh his occasional lapses. In this World Series, he is masterfully juggling Travis Ishikawa, Juan Perez, and Michael Morse. Morse is easily the best hitter and the worst fielder. Perez is the best fielder and worst hitter. Either Ishikawa or Perez starts in left field with the decision dependent on who’s pitching for the Giants and whether they’re at home or in Kansas City. In late innings when strong defense is needed, Perez is in the field. Morse DHs in Kansas City and pinch hits in San Francisco.
Bochy keeps the whole lineup involved and ready to play. In a post-game interview last night, Perez said he knew he was going to play whether he started or not.
The Giants are tied in their World Series in five years. They may not win. But the fact that they’ve made it this far is a tribute to, more than anything else, their extraordinary manager.