There is this old saying that I think I invented, that goes something like this. The only people who don’t make mistakes are those people who don’t do anything. So, when it comes to managers and managing, they have many chances to make mistakes through both their actions and inactions.
In general, if you get beyond the actual won-loss record and get into game management, the managers most affect the game in the following ways. The lineup, the decisions on when to take out and when to leave in pitchers and their bullpen and bench management in longer games.
Ironically, when it comes to most managers and A.J. Hinch is no exception, the most criticism comes to them on lineup choices and handling of pitchers. Once in a while there is criticism on bullpen and bench management in longer games, but the first two get the most focus.
Let’s be frank, before this season, most problems with the Astro lineups under Hinch were venting. He was making the best lemonade he could out of lemon scented Pledge. When you have four above average hitters and five black holes of Calcutta, the order is just not that critical. There is more grounds for criticism this season with a lineup that features solid to great hitters in all spots in the lineup.
I’ve led the complaints about George Springer leading off in place of Jose Altuve. It seems wrong statistically with Altuve being an on base machine. But perhaps this is more about getting the heart and soul of the team up first, something that has to do with the emotions of the team and not the facts on a computer. In general this has not had much affect as once the game gets in a few innings it is all about flipping the lineup anyway and getting hits, walks and scores from anywhere in the lineup. They have been very effective so far this season.
There were complaints by some about Marwin Gonzalez getting too many ABs, especially when he was slumping. MarGo has slapped those complaints down by being one of the best hitters on the team in 2017.
There have been quite a bit of complaints about Hinch’s decisions when they don’t turn out just right, such as the decision to start Dallas Keuchel in the 9th the other day as he loaded the bases and Ken Giles could not put out the fire until four runs had scored. Perhaps the bigger problem here was not having someone warming up as Keuchel had been quite effective and was around 90 pitches heading into the 9th. Hinch’s modus operandi this season has been similar to the best manager in Astro’s history, Larry Dierker, who left pitchers in games longer so that they could learn to work through troubles and adjust.
This decision backfired on Hinch this time, but other decisions to stick with Charlie Morton and Joseph Musgrove after early inning melt downs resulted in those pitchers pulling it together for a decent amount of innings and avoided dipping into the bullpen in the 1st or 2nd inning.
Something to remember is this. Hinch’s 53.5% winning percentage to date is the second best (behind Dierker) in the history of the team. His team over-achieved in 2015. They did not panic despite a terrible start in 2016 and still had a winning record despite losing their two best starting pitchers down the stretch. In 2017, they stand 21-11 under Hinch, the fourth best record in the majors. His calm demeanor has meshed well with his combination of cool veterans and younger players and they lead the majors in come from behind wins.
He is not perfect. He makes mistakes. He bleeds when you cut him.
A few questions:
- Is Hinch a good manager for this team?
- Where can he improve? Where is he already good?
- If not Hinch – who? Of candidates who would have come here – who would have been a better manger?