This is our first roundtable of the year with some actual game action from which we can draw. So, naturally, we’re going to look at the manager. That’s what we do in this city, right? It’s what I’ve been led to believe, anyway. The Red Sox stumbled a bit out of the gates, though they’ve recovered in the last couple of days, and now sit at 3-4 at the one-week mark of their season. So, this week’s question is: On a scale of 1-10 how much confidence do you have in Ron Roenicke managing this roster through the season? Interpret that how you would like.
If I had to grade Ron Roenicke’s ability to manage the 2020 roster I’d give him an 8 out of 10. He’s not a fresh, new manager but a guy with five years of experience on the job for the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s got experience working a roster, setting the lineup every day for years. And his teams averaged a .508 winning percentage. How much of that is that is the manager is difficult to parse but the roster isn’t that bad and, should the season last all 60 games, will have pieces added by Chaim Bloom, even if they’re a little outside the box.
I’ll give Roenicke a very mediocre 5. He has plenty of baseball experience, playing for years and coaching since the early 2000’s, but I haven’t liked his approach to the season thus far. With a short season and a bigger roster, he should be managing as aggressive as possible. I didn’t like the choice to go to a guy like Dylan Covey in a three-run game, or see Xander sit game two of a 60-game season. Yes, we all know the Sox’s pitching is limited, but not seeing a guy like Brandon Workman until the 5th game of the season is a disappointment for me. Hopefully he gets into a more win-now mindset as the season progresses, but the Sox are already playing from (far) behind.
Five different games. Five different lineups. Kevin Pillar has not only started the same amount of games as Alex Verdugo but has has consistently started fifth while Verdugo is stuck hitting sixth or seventh. Also, leaving Dylan Covey out there when the Orioles started hitting him around when the game was still close at that point. As you can probably tell, I have not been a fan of Roenicke’s lineup and in-game decisions so I’ll give him a 3, and hope he learns as the season goes on. I definitely don’t think he will be the manager for the 2021 season.
I think any evaluation of Roenicke’s performance as manager has to come with a Green Monster-sized grain of salt. The dude is trying to manage a team for the first time since 2015 in the midst of a global pandemic (which isn’t exactly being handled well by MLB) and on top of that, he was given a roster with a rotation that might not cut it in Triple A. With that written, through the first week, Roenicke’s lineup construction and bullpen usage has me a bit troubled. Still, it is way too early to start chasing him out of town, so I’ll go right down the middle with a 5.
I’ve long been of the camp that the manager doesn’t really have that big of an effect on a baseball game. Yes, they make decisions, and sometimes they backfire, but sometimes the decisions they make go better than conventional wisdom would expect. As far as I know, there’s no perfect metric for “Manager Screwups”, but I don’t get the impression that Roenicke is going to be above average or below average at the decision making process. I think he probably falls somewhere in the middle.
Adding an extra wrinkle is the oddity that is this season. It’s a sprint, not a marathon, so conventional bullpen usage may not work as well as it would in a normal season. Starters may need a quicker hook than they have needed in the past. Bench players may need more (or less) days off, depending on what the schedule looks like.
While I think it’s fair to be critical, I also think it may be a little unfair to judge Roenicke one way or another, and I also think it may be unfair to presume how I feel he’s going to do as the manager in this oddball year. I’d say I have Roenicke around a 5/10 in terms of confidence. I am neither confident he will be excellent or confident he will be terrible. I am only confident in saying that Roenicke is going to probably manage every game this season, unless he becomes quarantined.
Currently, I’m at a 5/10 and trending down. Bogaerts is getting days off all the time. Game two of season, there was kind of a reason, but if his hamstring is bothering him this much to sit out two of the first five games he needs to just get benched until he’s healthy. Verdugo should also be playing every day and leading off. His decisions with the bullpen I won’t knock him for because honestly does it matter who he sends in there? There’s not many great options. It’s still early but every game we get deeper into the season I seem to be scratching my head even more. Maybe he’s working it out as he goes, but it’s starting to feel like these tinkers will just be constant and I’m not sure I’m a fan.
I’ll give Roenicke a 6. Maybe last week at this time I’d have chosen differently but he seems committed to minimizing the effect of Andrew Benintendi’s disappearance in a way I would not have anticipated. He will probably get killed because his pitchers are bad and whatever decisions he makes to their ends, they may sabotage them, but even good managers have a hard job juggling that stuff. As long as he’s aggressively shuffling the batting order based on new information, I think he’s probably above-average. I also dunno how much it matters at all so I’ll be nice and, yeah, 6. Sure!
I wrote something just days into the season about Roenicke’s performance thus far, and it was not very nice. And so it may surprise you to learn that I am actually near the top of this list. I’m going to give him a 6.5, partially so I can one-up Bryan and also partially because it feels right. 6 is too low. 7 is too high. Don’t make me explain why. Anyway, I have been annoyed by some of his moves, as outlined in that linked post, and just generally I’d like to see more urgency from him. On the other hand, he has been fairly aggressive with pinch hitters, and the decision to give guys days off is annoying but also I don’t know how they’re feeling. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt there. And as we move forward and teams try to navigate through whatever the heck this season is, I’d prefer a guy with experience than a newbie.
Based on our small sample size of information on Roenicke’s decision-making skills, I’d put my confidence level in his management at a 3.5. We’ve already seen a whole bunch of decisions that I disagree with, most of which involving either sitting players to give them a rest day or less than ideal bullpen usage. Looking at the first point, Roenicke has sat Bogaerts twice, Devers once, and Verdugo multiple times. Moreland, who has been one of the hottest bats in the Sox lineup, has also been in a strict platoon with the hapless Michael Chavis.
A few of the decisions are defensible, like Bogaerts sitting after being banged up following his head first tag. However, his usage patterns with Verdugo in the early season leave a lot to be desired. Verdugo shows no platoon split and has sat against multiple lefties. This needs to stop especially when the scuffling Benintendi is an option to sit. It’s also most clear that Kevin Pillar and Jackie Bradley Jr. should be in a platoon. In regards to the Moreland/Chavis platoon, I understand the concept of what they are doing, but when one guy is hot and the other can’t hit anything you need to ride the hot hand, especially in a short season.
Urgency has been an issue for Roenicke with his position player choices and his bullpen usage. We’ve seen some of the team’s less experienced and less skilled relievers coming into winnable games for the Red Sox only to see the opposing team’s lead balloon from three runs to five or more. The Monday experiment, which was billed to us as an opener game for Josh Osich became an ugly bullpen game quickly, until the guy who should have started, or even followed, Zach Godley came in to pitch well. If these things can be tightened up Roenicke may be ok. If not this 60 games is going to feel like 162.
3. I was raised to be skeptical of how much any manager brings to the table in on-field performance. Alex Cora relieved some of those worries, even while being aware that he was a special tactician (and not just because he was good at cheating.) Cora had some faults, but for the most part knew which buttons to push at the right time. He did some infuriating things like playing Eduardo Núñez over Rafael Devers early in the 2018 playoffs, but eventually relented. Maybe this should be a lesson I should learn from and give Roenicke more time, but everything I’ve seen so far gives me little hope he’ll adapt. He’s a veteran of the game, likely set in his ways of setting lineups and general bullpen strategy and habits such as running out a get-away day lineup when they’re only traveling across town that evening. These events don’t inspire me with much confidence. Knowing what we know now, I’m going to continue with this season’s trend of being pessimistic and give him a three.