Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Responding on Rizzo's Bench

I like Mike Rizzo. I root for him. So before anyone starts saying I'm turning this blog into FMR, we should get that out of the way.

That said, the Nationals' bench stinks, and Mike's defense of his bench on sports talk wasn't very convincing. His argument basically boils down to the idea that to have a good bench, you need players who have experience as bench players, who have demonstrated the ability to come off the bench and perform well, as opposed to players who can only perform well as regulars.

Now, it may be kind of a skill to be able to come in without regular playing time and pinch hit or be a defensive replacement. You need to figure out a routine that allows you to stay sharp, and I'm sure that in the history of MLB there have been some guys who just couldn't handle it and went from solid starter to useless bench player.

But, really, aren't there a lot more guys who can't handle playing every day, but can get by going all-out less often, or playing just in favorable match-up situations? And isn't this nebulous "bench" skill far less important than skills like the ability to hit and field?

I'm not really buying the idea that you have to have a bench entirely made up of bench "specialists," as if you'd rather have a really good bench guy than someone who is talented enough to start on hand if necessary (which of course is what good teams have).

Rizzo also talks about the importance of guys who "know their role" and are willing to be bench players. This part is 100% nonsense. Bench players don't have to be bench players. They can go get a real job. But the reason Laynce Nix isn't a starter is because he stinks. He doesn't have a choice. And no player would rather play every day in the minors than be a back-up in the big leagues.

Finally, Mike talks about how the veteran bench can act as mentors to the young players. Here's the problem with that--most of the starters are veterans too. Aside from the middle infielders and Ryan Zimmerman, the whole opening day lineup was 29 or older. Wilson Ramos is the only other guy on the team who remotely qualifies as a young player. If you really have four 30-somethings in the starting line-up, do you really need another three (and a 40-something in Matt Stairs) on the bench? That's a lot of mentors, and not very many good players. (And by the way, isn't this what coaches are for?)

The sad thing is that the Nationals did kind of have the makings of a good bench. Mike Morse is a nice corner bench guy. Roger Bernadina is the textbook definition of a fourth outfielder. Ivan Rodriguez would be a fine back-up starting 30 games a year. Alas, they had to make Morse a starter. The team is dead-set on making Bernadina a starter because they don't have anyone else. And Interim Jim has too much respect for Pudge to staple his ass to the bench where it belongs.

Ultimately the problem with the Nationals bench isn't so much who they picked up off the trash heap. It's that the player development system hasn't produced players who can fill these bench roles cheaply and effectively. That's only partly Rizzo's fault, but he's been in charge of the draft since 2007, and he's been the GM for more than a year. The excuses are running out--pretty soon, if the talent level on the major league roster doesn't get better, he won't be able to pass the buck to ol' what's his name any longer.


Mr. Mustache said...

Exactly. Couldn't have said it better and glad to have you back.

TomL said...

Everything you say is true but you left out the part about Bernie needing to play regularly which I think is true. He's not going to get any improvement by having one AB every other night. Just being on the 25-man isn't going to magically make him any better. He has to go some place where he can steadily play but rizz doesn't need to say that the guys on the bench are a lot worse than a couple of guys in the minors but it's still what he has to do