Plenty of Joe Maddon hate flowing around. You would think all of the accolades and articles he piled up last year would lead to a grace period of sorts. After all, the Rays are right around .500 nearing June, if this were last year, or the year before that, or the year before the year before that, people would be absolutely besides themselves with joy. That argument could be used for just about any Rays employee, and make no mistake, I'm hardly saying we should be happy with a .500 record, or that the results of last season are enough to forgive any sins of the present, but it does seem a bit harsh to call for Maddon's head when his actual effect on the performances are likely less than assumed.
So let's see...
No idea how much say Maddon has on Troy Percival or Dan Wheeler being around. He seems to try and limit their chances when possible, but they still have two of the three highest pLI on the team. His usage of Brian Shouse has been mostly good, same with the others. There's a few match-ups you can point to and say he failed, but then again, there's a few you can point to and say he succeed beautifully. Given the ridiculous amount of work the pen has endured, not too bad of a job.
I'm not getting into the resting debate here. It's been rehashed several times, sorry, I like exploring new conversations rather than beating ones that, again, we know very little about again and again. From a technical aspect, the lineup is fine. Could you blame him for keeping Upton in the leadoff spot? Sure, but remember, Maddon was quick to drop Dioner Navarro, perhaps because of reasons that we simply don't know. Lately, Upton's bat has come to life, and not so much for Navarro just yet. Maybe this is a case of Joe playing a hunch and having it work, maybe not.
I've poured a lot of thought into this lately, mainly with some failed shift attempts. Really, I can't find a reason to blame Maddon for employing them as long as he's relying on more than one year's worth of data. Let's take David Ortiz, 2006-2008 version, as an example. During these three years, Ortiz has hit .297/.413/.596 in 1,844 plate appearances. Using Baseball-Reference's hit location data from those years, I jotted down the pull, up middle, and opposite field numbers for each year. As we know, Ortiz' reputation is that he's a notorious pull hitter. Maddon employs a shift where he slides the second baseman into shallow right, slides the shortstop over towards second base, and slides the third baseman towards the shortstop position. Essentially, he dares said pull hitter to bunt or to hit one out of the park, otherwise, odds are he's going to be out. Ortiz pull and up the middle totals were: 81.4%, 83.2%, and 83.1%. When Ortiz puts the ball in play, he's hitting it to the right side of the infield 80-83% of the time.
At various points in the past, guys have pushed singles or bunts to the left side of the infield, reaching on a single. The thing is, Maddon isn't employing the shift on every single hitter with a discernable location split, or if he is, it's not one as accented as against guys like Ortiz, Travis Hafner, and Jason Giambi. Against a dead-pull left-handed singles hitter, he may have the shortstop cheat towards the middle by a few steps, but nothing like placing him on the other side of the infield.
In cases where Ortiz bunts, Maddon is trading increased odds of reaching base for decreased odds of turning that into extra bases. That's essentially the opposite of when he has the centerfielder play shallow. Everyone remembers the Seattle game with Gabe Kapler, but the Rays must have a study ran on defensive alignments. Consider that while Upton can't get to every ball on the warning track or every ball a few dozen feet from the infield, he gets to most of either. The extra base hits are usually more of the fault of the pitcher, while the bloopers or fliners might be the result of a well-executed pitch.
If a hitter is hitting the ball 395 feet to dead center, sure, take your two bases, but anything a dozen feet beyond second to the track is probably caught. I'm not going to try and figure out the break-even point, but we know that one point of OBP is worth somewhere between 1.5 and 2 points of SLG. The hard part is figuring out how many balls are caught or not caught due to positioning. With stat gurus like James Click and Erik Neander in the front office, I'm going to assume this is something they've already covered in more depth than I possibly could.
This is another one of those cases; neither you nor I really know what goes on behind closed doors. We do know that players seem generally happen with him. Maddon avoids calling out players in the press and will stick up for anyone, no matter how poor their performance may be on any given day. That within itself is admirable. Like players like Troy Percival or not, Maddon will deflect blame from his players and allow them to focus on playing rather than catching up on the newest quotes or sound bites. He's shown to be stern when the job requires it and there's no reason to believe his soft-spoken mannerisms contribute negatively to long-term success. Ask Terry Francona or Joe Torre about that, neither of whom are especially skilled tacticians.
I'm running short on time here, so a few other points to address:
- Maddon is doing a good job of balancing the right field platoon.
- Also a pretty fair job getting Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist at-bats while not taking too many away from guys like Pena, Longoria, or Crawford.
- Good job at managing the rotation for the most part. It's tough with Sonnanstine, Niemann, and Kazmir sucking for approximately 90% of their combined starts.