Let Rickey Be

Had Twitter existed in 1949 when the Yankees hired future Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel, the tweets would have lambasted the hallowed franchise's management.

However, the world apparently was gentler and more polite 70 years ago, as exhibited by legendary sportswriter Tom Meany, who wrote in the Saturday Evening Post:

"There has been considerable speculation over the reaction of the old-line Yankees to the appointment of Stengel. It will be novel, to say the least, for them to be directed by a manager who thus far has gained more fame by his humor than by winning pennants."

Stengel contributed mightily to his reputation by saying things like, "The secret to managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven't made up their minds."

But the consternation about Casey emanated from his record as much as from his behavior. In nine seasons guiding the old Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves, his teams never finished higher than fifth in the eight-team National League and topped the .500 mark just one time. His winning percentage was .455.

In the ensuing 12 years, blessed with the likes of Rizzuto, Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford, Skowron, and many others, Stengel led the Yanks to 10 pennants and seven World Series titles.

Then he finished out his career beginning in 1962 with the expansion New York Mets, who went 175-404 in parts of four seasons with Stengel at the helm.

Then there's Joe Torre, another fellow whose plaque resides in Cooperstown in recognition of his six American League titles and four World Series championships in a dozen years with the aforementioned Yankees.

However, Torre began his managerial career with the Mets for five seasons where his teams never finished higher than fourth. He fared somewhat better in Atlanta and St. Louis, but in 14 seasons before the Yankees hired Torre, his winning percentage as a manager was .471. Like Stengel, having players named Jeter, Rivera, O'Neill, Posada, Clemens, Mussina, Pettitte among others greatly enhanced Torre's chances for success.

Terry Francona has been very successful as the skipper of the Red Sox (2004-11) and Indians (2013-present). Yet he's another highly-respected manager whose charges never finished above .500 in his first four seasons (1997-2000) managing the Phillies. Those clubs won only 44 percent of their contests.

When Francona was hired by Boston prior to the 2004 season, he had the luxury of penciling Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz into the lineup. That duo combined for 84 home runs and 269 RBIs as the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Hitters like that make managers look like geniuses.

By now you might have figured out where all this is going. If not, you clearly aren't part of the social media maelstrom surrounding White Sox skipper Rickey Renteria. The posts on Twitter tend to range from tepid endorsement to folks demanding his immediate ouster. Now, Twitter is filled with a wealth of baseball information some of us would never otherwise have access to. But it's also where dissatisfaction with Renteria has coalesced. Twitter is quite effective in performing that function.

Had the internet existed when Stengel and Torre began managing big league clubs, the reaction very possibly would have been similar to the criticism aimed at Renteria today.

After Sunday's 9-2 pasting by the Angels - the White Sox 19th loss in the last 22 games in Anaheim dating back to 2013 - Renteria's teams, the 2014 Cubs and the White Sox of the past three seasons, have won a total of 257 games while losing 352, a winning percentage of .422.

But as everyone knows, he's been in charge of two rebuilding outfits, and, as yet, he's never been blessed with a strong roster from top to bottom. Therefore, it's too early to judge Renteria's ability to manage effectively at the major league level.

Using this season as an example, the White Sox have virtually no depth on the big league roster. Ryan Goins was called up from Charlotte last month to fill in at shortstop after Tim Anderson sprained his ankle. Goins, a seven-year veteran having previously played for Toronto and Kansas City, has been called upon again this month to man third base in the absence of the injured Yoan Moncada.

Goins has started 418 games as a major leaguer. Prior to the 18 games at third base in place of Moncada, Goins had opened games at the position exactly six times during his career. He's a middle infielder, not a third baseman. In the seventh inning of Saturday's 6-5 loss in Anaheim, Goins was charged with an error on a smash by Justin Upton down the third base line. Had he fielded the ball, a double play might have ensued. As it was, a bases-loaded walk followed, and the Sox blew what had been a four-run lead earlier in the game.

This is not a knock on Goins or Renteria. There simply isn't anyone else to replace Moncada, who most likely would have made that play on Saturday. Yolmer Sanchez played third last season, but putting him back there and Goins at second would create two position changes, disrupting the double play combo of Anderson and Sanchez, and arguably weakening the infield defense in two spots.

When Renteria was hired, his ability to develop young players was listed as a major criteria for his employment. If you consider the progress of fellows like Moncada, Anderson, Aaron Bummer and Lucas Giolito, things are moving in the right direction. Reynaldo Lopez has displayed flashes of excellence, and Eloy Jimenez, despite two trips to the IL, hit his 22nd home run of the season Sunday. People are enthused about his future. In this regard, Renteria at the minimum earns a passing grade.

Renteria's handling of the bullpen, a very important chore, has also been reasonable considering that some of his relievers have come and gone due to - I will be kind - an inability to retire hitters on a consistent basis.

Rickey has identified the guys, such as Bummer and Evan Marshall, who can get people out, and he uses them in games that are winnable. Bummer has pitched in games where the Sox have a 28-13 record, while they are 23-14 when Marshall has pitched. Closer Alex Colome has converted 23 of 24 save opportunities, and the team is 35-12 when Colome pitches.

Conversely, Renteria uses relievers like Jace Fry (19-32 record in games where he's appeared), Jose Ruiz (7-27) and Josh Osich (10-31) when a victory appears out of reach. He saves his best arms to preserve a chance to win.

Much has been made about the team's spirit and fight as well as the clubhouse atmosphere. Despite losing 100 games last season, players sprinted to first base, and if they didn't, the bench awaited them. We'll never know if there are disgruntled players on the team, but from all outward appearances, it is a positive, jolly crew even though they're 13 games under .500. Ask Jose Abreu if he wants to remain on the South Side. Using that as one measurement, Renteria has created a more positive work environment than, say, his predecessor Robin Ventura.

The biggest rap against Renteria is that he is enamored with an old-fashioned paradigm, especially when it comes to bunting. I'm not aware that Renteria has been asked why the team bunts so often, but if he were, he might say that even in the new world there is a time and place for everything.

The analytics tell us that bunting is generally a losing proposition. But analytics can also tell us when bunting might actually be a good idea - like when a poor fielding pitcher such as Wade Miley (or Jon Lester) is on the mound.

Take last Wednesday against the front-running Houston Astros. Sanchez laid down a bunt in the second inning with the bases loaded that Miley tried to scoop to the catcher as Welington Castillo came down the line from third. The ball went to the backstop, and two runs scored. Of course, not every situation turns out so splendidly, but sometimes, given who is on the field and who is at the plate, putting pressure on the defense and making them work instead of accepting the probability of a strikeout seems credible.

So a bunt doesn't always diminish your chances for scoring in the sense that other factors are involved. And don't forget, many players - Rod Carew, Brett Butler, even Mickey Mantle - used the bunt not only to sacrifice but also to get on base. And while we're at it, the analytic trend of shifts that leave half the infield unguarded screams for a bunt to a place where no one is present.

The Sox do not catch teams napping. They bunt all the time, and even if it's expected, if a bunt a well-executed, especially a safety squeeze, there really is no defense for it. Renteria, like Joe Maddon, uses this a lot. Possibly too much, but he's got a team where guys like Adam Engel strike out time and time again. The fielders could sit down, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. A kid like Engel who can really run and who is a decent bunter should use the technique. Otherwise, he continually goes up to the plate, strikes out, and sits down.

In Tyler Kepner's New York Times column Sunday, he highlighted the success of the Astros, "who have been at the forefront of baseball's analytics revolution." Renteria and the Sox organization often are criticized for a lack of reliance on modern sabermetrics, and Renteria rarely talks about using the available data. Then again, when is he asked about it?

After all, before throwing him overboard for Maddon, Theo Epstein, one of the most analytically inclined executives in the game, hired Renteria. It's puzzling why the Sox rarely talk about analytics, but they definitely use them, just like every other major league team at this point. (And by the way, as of today, Renteria is a plus-5 in the Pythagorean standings, which purport to measure generally via run differential what a team's W-L record should be vs. what it is, crediting or debiting the manager with the difference, while Maddon is a minus-3.)

Sure, the White Sox organization is not as forward-thinking as the Astros organization. But who is? (By the way, the Sox won the season's series against the Astros, taking four of seven games, including two-of-three last week, which isn't to make an absurd comparison, but it is one of the more satisfying, though ultimately irrelevant, aspects of a very tough season.)

All of this is not intended to put the Sox manager on a pedestal. He frequently bats Anderson seventh because he says that's what Tim likes. The kid is hitting .330 for a team that has trouble scoring runs. Bat him second, Rickey. Give him as many opportunities as possible.

Furthermore, the Sox had nothing to lose when they signed Astros' reject A.J. Reed, who had amassed 62 home runs and 212 RBIs at Triple-A in 2017-18. However, Reed quickly showed that he couldn't hit major league pitching, yet Renteria continued to bat him in the middle of the lineup.

Losing never is easy, and the first target is the man in charge. Despite the criticism, Renteria appears even-keeled. There have been no temper tantrums or ragging on players or unhappy fans. He remains positive and good-natured. These qualities don't necessarily translate to a winning ballclub, but at least let's wait until the guy can put a legitimate major league lineup on the field.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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