Charlie Manuel does not like having to explain the reasoning behind the managerial moves that he makes, particularly when he feels like the questioner is challenging him.
"Because I'm the manager and that's what I wanted to do," is one of his favored responses.
I think this hurts him when it comes to public opinion, because it gives the impression that there is no rhyme or reason behind a move, when the vast majority of times he has a rationale that makes perfect sense.
Take, for instance, the decision to keep Domonic Brown on the bench today against Nationals lefty John Lannan. Brown entered the day hitting 10-for-19 with four extra base hits, a home run, a walk and no strikeouts in his last six games.
In 37 plate appearances through 10 games, Brown is 11-for-33 with five extra base hits (a home run and four doubles), 1/1 stolen bases, four strikeouts, three walks, five runs and five RBI. That's a .333/.378/.545/.924 line.
Compare that to his performance after he was called up last season: In 38 plate appearances through his first 10 games, Brown was 9-for-35 with three extra base hits (one home run and two doubles), 1/1 stolen bases, 11 strikeouts, five runs and 10 RBI. That's a .257/.237/.400/.637 line.
When the Phillies called Brown up last month, Manuel said that he planned to break him in exclusively against right-handed pitching. But he also said that he would eventually start to play him against lefties.
Since Brown is one of the hottest hitters on the team, why not make today the day he gets his first start of the season against a southpaw?
"Patience," was all Manuel said last night.
Turns out, there are some solid reasons that probably play into Manuel's belief that he still needs to be patient.
1) While Brown's overall numbers are far better, they really aren't a heck of a lot better against right-handed pitching than they were at this point last season.
Below are his first 31 plate appearances against righties this season and last season:
2010: 10/28 (.357), 4 XBH, 2 HR, 2 Sac Flies, 1 BB, 11 SO
2011: 11/27 (.407), 5 XBH, 1 HR, 1 Sac Flies, 3 BB, 2 SO
The only significant difference lies in his plate discipline. This year, he has struck out twice while walking three times. Last year, he struck out 11 times while walking once. That's probably the strongest argument for Brown being ready to face big league lefties on a regular basis. The walks and strikeouts could be an indication that he is seeing the ball extremely well, which would put him in a better position to deal with the type of stuff and location that lefties can throw at him.
2) While Brown has hit lefties well in the minor leagues, he did not post very good numbers in limited experience against them last season. In fact, he went just 1-for-13 with no extra base hits, no walks, one sacrifice fly, and five strikeouts. In three at-bats against lefties this season, he is 0-for-3 with a strikeout.
3) You can certainly argue that a young player will not learn how to hit big league lefties if he does not face them. The Phillies probably feel the same way. But today might not be the best day to start that experience.
In their next 15 games after today, the Phillies are likely to face only two left-handed starters: the Dodgers' Ted Lilly on Monday, and the Cubs' Doug Davis a week from today. Chicago's rotation could change between now and the time the Phillies face them, but Davis is the only southpaw in the rotation at this point. After the Cubs come the Marlins, who do not have any left-handed pitchers in their rotation.
In other words, the Phillies won't have many opportunities to get Ben Francisco a start over the next couple of weeks. Plus, Francisco entered the game 5-for-14 with two doubles, a home run and a walk in his last five games. Francisco also had two home runs, three walks and a single in his last 14 at-bats against left-handed pitching.
Why not start Francisco in left field and give Raul Ibanez a day off? Easy. Ibanez entered the day 11-for-20 with five extra base hits and two home runs against Lannan.
4) While it isn't a very compelling reason not start Brown against Lannan, it is worth nothing that Lannan has hit the Phillies' top three-left handed hitters (Utley, Howard, Ibanez) with a pitch seven times in 88 career plate appearances. Overall, Lannan has hit 12 batters in 660 plate appearances against lefties, compared with 10 in 2,058 plate appearances against righties. Like I said, not really a reason not to start Brown. But worth nothing, nonetheless.
5) So, to wrap things up, there is certainly a case to be made that Brown is ready to be playing everyday. You can argue that the more times he sees left-handed pitching, the more comfortable he will become. And a comfortable Brown would be a huge boon come September and October.
But when you really look at all the factors -- the desire to break Brown in slowly, the fact that his sample size is still too small to make any definitive judgments, the desire to get Francisco enough at-bats to stay sharp as a pinch-hitter/reserve outfielder, Francisco's performance over the past week or so, and Ibanez's performance in his career against Lannan (not to mention his overall stellar play in May) -- Manuel had more than enough reason to give Brown off against a lefty on a sweltering afternoon in the nation's capital.
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