By now most people know that tweeting angrily to me about something Blue Jays-related — or, especially, John Gibbons-related — probably isn’t going to go the way that they want it to. I see to that! But occasionally I still do get some righteous indignation in my feed, and even more occasionally it makes me wonder if the person I’m snarking it might have some kind of a point.
Oh, don’t worry, dear reader, it will take more than a few tweets for me to start thinking that I might actually be wrong about some shit! But last night one of these things did happen, as I was asked about the absence of Russell Martin and Devon Travis from the Jays’ lineup by a reader who couldn’t hide his obvious disdain for John Gibbons’ decision to sit two of the hottest hitters on the team.
It’s impossible to deny that Martin and Travis have been crucial to the Jays’ resurgence. Martin is up to a 122 wRC+ on the year, and he’s produced a 168 mark since April 24th (a span which, of course, includes a bunch of time on the DL). And if you like arbitrary end-points like that one, I’ll have you know that since May 10th, Travis’s wRC+ has been a ridiculous 206. That’s some Joey Votto shit right there! Y’know, minus the walks. Travis has just one walk over that 78 PA span. BUT STILL!
So… sure, it was a little odd to see the two not in the lineup for The Most Important Game Of The Year Except The One Hundred And Eight That Follow It (TM). And it was perhaps odd to see the just-returned Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki both get the day off last Saturday, for what some huffed would be a guaranteed loss against the Rangers (the Jays won). But is this an egregious, outrage-worthy abdication of a manager’s duties, or, y’know, something that we can fairly easily make sense of?
I bet you can guess where I’ll come down on this one! But let me assure you, it’s not because I’m so super in the tank for John Gibbons that I couldn’t possibly not come down this way. Gibbons does stupid shit sometimes! He’s not incapable of an awful decision. That rash of bunting that we saw a couple weeks back? THE WORST!
It’s just… in this case I’m on his side. For one thing, as much as fans can act like they live and die by the Jays’ record, he’s more invested in this team winning than we are. His job is literally on the line if his team doesn’t perform. I don’t think he sits players just for the hell of it without thinking about what the lineup he puts out there means for his club’s chances to win.
With respect to the recent decisions, the thing is, guys are hurt. Or “hurting.” Or “banged up.” Or “still recovering from injury but capable of playing through.” (And the thing about that is, Gibbons knows a whole lot better than we do how they’re really feeling — which, of course, doesn’t mean he can’t make a bad decision with that information, but it’s definitely something to be considered.)
Donaldson and Tulo were sat last Saturday because it was a day game after a night game, and said night game was their first full-speed big league action after time on the DL. Martin is currently “banged up,” according to Gibbons’ explanation for the night off — and I think it’s safe to say that with his recent shoulder trouble (a cortisone shot early in his DL stint seems to have done a good job alleviating the nerve issues caused by a cyst in there), there’s some justification in going easy on him, especially if it’s been barking at him a little more lately. And Travis, in addition to being 1-for-20 against CC Sabathia in his career, is still building strength after missing almost all of Spring Training, as well as his off-season weight loss (which was designed to help him recuperate from knee surgery).
I’ll admit that the micro-splits thing I don’t really like. Sabathia is a lefty and Travis, as one of the hottest right-handed bats in baseball, may well have teed off on him, regardless of what the painfully small sample of his history against him suggests. But the injury stuff? I think it all checks out — for him, for Martin, and for Tulo and Donaldson. (One problem with it: when Gibbons simply calls them “maintenance days,” as he did last night, it makes them sound a little bit more arbitrary than they probably are. In fact, one day later, Martin remains questionable because of a “neck issue.” And Travis’s knee bothering him was a reason cited for his absence Thursday night.)
That said, we don’t know how much Gibbons thinks that it’s important to get all his players some playing time here and there, regardless of whether guys ahead of them on the depth chart are healthy or not, and whether that has played some kind of role here, too. But I have to say, I think it’s OK that he’s managing for a 162 game season, and not treating every day like it’s the seventh game of the World Series.
This shouldn’t be controversial! And the thing is, I mostly think it isn’t. We all understand that players need days off from time to time. But for a lot of fans there’s another part to that sentence: “We all understand that players need days off from time to time… JUST NOT TODAY!!!!!”
A manager doesn’t have the luxury to think that way. And as much as it truly is a gut-punch to see a punchless lineup being rolled out when there are ostensibly healthy players on the bench for “no good reason,” I think we’d all do well to try to keep in mind that there is good reason. Usually, at least.