An Early Defense of Dale Sveum’s Lineups and Substitutions

If you’ve been following the Chicago Cubs ardently so far this year (God bless, by the way), you’ve probably started to develop thoughts about Dale Sveum, who took over as the team’s new manager in the offseason. And that’s fine – it’s impossible not to think some thoughts after a couple games, let alone 17.

That said, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t offered much in the way of criticism or praise of Sveum. Like you, I have thoughts, too, but I can’t help but feel like 17 games is too small of a sample size to properly judge what kind of manager Sveum is. We’re not ready to say Geovany Soto is a terrible hitter based solely on the first few weeks of the season, right? (OK, well, for some of you, that’s probably a bad example.)

I don’t agree with everything Sveum does, but, for the most part, I haven’t seen too much to grouse about. But I’ve seen plenty of grousing in the comments, on the Message Board, on Twitter, and on Facebook. (By the way, you should go to each of those places.) I’m sure it’s just in the nature of what sports fans do online, but, given the almost unlimited support we offer to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, you’d think their hand-picked manager would get the same kind of leeway. Heck, most of us stuck with Mike Quade clear into June last year.

Just as I don’t agree with everything Dale Sveum does, I don’t agree with everything Phil Rogers says. But today, I think he’s got something worthwhile to offer on the subject. From Phil:

Dale Sveum’s lineups and substitutions have drawn a lot of criticism on message boards in the early season, with Cubs fans wondering if the new manager knows what he’s doing. The 3-2 victory over the Cardinals, the product of a lineup that had Joe Mather at third base and Jeff Baker at first base, should quiet that down for a little bit. Believe me, unless you’ve crunched numbers for an afternoon, you probably shouldn’t second-guess a Sveum lineup. The players who start, and the way guys are used off the bench, are as much (probably more) the result of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer statistical analysis as they are the manager’s instincts.

Conventional wisdom does not apply, and you’re wasting your time trying to make it fit. There are situations in life where the usual logic does not apply, and the 2012 Cubs are one of those. One other thing to understand — these guys are in it for the long haul more than that day’s game. So when they let the struggling Geo Soto hit in a big spot when Steve Clevenger — you may love him now, but had you heard of him a year ago? — is available, they are thinking beyond the probable outcomes of the upcoming at-bat. They know that they have to give Soto time to work his way through the fog so they can decide how best to utilize Soto as an asset — either by pledging allegiance to him with a contract extension (unlikely) or trading him at some point between now and next January.

I mean, I just … agree with all of that. Well, except maybe the part about Joe Mather’s hit proving anything – the team is still 5-12, after all, so let’s not start pointing to results as proving anything in either direction.

Dale’s still got plenty of grace as far as I’m concerned. He’s got a rough roster to work with, and he’s still feeling it out. Today’s “terrible” decision might prove to be tomorrow’s genius move.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

46 responses to “An Early Defense of Dale Sveum’s Lineups and Substitutions”

  1. GreyFury

    Logic….reason… what a notion!

    1. Wilbur

      Logic, clarity and reason; the three deadly sins …

  2. Ron Swanson

    Agreeing with Phil Rogers makes my tummy hurt but he actually sounds sane this time.

  3. justinjabs

    Agreed. Maybe I’m a little too deep into the kool-aid but these guys have a two or so year grace period for the most part in my book. This season is about learning the new players, waiting for Jackson/Rizzo, and catching a few lucky upsets against the opposition rather than winning for me.

    Oh, and being able to say when/if it does happen, that I was watching intently from the start of the new regime.

    1. GreyFury

      Amen brother!

  4. chris margetis

    I’m sure Sveum was picked as much for his willingness to defer to Theo and Jed as he was for his baseball accumen.

    1. hansman1982

      Yes, the front office is much more interested in having a puppet manager than winning.

      1. Fishin Phil

        I am available for the right price.

      2. Ogyu

        The front office has a plan that requires taking some losses now in the interest of longer-term goals and they need a manager who will defer to that plan. To that extent, they are more interested in having a puppet manager than in winning.

      3. Spencer

        ….that is not what he said at all.

        1. rcleven

          Are you saying Phil is not available for the right price?

  5. Webb

    If Dale is able to coach someone into hitting something that gets them beyond first base he has my blessing. Dear Lord, does this team needs to hit the weight room.

  6. MaxM1908

    Rogers definitely hits the nail on the head. I too, though, don’t see where he’s coming from thinking last night’s win silenced any critics. The offense was completely anemic last night, and Baker, as many critics predicted, accomplished nothing except two terrible at bats and one slightly less terrible at bat. I don’t have much of a problem with the way Sveum is setting the lineups. I would like to see LaHair and Mather more, but I think Sveum is coming around to that idea too.

  7. DocPeterWimsey

    And, again, the old analogy comparing exact lineups to shuffling chairs on the Titanic comes to mind.  This teams problems are akin to a great big iceberg having ripped out the hull.

    That being said, a lot of what Sveum has done might be unconventional, but it is sensible.  Conventional baseball wisdom almost epitomizes perfection being the enemy of the good.  Why don’t you bat two lefties back-to-back?  Because in one sequence of ABs in some games, the opposition can throw 2 lefty relievers against you.  You use a sequence that is optimal in 1 AB sequence for every several it is suboptimal.  Bye bye baby, bye bye bathwater….

  8. Spoda17

    Sorry Brett, but I will have to disagree with you on this one… I too read the article from “Phil” this morning, and I disagree with him as well. I think 17 games it not enough to throw Geo off the team, but I do think it is enough to start to see a pattern with how Dale approaches games. Numbers aren’t everything, sometimes the actual game matters… if it were only numbers and stats, let’s just turn it into a computer generated fantasy league!

    Let me just say, I like Sveum, I love the hire, I think he has done some good things so far, but quite honestly, I am starting to really question his lineups, and the reason for them. I have said this a million times already, but he manages for the 6th inning and beyond matchup, and forgets to manage for the first 5 innings. The reason we were in the position we were in last night was because of the lineup that got us there… LaHair (and Mather) saved it, but you will never know how he does against lefties until you play him against lefties..! 0-6 against lefties, talk about a small sample size… but yet he sticks with Geo with a lot more at bats… So to sit LaHair because of 6 ABs is BS.

    I will have to check, but it just seems Dale make 3-4 times more lineup moves per game versus the other manager… and oh by the way we are 5-12… so LEAVE IT ALONE for a game and see how it goes. Hey here’s an idea, see if LaHair can hit lefties… by actually letting him face lefties…

    So imma call BS on this one Brett, Dale needs to quit with the multiple changes per game and see what a week to 10 days will get you. Let these guys get into a groove, then if they don’t; then make changes.

    1. Richard Nose

      ’3-4 times more lineup moves per game’…don’t exaggerate too much. And to call someone else BS…amusing. Similar to 7th grade shit. Drama.

    2. DocPeterWimsey

      “Hey here’s an idea, see if LaHair can hit lefties… by actually letting him face lefties…”

      Or we could look at his minor league performance against lefties….

      1. mpope30

        So now all of a sudden Lahair’s minor league numbers count? You can’t have it both ways Doc. Not trying to cause a stir, but I agree that Lahair should be given the opportunity to play every day. Plus no one (that I know at least) wants to show up to Wrigley and see Bake’s sorry ass at first base batting 4th or 5th.

    3. Drew

      I’m pretty much neutral on Dale so far, and I too disagree with some of what Phil had to say. I do have a to disagrees with one of your points, though:

      While I’d like to see what Lahair out there against LHP, its more that I hate seein him on the bench in favor of Jeff Baker than me thinking he actually CAN hit LHP. Dale isnt making this decision based on 6 PA; Lahair has shown throughout his minor league career that he cant hit LHP, and for him to be able to all of a sudden start at the ML level is very unlikely.

      As for shuffling the lineup around (same players, different order), Doc’s point is spot on; it is like shuffling deck chairs on the titanic. Even the best 9 are gonna be anemic offensively no matter what order they’re in.

    4. Cheryl

      Sveum has done okay so far but the questions regarding some of his lineups are legit. Most of us aren’t that familiar with LaHair’s minor league stats when he faced lefties, yet some argue that minor league stats aren’t a reliable source for how a player does in the majors. You can’t have it both ways. That’s why the argument that he should have a chance to hit against lefties has some resonance. I don’t compare Sveum to Quade. For me they are oceans apart. But just the same it is natural to ask questions on both Mather and LaHair. I think Sveum deserves some leeway. But at the same time, if you don’t use players and decide to platoon them than it is also fair to wonder why they are on the team in the first place.

      1. drew

        Its not about having it both ways; If a guy has terrible splits against inferior competition, (the minors) then their is good reason to believe that, once he gets to the next level, he will continue to struggle in that same situation. I take the opposite perspective; if Sveum runs him out there against LHP and he struggles like expected, will that cause him to mentally slump and stop mashing RHP?

        There are plenty of positive minor league numbers that DO count, theres just some that I personally ignore. If a guy puts up great “traditional” stats (avg, hrs, etc) thats great, but its not the whole story; BJax with the same “traditional” triple-slash line but with Vitters’ BB rate is a not a ML player (in my eyez, at least).

      2. ty

        LaHair just said on CSN that he would love the chance to hit lefties. He said he has learned to adjust-cut swing down.

  9. Gordy85

    Thank you for this post. Hopefully this does more for silencing critics than last nights game did. I have been part of a sports rebuilding project before and there is a lot that goes into it. There are different ways to get people to “buy-in” to your system, namely “TRUST.”  Unfortunately, sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.

    I couldn’t help but watch last night and feel like that win could propel the cubs in the right direction. I’m not predicting a 10 game winning streak or anything, but I think some stuff will click this season. I have been a Soriano hater and I actually see leadership and “buy-in” from him in a lot of ways. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Theo is taking a little criticism for how things are in Boston now. I think he knows where he errored and doesn’t want to make the same sort of mistakes. He’s too smart not to.

    I dislike losing and there are a lot of things that frustrate me during the games, but that isn’t different than most of what I have seen from the Cubs in the past. At least this way, I can analyze and look for progress.

  10. Kyle

    I don’t particularly care for how he’s handled some of the pitching staff, but for the most part I don’t have any huge beefs with Sveum. He’s arranged the Titanic’s deck chairs about as well as anyone could have.

    1. Wilbur

      I think the chaise lounges could be more toward the stern …

  11. Cubs Dude

    Brett, good perspective on Sveum, he defenitely has his work cut out for him. I gotta ask what is the love fest Sveum has for Baker though? Anytime I see him starting at first and hitting in the middle of the lineup it is a complete downer. If you want to bench LaHair against lefties (which I think is stupid) dont start Baker at first and bat him 4th or 5th..

  12. lou brock lives

    When a bench player gets 3 hits & serves as a catalyst for the offense in a dominant win & then sits the next day I question ANY manager who does not reward that player with a start the next day particularly when the ” starter ” is hitting .150 & contributing nothing on defense either. Clevenger & Soto were those player this homestand. What message are you sending as a manager if you do not reward PRODUCTION & WINNING ??? Trade value be damned.

    1. Wilbur

      …or should the chaise lounges be more toward the bow?

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        Depends on whether you want snowball fights or not.  Myself, I’m putting on a dress and getting a giant lollipop….

      2. hansman1982

        I was thinking port side…then again, we could throw the chaise lounges overboard and set up aluminum lawn chairs…

  13. Fishin Phil

    Svuem has not inspired me to throw anything at the TV yet, so he’s got that going for him.

    I hope to see what he can do with a talented team some day.

  14. Cub Gone Wild

    I thlink Sveum needs to let his players who are producing results play until they need a break from the action. I don’t like losing much even if the expectation is that we won’t win much this year. There are days that I wish Stewart and LaHair just were left along to play and relax not looking over their shoulder 24/7. Guys just won’t produce when under a constant microscope. Especially guys who don’t have anymore big league experience than these two. You can throw Clevinger and Mather into that group. These guys have roles to fill and getting them settled into their roles early on is going to be the best thing in the long run. The pitching staff is almost completely role-less at this point. Garza is it. Dempster will hopefully come right back and pitch like he was. I am not sold on Shark as a starter. I don’t know if Volstad is a starter. Maybe Volstad and Shark would make great late inning guys. Wells and Maholm can fill in but we have a real weakness in the starting rotation. All this so called depth is nothing but a whole lot of mediocrity at best. I wonder why we just don’t bring up a guy like McNutt or someone else who is pitching well at AA or above as a starter and give them a job to do. We got nothing to lose and we can be a lot more patient with someone like that who we view with upside. The Reds brought up Mike Leake last year and said here ya go the job is yours and he has done very well. I’m not a firm believer that you need to have said number of innings or be a certain age to pitch in the majors. If we get to a point where we are putting the best players we have in our organization on the field everyday I can sit back and watch them develop and not be so critical of every move that is made.

  15. cubfanincardinalland

    If they were going by statistics they would be doing a lot of things different. 17 games this year doesn’t make a book on Soto, but can I throw in the 100 games last year when he hit .205 against right handed pitching? Gotta play him to trade him.
    And the two guys who have proven over seasons as not being able to hit lefties are DeJesus and Stewart. LaHair has shown in the minors he can hit lefties, but we platoon him. Gotta try and build that confidence in the veterans I guess.

  16. Steve

    Cubs win!!! Cubs win!!!!

  17. Andrewmoore4isu

    You’re right! Don’t blame sale. Blame theo!

  18. Andrewmoore4isu

    I miss him hendry

  19. rcleven

    The only thing I have noticed Svuem will say one thing to the press and do something opposite the next day. I beginning to believe the line ups we are seeing are not his.

  20. OlderStyle

    … and the band played on.
    I don’t have unlimited support for Theo, Jed or Dale.
    But, Dale is a rookie manager with a AAAA team. He gets a good deal of slack from me. He seems alright, but the first quarter report cards haven’t been sent out. not much to say, the Cubs are pretty much what they were expected to be. insert cliche- it is what it is.

  21. KyleNovak

    Couldn’t help think of the Simpsons and “Homer at the Bat” during this thread. . .

    Mr. Burns: “Take a lap and hit the showers, I’m putting in a right-handed batter to hit for you.”

    Darryl Strawberry: “You’re pinch-hitting for me?”

    Mr. Burns: “You see, you’re a left-hander and so is the pitcher. If I send up a right-handed batter, it’s called playing the percentages. It’s what smart managers do to win ballgames.”

    Strawberry: “But I’ve hit nine home runs today!”

    Mr. Burns: You should very proud. Simpson!!! You’re batting for Strawberry!”

  22. Larry Bittner

    I think all the posters who theorize that Sveum is Theo’s puppet are freakin nuts. I like that this team doesn’t play with their heads down. I like that Darwin Barney got bigger and now bats bigger, I like that the Cub prospects think it’s cool to take a walk, I like when Ronnie WOO WOO takes a shower, I like to imagine Jed Hoyer sitting back watching 20 closed circuit TVs of 5 minor league cub games each night, I like when Soto has a Clevenger/Wellington fire under his ass, I like that Rizzackson are the best players in AAA and hungry to kick ass when they come up, I like that everyone on the team is trade bait. I like to hate Tom Brennerman, I like to see kids of former Cub players succeed, SWISH. I like Santo, and That should pretty much do it.

  23. JustSwain

    Small sample size or not, I do not like some of the lineups I’ve seen Sveum construct. Its not necessarily the players he is playing (though I’d like to see Soto and Clevenger swapping every other day at least until Clevenger’s stats start to fall), its where he is batting them in the lineup. Its early, and I’ll try to give Sveum the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not yet convinced.

  24. hcs

    I’m just curious as to what type of fog Geo is working through… Would’ve thought he learned his lesson last time.

  25. ty

    Why not give Campana the same positive vibes as we would when Rizzo and Jackson come up. Believe in the value he brings to a game on a daily basis-still a rookie. Besides that fans enjoy seeing him. Let him learn and develop just as we will for the other rookies later this summer. He has not failed at any level yet!

  26. wvcubsfan

    Really only one move that i’ve watched or listened to really left me scratching my head. That was when Sori struck out to end the inning but Mather replaced LaHair isntead of Sori.

  27. ty

    The starters who have been terrific miss Sean Marshall!

  28. SirCub

    I’m coming around to Dale (funny how that happens when you’re winning). I’ve seen the error of my ways. I hated that Quade didn’t platoon Baker with Pena, and now I’m pissed at Sveum for doing it with Lahair? Any time you have a player with ridiculous splits (.350 vs RHP, .150 vs LHP), you know the manager is gonna get screwed. Cause either he plays him all the time and people yell at him for not taking him out against lefties (Quade), or he platoons him, and people are livid that a .350 hitter is being taken out of the lineup (Sveum).

    Course I still think Lahair should get a few more looks against lefties (as he proved last night), but I’m now confident that Dale will do a much better job than I could of knowing when to give him those looks (as he proved last night).