Why Does Joe Maddon Always Get A Pass?

Last night in New York, Joe Girardi was booed when he was announced in front of his home crowd at Yankee Stadium. In Boston, John Farrell is taking heat for managing his pitching staff too conservatively. But in Chicago, Joe Maddon’s handling of his pitching staff has been far more indefensible and nary a peep rises. Why?

Let’s revisit Game 2 of the Cubs’ series with the Washington Nationals. Chicago leads 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth. Bryce Harper comes to the plate as the tying run. A young righthander, Carl Edwards, is on the mound. The situation virtually begs for Mike Montgomery to come into the game and create a lefty-lefty matchup in favor of the Cubs. Montgomery is, in fact, warming up.

What does Maddon do? He leaves Edwards in to give up a tape-measure home run to Harper tying the game. But never fear, he does go to Montgomery—in time to face right-handed power bat Ryan Zimmerman with two men aboard. Now the righty-lefty split favors the Nats and Zimmerman promptly deposits the baseball over the wall in left-center for a three-run blast. The Cubs, five outs away from putting their foot on the Nationals’ throat, instead lose 6-3.

By comparison, Girardi’s alleged mismanagement of Game 2 in Cleveland or Farrell’s sticking with his ineffective starting pitchers too long are tame by comparison. It’s not that I think either manager is above reproach in these areas—in particular, as a Red Sox fan, I’ve virtually sat in front of the TV begging Farrell to stop managing these games like it’s the middle of July and he has to pace his bullpen.

But at the very least, I understand that his own starting pitchers are putting him in very difficult spots. You can say the same for Girardi, whose normally reliable bullpen simply failed him. In both situations, I think critiques of the managers are fair, but should not overshadow criticism of the personnel for not delivering.

Now let’s return to Maddon. He failed in the most basic element of in-game managing, which is to put players in the best possible position to succeed. I’m not one who harshly criticizes every move a manager makes with his pitching staff, but the decisions Maddon blew in Game 2 just seemed very basic.

Nor was this the first time the Cubbie skipper has done obviously questionable things with his pen in the postseason. You may recall last year he emptied his bullpen in Game 6 of the World Series—with a 7-2 lead and with Jake Arrieta still pitching well in the sixth. The result was the pen, particularly Aroldis Chapman being gassed the following night. In Game 7, Maddon again used a quick hook on an effective starter, this time Kyle Hendrick and brought in an exhausted Chapman to collapse. The fact the Cubs won in extra innings saved Maddon’s decision from living in baseball infamy, but it didn’t make them any more defensible.

Joe Maddon’s credentials as a manager are undisputed—he’s a Hall of Famer. But it’s time to take him off the pedestal that’s otherwise reserved for media darlings like Andrew Luck. The Chicago manager deserves the same treatment Girardi and Farrell are getting.