In his first year at the helm for South Carolina, we all expected that Chad Holbrook might undergo some growing pains, given it was the first time he'd ever held the lineup card. While it was disappointing to see him live up to those fears in a Game 3 loss in the Chapel Hill Super Regional, he later encouraged many when he stated regret for the decision to bunt Joey Pankake while also employing savvy baserunning techniques against the Tigers.
Unfortunately, that's where the progress ended. Holbrook once again choked in the postseason, bunting Grayson Greiner in the eight inning against Maryland and then pitching Wil Crowe against Campbell instead of saving him for the far better Maryland team that Carolina needed to beat twice to win the regional. For the second straight season, Holbrook's management contributed to the Gamecocks not heading to Omaha.
This season, Holbrook got an early jump, not waiting until the postseason to put his fetish for suboptimal decisionmaking on display. On Friday night, Holbrook decided to bunt Max Schrock with two on and no one out in the first inning - the same thing he did two years before in Chapel Hill with Joey Pankake. Two years after making the wrong decision - and 18 months after stating it was the wrong thing to do - Holbrook went right back to playing things "by the book."* Schrock popped the bunt up, no one advanced, and the Gamecocks gave away outs and a major early scoring opportunity in a game they went on to lose 11-4.
*Note - this isn't a real book, and if it were, it'd be a terrible book. This is basically doing things the way they've always been done. It's suboptimal and it's unthinking, and that's the issue.
Holbrook showed just how unthinking he was three days later, when Schrock came up in a very similar situation. Down in the sixth inning, Holbrook let Schrock swing away with two on and no one out. Schrock hit a grounder up the middle, Clemson rolled a double play, and the Gamecocks went scoreless in the inning.
After the game, Holbrook had this to say about the decision:
Holbrook: 'I didn't bunt Max Schrock because he's our best hitter. ... It was the wrong call on my part. I'll stand by it.'— GoGamecocks.com (@gogamecocks) March 3, 2015
This is nonsensical. Chad Holbrook apparently changed his thinking over the course of three days, and then changed it again once it didn't work. Clearly, Holbrook doesn't know whether it's right or wrong to bunt in this situation. He's simply responding to what worked or didn't work recently. The bunt didn't work on Friday? Then let's swing away on Monday. Swinging away on Monday doesn't work out? Well, then we'll bunt again tomorrow.
That's the problem. Holbrook simply doesn't know there's a right or wrong answer here. He's going on "feel" or "gut," when he should be going on a solid set of principles that guides how he runs this team.
It's fine if every once in a while you want to make a decision that flies in the face of math because you know something other people don't know. But Holbrook has lost any sense of credibility or belief that allows for such decisionmaking. Once we see him make the right call on a regular basis consistently, we can begin to allow him an occasional choice such as the one on Friday. Until then, it's safe to say that he and the coaches need to bring in nothing less than absolutely elite talent, because they'll need it to overcome the advantages this coaching staff gives away, night-in and night-out, nine innings at a time.