Nationals Baseball: E is for Eighth Inning

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

E is for Eighth Inning

The Nats are 11-9 with 5 home games against beatable opponents directly in front of them. Things could be worse. At the same time, they lost a game last night and it felt like it was all their fault. It felt like errors in the field and in the dugout were the cause rather than where the balls happened to drop in or not. Not quite as bad as an implosion game but one that leaves a bad feeling in the gut, like the team isn't ready to win. Of course that's nonsense, but hey, people have their ideas and are going to fit what happens into what they already believe to be true. That's even the case with me saying it's nonsense.

So what are the stories from last night? The 8th inning decision making is one. Taking out Storen after getting one batter out is kind of iffy. I probably wouldn't do it given that Storen has been the Nats most effective reliever (that they've decided to keep in the majors) this year, but I understand the want to pinch hit late in the game. I can't kill Matt for this.

What I can kill Matt for is letting Clippard face Ibanez. Normally, I don't mind Clip facing a lefty in a big spot. Clippard has always been tough versus lefties (.184 / .268 / .320 for his career which is pretty amazing). In this specific occasion, Ibanez hits righties better but over the past few years he hasn't been an automatic out vs lefties (this year yes but it's early).  So if say Ibanez was leading off the inning, I'd say fine. But at this point Clippard had thrown 19 ptiches. The last two batters got a single and a walk. He was starting to struggle and that should be accounted for. If that means burning through another pitcher so be it.

Matt's explanation is even worse, hinging on the idea that Clippard is his "8th inning guy".  If you are still a believer in the closer role, I'd hope the idiocy of this idea expanding to earlier innings will bring you around. The relief staff is the only place, outside of pinch hitters, where things are not set before the game. This means the manager can use his players where they are most needed, rather than where they happened to be slotted. To assign roles like "8th inning guy" is to forcibly limit your options. It's ridiculous. In this situation it lead to a struggling Clippard both being saved for the 8th inning and being kept in the 8th inning, because that's "his" inning. It's a terrible way of directing a ballgame, one that requires no thinking and in fact aggressively wants you NOT to use judgement. It's a coward's way to manage. (which is why it's gained popularity - job security is first and foremost)

Other notes :

What's up with Clippard? He's walking more and everyone is scoring when they get on base but why? I noted last night that he has pitched in more games in the past 5 years than all but one pitcher (Matt Belisle) so it could be just wear and tear. There's nothing immediately telling in the fancy stats. This requires more digging.

Ian Desmond could use a night off. He has nine errors in his last 12 games and he's not hitting (.234 / .268 / .416).

Mike Trout's existence is one of the bigger problems Bryce faces. Everyone had Bryce pegged as a generational talent and he's actually not far off pace of that (if he even is off it). But there's a guy now who not only is that good, he might be better. At the plate, only two guys have been as good as Trout in their first 4 seasons in the last 50 years (Pujols and Frank Thomas) and both of those guys were a few years older when they did it. No one has been this good and this much a threat on the basepaths in 100 years.  And this isn't mentioning that he's at least a good fielder.  Trout has had 4 seasons that keep him in the argument for the best player in the history of the game. How does Bryce compete on that level? He doesn't.


Mitch said...

I've purposely avoided doing any research on Matt Williams so I could have an unbiased view of him, but it sure seems like my concerns are coming true. I was so hoping he wasn't going to be one of these dunder-headed dinosaurs with "eight-inning" guys and other nonsense. I hope it's not the case.

You couldn't be more right about Ian needing a day off.

Also of note, yet another baserunner running into an out (Lobaton).

Carl said...

Clippard vs. Ibanez: .400/.417/1.200 in 12 PA. (Not sure if that includes last night's AB or not.) All the more reason not to let him pitch there, regardless overall success vs. lefties.

cass said...

Matt Williams is a robot. Only explanation for leaving Clippard in.

Storen should have started the inning since, let's face it, he's been lights out and Clippard has struggled. This whole "Clippard owns the 8th inning" is HS. Let Clippard pitch in some lower leverage situations to figure things out and let the hot hand handle the 1-0 games. Storen has tons of experience closing and setting-up. He can handle the 8th.

Sticking with a struggling player too long will kill the chances of this team making the playoffs. It's happening now. Clippard has a long track record and you don't want to panic over a short sample, but there were plenty of great options last night. Let Clippard pitch when he has a little wiggle room so he can get himself right.

Donald said...

Last Friday (the last time Clippard pitched), Williams pulled him with one out in the 8th and brought in Storen to pitch to Matt Holliday, so I don't think he's locked into giving him the whole 8th inning. My guess is that he was concerned about hurting Clippard's confidence by yanking him twice in a row and was rolling the dice in hopes he'd come through. I don't think he'd admit to that in a press conference afterwards, though. Hence the fall back response of him being the 8th inning guy.

That being said, it was a big gamble that didn't pay off and you have to wonder how many more chances Clippard is going to get like this if he struggles early in an inning.

Also, I really don't understand the rationale for sending Barrett down. It feels like there's more to that story than just needing a fresh arm for a day. But right now, he and Storen seem like the best options to face that one critical batter. Hope he comes back soon.

John C. said...

Good call on the TOOTBLAN by Lobaton, Mitch. Once the LF cut the ball off short of the wall Lobaton (native american name: "Runs Like Catcher") should have put the brakes on. But Storen wasn't going to pitch the 8th.

With Trout (and potentially Pujols) coming up in a 1-0 game I want Storen in the 7th, damn the other data. And he did the job. Now, if it had taken him 18-20 pitches to get out of the inning unscored upon, then he'd be yanked anyway. But he didn't. The pitcher's spot was coming up fourth in the next inning, so once Lobaton walked are you going to have Storen bat with two outs and a runner on in a 1-0 game? I'm not. I'm going to see if Walters can yank a ball into the gap or over the wall and pick up some insurance. So out Storen goes.

The only way Storen stays in would have been to double switch. Of course, if you double switch and then Storen takes 18-20 pitches to get through the 7th you've burned through a player unnecessarily in a one run game, so there's that risk. And because of where they were in the order, the three spots to double switch were Rendon, LaRoche or Werth. IMHO it's not going to be Rendon or LaRoche. Werth? If you get to the #9 spot in the order in the 7then the #3 spot is going to bat in the 8th, and possibly (if you get something going with two outs) even in the 7th. And putting in McLouth might (OK does - Werth isn't moving so well at the moment) help the defense, but not only does the offense take a hit overall but you are lining up three LH batters (McLouth, Span, Harper) and four of five for any LOOGY the Angels have.

So not setting up Storen to pitch the 8th as well as the 7th makes sense to me. The one thing that I do hold Williams responsible for is not having Cedeno face Ibanez. But once that's done, he's not going to say "that's on me" at the presser, because the clear message then would be "that's on me, because Clippard can't get the guy out." As noted elsewhere, he's just not going to fry a player like that when the player is trying, just not succeeding.

NotBobby said...

My hope is that MW was merely using the term "8th inning guy" to mean that he is his number two guy in the pen behind his "closer." He hasn't only used Soriano in save chances and hasn't given Clippard the complete 8th each time there was a hold situation this season. I think...

Wally said...

I agree with the combination of Donald and John C's posts about what happened and why. I don't think that we can take at face value anything they say afterwards about 'my 8th inning guy' stuff. They treat the media, and indirectly us fans, as something that has to be managed, not spoken to honestly. Can't really say that I would do it differently, if I were in their shoes. But feck, it blows to watch this right now.

What I wish Williams, or any manager really, would do is expressly NOT announce any roles for bullpen guys. Once they have a role, it becomes a big deal to change the role, and you get locked in until a guy implodes so badly that you have to publicly move him out of a role. Just say that he is going to use them wherever he sees fit.

I think that the defensive problems are a bigger deal than generally gets mentioned. I think it not only has the obvious negatives of unearned runs and pitch counts, etc, but the loss of confidence in your teammates' defensive ability can have less obvious ones of causing pitchers to pitch differently - less confident in pitch to contact, more nibbling, etc, which makes them less effective. Compare that to the impact of Pujols barehanded play to get Harper at the plate. That kind of confidence is huge for a team.

My heart wants to blame Williams for this, but my brain says, 'how can he be responsible? He doesn't play the field for them and the same thing happened last year'. I don't know how to fix it, without getting new players. But I do think that without a big step up in defensive play, this team won't be a serious contender. Maybe teams with absolute dominance offensively or pitching can be a top flight contender without poor defense, but that doesn't describe the Nats.

Anonymous said...

Come on Harper, in the their last two losses they have given up a total of one earned run and scored five earned runs. They should be at least 13 - 7 and thats not counting three of the Braves games that were losses by their own mistakes. Same old story. Instead of a four game winning streak they have zero momentum.

Anonymous said...

Great article Harper, and Ibanez always killed Clip on the Phillies.

Anonymous said...

After watching this team for several years, it's mind boggling why Laroche, Werth and Desmond play so many consecutive games. Laroche and Werth wear down easily and their bat speed dwindles. Laroche needs a day off a week to maintain his strength. Werth is always injured and needs time off to heal, and Desmond needs a mental day off, especialy when struggling. Davey never got this and so far MW doesn't see this either.

Eric said...

"I don't think he'd admit to that in a press conference afterwards, though. Hence the fall back response of him being the 8th inning guy."

I agree 1000%. Assuming MW feels he made a mistake/can't trust Clip, he can't acknowledge that without publicly calling out Clippard. I'm OK with publicly calling someone out for lack of effort; not so much for failure to execute DESPITE giving it 100%.

ocw5000 said...

According to Fangraphs, Storen has the highest gmLI (leverage index when entering a game) on the team. That passes the eye test too, like facing Trout with a man on last night. Isn't this how we should be using our best reliever?

Related - here are Clippard's splits in different leverage situations this year (IP/BA/SLG)

Low Leverage: 3.2/.000/.000
Med Leverage: 3.1/.231/.769
High Leverage: 2.2/.385/.583

JE34 said...

Clippard's 1/3 of an inning on April 18 against St Louis seemed to scream out "the league has figured Tyler out." Sure, it was just one appearance in a long season, but yikes:

3 batters faced, 1 hit, 1 walk, 26(!) pitches, pulled because the skipper needed an out(!). Those 3 batters seemed to be sitting on his fastball, wearing him down by fighting off all the off speed stuff. Sounds like a repeatable formula to me.

The "8th inning guy" stuff is terrible, but hopefully he's just giving him public support. Baseball's version of predestination is scary for frustrated fans (cf. Espy's start in 2013).

Jay said...

Can we bench Williams for not legging it out to the mound last night? The 8th inning thing is incredibly weak. Clippard had already allowed Albert "freaking" Pujols to steal second base, given up the tieing run, walked the catcher who was batting .197 to load the bases. Leaving Clippard in was a Riggleman move.

The whole reason we went and got Jerry Blevins is because he pitch to both lefties and righties. Why is Ross Detwiler even in the bullpen right now? Even Cedeno would have been better at that point. The bullpen management has been a joke up to this point.

It just seems stupid to me that the "big Marine" will lay down the law and bench Harper for not running to first and then won't turn the same critical eye on himself. Pretty disappointing and I really miss Davey Johnson.

Kenny B. said...

Going to put down a meaningless marker that I hope is wrong:

This season will be 2013 mark 2. Nats will keep it a little closer, but will generally trail the Braves by 3-5 games all season long with maybe one very brief stint in first for a day or two. Eventually they fall to 8 or 9 back and it's basically over at that point. They end up losing out of the wild card to a team in the Central that heats up late.

More of a race than last year, but equal or more disappointment. There are just too many winnable games being lost for stupid reasons. When you're watching, you're always waiting for the bottom to fall out and the whole thing to collapse. Part of that feeling is a fan's overreaction to any given thing that happens, but at some point that fan sentiment is not just made up. We react to what we see. What we see is only fleeting moments of what we hope to see, interspersed with long periods of watching kind-of-okay opposing pitchers mow down the lineup while players and managers fail to execute and make stupid decisions. Oh, and injuries. Who among us can't wait to head to the ballpark and see the storied countenance of Nate McClouth or Kevin Frandsen.

JWLumley said...

@Jay Couldn't agree more, you throw the kid under the bus to the media, but you protect the gritty gamery veteran. Allowing Pujols to steal 2nd is no less of a mental lapse than not legging out a comebacker to the pitcher.

Perhaps it's because they haven't played well or the fact that Denard Span is still leading off, but I don't like Matt Williams at all. Which is funny, because he was probably like my 2nd or 3rd favorite player growing up.

And can someone please explain just what the Nats are doing with Detwiler? If you weren't going to use him, why not trade him? It's not like he didn't have value, of course that value has now been vastly diminished because he isn't stretched out. Makes zero sense to me.

Harper said...

mitch - you're being a little unfair to Williams. The guys with "eighth inning guys" etc aren't dinosaurs, they are typical.

Baserunning... not quite the worst!,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=17,d

Carl - I'd hate to use 12PAs to decide anything but as a cherry on top of the decision that's fine. Another stick on the fire.

cass - see I'm not so sure starting the 8th was terrible - you wanted Storen to face Trout, then you wanted to PH, then you needed someone else. All acceptable. So it's not TERRIBLE just terrible

Donald - Ok I can buy he isn't locked in but I think it needs a certain set of circumstances (Storen available, Righty up) to do it. Don't think it was confidence based.

Barrett down is still confusing, but what's done is done. He'll be back as soon as he can. (is that tomorrow?)

John C - Yes - not a good option for keeping Storen in. What I probably do now that I've thought about it some more - pinch run for Lobaton, pinch hit for Storen, pitch Clip. If, for whatever reason, I refuse to pinch run for Lobaton (Matt didn't do this) I probably let Storen bat because you need a 3B or HR to feel good about scoring Lobaton. But that's me - Like I said, you can't kill Matt for pulling Storen for a PH and following with Clip. Makes sense.

NB - True but just technically. For Soriano outside the Cardinals game (where he burned through the other two RHP pitchers he trusts) it's either been either for saves or work. For Clippard he let Blevins get a lefty out once then pulled Clippard early when strugglilng another time. Hardly role-altering. More exceptions.

Wally - Well He has pitchd in the 8th every time but once and that was just for work I think. If he's not the "8th inning guy" I'm not sure what he is.

Anon #1 - when you lose everything is generally the problem. The offense can struggle but injuries explain at least part of that. Defense is spotty but that's kind of a given with this team at this point outside of Span. The pitching failing.. that's new.

Anon #2 - yeah that was pointed out. It's shouldn't start or end the decision but it's another factor in favor of someone else facing him.

Anon #3 - players prefer to play everyday. For Desmond - with no history of wearing down, you can understand why he hasn't (up until now). For the older guys I think they'd be getting more days off if injuries hadn't happened. We'll see if they can have a 4 week stretch of healht.

Eric - I guess. I think you can say something like "my guy was obviously struggling tonight and I didn't help him out leaving him out there on batter too long" Doesn't exactly sell him out and puts more on himself.

ocw - Yes, though it's real early to measure. A lot of that is just the STL game and MIA game before that. Kind of afraid with Barrett back he'll be straight up 7th inning guy.

JE34 - Yeah I have a hard time giving Matt credit for pulling Clip that game - clear he didn't have it. Doesn't mean he's not set for the 8th - just really bad that night.

Jay - yes the idea (even if you don't like it) was Blevins was in part the guy to get out lefites the Nats didn't have last year. Here's a spot and yet - no Blevins.

blovy8 said...

I have to agree with Santangelo's assessment last night in that the league is able to lay off of Clippard's change-up for some reason. What he may need to do is feature the curve more. He also used to get away with high fastballs a lot, and while that was probably dangerous, it served to let him throw his curveball for a strike from that release point if he had to, last night the off speed stuff consistently fell below the zone for a ball when the batter was taking. While the book is to keep the ball down, I wonder if that's what he really should be doing.

blovy8 said...

I think you'd have to have the lefty warming up in anticipation of the potential matchup, and if you're doing that, it's as good as saying you have no confidence in Clippard. But I doubt that would mess with him too much anyway. It's clearly not a default position for Williams yet, but when there's the potential for a guy who owns the reliever to come up with no place to put him, it is the manager's fault not to allow himself that option.

Donald said...

@blovy8 -- re: Clippard should feature his curve more --I'm actually wondering if just the opposite is true. When he just had the fastball and change, he would throw either one in any count and it was very hard for the batter to guess. With the addition of the curve, has he become more predictable rather than less, by which I mean throwing the fastball in fastball counts etc.? If the curve is making his pitches even less predictable then I'm all for it, but I wonder. Did anyone else happen to notice?

Ollie said...

"Mike Trout's existence is one of the bigger problems Bryce faces. Everyone had Bryce pegged as a generational talent and he's actually not far off pace of that (if he even is off it). But there's a guy now who not only is that good, he might be better. At the plate, only two guys have been as good as Trout in their first 4 seasons in the last 50 years (Pujols and Frank Thomas) and both of those guys were a few years older when they did it. No one has been this good and this much a threat on the basepaths in 100 years. And this isn't mentioning that he's at least a good fielder."

Thank you. He might be an idiot and the baseball equivalent of Oveckin, but at least give him time to prove or (hopefully) disprove that. Great post.

Chas R said...

Just saw that Barrett is back! Cedeno optioned to AAA. Why did they even bring him up???

JWLumley said...

I don't understand why the Nats had a proven starter in Detwiler who may not have struggled to go through the lineup the 3rd time around was still a good pitcher, yet have decided to run two 4A guys out there every fifth day. Makes zero sense to me.

Can't say I'm always a big fan, but Buster Olney mentioned on his podcast the other day that it seemed the Nationals had really re-made or are trying to re-make Bryce Harper in their own image, instead of vice versa which has typically happens with a transcendent talent. Meaning, they want him to act more like them then the other way around, which initially happened in 2012. He was wondering if that was stifling Harper's development and if he was more worried about doing what "he's supposed to do" than just playing baseball, which is hard enough. While I definitely think he should have run out the ground ball back to the pitcher and don't necessarily have an issue with Williams pulling him, blabbing to the media about it was ridiculous unless it's part of a bigger problem we don't know about. Harper seems like the type of person who will put more than enough pressure on himself to succeed and needs someone to calm him down instead of applying more pressure, if that assumption is correct, the Nationals may not have been able to pick a worse manager than Matt Williams. Of course, the more days go by I don't know if they could have done worse than Williams irrespective of Harper.

Jay said...

I agree with JWL. I was thinking during the debacle last night that MW may be ruining the Nats young talent. Calling out Harper like that. I would never forget that if it were me, so I wouldn't be staying on the team if MW is there when free agency comes. Anthony Rendon was doing great at the top of the order. Now he's batting clean up?? Ian Desmond has regressed horribly. Danny Espinosa has a good week and now he's batting 2nd and swinging for the fences every AB again. Sending Barrett down for another pitcher for 1 day of use bc there are no arms left 2 weeks into the season??

There's no long term plan.

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