Nationals Baseball: Following late inning logic

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Following late inning logic

I don't know what happened last night

Ok I do know what. I just don't know why.

Let's recap. ZNN pitched well. Nats hit well. Took advantage of Marlins mistakes. Detwiler didn't blow it thanks in part to a big Storen K of Detwiler. 6-3 going into the ninth. Now let's go over all the logic that leads to the loss.

Soriano comes in. Why not keep pitching Storen? He's been very good. He only faced one batter and you hate to waste him on 1/3 an inning. Simply put you don't do that. Save situations go to the closer.  That's why you pay them the big bucks.  If he's closed like the last 3 games you give it to someone else. Other than that he has "first dibs" on every save situation.

Well if save situations go to the closer - why didn't you bring in Soriano to face Stanton? It would still be righty versus righty and then you wouldn't waste a Storen appearance on a single batter. This makes some sense but if at all possible the closer pitches the ninth and only the ninth. This rule is more open to changes but in general the save of more than 3 outs is rare. It takes a "bulldog" to want to go more than 3 outs. Gotta save these arms for the playoffs! A closer is a delicate flower who if asked to get more than 3 people out may explode.

Following straight logic what I said above sounds a little silly, but everyone does it and they aren't terrible rules in certain circumstances, such as when your bullpen is deep and your closer is good. That describes the Nats. I don't have any big problems yet.

McGehee walks on 4 pitches - Not a good start but this changes nothing

Jones doubles to deep right center - crushed and brings the tying run to the plate, but you don't pull Soriano or even look to yet. Rookie righty next.

Ozuna singles to right center - Kind of a flare, which might have been caught (or at least dove for) if the OF wasn't playing deep to prevent XBH. Stinks.

At this point you start to look ahead. You may pull him for a lefty (Blevins) now, but if you do you need a righty to follow-up, because you don't want Blevins facing righties this year. Salty has some pop but strikes out a lot so you probably keep Soriano in and hope for the best. If not then Blevins and Clippard.

Salty hits a sac fly to right - not the best, but not the worst. If you've gone with Soriano at this point he pitches to Hechavarria, but someone is warming up in case this guy gets on. Clippard threw 21 pitches the night before, but would still make the most sense. You just rule him out entirely for Tuesday. Barrett, who pitched badly but only threw six pitches, wouldn't be a bad choice either. You are probably saving Stammen for the potential extra innings.  You'd might also warm up Blevins to go up versus Yelich if the righties failed in some manner, but really you'd probably just let Clippard try to seal it.

Hechavarria tripled to deep right center - hell of an at bat by Hechavarria but also telling for three reasons. First Soriano doesn't have his put away stuff. He hasn't K'd anyone at this point and Adeiny managed to foul off 5 pitches. With the winning run on third and one out - you really are looking for a K here.  Second, Soriano didn't have his location and threw a wild pitch. With the winning run on third you don't want that threat on the mound. Third, Soriano is now up to 25 pitches thanks to that long at bat. He's gone 26 three times, never longer and he'd have to go longer to finish this game.

With three big red flags it's an easy decision. You pull Soriano now.  But for some reason Williams decided that Clippard and Barrett were both not going to pitch tonight regardless of the situation. It's a silly decision - these guys should be able to go two nights in a row and you can see how this hamstrings Williams. You are left with two guys in the pen then, Stammen (R) & Blevins (L). The Marlins have R-L-R coming up (beyond that is Stanton but it's difficult for the Nats to get there and not have lost the game) You can't work the match-ups as you like so you're left with three choices.
  • Have Stammen come in now, finish out the inning - you don't like the Yelich match-up but you can pitch him carefully and get two righty on righty match-ups.
  • Have Blevins come in now - You don't like the Solano match-up, but it's Donovan Solano. Plus, Blevins has better K-stuff.
  • You keep Soriano in for one more guy, let Blevins pitch to Yelich, then bring in Stammen for Baker and beyond. This get you only favorable match-ups but Soriano as we explained is toast. 
Williams appears to choose the third

Solano HBP - terrible. Blevins is the call and the call is made

Yelich strikes out - sweet! Things worked out as planned. Now just bring in Stammen and maybe you can win in extras if he ho...wait.  Stammen wasn't warming up? But that means Blevins has to face a righty (a righty who kills lefties I might add) and that means...

Baker "singles" to deep left - Crushed over Bryce's head. No chance. Nats lose, Nats lose.

The failures that had Soriano pitching the ninth are the failures of the game, not Williams. In fact, most people wouldn't consider those decisions wrong. Even though I think they are, (especially if you know Clip and Barrett are not pitching tonight - makes a lot of sense then for the 4-out save) having a good pitcher in to pitch the ninth is never a bad thing and that's where the Nats ended up.

In the ninth the first time Soriano could be pulled was for a lefty to face Salty but just three batters into the ninth I don't see you doing that. And once Salty gets out, you don't pull him against Hechavarria.

Given that the first big mistake comes with letting Sorinao pitch to Solano. The sad part is that this wasn't a mistake caused by in the moment thinking. It's a mistake caused by strictly following a decision made to start the game. Clippard and Barrett weren't pitching tonight. That decision was made. Now, in a close game, he's suddenly left with a LOOGY and a long reliever. I still don't pitch Soriano at this point but you can see how he got to that decision.

The second mistake comes by not having Stammen ready to face Baker. I don't see why you wouldn't do this. Someone has to pitch the extra-innings if you get there. It's unlikely that the pitcher spot would come up next inning without the Nats scoring a run (5-6-7 up) so PH for the pitcher is probably not a huge necessity. This makes sense on even the basic "this is what's done in baseball" level. Williams basically broke from the rules at this point to do something stupid, which is like extra stupid.

Can Williams get this team to the playoffs? I think so. Of course I think anyone can.  Can he win there... well they aren't going to win because of him, not managing like this.


Chinatown Express said...

Can we agree that Mike Rizzo is a very smart guy? Are we all willing to stipulate to that? Yes? Yes.

So why is Rizzo (in whom, I'm told, we trust) allowing this sort of thing to happen? Williams is making a lot of mistakes. And they're not rookie mistakes. They're "fundamental misunderstanding of how to maximize your odds of winning" mistakes. Shouldn't someone pull Williams aside for a talking-to?

Vdub said...

I am not going to armchair manage as I feel you broke down the end game very well. I just want to agree that there is no way this team is winning in the post season unless it plays fantastic manager-proof baseball...and I don't see this team being able to do that consistently against the really good teams they will play in October.

I was very skeptical of the MW hire when it happened... and through 2/3 of the season have decided that I would really like to have him removed. We have 3 losses on this road trip and he can be directly attributed to 2 of those, and if you are an anti-MW guy like I have become, the 1-0 loss is on him as well for bunting Harper in the 9th.

The manager only has a few chances to impact games and MW appears to botch all of them... not to mention future Yankee Bryce Harper does not seem to like to play for him.

Harper said...

CXP - how do we know that hasn't happened? I doubt Rizzo wants to make that public (unlike his maneuvers with Riggleman and Davey). He doesn't want Williams out now.

VDub - well they only have to play manager proof baseball 4 times a series...

I don't think Williams is terrible, and it's just his first year, so I won't make a claim beyond this : for this season I can't see Matt Williams managing helping the Nats win a WS. Will he hurt? Maybe not. Next year? Who knows.

Matt said...

Beautiful post, Harper. I have nothing else to say (especially since I got the swearing out of my system last night...).

John C. said...

Is "managing to the saves stat" suboptimal? Yep. Did MW manage the 8th and 9th the way virtually all MLB managers do? Yep. Go read the web blogs of other teams - they all think their managers are idiots.

But the problem is entrenched. The saves stat is the key to relief pitcher compensation in general, through the arbitration process and player expectation. If you don't "manage to the save" then players will think you are trying to game the system. And of course for Soriano it's a particularly big deal, since it goes straight to the vesting option in his contract. If you get a reputation among players for not playing straight with them in terms of use/playing time, then it's going to cause morale problems in the short term and problems negotiating future contracts in the long term.

It's a stupid system because the "saves" stat is so flawed. But changing it is not something that one team is going to be able to do unilaterally.

On the bright side, because pretty much all managers do it this way, it's largely a null factor in terms of playoff success. So there's that.

A Fly Moses said...

I think the loss itself was less upsetting than the process that got us there. Bad 9th innings happen, and I can understand the decisions leading up to it. But leaving in a LHP who can't pitch - at all - to RHBs, against an RHB who can only hit LHPs, is indefensible. It's the managing equivalent of closing your eyes, crossing your fingers and praying.

I'm willing to concede that MW might do some things in the clubhouse that we don't see that are really valuable, but tactically, it's almost impossible to believe how bad he is at times.

Eric said...

It seems possible to me, at least in part, that what we saw last night (as far as managing) was kind of a bullpen microcosm of the Stras shutdown. The Nats seem disinclined to risk arm health for just about any reason at all. If Clip and/or Barrett said they needed rest, and/or McCatty suggested either of them did, I think history suggests they may have been Off The Table for the night. This seems to be a pervasive philosophy, going up at least to Rizzo.

Also, a recent WaPo article indicated that the 'pen explicitly requested less precautionary warm ups, and that MW has been honoring that.

Super Homer said...

MW needs a personal statistician in the dugout. Someone paid to just say, "Are you sure you want to do that?"

7/20 - TC 19 Pitches/RS 27 P
7/22 - TC 11 P/ RS 18 P
7/25 - TC 7 P/ RS 25 P
7/27 - TC 21 P/ RS 24 P

7/28 - Tyler Clippard has pitched too much and can't be used??!!??
Rafael Soriano MUST be used because it is a save situation and can't be pulled early!!!!


Booyah Suckah! said...

John C, I agree with you on the idea of having to "manage to the save" because, right or wrong, it has become an important stat.


I also agree that in the grand scheme, it probably all evens out because most (virtually all) managers do it that way, so it all comes out in the wash.


But when it comes to the playoffs, and your whole season rides on one series or even one game, the smart manager can make adjustments to get his team the win. The bad manager can't, or even worse, doesn't know that he might need to change his strategy.

Take last night's game but make it a playoff game instead. Not an elimination game. Let's say NLDS game one or two or three. A smart manager, who during the season would've done the exact same thing MW did, maybe makes some changes knowing that there are other options available to him other than "closer pitches the ninth and only the ninth".

And that's the problem I have with MW. Because I have absolutely ZERO confidence that the man would've done anything any differently if that were a playoff game, or even a playoff elimination game. I'm not sure he knows that there IS any other option.

Booyah Suckah! said...

And yes, I'm being hyperbolic. I'm sure he knows that it is theoretically possible to manage things another way. But whether because he wants to be "old school" or because it's his first season and he's terrified and therefore wants to be as conservative as possible, he makes decisions that 100%, without a doubt LOSE BASEBALL GAMES.

Booyah Suckah! said...

Which might not matter now, but WILL matter when faced with a manager who can think outside the box if/when he wants and knows that there is no tomorrow to save that reliever for.

Eric said...

I think MW would do things differently in the playoffs for sure, as I think considerations about rest, etc., would be largely thrown out the window, and you'd also potentially have a bunch of extra pitchers available to optimize match ups.

I think it's unfair to infer anything about the post season from last night. There are too many incomparable elements between the dog days and the post season, as well as too many unknowns about the factors driving decisions last night.

Eric said...

Er, to clarify, when I say "considerations about rest would be largely thrown out the window," I mean in terms of preserving arms for future games in general and the playoffs in particular. I really think that played a role last night.

Jay said...

Last night showed MW's biggest weakness. The guy just isn't very good tactically. Mattingly almost lost his job last year bc he's just not very bright. The next two games hopefully point to MW's strength. He is good at getting the team to bounce back after tough losses. The proverbial "grind" of baseball. If they win the next two in Miami then they went 6-3 on 9 game road trip. That's fine. I just worry that the game here and there that MW gives away catches up eventually.

Donald said...

Very frustrating game. I would have pulled Soriano a bit earlier since it was clear he didn't have good stuff, but I can't really fault MW there. But leaving Blevins in was just perplexing.

The question for me is how MW processes this. Does he learn and adjust? Or does he say to himself that 9 out of 10 times Blevins gets that last guy so no reason to do anything differently the next time?

gr8day4bsbll said...

Here's what MW says after last night: "well, that's just baseball!" Presto, complete absolution -- at least in HIS mind...

No, Matt, it's NOT baseball -- it's you sticking to a plan that was clearly not working at the most critical time of the game, just because that's what "the book" says to do. Unfortunately, that approach is a proven loser of at least several games a year, and in a pennant race that is as close as this one is shaping up to be, that's often the difference between October baseball and October golf.

blovy8 said...

Blevins is Williams' true blind spot, he keeps letting him pitch to righties when he's shown that he's a loogy. They have a game like this every year, I'm just glad I wasn't attending this time like I was with the 8-0 Cubs, 7-0 Braves, and 6-0 Cardinals leads I watched disintegrate the past few years.

JWLumley said...

I think this really gets to the heart of my issues with Matt Williams as the Nats manager. No matter which school you subscribe to, old school, new school, sabermetrics school, the stuff Williams does goes against them all, like he's caught in between. You never pull your closer with the lead, but once you do you don't let your LOOGY face a righty with the game on the line. Rookies have to earn their place, but you also never bash a player in the media. Use defensive shifts, unless your players complain about standing out of position, in which case you give in, but only if veteran players complain. If rookies like Harper complain, you put them in their place. Disregard OBP and advanced metrics, but give a bunch of weight to micro-splits and start guys because they're 4 for 6 against somebody.

I'm no huge fan of colleges, even though I went to one, and what they produce, but I think it's important to remember that most baseball players never attend college. They didn't have to take a class in econometrics, statistics or logic. They may have never taken a math class beyond high school algebra. They don't understand this stuff. I think Williams wants to be more progressive--even though I hate that word--but just doesn't know how. He tries to use defensive shifts, but his players complain and he caves. He tries to use stats, but he always seems to be siting micro-splits that don't have good predictive value. He's a guy who seems to be caught in between, just like last night.

PC said...

If you listened to Williams' postgame presser last night, he seemed to be implying that he had Blevins pitch to Baker because the game was already tied. That begs the question, was Blevins going to continue to pitch in extra innings? If not, there was no reason to not use Stammen and then have him start the 10th if the game got that far. He's done that before? Perhaps Stammen was also unavailable and we just were't aware of it.

Ultimately, I think Williams was willing to sacrifice last night's game to put his bullpen in a better position for the rest of the series...which means they'd better win these last two games.

Anonymous said...

Well said Harper!

Froggy said...

Harper, much more elegant, analytical, detailed recap of my emotional rant after the game last night, but yet another example of the madness that is Matt Williams. So far this season, I have yet to have the 'ah ha, now I see' moment that enlightens me as to MW's managerial acumen and Rizzo's brilliance in choosing him to lead the team.

The autopilot move with a three run lead is simple, bring in your closer whose job is to come in and C L O S E, aka shutdown the other team. It's readily apparent Sorryano isn't a closer, he is a pitcher whose contract stipulates that he pitch the ninth inning in the majority of 'save' situations.

Regardless, the money decision is what to do after my 'closer' puts three straight batters on and CONFIRMS that he doesn't have his stuff (does anyone know what that is?) and mandates you make a change. Personally, I go with your Option One, and bring in Stammen, but regardless I do it here and not three batters later. No brainer.

Bjd1207 said...

OK I'm done, can't even try to figure out MW's plan putting in Blevins again. Dude's just on crack

Froggy said...

I wonder if when Matt Williams shaves he puts shaving cream all over his whole head except his eyes? Everyone else including the bat boy is all scruffy except ole Smoothskin Williams.

blovy8 said...

Ok, now they need another reliever AND a 2B/3B. Zim with a grade 3 strain - given his history, you won't see him again this year.

JWLumley said...

Yup, Grade 3 strain, break open the vault. Deal for Beltre. He can play 3B next year and move Zim to 1st. Also, for all of the Denard Span apologizers, Bryce Harper's OBP has been higher than Span's every day of the year except 1. Harper was on base 3 times last night for Desmond, Espinosa and Hits Like a Pitcher (I am giving Nate McLouth his Indian name, and no it's not racist because I'm American Indian). With Werth hurting, they need to call up Souza, even if it's just to replace Hits Like a Pitcher as the 4th OFer. I mean, he can't be any worse mirite?

Bjd1207 said...

Agreed get Beltre in here ASAP

Jay said...

Wow. I agree a big deal is needed. Espinosa has no business being an everyday player. His lone big hit recently was from the right side against a left handed reliever. A grade 3 for Zim - poor guy can't catch a break. I agree he's done for the year.

If we end up doing a minor deal for a left reliever then boo on Rizzo. Also, why didn't we just spend some actual money and sign a reliever this past winter. Guess what - when you sign a free agent they don't cost you prospects. You mean you wouldn't be willing to spend 4-5 million on someone actually gets lefties and righties out now?? Rizzo is funny about stupid stuff sometimes. Now the bench and the lack of a good lefty are biting the Nats again. Wait... didn't we have the SAME problem last year. Oh well. There's always next year.

Final question. Am I the only one that thinks MW is rather shall we say "stubborn". Bryce mouths off. Ok next time I "rest" someone in the outfield it's Bryce not Span?? Bc MW can't ever be wrong about not benching Span. Last night he pitches Blevins AGAIN against a right handed bat. Shocker he costs us 2 more runs in what was a 1 run game. Maybe Blevins can pitch against a righty today. Third time is the charm right Matt?

Bjd1207 said...

I turned the game off in disgust yesterday before the post-game. Did anyone catch MW's comments. Did have any pseudo-explanation for putting/leaving Blevins in again?

m j b said...

Maybe pull Soriano after putting the majority of his first fifteen (15) pitches up in the zone? Soriano's only successful when he has movement and location. He didn't seem to have either, yet was given free reign to give up a 3 run lead.