Nationals Baseball: NLDS Game #4 Pitching Decision Review

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

NLDS Game #4 Pitching Decision Review

The series was lost because the Nats couldn't score runs. That's the simple reason but it's also the most true. There are ways to win despite not scoring runs, but it's still despite. There's a implicit admission that the Nats would be winning even though they'd been put in a hole by their offense. I don't think anyone is forgetting that, but considering we're going to spend most of today lambasting Matt Williams, it's important to keep that in the back of your mind. Matt Williams failed to lead the Nats to victory after his bats failed him first.

But still he did fail in one of the most epic tempting of fates that I've ever seen during a playoff game. Decision after decision it seemed like Matt was eschewing the optimal for the familiar, and daring the game to get out of hand. It never did but eventually he made enough bone-headed moves that one finally cost the Nats. It cost them but a single run, but with the offense the way it was the Nats couldn't afford that.

Decision #1 : Letting Gio bat in the Top of the 3rd

This is probably his 2nd most defensible decision. If he pinch hits for Gio here he is starting the dominoes of PH and relief matching very early and likely leaving himself with few pieces to play at the end of the game. The problem is Gio had a very rough Bottom 2 and thus you were betting that Gio, known for his blow-ups, would calm down enough to give you another 2-3 innings of shutout ball. With two top notch starters able to go tonight in Roark and Stras you have to be sure he's going to perform and I just don't see how Matt Williams could have been.  It's a toss-up and in hindsight the lack of offense probably tells you he should have done it, but Gonzalez wasn't beat up in the 2nd with hard hits. Gut deicion but I can't blame Williams here.

Decision #2 : Roark instead of Strasburg

As excited as we were for the prospect of Strasburg unleashed for 2+ innings of "just strike them all out" ball in retrospect this should have told us all we needed to know about the rest of the game. We wanted Matt to maximize the arms available to him, which was essentially everyone but Game 5 starter Zimmermann. By using Roark though, it should have been apparent that the plan simply went as far as those arms were available if needed. Using Strasburg, or Clippard/Storen before "their inning" were "break in case of glass" options. Knowing that the choice of Roark is obvious.

Decision #3 : Roark stays in instead of Thornton.

This is the first real "prove me wrong, normal person thinking" move he made last night. The key comes down to understanding Blevins splits and Sandoval's splits. Sandoval is a much better hitter lefty so you want to turn him around. Blevins who you like to face LHB, however, was terrible against righties all year long, so you don't want him facing a RHB. The obvious solution, with lefties coming up after Sandoval, was to use Thornton, who didn't have those splits.  Matt opted to let Roark, who had given up two hits early in the inning to LHB and stay in and face Sandoval. Fate tempted. Pop up. Matt Wins.

Decision #4 : Blevins faces righties in the 6th

Historically Blevins is not bad versus RHB, but recently he had been. That's why I only had one firm rule : Blevins doesn't face righties. He faced righties. Fate tempted. Matt wins again as the admittedly weak Giant PHs fail to get a hit, though Duffy does rip one. Nice play by Desmond there.

Decision #5 : Thornton faces Posey

At this point - Bottom of the 7th - it's gotta be all hands on deck. If you have a RHP available to face Posey you use him. Matt didn't. Fate tempted. This time fate wins. Posey singles.

Decision  #6 : Barrett instead of Clippard

Matt's 2nd worst call of the night. As we discussed earlier Strasburg at this point is a no go. There are more conventional options available. At this point Matt's choices are Stammen, Barrett, Clippard and Storen.  Barrett may rank 4th among these choices. He's by far the wildest and the last time Barrett pitched he came in to face Hunter Pence and Pence promptly doubled. So you bring him in to face Pence again? Insanity. Perhaps over Stammen it does make sense. Stammen didn't really corrall RHP and despite his yeoman's work in the 18 inning affair, he doesn't inspire confidence. But both Clippard and Storen were better against RHB. While not the 8th inning, one out into the 7th has to be close enough that you consider Clippard and if you do consider him you come up with the obvious answer he should pitch. Fate tempted. Fate wins again as Barrett walks Pence.

Decision #7 : Barrett continues to pitch to Sandoval.

Matt's worst call of the night. See last entry. Add emphasis on Barrett being the wildest. Understand that the bases were now loaded by a walk issues by Barrett. See "Roark stays in" entry. Understand that while there are no lefties left in the pen, lefties hit Barrett much better than they hit Clippard (who they hit much better than they hit Storen). Storen would have been the best stat call here but based on his performance going with Clippard would have been understandable, maybe even preferable. Sticking with Barrett. Indefensible. Fate tempted. Fate kicks Matt in the face. Barrett throws two wild pitches and gives up the game

Decision #8 : Soriano in to pitch to Belt

Not as terrible as you'd think. Lefties didn't hit Soriano all that well and he'd been ok over his last few outings. He also never had an issue giving up homers, even during his collapse.  Considering it would take a triple to score Sandoval from first you can justify this move, especially thinking one step ahead and hoping that the Nats might have to PH for the pitcher in the next inning. I won't deny I had a bad gut reaction too but upon review not a terrible move

Decision #9 : Soriano keeps pitching the 8th

OK now this is bad. Based on what you know of Soriano you can't let him have a full inning when you need a shut out.  THIS IS EVEN CLIPPARD'S INNING! Fate tempted. Matt wins for the last time with big time help from the Giants though. Crawford would rap a LD single and the Giants would give an out moving him over. Then Bochy would give Ishikawa the green light on 3-0 for some reason and he'd ground out on a pitch that could have been Ball 4. Blanco would hit a hard GB but at LaRoche to end the inning.

Matt made 9 decisions pitching wise by my count, Maybe I missed one or two. Fully six of them were sub-optimal decisions that put the Nats in a worse position than they needed to be. The Nats pitching staff is good enough (implicit Rizzo praise here) that Matt's bad decisions didn't blow up the game, but in an elimination game with a struggling offense there is no room for bad decisions of any kind.

There's no call for a firing from me, but there is a sincere hope that sometime between now and the start of next season we hear a contrite Matt Williams express understanding of what he did wrong. The Nats will likely be in the playoffs next year and we don't need to spend it worrying that the team will be held back by the manager. 


Mitch said...

Spot on. Love the Fate theme. What will be probably forgotten is how badly the Giants could have beaten the Nats last night with just a few key hits.

I'm over MW pulling ZNN in Game 2, and he can't be blamed for the lack of hitting (say what you will about shuffling the lineup.) But Barrett in that situation was as you say, indefensible.

Bryan said...

I have the same problem with these pitching decisions that I do with bunting... while its true that maybe all but one or two of them don't put you in a "bad" spot, collectively they do.

Its like chess - there is an optimal move. You can make 100 others, but there are usually 1 or 2 or sometimes 3 optimal ones. Sure, choosing option 5 might not end the game for you that move, but choosing the fifth best option every time eventually puts you in an unwinnable position.

Bryan said...

Also, as bad as MW was, the loss really comes down to Werth and ALR, doesn't it?

I mean, Harper was OK, Rendon was pretty good. Who else do you really expect to hit in the playoffs? Span, maybe, since he was hot at the end. Ramos? Do you really expect Desmond or Cabrera to hit? Not reliably in the playoffs against better competition.

But a couple hits by ALR or Werth changes both game 2 AND game 4.

Nattydread said...

Thanks for taking us through that one more time. Still coming to grips with "Its over."

What does Rizzo do? Call MW in for a cup of coffee? (He could read this transcript).

I don't think MW is an idiot and am not calling for his head. He must've been thinking something. But what?

And Boz's take on this? Nats need more finishing? Hudson did say something about pressure...

So. Bats asleep. Really badly played 2nd inning, especially by Gonzalez. MW playing Russian roulette with the bull pen.

Lucky we got out 3-2.

Mitch said...

Forgot to vent about the check swing "strike" in the ninth against Desmond. THAT was the time for MW (and hopefully Desmond) to get ejected. That needed more attention brought to it. You don't even ask for help on that? Awful. (But not the reason the season is over.)

JWLumley said...

The pitching decisions are magnified because of what happened, but I'd like to see similar write-up on the hitting decisions. Why is Harper still hitting 6th, why not ride the "hot" hand. How in the world did Zim only get 4 PA's total in the series? Why not do something to shake things up? Why did Danny Espinosa ever pinch hit against a righty, why? Why did Span leadoff against a lefty? WTF, serisously, MW? Could he have done a worse job, can someone call Ned Yost and ask if he'd have changed anything? If he says no, then the answer is NO, he couldn't have done worse.

JWLumley said...

@Bryan "Harper was OK"? Anything else you have to say after that statement is irrelevant. 3 dingers in 4 games is more than okay.

Sean said...

"The series was lost because the Nats couldn't score runs."

The Giants scored the same number of runs. They didn't lose the series.

The series was lost because Matt Williams blew 2 games. Switch managers and the Nats are playing Saturday night.

Chaz R said...

Someone needs to email this to MW. Great analysis Harper. Also, helps my therapy to move past all this.

I also agree with JWL- would like to see analysis of the poor hitting and the associated lack of MW management to mitigate the problem.

ocw5000 said...

I get the sense that MW understands situational hitting substitutions much better than pitching substitutions. Makes sense since he played 3B. Also makes sense that a lot of managers are former catchers, since they're better attuned to pitchers, their mindsets, and best strategies for changing pitchers.

Case in point: MW used Ryan Zimmerman to PH in the 7th instead of saving him for the 9th. Why?

a) might not get to the pitcher spot (or Cabrera) in the 9th
b) tie game, man on first, this might be your best shot for seizing control of the game.

It didn't work, but it was the right decision. I think MW is comfortable with the hitting side of things. He announced Share-Holes to bring in Affeldt and then PH Zimmerman in Game 3. Didn't work out, but right move.

I think he doesn't understand pitchers the same way and thus relies on safer convention.

Davey Johnson also played the infield and was not a catcher

Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny were catchers.

Anonymous said...

I fear MW learned the wrong lessons when he won a world series with Bob Brenly as his manager. Brenly made some of the worst managerial decisions in that series and still managed to win. Not a shock he never got another job.

Alex L. said...

Serious question:

How much longer before front office people start demanding that field managers optimize their players' usages?

The norm doesn't seem sustainable. Smart FO people won't stand by while their work is dismantled (and their job security threatened) by sub-optimal decision-making.

In my mind's eye, I see Brad Pitt lecturing Philip Seymour Hoffman and imagine that real conversations like that must be had. But perhaps more forcefulness is needed.

Anonymous said...

Bring back Bo Porter. Porter and Knorr will take this team to the next level. Give them whatever titles they want, but they understand how to get the best out of players.

Jay said...

I agree with JWL and Sean. Giants scored the same number of runs. Harper was a superstar. Good thing he was hitting 3rd or 4th in the line up. Oh wait a minute.

I vote MW goes not so much because of this series alone. It's the bigger picture. He acts like Harper needs to "earn his keep". The whole idea that the Angels would bat Trout 6th is laughable. Many of MW's reasons for doing things are laughable. Hitting Harper 6th to take pressure off - the guy has had pressure since he was a teenager. That approach is marginalizing him.

Using Thornton and Barrett in the 7th - they're my 7th inning guys.

Bringing Roark instead of Strasburg. It's like he was worried it might go 18 innings again and then they would need Strasburg.

Not changing the batting order at all - that's the way we've done it all year.

Not playing Zim at 1st or LF. Not sitting Span. Not skipping Gio all together and going with Stras on 3 days rest. If he is too fragile to do that then Zimmermann should have pitched game 1 in case he was needed on 3 days rest. Gio pretty much threw up on the carpet in that 2nd inning. The thought that they lost yesterday and that none of their best pitchers even pitched at all is just apalling. No Stras, Clippard, Storen, Fister. None. They lost on a waiver wire pick up and the last guy to make the post season bullpen and their personable but by far worst starting pitcher of the year.

All of that could be overlooked and look forward to next year, but MW seemed to have a reason (a good reason to him at least) for all of this. That is why I vote he needs to go. Remember when the Nats hired Manny Acta instead of Buck Showalter. Oh well.

JWLumley said...

@ocw IF Matt Williams understands hitters so well, how come most--if not all--of his bench guys had down years? How come Hairston wound up on a milk carton by June? Why did Nate McLouth get so many crucial AB's? Maybe he understands it better, but I wouldn't say he's good.

@Alex I often wonder the same thing. Of course, Rizzo isn't exactly someone who relies a ton on numbers. If he was Denard Span never happens, neither does Kevin Frandsen. Still I think soon enough someone will leverage this.

Chaz R said...

@Jay "The thought that they lost yesterday and that none of their best pitchers even pitched at all is just apalling. No Stras, Clippard, Storen, Fister. None. They lost on a waiver wire pick up and the last guy to make the post season bullpen and their personable but by far worst starting pitcher of the year."

That's exactly how I feel.

Sirc said...

JWLumley said: "Of course, Rizzo isn't exactly someone who relies a ton on numbers. If he was Denard Span never happens, neither does Kevin Frandsen"

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here. Is it:

-Rizzo doesn't use numbers, but he got lucky with Span and Frandsen?

Or is it,

-Rizzo doesn't rely on numbers because if he did rely on numbers he would not have signed these 2 players.

The first one isn'treally a point. Who cares whether he got them by plane or by train, thank goodness he got them.

The second is factually incorrect, by the numbers. Unless you are saying that despite the good numbers, Span and Frandsen weren't good in 2014. Because they were good in 2014, by any numerical measure.

Erich said...

1. @ Jay:

Agreed with MW on the larger picture. All season this comments section has been filled with questionable MW decisions. We tried to reassure ourselves that he wouldn't manage like that in October. Wrong!

This team is too good to not compete for the post season again. But if there again, how do you make a team MW proof? Does the bullpen just need to be filled with closer level talent where no splits between LHB & RHB exist?

2. @ Sean: "The Giants scored the same number of runs. They didn't lose the series.

The series was lost because Matt Williams blew 2 games. Switch managers and the Nats are playing Saturday night."


3. Also, we need a new thread just to vent on Boz's article. The most terribly inconsistent view of the Nats' postseason I've seen.

Andrew said...

had been waiting all morning for this, not sure why:-) just confirmed my anger. but great write-up. this is serious, some things are debatable (strasburg in game 1, pulling in game 2), but several of these are dead wrong. just wrong. and his post game presser was extremely concerning. i agree, the most important thing is an admission sometime in the winter. but the post game presser has me worried thats not coming. someone on the edge of those decisions comes in there and takes some blame, recognizes they took a risk and it didn't work. i didn't see any of that

"it wasn't matt williams, it was the offense!" - oh I'm sorry, does he not manage that part of the team??? lineup, sure, but let's talk about the manager of the team coaching his players to take a better approach. when desmond is swinging for the fences with harper on deck, you realize why they don't succeed in postseason. cards, giants, etc. don't "just know how to win in october", they have better offensive strategies

JWLumley said...

@Sirc First of all, blink twice if you're actually FP Santangelo. Second, if you look at Span's numbers prior to him being traded to the Nationals there's no way you give up Alex Meyer for a below league average hitter, with zero power who plays good defense. The only way you arrive at that assessment of him being a below league average hitter is to look at statistics such as wOBA, wRC+ and OPS+. All which showed Span to be roughly at or below league average. Prior to being traded to the Nats, Span had three consecutive seasons of wOBA's between .307 and .325 (league average is usually around .330 and had posted one season out of 3 with wRC+ over 100. Yes, Span had a nice season this year, fueled in large part by a torrid July and power randomness in September.

As for Frandsen, well Mr. Santangelo, I mean Sirc, Frandsen was his usual replacement level self this year, posting a WAR of -0.4 to bring his career total to 0.3. If that's not replacement level I don't know what is. Or to put it in terms of stats that you and Mr. Rizzo can understand he hit .259 with almost zero power, like even less than Denard Span power. Duane Kuiper-esque power, although it would be awesome if Frandsen turned into the broadcaster Kuiper is, which is to say the best in baseball for my money.

It's your type of thinking that gets teams--and people for that matter--in to trouble. As if the results are all that matters. Bad processes will sometimes yield good results, but bad processes will never consistently yield good results. By MANY statistical measures Span was merely good, not great this year and by nearly EVERY statistical measure Frandsen was not good this year....again.

BTW I think MASN, WaPo and Federal Baseball are all in need of your comments this afternoon.

JWLumley said...

Also, while I find his constant ribbing of Johnny Holiday almost as hilarious as when he and Johnny seem to forget where they are or what each other's names are, Ray Knight and I rarely agree. Ray is a homer, he admits it. So when Ray Knight is openly ripping the manager on television, you know you screwed up.

Mitch said...

Do not mess with the Lumley.

Anyone else find Smoltz particularly insufferable? It's not exactly new to feel the announcers are biased against your team, but it sure seemed to me that he treated the Giants as the rightful owners of the LDS, just as soon as they put those pests in red uniforms away. I even had my girlfriend saying "shut up, Smoltz" at the end.

JE34 said...

@ocw - Randy Knorr was a catcher too! Perhaps he would be kind enough to share some of his insight with MW.

kevin said...


I thought smoltz was brilliant as a color guy. He wasn't so much biased as he was saying that the Nats continue to make mistakes (all of which have been highlighted above).

For example, he recognized that, despite the fact that Gio "calmed down" after the 3rd, he was actually just getting lucky. Two of his K's had 3 strikes in which he missed his spot horribly, just happened to make the batter miss

JWLumley said...

@Mitch Yeah, that may have been a little harsh, but I feel like chicken little after the sky has actually fallen. MW is not good, Bryce Harper is very good. Yes, I was right, but I would have rather been wrong about the former.

Richard Parker said...

What I really want to know is whether the e guy in the kayak dove in after Bryce's ball or Bryce literally knocked the dude out of his kayak.

Mitch said...

I usually enjoy Smoltz, too. Something just bothered me about him this series. I also thought the broadcast tried cramming in too many talking points or game notes or whatever you want to call them, at the expense of calling the action on the field. But I suppose I've run out of things to complain about.

@Lumley: it wasn't too harsh. Snark makes us stronger. Iron strengthens iron, or something.

Anonymous said...

Did their pitchers really pitch as well as ours?

Mythical Monkey said...

Personally, I think last night's bullpen problems started last Friday morning when the Nats picked Soriano over Detwiler. I'm guessing Matt Williams's reluctance to pull Thornton had something to do with thinking "well, if I do, then I'm out of lefties and, dammit, I need another lefty."

But Detwiler was dead to Matt Williams from spring training on and I doubt he ever had a chance to be on the postseason roster. Something was said that couldn't be taken back or he didn't like the cut of Detwiler's jib or maybe he just hated his porn 'stach. Who knows.

I think Matt Williams biggest weakness is that he manages his bullpen like a former position player who never before gave pitchers a second thought. On the other hand, to my surprise, I decided as the season went on that one of his strengths is that he is mostly open-minded and flexible. So I think it's possible he'll learn a lot from this series.

Unless of course he doesn't. Even some Hall of Fame managers never really figured out to manage in the postseason.

That'll be one of the interesting story lines for 2015.

JWLumley said...

@Mitch I actually liked Smoltz, didn't really seem overbearing to me, but he was kind of all over the place, which probably played right into my ADD. The guy he worked with was horrid though, but that's usually the case. I wish their was an option to play Charlie and Dave in sync over the SAP function or something.

Anonymous said...

Matt Williams was a terrible in-game manager last night. He was terrible to begin the season, but he did seem to improve as the season went along. I agree with Monkey that one of his apparent good qualities appears to be a willingness/ability to learn and improve. Hopefully that happens given that I doubt he's going anywhere this offseason.

Having said all that, the blame for MW's failings must lie at Rizzo's feet. This is a team with World Series talent that doesn't have time to go through a first-time manager's growing pains. We shouldn't have necessarily hired a Riggleman-esque retread, but last night proves (to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt) that we needed a manager with SOME experience. It's true that experience does not prevent these sorts of mistakes (Yost), but it almost certainly couldn't hurt.

JE34 said...

The future is here, JWL:

JWLumley said...

@JE34 God bless you my son. No more Bob Carpenter next year! I cannot tell you how much sting this takes out of losing. Wowser. That's awesome sauce.

JWLumley said...

@JE34 Nevermind, this requires the game to be on the radio. Unfortunately, down here in the home of Ryan Zimmerman Nats games are no longer broadcast on the radio have to listen through the MLB app.

Froggy said...

JW, get SriusXM and you can listen to Charlie and Dave do play by play. (106.7.the Fan)

JE34 said...

@JWL - We were thisclose. I was hoping you could use one of these with the SportSync...

...but no dice. This is a problem that technology needs to solve!

Anonymous said...

Decision #5: Thornton faces Posey is very similar to Williams' bad decision to allow Storen, instead of Thornton, face Sandoval in the 9th in Game 2.

In both cases, the pitcher (Storen and Thornton) had just let up a hit and should have been pulled for an opposited-handed pitcher (Storen for a lefty, Thornton for a righty).

In both cases, it was like Matt Williams was on auto-pilot and didn't even consider the fact in advance that Storen/Thornton might give up a hit and if they did, he needed an opposite-handed pitcher pitching to the next batter.