Nationals Baseball: The Zim-cision

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Zim-cision

You could pick out a number of questionable decisions from last night, say taking so long to use Roark (who is basically on this roster to eat up multiple innings while giving up maybe one run - an ideal extra innings pitcher. He should have come in the 11th after the P spot had its at bat), or say not using Zimmerman to pinch hit for LaRoche in the 9th (again ANY AB late in a close game with a RISP and a LHP on the mound you have to at least consider using Zimm for LaRoche. To not do that is criminal), but it boils down this morning to pulling ZNN with 2 outs in the 9th.

Boz does an excellent job this morning putting into words one side of the argument. I don't say that facetiously. Let me explain.

The facts were on the side of pulling ZNN. You could argue the facts were on the side of pulling ZNN to start the inning in fact. Pitchers performance declines as pitch count goes up. Zimmermann was beginning to tire. You have a closer that has been lights out this season. But you start ZNN in the 9th because he had done well, the pitch count wasn't at his normal pull point yet, the Giants seem to have trouble hitting him, and he's not very likely to give up the game tying HR (HRs haven't been an issue this year and really his career).

At the point of the at bat... well I could explain or I could let a former major league pitcher do it.

Here
Here
Here
Here and
Here

Everything told you the upcoming Posey at bat had devolved into an at bat that severely favored Posey in comparison to a regular at bat. Along with all those facts, Posey was one of the few Giants that wasn't having issues with Zimm. He singled, grounded out and lined out and had not swung and missed at a pitch all night. All the facts said it was time to pull Zimm.

The argument then to keep Zimm in was not based in facts, but in emotion. Thus back to what I said about Boz. He puts that argument into words in the best way possible.

To me it still sounds like nonsense.

It's the argument that allows a manager to stick with a guy going after a no-hitter even if he's at 125 pitches or have a guy who tweaked his ankle stay in the game to go after the cycle. It's not an argument that wins games, it's an argument that makes players happy. That can be argued as necessary in fostering good will over the course of a long season. In the playoffs, when all that matters is the W, that argument fails to hold.

I talked with someone on twitter about decisions during the first game and it's important to remember there IS a distinction between decisions that were right at the time and decisions that ended up giving you the right result.  The classic example I cited was The Simpsons. Just because Homer got hit by a pitch, doesn't mean pulling Strawberry was the right move.  It doesn't suddenly mean the Simpsons mocking Daryl from the crowd and wanting Homer or Burns playing the percentages with a lefty on the mound was right. That's not the way it works. That's an extreme example where the right move ("But I've hit 9 home runs") is so obvious, but the same idea holds true in all decisions.

You make the best decision you can based on what you see at the time and you hope it works out with the right result. That's all you can do. That's what Williams did. Storen failed him. Williams did not fail the Nats.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Harper,

I want to agree with you on pulling ZNN. However, that was a premeditated decision that "if a runner gets on - we're going to Storen." That is popular logic but more obviously, regular season logic. In the postseason you read situations AS THEY OCCUR. Not before they happen. This is what Bochy is so great at doing. He used his closer Casilla in a tie game in the eleventh inning, rather than save him for a save situation. He wanted his best reliever to face the heart of Nats order. Not conventional wisdom, but very smart for this time of year when the games matter so much. We didn't lose the game for this reason, hell we only scored on run in 18. However that one is on Matty.

mwyche said...

This post seasons failures are on the offense. We've only scored 3 runs in 27 innings thus far. It's pathetic!

If we can get through Game 3 I like our chances in Game 4 against Vogelsong.

But I must say Storen is a choke artist!

EmDash said...

It's probably a small sample size, but Storen has really struggled with inherited runners all season - half of them score. I would say he needed to start the inning, or maybe have Blevins ready for Sandoval if it got that far for the matchup advantage.

But 100% of managers go to their closer there, honestly, so it's hard to fault Williams for it. The bigger problem is that they had a full 9 innings to walk the thing off and couldn't do it.

Anonymous said...

Purely subjective here, but the Nationals seem to have just sleep walked through the first two games. Other than Cabrera after he hit his homer, I've seen too many blank stares.

From the 14th inning on, every player seemed to swing for the fences and didn't try to work the counts.

The biggest problem if they lose is it kind of makes you wonder why bother to sit at home at watch all those games in the summer only to have this happen again. No question the team is built for a long season, not a short 5 or 7 game series.

Chaz R said...

Totally agree Harper, its really Storen's failure not MW's. Good grief, one out- AGAIN

But... what happened to the offense? I do recall youraising a concern about the offense in September. It seemed we were relying heavily on pitching to dominate opponents. Seems it has come back to haunt us.

Gotta get on it in SF.

Anonymous said...

Respectfully disagree. Granted, the stats about 4+ ABs and > 100 pitches are real and should be taken into account, but it is also important to keep in mind that situations can be different.

Is 100 pitches the same on a crisp October afternoon/evening as it is on a hot and humid August day? Is JZimm (right now) pitching the same as the JZimm that generated the stats referenced, or is he pitching better?

Sometimes you have to go with what you are seeing in a particular situation, and what most people seemed to be seeing was a JZimm that was in total control.

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes you have to go with what you are seeing in a particular situation" -- Anon

Webster's is looking for you. They want to know if they can use your language for a lay explanation of the word "subjective".

cass said...

Anon@10:30:

How on earth is this team not built to win a short series? That's complete and total, after-the-fact HS. This team has great starting pitching, a good lineup, and a good bullpen. They lost two games by one run each. They easily, easily could be at 2-0 right now and you would be saying that the team was built to play in October.

I was about 50/50 on bringing in Storen. I understand either decision. It was cold and Zimermann probably handles that better, but bringing in a great reliever to record one out seems like a good idea as well. The problem is that Storen didn't get it done. Agree with Harper on that one. Matt had every reason to think he would.

JE34 said...

"Mattingly! I thought I told you to shave those sideburns!"

I agree with the chorus. Yes, ZNN threw a couple bad misses in that final walk. But... 20 outs in a row, then 1 walk, at 100 pitches... the Giants were probably excited/energized to see him leave. Storen was lights out at the end of the season against the NL East, not against good teams.

A pitcher in command the way that ZNN was has a mental advantage, doesn't he?

No disguising the utter failure of the bats though. That is of course the ultimate problem. Lots of people trying to do it all on one swing (ahemDesmond), rather than get-em-on, get-em-over, get-em-in.

I'm probably overreacting to the two game sample, but they must get Ryan Zimmerman's bat into the lineup, right? Who sits -- AssCab or Span? Rendon / Harper / Werth / LaRoche / Zimmerman at the top of the lineup looks reasonable to me, although I don't expect MW to depart from the "what got us here."

It's times like this that I wish the Nats had let Harper play catcher once in a while.

Anonymous said...

I've been knocking MW's managing all season, but he made the right call pulling ZNN (and probably should have at the beginning of the inning, but that choice wasnt as clear).

The problems were Storen and the offence. Every player was swinging for the fences at every AB in extras, rather than taking it 90ft at a time. The 21+mph winds weren't having it. Bryce crushed a couple that would have been gone any other day. But no one adapted for the conditions

John Utah said...

two close games; two good teams

As a SFG fan, we do not like playing you guys (reference our reg. season record against you in recent years) ESPECIALLY Zimmermann. I was thinking to myself last night as he was cruising through out lineup a second time: "Have the Giants ever beat this guy?" The answer was/is NO; he's 3-0 against us.

As others have said: if the Nats can get by Mad Bum then Vogelsong can be had in Game 4 and you're right back in the series. Just trying to make you guys feel better; I feel fortunate that my team is up 2-0. Easy to scrutinize every decision in these two games as the margin for error was razor thin, but I don't think this series is quite over yet.

Kenny B. said...

3 runs in 27 innings. This is the only stat tou need to know to explain the series.

Anonymous said...

Harper,

You've confirmed what I thought about pulling ZNN. Also, traditionally it seems like the problem has been pulling starters too late much more than too early in the playoffs.

However, there is one decision that Williams made in the 9th that I do not think is defensible and that Boswell totally failed to address in his column: Williams' decision to not pull Storen for a lefty to face Sandoval.

Against right-handers, Sandoval is 317/363/461. Against left-handers Sandoval is 199/244/319. Given these statistics and the fact that Williams had two left-handers available, why do you not pull Storen for Blevins or Thornton?

Boswell failed to address this issue and every Baseball "experts" I have read on-line or seen on TV has failed to address what seems to me the decision that was most likely to have cost the Nats the game.

Also, although it is a small sample size, 4ABs, Sandoval has also batted exactly .000 against Blevins.

Eric said...

I agree anon. Later in the game one of the commentators mentioned Sandoval's career and season splits. He's not great in his career against lefties, but this season he's been downright bad.

I am somewhat ambivalent about pulling Zinn. I think he should've been given Posey and then pulled for Thornton if Posey got aboard; however, Zinn gave up some LOUD outs saved only by exceptional D. Those + the walk make me generally comfortable with MW's decision to pull him when he did.

Anonymous said...

After retiring 20 in a row prior to Panik and throwing just 100 pitches, I think Znn should have faced Posey, but not Sandoval. If you saw the Giants' post-game quotes, including from Hudson, you know the pitcher they least wanted to face was Znn. These preferences may be difficult to quantify, and thus irrelevant to Harper, but it doesn't mean they don't have meaning.

The quick hook is emblematic of Williams' dogmatic, paint-by-numbers approach to managing.

Froggy said...

Really isn't a question in my mind whether ZNN should have been pulled (although I was in favor of him staying, 20 outs in a row, 3 hits, etc) but more about Storen didn't shut the door and gave up two hits.

I want to know from those who watched the game on tv, was the umpire's strike zone as erratic as it looked from the stands?

John C. said...

I was at the game, and I completely understood the decision to leave Zimmermann in to start the 9th, and then to lift him after the Panik at bat. The trope is that Zim was in control, the Giants were putty in his hands, and MW yanked him. Not from where I was sitting in 307. The third time through the order the Giants were getting some hard hit baseballs that just weren't finding holes. Rendon and LaRoche both made fine defensive plays to keep that three hitter going. So it seemed to me that JZim was tiring. But he was also magnificent. So MW stayed with him to start the 9th.

But in addition to some earlier solid contact, the Panik at bat was telling. I'm not talking about the fact that JZ walked Panik. Before he walked, Panik came within a couple of millimeters on the bat of tying the game himself. He turned on a pitch and roasted it into the second deck in right field, only curving foul at the very last moment. Yes, Jeff Panik - he of 1 HR in 287 plate appearances in the bigs. Off the bat I thought it was our very own Bucky Bleeping Dent moment.

After that, I would have had a lot more problems leaving JZ in to potentially give up the lead to one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball (especially in the second half). Storen has been great, he's got a better shot at getting it done - especially if he has a slight margin of error.

No, Storen did not get the job done, but if you look at Pitch f/x, none of the three pitches that he threw were center cut. They were all on the edge of the strike zone, and all got put into play and found holes. Good hitters do that. This wasn't Storen throwing batting practice out there. Posey and Sandoval just beat him anyway. Not every loss is a choke or a character failing. The 9th inning was neither.

The next 9 innings were less easy to understand. But we stomped, clapped and cheered throughout. It helped us stay warm, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Froggy, to your strike zone question, low strikes were getting called early and seemed to me that Hudson was getting strikes two balls outside the zone. Later in the game when the high strikes were being called it seemed to expand the strike zone. I found it interesting that Fox 1 only showed Pitchtrax when it backed up the ump's call. Never saw it when, to my eye, the ump got it wrong. A few times you could see almost the exact same location get two different calls.

Mr. Mustache said...

why not bring in thornton to face sandoval?

Max David said...

After ZNN walked Panik I would've had Blevins get ready quicky down in the bullpen for Sandoval. Numbers or not for Posey, ZNN was dominating and should've gotten the chance to close it out. He loses Posey?? Bring in the LHP Blevins to face Sandoval and turn him around to the right side where he is hitting less than .200 this season.

Easy to criticize after the fact though, have to find a way to get this game 3 & game 4, and make sure Saturday night's game wasn't the last game played in DC this year.

Anonymous said...

Another reason to pull ZNN for Storen: With a runner on first base, a no doubles defense and Sandoval due up with two left relievers left in the bullpen, it seems to me that the most important thing about whoever pitched to Posey should have been to keep Posey in the yard. If you get him out, great, but as long as he does not hit a home run, you still have chance to bring Blevins or Thornton and have about an 80% chance of winning the game.

Panik had hit a ball off ZNN that could have been a home run, so Williams should have been worried about leaving ZNN in. Storen did give up a hit, but he also did not give up a HR, so the decision to have Storen pitch to Posey was not a total failure since it preserved the chance to have a lefty pitch to Sandoval to end the game.

I keep coming back to the fact that the only clear mistake in the 9th inning was to have a right-handed pitcher pitch to Sandoval.

Jimmy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jimmy said...

So who thinks Zim needs to start tmw? Move Harper over to Center put Zim in left. Span has terrible numbers vs Bum and surprisingly LaRoche is okay against him.

Mitch said...

A few comments to add to the pile:

I couldn't believe MW pulled ZNN. But as has been addressed, the decision was probably a wash.

I hate the 4 days off. Seems better to be a wild card -- take your chances with one game while staying in rhythm.

Hudson definitely looked like he kept getting outside (against RHB) calls for strikes, but as someone noted the broadcast refused to show those on pitch track.

Having said all that, 3 runs in 27 innings. That's the one.

Alex L. said...

From FanGraphs: The Washington Nationals vs. Vic Carapazza

Mitch said...

Thanks for that, Alex L. Side note: Is it news that Ramos is called a poor receiver in the article? I don't recall hearing that before.

Alex L. said...

Ramos has always been viewed as a better hitter than receiver and has never really demonstrated a strong framing skill. He's not Suzuki-level terrible or anything, but it's still a minus skill: StatCorner Catcher Report.

Mythical Monkey said...

Sitting there in real time (freezing my tail off, by the way), it didn't seem like the wrong decision. The one ball Panik hit wound up in the upper deck, the other four pitches weren't close, and Zimmermann looked gassed.

Of course, you assume Storen is up to the task.

Only in retrospect when everybody was saying no manager in baseball history had pulled his pitcher in that situation did it seem radical. But then what if Posey had hit ol' Double N's first pitch into the bullpen. Then we'd be complaining Williams was a prisoner of conventional wisdom.

No, the real culprits were the guys who didn't get on base all night, guys I love -- Span, Werth, LaRoche, Desmond, Harper, Ramos. It's painful to see your team fail, but that, too, is baseball.

As the man said, sometimes you eat the bear and, well, sometimes the bear eats you.