Nationals Baseball: BRAVES SERIES - GAME 2

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


What you saw last night was the closer theory taken to its (il)logical ends.  The theory in a nutshell is as follows :

Because there is no further opportunity to come back if a team is losing at the close of the 9th inning, that is potentially the most important inning to be pitched. Therefore a team must save its best relief pitcher for that inning. 

Of course the biggest flaw in that theory is that the 9th is only POTENTIALLY the most important inning to be pitched. Based on situation, opponents line-up, and other considerations, it is often the case that another inning holds the most important situation in a given game. Simple example - 1 out in the 8th, up 2, with the bases loaded and the 3-4 hitters coming up; is far more important than the likely scenario to be faced in the 9th (up 2, 5-6-7 hitters due up) if the 8th inning pitcher is successful.  But because the potential is always there the default for the last 20+ years is to save that pitcher. What ends up happening then is teams will lose games before they get a chance to save them.

Last night Fredi Gonzalez used Chad Durbin (career relief ERA of 4.14), Luis Avilan (a rookie with 15 games under his belt), and Cristhian Martinez (ERA entering game of 4.10, just gave up 3 runs in his last appearance) instead of Craig Kimbrel (ERA 1.20 - arguably the best relief pitcher in the game) in order to get the game to Kimbrel.  It never got there.

Some may try to convince you it was the right move because the Braves pitchers kept the Nats scoreless over most of that time. That's crap. Running up the gut on 4th and 15 is not the right move. Taking a 50 footer with 10 seconds left on the clock is not the right move.  Pulling the goalie with two minutes left and a face-off on your side of the ice is not the right move. They might all work, but it wasn't by design, it was by luck. Results can't make bad choices into good ones, they can only make bad choices into irrelevant ones. Fredi walked a tighrope for 4+ innings asking to get burned and eventually he was.

Contrast that with Davey who used Clippard, although reluctantly, during last nights game. It wasn't the best use of Clippard, to face Janish, a PH, and Bourn, I can think of several better places to have used him, but at least Davey realized he should be used. It's the difference between a winning manager and a losing one, and thus a winning team and a losing one.

You'll probably hear this argument for years to come.  The closer has been given a special place in the fans psyche and thus the manager's one, too. But eventually someone will change it and be successful and others will follow. They'll realize that guys like H-Rod don't fail at closing because of the pressure. Relievers face pressure all the time. They fail at closing because they aren't very good. Let Fredi never realize this.

A quick shot of praise for the Nats relievers here - not the prettiest relief effort to start, but effective. 

Game 2

Paul Maholm has been very good for the Braves. But like I mentioned yesterday, the Braves haven't played anyone so his good start vs the Astros and shutdowns of the Mets and Padres aren't necessarily worrying.  What could be is Maholm's general pitching skill.  In the last two years Maholm has put things together. His walks are trending down, the strikeouts up, and when combined with a tendency to give up GBs and not HRs he has become a decidedly effective pitcher. He's not really any better than Edwin Jackson, or Ross Detwiler, but he's not any worse either. He's an effective #3 on most teams. His biggest weakness this season is probably a tendency to still get wild here and there.

Maholm has not faced the Nats this year.

Hey it's Mr. Shutdown himself!  Strasburg has been very unhittable recently (8 hits in his last 18 innings), but also very wild (4 walks a piece in his last two games).  The wildness would be a problem but his K's are still up and he's seemingly over a little problem he had with the long ball in July. So the end result is those guys get on and go nowhere and Strasburg has a very good game. Strasburg, though, is usually dominant because he does everything well and eventually you'd expect those walks to return to a more normal level for him and the dominance to return.

Strasburg has faced the Braves 4 times this year and has been underwhelming.  The Braves work him hard; Game 1 features 6 hits, 4 walks, and 95 pitches through 5 innings.  Game 3 - 2 hits, 4 walks, 67 pitches, through 3 innings (the "heat" game). Game 4 - 8 hits, 3 walks and 103 pitches through 5 1/3.  The Braves never were able to finish Strasburg off but you can't be enthused by these results. If you are looking for a silver lining, Strasburg at his best will dominate anyone.  In Game 2 he gave up 4 hits, no walks, and struck out 9 in 7 innings and at 90 pitches he could have easily gone another inning but he had to get PH for. It was arguably his best game of the year.

Game Guess
The Braves are the NLs most patient team and against a Strasburg that has been wild and a pen that was taxed to its near limit, that's a dangerous combination.  Still the Braves haven't been able to ever put Strasburg away so why should tonight be any different? A short outing for Strasburg, 5 innings or so, and not very effective, 3-4 runs, but he leaves the Nats in the game.  Maholm on the other hand pitches like Hudson and gets results like a post first inning Hudson keeping the Nats down through 7 and the Braves with a slight lead going into the final few innings. It looks like it'll be heading to a Kimbrel save situation but down by a couple, Davey chooses to use H-Rod stick with a guy too long to try to save his pen and it blows up in his face.  Braves turn a slight lead into an easy win.

Braves 7-2

Game Guess #1 Self-Grade :  B+.  I nailed the Hudson/Nats side of the equation, and also totally called Fredi not using his best pitchers, though for a different reason.  Didn't see ZNN being as ineffective as he was though.


John O'Connor said...

Isn't H-Rod on the disabled list?

Kenny B. said...

I think Strasburg struggles in the heat (which is a little worrisome if he's going to play in Washington), but the high today is mid-80s.

I say he's in top form and completely shuts down a tired Braves team. Nats are almost as ineffective against Maholm, but get a small lead in the middle innings. H-Rod has a short relief outing before giving up a game tying run on a wild pitch, and the game is decided late by 1 run.

Nats 3, Braves 2 (or the other way around)

Anonymous said...

Picking the Braves to beat the Nats 7-2? That is the Harper we all know and love. Welcome back, but please remember to send in your "relief" clone to do the writing again in October when we are about to beat up on the Yankees. He has been a nice change of pace. =)

blovy8 said...

I think the Nats score more against Maholm. It seems like he's due for a regression to his own mean for his new team. Flores has hit two homers off him in six AB's, so how great can he be? He'll get through the lineup once relatively ok, but they'll get to him eventually, and while Strasburg will use a lot of pitches to get through the heart of the Braves lineup, they'll flail more than they connect, and he'll get a knock off of Maholm to drive in a run. Stras will give up a solo homer to Uggla or Heyward and maybe a manufactured run by a Bourn or Prado walk/steal combo in 6 innings. Kimbrel will be able to rest some more. Nats 6-3.

Mythical Monkey said...

Yeah, H-Rod went on the 15-day DL on August 1 for a "lower back strain." Which is to say, they needed roster room for Jayson Werth and Henry couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with a bazooka.

I was at that 2-0 Nats win over the Braves when Strasburg looked like a right-handed reincarnation of the still-living Sandy Koufax. I was also there when the Phillies lit him up, 8-0. And a bunch of in-between efforts. And I'll be there tonight.

I'm predicting an in-between effort -- six innings, 2 earned runs, six Ks, 3 walks. Mattheus, Burnett and Storen look tired and shaky in relief, but hang on. Nats win, 4-3.

Harper said...

JOC - Whoops. That's why I shouldn't write these late at night. Find me more time!

KennyB - last two games were domed and in SF. No reason not to be in top form. For whatever reason, I think if Strasburg is dominant then Maholm will suck and it'll be a big blowout the other way - like 11-0.

Anon - What? If you simply go by "better team" the Nats would win every game except some vs the Reds and the occasional #1 guy vs the Nats #4/#5. They have to lose some games you don't think they will to start.

blovy8 - Possible, though the Nats don't really attack his weakness. Plus while he has been "too good" for the Braves, he was shutting down good offenses all during July for the Cubs.

Harper said...

MM - like I said to Kenny B that's the other possibility. I don't think it will happen but it's not crazy. like a 25% chance Strasburg will just mow them down. I'd be happy to see that.

michael k said...

AMEN BROTHA! PREACH THE GOOD WORD! Bases loaded in the 8th =m ore important than the 9th.

I've heard that one of the reasons for the closer role (or not using the "closer" in a more important situation) is that relievers thrive on "roles" and turn into idiots when you switch things up on them. Sounds stupid, but I suppose there can be some truth to it. What do you think?

Harper said...

mk - think that everyone likes roles and probably do a little better when they have them but not enough to offset the issues that come with using a sub-optimal guy in crucial situations. Also think maybe 5% of guys just can't handle the 9th for some reason (not necessarily NEW pressure, but the success margain at the major league is thin so a tiny increase in pressure is just enough to make them less effective) but most it's just random chance if they are good or bad to start with.

I bring up H-Rod again. People said he couldn't handle the closer role by himself. Truth was he couldn't handle ANY role, and that early success was just a fluke.

blovy8 said...

H-Rod has a fine line for his control. If he has it, the guy his stuff is about as tough as it gets for a reliever, plus in the back of batters' minds has to be that he DOESN'T always have control. Kind of like how Gossage would intimidate on more than just speed and ugliness.

I think a pitch-to-contact guy is a pretty good matchup for a team that just played 13 innings. There might be a few slider-speed bats out there tonight who'll single and double this guy to death.

Anonymous said...

Okay, finally woke up. The danger tonight is what happens if Stras is at 80+ pitches in the 4th (like ZNN) and we have to use the bullpen again. It's not like Gio or Jax who you can hand the ball to and say, "You're going 7 tonight, no matter what happens."


blovy8 said...

Yep, that's a danger, but I think this may be a game where the Braves are going to have to foul off a lot of pitches to get to that, they have to be tired too, and 96-98 gets on you quick.

Donald said...

That's always the conundrum for teams facing Strasburg. If you swing early, he lasts deep into the game. If you try to tire him out and take more pitches, you get behind in the count. And NO ONE wants to face Strasburg with an 0-2 count.

It might be wishful thinking but I think Strasburg thrives in big game situations and he'll come out throwing. First inning jitters will put him in a 1 or 2 run hole early but he'll settle down and go 7. Nats will score 3 or 4 off of Maholm, going into the eighth with a 2 run lead. Burnett and Clippard hang on, barely, for the win.

And for the bonus prediction, Werth will hit a home run.

Anonymous said...

Braves 7-2

That's a joke right? It has to be. Not even die-hard Braves fans are expecting to win this game (at all) tonight, and you just said they'd blow us out.

Reading these articles really helps make me feel better, because I realize that 80% of the people in the world have IQ's under 100.

Harper said...

blovy8 - Maholm can miss some bats. Not like Strasburg but he's not Lannan either.

Anon #1/donald/blovy8 - I guess that's the fun. We have no idea how exactly it'll turn out. I'm guessing one longish night won't kill these teams (they are probably up till 1 anyway on the average day)

Anon #2 - You're almost certainly right, most Braves fans aren't expecting to win this game, but when looking at the series this is how it fell to me (spoiler - I expect Medlen to blow up tomorrow). As always, could be wrong.

Froggy said...

I think the average IQ is 100 so, 80% of the world can't be below that. So the question: is anonymous' IQ above or below 100?

Or are we talking about baseball IQ? In which case, mine is around 50.

My emotional diehard, season ticket holder, section 130, row N side says Nats win. But my logical side says the Braves exercise patience with each AB and Strausburg's pitch count goes up, leading to short innings, he leaves with it tied and our pen blows it.

Braves 4-3

Ben said...

Lets not give Davey too much credit for pen usage ... he did, after all, have Gorzo pitching in a tie game in the 6th to apparently utilize that classic strategy of a lefty walking lefties so that the righties can mash balls directly at your fielders.

Seriously, how is he off the bench before Gonzalez to face mostly lefties in an important tied game? Burnett is then still available for matchups after the 6th ... is it possible Davey actually values Gorzo higher than Gonzalez? or Stammen for that matter (why is he the long man, who cares how many lefties the Braves have, Gorzo isn't good against them anyway)? Crazy I tell you!

Kenny B. said...

RE: "last two games were domed and in SF. No reason not to be in top form."

True. Just meant I think his chances of performing well are better in milder temps. That means he's due to level the Braves. He played college in San Diego, so I blame that.

Donald said...

@Ben -- the announcers discussed the decision to use Gorzo vs. Gonzalez last night. I don't remember the exact numbers but the batters that Gorzo faced all had pretty high (over .300?) averages against Gonzalez in past meetings. They also speculated that he might be fresher because Gonzalez pitched the night before.

Donald said...

I don't generally like to feed trolls, but this is from the WaPo's preview of tonight's game. I'm not saying that the Braves should be favored but to speculate that Strasburg might not win isn't beyond the pale...

"The Nationals are 9-4 against the Braves this season, but Strasburg's last two starts in the series have both been defeats for Washington. He had a 7.56 ERA in those outings.

He has been hit hard by several Atlanta players this year, with Brian McCann going 3 for 8 with a homer and double and Jason Heyward 5 for 7 with a double. Uggla, likely eager to take the field after Monday's fielding gaffe, is batting .533 with two homers and two doubles in 15 career at-bats against Strasburg (14-5, 2.91 ERA)."

WiredHK said...

Donald - don't feed the animals! Of course you're right, but Anon-a-Troll isn't capable of normal discussion, so ignore them (they won't go away, but that's ok). Harper, this goes for you, too.

Anon-a-Troll exists to make this space more humorous. Laugh and move on. Anon-a-Troll does not like people (including him/herself). Anon-a-Trolls is not happy that their 162-0 prediction for the 7th year in a row was off a bit.

Anon-a-Trolls' mother is very close to grounding him/her again and taking away their computer. Just let it happen...

K.C. said...

I'll sign in so people can stop calling me Anonymous, it's getting old...

Froggy: No, a 100 IQ is average intelligence, not the human average. Nice try though. Go read a book or two.

WiredHK: "Anon-a-Trolls is not happy that their 162-0 prediction for the 7th year in a row was off a bit." ...I actually predicted 90 wins for this season (I predicted 80 for last season, and 70 for the season before that), so even I'm shocked at how dominant this team has been.

Again, I am correct more often than everybody else that posts here, including the moron that writes the articles. The line for the game is -165, so we are a big time favorite, just as I predicted we would be yesterday.

According to the all people that doubted the Nats yesterday, we'll be lucky to win this game. Especially since the super-genius WiredHK says we'll lose this series (exact quote for proof: "I think the likely result is Braves take 2 of 3"). Thank GOD we won that coin flip game yesterday, because that means we're losing tonight and there's no point in even watching.

And since we'll be huge underdogs tomorrow (because, let's face it, Kris Medlen is probably looking at a Cy Young this season), we might as well just pack it in. Let's just forfeit so we can rest for the next series.

Froggy said... funny how anon-a-troll took the bait from both of us like we knew he would.

So predictable.

However I must admit, I didn't think he would take his pajamas off and come out of his mom's basement so quickly though.

Terman's IQ classification table:

IQ Range

140 and over Genius or near genius
120-140 Very superior intelligence
110-120 Superior intelligence
90-110 Normal or average intelligence
80-90 Dullness
70-80 Borderline deficiency
Below 70 Definite feeble-mindedness

(Terman wrote the Stanford-Binet test (1), which has a SD of 16.)

Froggy said...

Forgot the footnote:

K.C. said...

Great call on Maholm out-pitching Strasburg guys. Solid pick on your part.

K.C. said...

And it's funny how you call me a "troll", but refuse to point out where I have been wrong.

You idiots thought this game tonight would be close/in the Braves favor. It's been all Nats all night. Maholm got lit up and Strasburg dominated.

You were wrong, I was right. I accept all of your apologies.

Anonymous said...

Per Urban Dictionary:
One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.

I don't see anything about being right or wrong, in there KC.

Anonymous said...

Bryce Harper with the golden sombrero...can somebody tell Bryce it's ok to lay off those low/away pitches?

A Fly Moses said...

FWIW, Davey pitched Clippard in the 9th because the home team has no save opportunities after the 9th. I don't think there's any doubt that Davey is a better manager than Fredi, but that was Davey playing by the standard closer book.

the Genius said...

OK, here's my prediction: Strasburg will pitch very effectively, with double-digit Ks in about six innings. Desmond will get his 2nd hit since coming back - another HR! Jesus will continue his strange dominance of Maholm and smack a multi-run HR. Stars will give it to the pen with a 4-1 lead, and three relivers will combine to shut ATL down. Nats win by 4-1. How did I do?

Erinoyuj said...

Great call on Maholm out-pitching Strasburg guys. Solid pick on your part.