Anatomy of a really dumb series of moves
Today’s game offers us some unwelcome insights into how Hargrove thinks, and how that thinking costs the team games (I recommend Geoff Baker’s entries here, and here, which are likely as close to transcriptions of Hargrove’s brain process as we’re likely to get).
The situation before Hargrove starts making decisions:
2b: Alexi Casilla (who is crazy fast)
3b: Jason Bartlett
The M’s lead 2-1 and have one out.
Notes on those guys:
Mauer has a huge platoon split: 04-06, he hit .275/.337/.334 against LHP and .342/.427/.535 against RHP.
Cuddyer’s hit significantly better against lefties than righties (his OPS split is .845/.788) but it’s not that huge.
Morneau’s not as bad as Mauer, but he’s got a split vulnerability (.262/.304/.457 v LHP, .290/.360/.536 v RHP).
Redmond’s a less-good Cuddyer: .795 OPS v LHP, .678 v RHP.
In the bullpen:
RHP Sean Green
RHP Julio Mateo
RHP JJ Putz
RHP Chris Reitsma
RHP Sean White
LHP George Sherill
Also, RHP Brandon Morrow, who Hargrove seems to have forgotten (side note: Morrow would now have three starts under his belt had he not broken camp with the team, instead of 3 innings).
Assumptions: Washburn’s done and needs to come out.
Desired outcome: get out of the inning with as few runs scored as possible.
No roles. Put Putz in. This is a critical juncture in the game, so you want your best reliever out there. Putz can get strikeouts and keep the ball in the infield. He’s effective against lefties. But this isn’t even a possibility, since Putz is the closer. Hargrove brings him in much later in the game, with the M’s way down.
Assume the closer is sacred. So we don’t get Putz, because Putz must be saved for a possible close situation later. Who do you want? There seem to be two obvious choices:
- Bring a lefty – which means Sherill – to face Mauer. Mauer’s a kitten versus lefties, hopefully you get a K, or an easy pop-out. A fly out might score Bartlett and advance Casilla, but you’re already in trouble there. Either way, you could then intentionally walk Cuddyer, even, and face another guy who has trouble with lefties in Morneau. Given Sherill’s spring, it would clearly take some stones to make the move, and maybe you’d even rather there was a different lefty here… but there isn’t. Tough call to make.
- Bring in an effective righty who isn’t Putz. Almost certainly you want Reitsma. Given how the next set of hitters do against righties, though, tough call between Sherill and Reitsma.
Walk Mauer and hope for a double play. I almost never like intentional walks, but with only one lefty in the bullpen (and that being Sherill, who you might understandably be reluctant to gamble on) let’s say this a valid strategy.
What then? You’ve loaded the bases with the intention of getting a double-play, which requires a ground ball and reliance on your infield. Who do you look to?
By 2006 G/F ratio
RHP Sean Green 2.48
RHP Chris Reitsma 1.68
LHP George Sherill 0.59
RHP Julio Mateo 0.51
RHP Sean White (?)
(excludes Morrow, Putz)
Mateo is the pitcher least likely to succeed in this situation. Equally clearly, if you want an experienced veteran groundballer to pound the strike zone with breaking pitches to get a grounder, Reitsma is your guy.
There’s an argument that Hargrove was looking to a batter-pitcher matchup and liked Mateo. That may be possible. But if that’s the case, it’s a further evidence that Hargrove can’t make these decisions. Mateo can get groundouts. But he doesn’t. He’s not that good at it. He has a pitch you might think should get a groundball – Hargrove clearly does – but Mateo does not throw it well enough to be effective with it.
And the rest is much the same. Once Mateo’s in there and gives up a double to Cuddyer, Hargrove has a similar choice, and choses to walk Morneau with Mateo instead of bringing Sherill in to defang him. The double play is set up again, and Mateo is no more suited to get a ground ball here than he was the last time. He predictably fails to get one. Finally, he gets Josh Rabe to ground to short – and then is removed for Sherill. In terms of G/F ratio, this is about what you’d expect from Mateo.
There’s a further argument here, that you can’t use Reitsma early because he’s reserved for later innings, to which I make the same counter-point: with two men on, facing the heart of the Twins lineup, putting a bad pitcher in there means that there’s no lead to protect later in a neat 8th-9th fashion, no save situation for Putz, nothing. If this adherence to roles is really so strict that in a crucial situation in the 7th the two best-suited pitchers are barred from helping the team win a game because they’re going to be used in less-meaningful situations later, that is a gift to every opponent the team faces, a significant disadvantage the team is taking on willingly, for no better reason than the modern book on reliever usage is rigid, and the team follows its dogma.
Is the team really better off having Putz and Reitsma watch from the bullpen as Mateo lets inherited runners score and squanders games, ensuring they don’t get in?
Are they better off letting other teams know that if they can work a starter for enough pitches and chase them from the game early they’re guaranteed a gift-wrapped chance to put up a nice, crooked number on the board?
And how can the M’s management tolerate having a manager this inflexible who, even in choosing poor strategies, finds the most destructive way to implement them?