Managerial Pitching Decisions Crucial To Success


Take Him Out Or Leave Him In

By John Ventola

The failure of pitcher Clayton Kershaw to get out of the seventh inning for the second consecutive game against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League playoffs may open up Dodgers Don Mattingly to some second -guessing. Once again it shows how important it is to have a manager with the innate baseball sense of when to pull a pitcher from a game. Managerial jobs do not come with a futuristic crystal ball, and hindsight is always 20-20, but some managers seem to have the knack at reading situations and player vulnerability, while some do not.

Kershaw, who was the most dominant pitcher in baseball this season with a 21-3 record, 1.77 ERA, and 239 strikeouts, will win his third Cy Young award in the past


Kershaw Suffers Another Post Season Meltdown

four seasons. The left-hander had three non-decisions, but the Dodgers won twenty-four of the twenty-seven games in which he pitched. Mattingly, no doubt, made his decisions to leave him in both games based on Kershaw’s ability to get batters out in key situations, and what he had seen him do during the regular season.

Unbelievably, after being staked to a four run lead and seemingly cruising in the first game, and throwing a one-hitter for six innings in the second contest, Kershaw faced eleven batters in the seventh inning of the two games and gave up nine hits. A pitcher who lost only three decisions in six months was tagged with his second playoff loss in five days. It was his fourth straight loss to the Cardinals over the last two postseasons and raised his playoff record to 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA in 11 appearances.

While Kershaw will be soul-searching and looking for reasons for his annual postseason meltdowns, Mattingly will be doing the same and asking himself if he overanalyzed the handling of Kershaw late in the two games and made wrong decisions because they were made with his heart and not his head. Dr. Phil McGraw’s adage that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior” works in life, but not always in baseball. Many variables have to be weighed and measured carefully. Talent can account for a certain amount of consistency in results, but so much goes into strategic baseball decisions. Pitch counts, success against certain hitters, pitch locations (are pitches high all of a sudden showing hurler is tired), did pitcher exert extraordinary effort inning before, and many other reasons. Those variables and processes made Hall of Famers of Joe Torre (helped to have Mariano Rivera in the bullpen) and Tony LaRussa, and will one day put retired Jim Leyland and current manager Buck Showalter in their company.

In both games Kershaw was dominate for the first six innings and gave up three straight hits to start the seventh inning. Mattingly froze in the first game and failed to make a move before a four-run lead disappeared, and he hesitated in the second game until a two run lead was gone. Hindsight is always on the mark because the result is known. However, Mattingly apparently failed to accurately consider Kershaw was pitching on


Managerial Pitching Moves Often Decide Outcome

only three-days rest (not his usual four), that he had a tough sixth inning where he was actually grunting on pitches (Sharapova does that, not Kershaw), that he ran hard to first base on a ground out in the bottom of the sixth, and that the first two batters in the seventh inning hit the ball sharply after Kershaw had struck out three hitters the inning before that. Matt Adams then crushed a hanging pitch from Kershaw with no men out for a game-winning three-run home run. Both decisions proved to be wrong, and the Dodgers move from contenders to spectators was complete.

While hesitancy was Mattingly’s chief fault, Washington manager Matt Williams put the favored National in a 0-2 hole that they could not come back from against the San Francisco Giants. Williams overanalyzed and overreacted when Jordan Zimmerman walked a hitter with two outs in the ninth inning of the second Giants game. Zimmerman had retired twenty consecutive hitters before the walk. Williams brought in ace reliefer Drew Storen and he was tagged with the loss after being unable to get that final out and preserve the 1-0 shutout Zimmerman was fashioning. Pitch count was the reason Williams fell back on when he was questioned after the game about his decision to pull Zimmerman, but the right-hander was only at 100 pitches, hardly a large total for a major league pitcher.

The baseball gods can be quite fickle. All managers have made both right and wrong baseball moves. Williams made a decision, it backfired, and his team was never able to fully recover. Opposing manager Bruce Bochy, who is on an impressive post-season run over the Giants last three appearances, 2010, 2012, and this year, made a blunder in the deciding game of the series, but his team bailed him out by scoring the winning run on a Nationals wild pitch to win 3-2. Bochy, whose Giants have won eleven of their last twelve playoff games, brought in rookie reliever Hunter Strickland in the seventh inning to protect a 2-1 Giants lead.

Nothing wrong there unless you consider Strickland, a hard-throwing righthander who spent most of the season pitching for Double-A Richmond, was tagged for two hard hit homers in the fourth game of the series, young Nationals star Bryce Harper hitting one into the upper deck in Washington. Harper was due up in the seventh inning, and promptly deposited a long drive off Strickland into San Francisco Bay. Harper eats up fast balls and Bochy calling on a young pitcher was far from a solid baseball move. Harper vs. Strickland, power vs. power, advantage Harper, over 900 feet of flying baseballs in two swings.

Kershaw throws the seventh innings like he did the first six, Storen gets that last out for Zimmerman, and Strickland whiffs Harper, then everyone looks great from a managerial standpoint. It is not easy to make the decision whether to pull a pitcher or leave him in the game. It is a key part of the game and often goes unnoticed and not appreciated when things go well. It is only when they do not go well that bad baseball decisions are recognized and heavily scrutinized.

It is Final Four Baseball Time. Let’s see what moves Baltimore’s Showalter, Kansas City’s Ned Yost, the Cardinals Mike Matheny, and Bochy will make in the coming days. For those quick to criticize baseball as too boring, I submit that pitching decisions, the game within the game, is worthwhile watching.

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