Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Worst Managed Game I've Ever Seen

Jim Riggleman should feel honored. Despite having literally no clue
about what happens during a game of baseball, he's managed to get what
should be an awful team to a semi-respectable record. And he will keep
his job despite offering unquestionable proof he doesn't have any
business possessing it. Two moves he made both constituted the dumbest
things I'd ever seen, both of which were dictated "by the book" only
if one read the title of said book and disregarded every shred of
common sense.

As a thought experiment, consider the circumstances in which you would
walk Eli Whiteside to pitch to Aubrey Huff.

If you said "if there's a left-handed pitcher pitching," you are Jim Riggleman.

If you said "only if there are being runners on first and second in
the bottom of the ninth and either no outs or one out and Aubrey Huff
suffering from late-stage Lou Gehrig's disease," you aren't even a
baseball genius or an intelligent baseball observer, you have merely
reached the status of "sentient being."

Were this the only example of being governed by abstract percentages
that don't make sense in reality, it'd be one thing. But the next
inning, with the game on the line because the move that couldn't
possibly work out didn't work out, he did the same thing. Mike Morse
is coming to the plate. While Mike Morse playing left field would lead
you to excuse most managers for having a losing record, that's not the
point here. So Morse is on deck, Sergio Romo, a right-handed pitcher,
is on the mound. But there's a left hander ready in the bullpen.

The move -- by the book and by the numbers -- is to pinch hit Laynce
Nix. Riggleman's good so far. The Giants, predictably, counter by
bringing in a left-handed pitcher.

Jim Riggleman goes back to the book of baseball in the abstract (not
Bill James' historical abstract, obviously) and sends a right-handed
batter to the plate in the form of ... Brian Bixler.

Let's just stop and say "wow" for a minute. There are precisely zero
circumstances where replacing Laynce Nix with Brian Bixler make sense.
(That includes late-stage Lou Gehrig's disease for Nix.) You're down
one. You pinch hit Nix (a mediocre hitter prone to occasional spurts
of prodigious power) for a mediocre hitter prone to occasional spurts
of prodigious power. Morse and Nix are basically the same, Nix just
has demonstrated his power this year and hits right-handed pitching
better. So. By the book, obvious, bush league stuff. And you know what
happens -- they'll substitute their LOOGY because they've seen the
book too.

Nope. Not if you're Riggleman. If you're Riggleman, you twirl your
fiendish handlebar moutache and say "aha! But I have a secret weapon!"
and pinch hit someone who's only in the major leagues because he can
field and the Nationals suffered an injury to the one player they
didn't anticipate getting hurt, rendering their utility man an
everyday player. But some weapons are a secret because they pose no
threat to anyone, and one of those is a light-hitting slap-hitter who
could only maximize his potential by getting hit with a pitch (an
outcome rarely governed by platoon splits).

Just comparing Nix and Bixler by itself makes the move stupid, but it
also eliminates (1) versatility -- presumably, when one of your bench
players is Matt Stairs, you will be needing someone who can pinch run
and play the position of the player for whomever Stairs (with
apologies to Jonny Gomes, the only DH in the NL) pinch hits. Now, the
bench is Alex Cora and Matt Stairs. (2) the possibility of the only
useful outcome, given that the team has mustered two hits, one of
which should have been scored an error, and you're at the WORST part
of the astonishingly bad lineup. Even if Bixler gets a hold of one
(and gets hit with a pitch), you have a runner on first for guys who
are all woeful hitters (Desmond has, despite a 3-for-3 day on Friday,
an OBP under .300, Hairston was recently spotted batting under . 100,
and then it's the pitcher's spot for whom your options, if you let Nix
bat, are Stairs, Cora, and Bixler. In other words, if the guy batting
in Morse's spot with one out doesn't hit a home run, it won't make a
damn bit of difference. A single just means another man left on base.

So Bixler bats, manages to use the candy cane that he uses for a bat
to hit it to shallow center, and ends the belief that the Nationals
could possibly win the game for themselves.

Brian Wilson nearly remedied this, but instead, the Nationals leave
the bases loaded for the third time in a game in which they had TWO
hits (again, one of which was a hit in the same sense that miniature
golf is golf).

And that's why Jim Riggleman should be replaced by the computer that
wrote Moneyball, Grady Little, or whatever actor played the
kid-manager in Little Big League. Or his hitting coach (Rick Eckstein,
brother of 5-time MLB grit leader/top Grit salesman David Eckstein)
should, despite the fact that by all accounts he is an incredibly nice
and decent human being who donated a kidney to save a family member's
life) have one kidney more than he has jobs.

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