Thursday, May 19, 2005

What's a Two-Time All-Star To Do?

Poor Esteban Loaiza. He pitches another gem, and again doesn't get the win. That's what happens when you have the worst run support in the league, and it also goes to show how useless single-season wins are as a barometer of pitching quality. (I'd argue that career wins is a reasonable stat, but that's a debate for another day.) He may not have won the game, but he's today's Majority Whip. (I wonder what his position on the nuclear option is? No es bueno?)

Poor Esteban Loaiza. He drew the pitching matchup against the perennial Cy Young contender, Chris "Swallows of" Capuano. (Wait, that one sounds too much like a Bermanism. Let me undo my comb-over and come up with something better.) Capuano kept the team off-balance all night, and only made one mistake -- hitting Brad Wilkerson on a two-strike pitch. Assisted by some managerial shenanigans, no Nationals batter made it to third base until the 8th inning.

It was interesting to see Capuano come out for the 9th inning. I can't really recall a manager bringing a starter out for the bottom of the 9th in a tie game like that. That's definitely against conventional wisdom, but it was probably the right move in that case. Sometimes the right move doesn't work out. And sometimes the wrong move does -- just ask Frank.

Frank ham-handedly managed the first inning, running us out of two separate outs. Sometimes managers feel like they need to make things happen. Maybe they feel like they need to earn their pay? Maybe they need to feel smarter or more active, ala LaRussa? Regardless, unless it's done smartly, it's going to cost your team chances to score. Just the way it did last night.

When Cristian Guzman was batting second, one of the reasons we were angry was that he was always in auto-bunt mode. Every time there was a runner on first, Guzman would bunt him over, as if he were a computer program stuck in a terminal loop. The question I asked at the time boiled down to why is your number two hitter bunting? If he's not good enough to get a hit, then he needs to be hitting 8th.

Guzman is down where he belongs, at the bottom of the order. And now, Jamey Carroll is up. Jamey Carroll has been batting over .320 for the last month. He's probably not a .320 hitter, but he's been on a decent hot streak, and he definitely has excellent on-base skills -- he works pitchers effectively, much more in the mold of Nick Johnson than Guzman. Despite this, Frank has him bunt EVERY freakin' time.

Nats Blog, with their wonderful Run Value charts says that bunting a runner over actually costs your team runs. You're gaining one measly base at the cost of an out. It may help you to score one run, but it pretty much effectively kills your chances of scoring more runs.

I'm assuming that Frank's looking at the offensive struggles of this team, and trying to scratch out one run at the time. The frustrating thing is that he's probably doing more to hurt our run-scoring abilities than anything.

Last night's first inning was a particularly egregious example.

Brad Wilkerson led off the bottom of the inning with a double. And Jamey Carroll was up, in auto-bunt mode. It wasn't a good one, and Wilkerson was thrown out sliding into third. On the next batter, Carroll was thrown out on a botched hit and run. In the space of two batters, Frank gave the opposing team two easy outs. Those were two outs that the pitcher didn't have to work for. Frank did the pitcher's job for him.

One of the worst plays in baseball is the bunt with a runner on second. It's horrible strategy, even though there are great benefits to having a runner on third with less than two outs. In yesterday's game, it was especially brutal.

What would the harm have been in letting Jamey hit away? If you didn't think he was capable of getting a hit, depsite having the platoon advantage, then have him go for the all-mighty productive out. Jamey is choked up on the bat he's practically gripping the fat part of the bat. He has great bat control; let him hit it to the right side. Maybe, just maybe, he'll drive one through the infield, scoring the run.

Even if he fails, you still have two chances to drive a run home with runners in scoring position. And that's the key for me. Without the bunt, you've got three batters up, all with a chance to drive that run in. Not only that, but these are the team's best non-injured hitters! It's not like they were sending Guzman, Bennett and the pitcher up there. Let your two-four hitters have a crack. One of them might come through, leading to an even bigger inning.

I typically hate the hit and run too. It has its uses in some cases, but more often than not, it bails the pitcher out. It didn't work last night, and Jamey Carroll was easily thrown out at second. This team has been caugh stealing in 50% of its attempts. That's horrible, and another factor that's cost this team runs. If you're successful less than 70% of your attempts, you're costing teams runs. Just as with the bunt, the marginal improvement of moving one extra base is rarely worth the out.

Small ball has a time and a place. A tie game in the 8th or 9th inning is exactly the right place. A tie game in the first inning, when you have no idea what the final score will isn't.

I've used the analogy before, but bunting, to me, is like a two-point conversion in football. It's a powerful tool, which can help your team, but if you use it too early, it really starts backfiring. Both should be used only in end-of-game situations, where you know that extra run, or that extra extra-point will mean something.

All Frank's early small-ball tactics meant last night, was an easy inning for the starter, and wasted opportunities for the Nats.

The team can't get over it's offensive struggles if the manager's hands are around its neck.

Homestand Goal:
5-2
Homestand Record:
4-2

One more to go! Livan against Victor Santos (who?). If Livan's knee holds up, we've got a good chance to meet our goal, before running off on another road trip o' death.

1 Comments:

  • Missed the early innings last night--sounds frustrating. I like small ball too--I think the best strategy is knowing when it's appropriate to do that versus Earl Weaver station-to-station ball. Small ball is fun, and exquisite when done right. But Jamie should be allowed to swing away unless it's really a situation where it'll give us a strategic advantage.

    Ah well--I'll be there today. Anyone else?

    By Blogger MattNats, at 5/19/2005 10:29 AM  

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