Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Be The Manager

Manny Acta faced one of his toughest tests as manager today, making a string of moves he felt would win him the game. Did they? What would you have done?

In the top of the 7th inning, the Nationals were tied with the Brewers 1-1, and the bottom of the order was due up: Lefties Robert Fick, Ryan Langerhans, then the pitcher, Jason Bergmann, who had thrown 79 pitches, allowed just the one run, and only two hits.

The Brewers went to the bullpen, bringing in Brian Shouse, a side-arming lefty who's held lefties to a .221 batting average for his career.

On the bench, your right-handed options are 2B Ron Belliard, 3B Tony Batista, CF Nook Logan, C Jesus Flores. (Dmitri Young is out with a foot injury)

There's a lot to consider here. (Here's the game log if you want to follow along at home!)

First, do you pinch hit for Fick? Fick is worthless (.671 OPS against lefties), but if you pinch hit for him, Kory Casto is the only other player on the roster who's ever played first base in the majors -- if you ignore the 6 or so innings Brian Schneider has there.

Since this is the first batter of the inning, it would make sense to send up someone who can get on base. Manny made a decent choice, sending up Ronnie Belliard (.356 career OBP against lefties, but slumping terribly recently) Belliard grounded out.

Next, Ryan Langerhans, a lefty, was due to bat. Langerhans had been playing centerfield. And although he's a lefty, he has a reverse platoon split, hitting .288 .363 .378 against left-handed pitching. With one out, if you're going to pinch hit, you still want someone who can get on base and Nook Logan (.321 average and .354 on-base percentage against left-handed pitching) makes a lot of sense, especially given Langerhans position.

But Manny went for the quick power, sending up Tony Batista. As we've said a few times already, Batista's lone asset is the occasional home run. He doesn't get on base. And he doesn't have any real batting ability nor speed. For his career, he's batted .231 and has an OBP of .291 against left-handed pitching -- in fact, his slugging v lefties is worse than Logan's, too. Batista grounded out.

Now comes the really hard choice. With two outs, the pitcher was due up. As we said, Bergmann had thrown just 79 pitches and was in the middle of a two-hitter. The Nats were down to two right-handed hitting options: Jesus Flores (who Acta couldn't use at this point, because he had already hit for his emergency catcher, Fick) and Nook Logan.

If he hits Bergmann, the inning is as good as over, but Bergmann stays in the game. If he hits, it's going to be Nook Logan, who handles lefties well, but who's really just a singles hitter; to score, the Nats were going to need him and Felipe Lopez (who is much less effective against lefties than righties) to get hits, and would likely need a third consecutive hit from Cristian Guzman, the #2 batter to plate a run. In other words, the chances of the Nats scoring with Logan up aren't appreciably greater than they'd be with Bergmann taking his hacks.

At this point, I think you have to leave Bergmann in the game. So Acta pinch hits Logan and he strikes out on a foul tip.

Three straight pinch hitters. Three straight outs. And the Nats lost the game an inning later.

If you're hell bent to pinch hit for all three, hitting Logan behind Batista -- the all-or-nothing power source makes no sense. It was confusing, too, because it meant that the lone pinch-hit option for the rest of the game (assuming that Dmitri Young's foot was going to keep him out) was Kory Casto. Manny fired all his bullets at once, missing the target completely, but that'll happen some days.

The other curious thing about his set of decisions -- and this one really did come back to haunt them was the defensive switches in the bottom of the inning. He put Ronnie Belliard out there at first, which was the first time in his long major league career that he's ever played there. As it was, he missed a ball -- Geoff Jenkins' game-winning RBI single to right -- that perhaps a more experienced first baseman might have gotten.

I'd also point out that the confused order of his pinch-hitting meant that when he assigned positions, the pitcher's slot moved up to the 8 spot in the order, even though the 9 spot made the last out of the inning -- which wouldn't have been the case had he hit Logan ahead of Batista. This didn't come into play in this game, but the pitcher's spot was on deck when the game ended, a spot earlier than it needed to be.

Yes I'm nitpicking. And no, none of this really would've made a difference; the Brewers are clearly a superior team. But these little things matter, and Acta's inability to give this team every edge -- and Lord, does it ever need every edge! -- could become a factor in the future. He's had a few rough games over the last week or so. Let's just hope that the manager, like the bats, is just in a slump, trying to make too much happen.


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