Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Remembering the 2014 Postseason: Decisions Have Consequences

The 2014 postseason showed that of the many roles of a manager, that of game-tacticianespecially the situationally-dependent decisions he makes that can be pivotal in games decided by a single runare those where he is most open to criticism and second-guessing. This first of two articles will hearken back to three dramatic moments in the post-season just past, to be followed by an article engaging the debate on whether a manager's decisions in one-run gamesand specifically his record in games decided by one runis a valid indicator of managers' impact and effectiveness.  

Decisions Have Consequences

In Game 2 of the NLDS, the Nationals hosting the Giants, Washington held a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning of a game they needed desperately to win, it being that they had lost Game 1 in the best-of-five series and the next two games would be in San Fran. Just six days after he had pitched a no-hitter in his final start of the regular season, Jordan Zimmermann was again pitching as though this was Masterpiece Theatre. He had retired 23 consecutive batters when Joe Panik came to bat in the top of the ninth, the Giants down to their last out. But Zimmermann walked Panik on a pitch that may or may not have been in the strike zone, putting the tying run on base, and bringing Nats first-year manager Matt Williams to the mound.

In a decision for which he was extensively criticized even as he made it, Williams decided to remove Zimmermann in favor of Nats' closer Drew Storen. Zimmermann had thrown just 100 pitches, was in the flow of another brilliant performance, and was arguably unhittable. He had in fact given up only three hits, none since the third. Storen had a history about which the fans at Nationals Park were well aware, and while history doesn't necessarily have to repeat itself, well... 

First, the history: Storen had been rather unceremoniously dumped from the closer role after having blown a 7-5 lead he was called upon to save in the deciding Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis. He loaded the bases, got two outs, and with the Nationals just one out away from victoryand a trip to the NLCSgave up back-to-back singles that scored four Cardinals runs, ending Washington's breakout season in bitter defeat. When Rafael Soriano, who replaced him as closer, struggled late in the 2014 season, Storen returned to the role in September and was excellent, not allowing a run the entire final month of the season ... until ...

History did seem to repeat itself: instead of getting the final out to save Zimmermann's masterpiece and even-up the series, Storen surrendered a single and a double that tied the score, and only a runner being thrown out at the plate prevented the Giants from going ahead and winning in nine. The Giants did eventually win, in 18 innings, to take a two-games-to-none lead back to San Francisco that the Nationals were unable to overcome. 

In Game 3 of the ALDS, Baltimore at Detroit, a debated managerial move in a one-run game had a different outcome. The Orioles had a two games-to-none advantage in the Series and, with a 2-1 lead, were two outs away from sweeping the Tigers, but the Tigers got the tying run to second base. 

Veteran Orioles manager Buck Showalter ordered his relief ace, lefty Zach Britton, to intentionally walk Nick Castellanos who hit only .259 during the season and had struck out 140 timesthe second-highest K total on the Tigers. Although a right-handed batter, Castellanos had fared worse when facing southpaws, hitting only .237 against them. He had walked in his only plate appearance against Britton during the season.

Deliberately walking Castellanos was certainly an unconventional move because it put the possible winning run on base. But it did set up a double play situationwhich is exactly what the Orioles got to win the game and advance to the ALCS against ...

The Kansas City Royals, whose trip to the World Series was nearly stopped short in the AL wild card game by manager Ned Yost's controversial decision concerning who to call on in relief of starter James Shields to protect a sixth-inning lead. The Royals led 3-2, but the Oakland A's got two on with nobody out in the sixth when Yost came to get Shields. Left-handed power-hitter Brandon Moss was waiting to bat.

Kelvin Herrera, the Royals' highly-regarded seventh-inning guy, was available, and with the post-season on the line, this was perhaps a time Yost might bring him in to get crucial outs in the sixth inning. Instead, Yost called upon right-handed power starting pitcher Yordano Ventura. Power against power, Moss greeted Ventura with a three-run home run that gave the A's the lead, and only a stirring comeback in the eighth and ninth innings, and again in the twelfth, allowed KC to prevail, 9-8, to go on to the ALDS, and then the ALCS, and finally the World Series.

These are just three examples of decisions by managers at critical moments of one-run games in the 2014 postseason. As was also demonstrated in the series of articles I wrote last year concerning some of manager Gene Mauch's decisions during the epic collapse of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, such decisions have consequences, affecting the outcome of games. 

So, the question before us is: does his team's record in one-run games say anything meaningful about a manager's impact and effectiveness in game situations? My next article will grapple with that issue.

No comments:

Post a Comment