Red Sox And Cardinals Launch Assault On Rational Decision-Making
Well, that was quite a game. The St. Louis Cardinals squeaked by the Boston Red Sox 5-4 Saturday night in unprecedented fashion. To my knowledge, a World Series game has never ended on an obstruction call. Hopefully for managers Mike Matheny and John Farrell, the outrage of emotions and opinions over that call will obscure the bizarre decisions they made during this game. I’ll recap some of the worst.
1. Letting Joe Kelly hit. Really Mike Matheny? This was awful.
When Kelly stepped up to the plate, the Cardinals already had a 2-0 lead, and the bases were loaded with just one out. The Cardinals chances of winning were at a robust 86 percent. Kelly had given the Cardinals four strong innings. Allen Craig sat on the bench. Scoring one run boosts the Cardinals chances of winning to 90 percent. With a stacked bullpen, there was no need for Kelly to give the Cardinals innings. Instead, Kelly predictably struck out, and the Cardinals would get nothing out of the situation.
Kelly then gave the Cardinals four more outs. In the process of doing so, he also surrendered a triple to Xander Bogaerts, and walked two hitters. When he left the game, the score was 2-1, and the Red Sox chances of winning were up to 33 percent.
Pitchers get worse as they work their way around the order for the second and third time. Kelly has decayed at an even higher rate than normal, allowing an OPS 60 points higher his second time around. His fastball was down from 97-98 to 94-95.
2. The intentional walks. Baseball’s most overused strategy.
First of all, the Red Sox elected to walk Yadier Molina with a runner on second and two outs, to have lefty Felix Doubront face David Freese. Sure, Molina had the better year than Freese, but going forward, they are very similar hitters. Steamer projects Molina for a .296/.351/.445 line in 2014, and Freese is projected to have a .279/.352/.427 line. Furthermore, they have very similar platoon splits. Exposing yourself to a big inning to face a hitter of very similar quality? I’m shaking my head.
The Cardinals issued David Ortiz a free pass, loading the bases. Earl Weaver rolled over in his grave. Taking context out of the question, this bumped up the Sox’ chances of winning by almost four percent. Sure, Ortiz is a feared hitter and all, but he’s human. Look at this chart for walk strategies with 2002 Barry Bonds at the plate. It doesn’t call for a walk in this situation. Managers tend to overrate the effect of a good hitter. Going back to 2008 Ortiz has seen 76 fastballs of at least 98 miles per hour, and he has recorded two hits. At least they brought in closer Trevor Rosenthal for the biggest situation of the game.
3. Saving your closer for a lead (Part One).
In the bottom of the 8th inning, the Red Sox trotted rookie Brandon Workman out to the mound. Now Workman is a fine pitcher, but he’s no Koji Uehara, who was the best reliever in baseball in 2013. Workman retired Pete Kozma, but Kolten Wong hit a single. After a Matt Carpenter popup, Wong stole second. Carlos Beltran was intentionally walked. That left Workman, the Sox fourth best reliever, facing Matt Holliday, the Cardinals best hitter, in the Sox biggest situation of the year. Holliday flew out, but that won’t keep me from denouncing the non-move, nor should it.
4. Letting the pitcher hit…again.
As if he hadn’t pushed his luck enough, John Farrell sought another inning for the young Brandon Workman. He let him hit against Rosenthal. This was Workman’s first professional at-bat. As you might expect, Workman struck out on three pitches. Mike Napoli, the Red Sox best hitter behind David Ortiz, collected a few more splinters on the bench.
5. Saving your closer for a lead (Part Two).
Because Workman was allowed to hit, he took the hill in the bottom of the ninth. He fanned Matt Adams before Yadier Molina singled. Finally, Koji Uehara was brought in, but after a double by Allen Craig, madness ensued. Farrell traded an automatic out for two batters, one of whom reached base. This cut the Sox’ chances of winning by nearly twenty percentage points.
I could go on. Pinch-hitting Will Middlebrooks for Stephen Drew against Kevin Siegrist was baffling. Drew can’t hit lefties, but Middlebrooks can’t hit Siegrist. Of the 55 fastballs of at least 96 miles per hour that he saw this year, he managed just one single. Tim McCarver might call him a good defender, but any reputable fielding metric puts him as well below average. The defensive downgrade cost the Sox on Holliday’s ground ball double. The difference in chances of winning between a two-run double and a double play is nearly 40 percentage points. I’m using hindsight to judge that decision very harshly, but it didn’t make any sense at the time it was made.
Oh, I’ll include this tweet, to sum up the Napoli and Uehara’s status because it was funny.
John Farrell is probably just saving Mike Napoli and Koji Uehara for marriage.
— CespedesFamily BBBOO (@CespedesBBQ) October 27, 2013
Strategy is just a small part of managing a baseball team. I like to indulge myself in some good solid armchair critique as much as the next person, so I make a big deal about it sometimes. Still, in the big scheme of things, being a leader of men is far more important, and I assume Farrell and Matheny are good at that. However, that small part of the job was magnified Saturday night. Neither manager acquitted themselves well.