October 5, 2011
NLDS Game Three: All's Gold in Phoenix
In my preview of the National League Division Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers, I called Game Three an easy win for the Brewers. Looking at last night’s final 8-1 score, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course, Arizona’s probable starter at the time, Joe Saunders, suffered a minor hand injury and was ultimately pushed back in favor of Josh Collmenter.
Collmenter, a rookie hurler with a deceptive overhand delivery, dazzled on Tuesday night, going seven innings and allowing one run on two hits with six strikeouts and two walks. Collmenter worked himself into some trouble early on, walking Ryan Braun and then plunking Prince Fielder with two outs in the first before settling down, striking out Rickie Weeks, and cruising until the top of the third. It was at this point that he left a fastball up to Corey Hart, who swiftly deposited it into the left-center field stands. But from that point forward, Collmenter was lights out, allowing a single walk until he was removed following the seventh inning.
Collmenter’s Brewer counterpart, Shaun Marcum—a superior pitcher by most accounts—wasn’t nearly as good. While my initial comment was that Marcum “should only need to be marginally effective to surrender fewer runs than Saunders,” in actuality he needed to be far better than that to compete with Saunders’s replacement, and he couldn’t even manage marginally effective. Marcum got off on the wrong foot, surrendering a leadoff single to Willie Bloomquist, who promptly stole second and was ultimately plated on a Miguel Montero double. Paul Goldschmidt followed with an RBI of his own before Marcum staunched the bleeding with a Chris Young strikeout—but not before handing Arizona its first lead of the series.
Marcum managed to get through the second inning before things really started to fall apart in the third. His control was all over the place, throwing 52 percent of his pitches in the inning for balls (compared to just 36 percent on the season) including two in the dirt. However, he managed to come away allowing just one run (another Montero RBI), thanks in large part to a base-running miscue that saw Justin Upton thrown out at home when Montero made a break for second, turning a one-out, first-and-third situation into a two-out, runner-on-second situation.
By the fifth inning, the wheels were off the wagon. Giving up two hits to start the inning (including one to Collmenter), Marcum managed to secure two outs before Ron Roenicke called for an intentional walk of Montero to load the bases. With Kameron Loe warming in the bullpen, Marcum was allowed to stay in to face Goldschmidt. Big mistake, as catcher Jonathan Lucroy sets up inside, Marcum’s pitch misses down the middle, and his glove is almost immediately hurled into the air in frustration. Why? Because the 6-foot-3, 245-pound rookie slugger bashed the pitch over the right-field wall for a grand slam, and Marcum knew it immediately. He was promptly removed for Loe.
Coming into the inning, Arizona's win expectancy was at 81 percent. Following Goldy’s slam, it was over 94 percent. This begs the question: Was it wise to allow Marcum to remain in the game to face Goldschmidt? After all, his control had been eluding him (he actually threw another ball in the dirt during the Goldschmidt at-bat), and he’d been allowing a lot of hits on solid contact.
Still, he’d allowed just one extra-base hit to that point: Montero’s double in the first. Prior to the at-bat, the announcers seemed to agree with the move since Goldschmidt is a “free swinger” and Marcum had “the lowest batting average against him by right-handed hitters in the [National] League” (.191). Of course, we know that batting average is a very misleading stat, especially for pitchers (not to mention the fact that it completely ignores Goldy’s biggest talent: power). Marcum’s BABIP versus righties this year? .221.
While a righty, Marcum’s career platoon split doesn’t paint him as a pitcher who’s extra effective against same-handed batters (4.26 FIP vs. RHB, 4.30 FIP vs. LHB), hardly a surprise for a guy with such a diverse arsenal of pitches and who gets by more on guile than on being overpowering. Loe, on the other hand, has produced a very large career split: 3.53 FIP vs. RHB compared to 4.88 vs. LHB. Since 2008, his FIP versus righties has been a spectacular 2.58. Add to this the fact that the Diamondbacks had the bases loaded and the power-hitting Goldschmidt coming up, and a switch from Marcum’s 37 percent ground-ball rate to Loe’s 62 percent ground-ball rate (not to mention his greater strikeout rate), and I think there’s a legitimate case to be made for making the switch.
Loe, of course, induces three straight grounders to end the inning, allowing one run on a ground-ball hit up the middle and an error before all is said and done. By this point, the game was over, and the Snakes cruised to victory powered by their five-run inning.