Throughout the World Series, we'll be providing two recaps of each game, one with a focus on the winner and the other devoting a longer look to the loser. This is the Cardinals entry for Game Four. The Red Sox edition is here.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record. “If [Mike] Matheny has an obvious flaw, it’s his slow hook with his postseason starters,” I wrote on Saturday night. “And in Game Three, it came back to bite him again.”
Maybe I should make a macro; with this series still far from over, it might save me (and other internet analysts) some time. Matheny made the same mistake in Game Four, and this time the Cardinals couldn’t recover.
Look: Lance Lynn is a pretty good pitcher. As a starter, he’s struck out a batter per inning, with roughly a league-average park-adjusted ERA. He throws fairly hard and has a big, durable build, with no recent history of arm injuries. As back-of-the-rotation guys go, that’s about the best-case scenario. There’s been some talk that the Cardinals could try to trade Lynn this winter, perhaps for a shortstop, and to make room in the rotation for some younger, higher-ceiling starters who are further away from arbitration. If they do, they’ll have no trouble finding a taker.
But Lynn has limitations, some of which are specific to him, and some of which apply to all starters. Be mindful of those flaws, and you'll minimize their effects. Pretend they don't exist, and you'll make them more costly.
Lynn threw 79 pitches through the first five innings of Game Four, striking out five Boston batters and allowing two hits, two walks, and one run. In the regular reason, when teams go a week (or more) between off days, every manager in the majors would let the 26-year-old start the sixth in a similar scenario, hoping to coax an extra inning or two out of him and save someone else’s arm.
But last night was the World Series, and the rules weren’t the same. The Cardinals had four days off between NLCS Game Six and World Series Game One, another off on Friday, and one more scheduled for Tuesday, with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha slated to start the next two games. Joe Kelly had given them 5 1/3 innings in Game Three, and although their five most reliable relievers had appeared after him, only Trevor Rosenthal had faced more than four batters. With the winter no more than four days away, there was no need to eke out another few outs from Lynn to keep the bullpen fresh. This was the sort of situation a manager spends the first six months of the season keeping the bullpen fresh for.
The only reason for Matheny to leave Lynn in for the sixth, then, was if he believed that the right-hander would give him a better chance to get the next few outs than one of several relievers. And it’s tough to make that case.
For one thing, the lineup was about to turn over again. Beginning with leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, Lynn would be facing batters who’d seen him twice already, and we know what happens when pitchers take a third trip through the lineup: contact rates rise, and balls get hit harder. (Historically, this hasn’t been true for Lynn, who’s actually limited batters he’s seen twice in the same game to a .616 OPS. But the sample is small, and it’s mostly based on a low BABIP; Lynn’s K/BB ratio has fallen from 3.50 in his first trip through the lineup to 2.51 in his second and 2.05 in his third.)
3rd time thru the order against a lefty Lynn is a replacement level pitcher.
— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) October 28, 2013
On top of that, the first and fourth batters due up were left-handed hitters, and the second (Daniel Nava) was a switch-hitter who’s much more effective from the left side. Lynn is a right-handed pitcher with lousy results against left-handed hitters and a profile that supports sizeable splits. Matheny could have gone to Kevin Siegrist, a lefty who’s effective against opposite-handed hitters. Instead, he stuck with his starter.
The frustrating thing about managerial mistakes—particularly those involving pitching changes (or non-changes)—is that they often end up looking deceptively like the right move in retrospect. After all, even a suboptimal matchup is usually going to go the pitcher’s way. And sure enough, despite the deck being stacked against his starter, Matheny almost got away with leaving Lynn in. The righty earned two quick outs, getting Ellsbury to pop up and Nava to ground out.
But then Dustin Pedroia singled, bringing up David Ortiz. And here Matheny made another strange decision: just as he’d stuck with Carlos Martinez against Ortiz over a warmed-up Randy Choate in Game Two, he went with Lynn against Ortiz over a warmed-up Choate last night. Lynn threw four semi-intentional balls to Ortiz, later telling reporters, “I’m not one to be dumb. I’m not going to let that guy beat me in that situation.” After that walk, with two outs and two on, Matheny finally made a move, replacing Lynn with Seth Maness. And Maness left a 2-2, 90-mph sinker up to Jonny Gomes, who drove it over the left-field fence for a game-winning three-run homer.
Matheny faced some criticism over the sequence after the game, but not for the right reasons. Here’s an excerpt from the game story at MLB.com:
[Lynn would] rebound to retire the first two batters of the sixth before Dustin Pedroia dropped a single into left-center. That brought Matheny to the first of two key decisions he would have to make that inning. He had lefty specialist Randy Choate available in the bullpen, though the numbers did not make that the obvious move.
In 10 career at-bats against Choate, Ortiz had four hits. Ortiz had also singled off Choate the night before. Matheny did not like the matchup.
"He was ready," Matheny said. "We just weren't going there."
The first key decision Matheny had to make didn’t come with Ortiz up. It came before the inning, when he left Lynn in. Leaving Lynn in longer, with Ortiz up, just compounded the original error. Once Matheny decided to pitch to Ortiz—as he should have, since walking him meant advancing the tying run to second—the numbers made going to Choate the obvious move, despite what the game story says. But to come to that conclusion, Matheny would have had to have been looking at more meaningful stats: not the tiny, 4-for-10 sample of head-to-head matchups between the two, but the massively more significant career performance of Ortiz and Choate versus left-handed opponents, which suggests that Choate vs. Ortiz is a matchup a manager should be happy to have. Matheny fell for the fallacy that Ortiz couldn’t be pitched to, both because the Boston first baseman had success in this series and because he’d hit a few singles off Choate. For a manager, a short memory isn’t an asset. Neither is a selective one.
Matheny is taking some flak for going to Maness after Ortiz reached base, because Maness was the one who gave up the big blow. But bringing in Maness was the best move Matheny made in the inning. The groundballer had given up only two homers to right-handed hitters this season, and Gomes had hit only five against right-handed pitchers. That matchup was unlikely to lead to disaster, but just as the wrong managerial move often ends in success, the right one sometimes backfires.
There’s a comment on that game story by a reader named “ThankYouCards.” “89 pitches, 1 earned run, Lynn was doing his job,” it says. “Walking Ortiz is hardly a reason to hook.”
In other words, if Cardinals fans (and Lance Lynn) are angry about anything, it’s that Matheny didn’t leave Lynn in longer.
The Red Sox might still have scored in the sixth had Matheny done something differently, or they might have won some other way. We can’t say the Cardinals failed to win because of Matheny, but we can say he made it more likely that they’d lose. In-game tactics are about paying more attention to process than results. They’re about knowing what the research says about how starters pitch when they go deep into games, even when they’ve pitched well up to a point. And they’re about being skeptical when it comes to small samples. Maness shouldn’t have left that sinker up, and Kolten Wong shouldn’t have slipped after taking a too-large lead. Rookies—and non-rookies, for that matter—make mistakes. But only Matheny’s mistakes were premeditated.
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He has a team with 8! relief pitchers. Before the postseason Mo made a comment about the lessons learned by Larussa's quick hooks and heavy reliance on relievers in the 2011 postseason, and how the team planned to use this strategy again. Apparently, Matheny was not listening.
Why carry 8 relievers if you are going to leave Kelly and Lynn in to roll through the top and heart of the Boston lineup a third time?
It has been fashionable this year to rip managers for decisions, particularly pitching decisions, rather than looking at what is actually going on. What was actually going on in that game was that the Cardinals were being shut down by Boston pitching, plain and simple. A thoughtful look at why that shutdown is occurring would have been much more valuable than joining the herd of lemmings rushing to blame it all on the manager. I'm disappointed in this article.
First, the issue is that his decision also resulted in the two men on base who scored with the home run.
Second, we are analyzing the thought process behind a decision, not the result. Decision making processes and results are different things.
To make a more extreme example: Betting your house, car, and life savings in roulette on 22 is a bad idea, whether the ball lands on 22, a number next to 22, or the other side of the wheel.
Much more perceptive than second-guessing on Matheny.
This game was lost because the Cardinals could not exploit the one advantage they had for 4 innings - and 86 mph fastball from Buchholz.
Well maybe a second advantage of getting to see Lackey in the 8th.
We've been working for years under this assumption that pitch counts are important because they are a good indicator of pitcher effectiveness, but what is suggested here is that it is batter familiarity, not pitcher fatigue, that is the root cause. Is that a fair takeaway from your piece? And if so, then would certain types of pitchers (those who throw from a variety of arm angles and at a greater variety of speeds, perhaps) be less affected as they get deep in the game?
This may be selectively true, but I can tell you that the Cards fans I was emailing with last night started screaming bloody murder when Matheny let Lynn take the mound at the top of the 6th. Some selected emails as the inning starts: "This is suicide," "Matheny is trying to lose this game," "I feel like we've lost already." Then of course when he stayed in to pitch to Ortiz we were all rolling on the floor in agony. For us it was a slow-motion car wreck.
(Btw, more prescience in the 9th. An email from then: "Why not run Kelly instead of Wong? Better to keep Wong on the bench in case the game goes extras and the runner's only job here is to not get picked off.")
So if Matheny isn't going to use him in key situations vs. LHB when he's warmed up, what is he saving him for?
Sometimes the players just have to perform and that pitch to Gomes was as fat as any Maness threw this year.
The real story is that Matheny has been afraid to bring Siegrist in to face Ortiz after the HR the other night when he has had several opportunities to do so. Twice he has essentially IW a batter to put a runner into scoring position.
It's entirely consistent to consider those moves (Maness vs. Gomes and Siegrist vs. Ortiz) to be simultaneously wise and unsuccessful.
We aren't talking about bringing in Lackey in the 8th are we?
That move was the results of pulling your starter early for consecutive games. Maybe a position Matheny was trying to avoid down the road going with Lynn in the 6th.
This is consistent:
2/3 IP, 4 runs
2/3 IP, 4 runs
1 1/3 IP 2 runs
2 1/3 IP 2 runs
While this is a small sample size, it does not argue that one wants him facing the top of the Boston lineup in the 6th inning of a playoff game. His performance after the third inning in las night's game is consistent with the rest of his career:
2 2/3 IP, 3 runs.
Conversely, he is almost untouchable the first time through a lineup.
I would bet that if you analyze his career regular season starts, most of his earned runs are after the 3rd or 4th inning. If it was me (and it is not), in the World Series I'd pull a Larussa 2011, toss him out there for 3-4 innings and be done with it if the score was close. That is why you have 8 relievers.
I'd rather lose a game by having Seigrist throwing 99 in the 6th than seeing whether Lynn can make it through 6 good innings for the first time in his postseason career, with the top of the Boston lineup coming up.