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October 8, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

NLDS game 4: Nats’ rookie manager blows the inning, game, and series

7th inning – Bryce Harper‘s home run has just tied the game. Matt Williams brings in Matt Thornton, the team’s last left hander. I think he should have held on to Thornton for Sandoval and Belt, but ok, he wants to use him on Blanco and Panik. I see that Dave Cameron of FanGraphs and Fox Sports has beat me to the story of what he did wrong:

Thornton got a groundout from Gregor Blanco, then gave up a single to Joe Panik. That put the go-ahead run on base for Buster Posey, the Giants best hitter. The Giants best right-handed hitter. Here is what Buster Posey has done against left-handed pitchers in his career:

631 at-bats, 210 hits, 53 doubles, 2 triples, 32 home runs, 61 walks, 77 strikeouts.

That’s a .333/.393/.578 batting line, which when you account for his home park, translates to a 168 wRC+, meaning that Posey’s performance against lefties has been 68-percent better than a league-average hitter. Do you want some context for that? In 2012, when Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, he had a 166 wRC+. Posey’s performance against left-handers has basically been the equal of the game’s most feared hitter having one of his best years.

In the seventh inning of a tied regular-season game, you probably wouldn’t let Buster Posey face a left-handed reliever. To do so in an win-or-go-home playoff game defies basic reasoning. And that’s exactly what Matt Williams did, sticking with Thornton against Posey, even though Thornton had just put the go-ahead run on base.

Posey hits a line drive single, so runners are on first and second with one out. Back to Cameron:

Williams rightfully decided that Thornton shouldn’t be the guy to face Pence, and went to the bullpen to get a right-hander. But no, he didn’t call on Tyler Clippard, the team’s best relief pitcher, who held right-handed batters to a .126/.197/.226 line this season, even though the Giants would be almost 90-percent favorites to win the game if Panik scored and they took the lead into the top of the eighth. Preventing Panik from scoring in that inning was of the utmost importance, but Clippard wasn’t called upon because he wasn’t even warming up.

That’s right. Not only did Williams let Posey hit against a left-handed reliever with the go-ahead run on base, he didn’t even have his best reliever warming in case it didn’t work. He did have rookie Aaron Barrett warming up, however, and that’s who he called on to go after Hunter Pence.

I’ll also note that in Barrett’s only previous appearance in the series, he faced one batter, Hunter Pence, who absolutely clobbered a line drive to the center field wall for a double. In the late innings of a close elimination game, Williams never warmed up even one of his four best pitchers—Clippard, Drew Storen, Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmermann. Williams has faced his test as a manager and failed big time.

David Schoenfield of Sweetspot and Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, offer their own analyses, which reach pretty much the same conclusion—Williams badly mismanaged his bullpen.

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