Chess Match: Playing for the win

The situation: Runner on first base, no outs, bottom of the ninth inning. Cardinals trail by one. Francisco Cordero pitching and Jon Jay at the plate.


The decision: TLR lets Jay swing away, rather than bunting.

The outcome: Jay hits into a double play, pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick flies out and the game is over.

The analysis:
For TLR, this came down to a strategic decision, not a tactical one. The question was, whether he should play for one run and the tie, or two runs and the win. He elected to play for the win.
His reasoning was that with P.J. Walters having only pitched four innings and the bullpen having been stretched thin, he was much better off trying to end the game right away. 
Using Ryan Franklin for the eighth and ninth, despite a deficit, was a pretty good indicator that TLR had no interest in using Kyle McClellan or Jason Motte unless he could absolutely avoid it, so it’s clear that he was managing by this philosophy throughout the late innings. 
So the question is whether you buy the philosophy. Because if you agree strategically, then the tactics are sound. If you don’t buy the underlying principle, then you’re going to argue vociferously for a bunt — or at the very least, some kind of motion to avoid the double play.

The comment: “Well, we don’t have the deepest situation, do we? I mean we don’t really have any other pitchers we wanted to use, so we are going to try and win the game. Left-handers are hitting .300 against [Cordero]. Jay was having a heck of a day and he is tough to double. I mean, I don’t even think it’s a tough call.
“I think playing for a tie would be a really dumb idea with what we’ve got. I mean, who’s going to pitch the tenth? If we had tied it in some way, then we would have got Kyle [McClellan] out there or somebody. But I think you have to play for the win.”

My verdict: As you likely know by know, my general strategic bent is in the Earl Weaver vein: pitching, defense and the three-run homer. I hate giving away outs, I hate playing for one run unless the situation absolutely demands it, and I hate giving a pitcher his first out. We’ve been over this ground, probably ad nauseam for some of you.
But at the time, I thought the bunt was really a slam-dunk. You play for the tie at home, and with Ludwick available to pinch-hit, you would seem to have a good chance of getting that runner home. 
Still, the more I think of it, the more I can at least see the strategy. They’re pretty clearly worried about keeping McClellan from being overused. It’s come up a few times this year. And Motte has pitched a great deal lately, so being careful with him one time is not a bad idea either.
They really got into the tight position by getting a total of one inning out of Dennys Reyes and Blake Hawksworth. If Reyes could have gotten through the seventh, and Hawksworth the eighth and maybe more, then it’s less of an issue. But if he was really, truly committed to saving those two relievers — an understandable goal — then it’s a defensible decision.
-M.

8 Comments

He could have tried to draw a walk, of course, as I’ve always seen bunting as occasionally too much trouble (unlucky bounce leads to double plays, etc.) I think swinging like Jay did isn’t the stupidest idea in the world.

I think vs the Pirates, it’s an alright move. I know this early in the season that you cannot get hung up on winning every game, but we’re in June now and the Reds have a decent club that will probably even out–but I said the same for the Rockies last year. It may be a headstrong decision, but I want to win important games, and this series is definitely important.

Also, excellent Mr. Show reference, Mortimer.

Thank you! I’ve taken that name for so many different message boards and email addresses that I was the no.1 search on Google for Famous Mortimer for ages.

By the way, Matthew, I’m a UK fan, and my distance means I’m reliant on blogs like this for my news and views (and the occasional visits to the fiancee’s family in Missouri). So, keep up the good work, this blog is excellent.

Am still down on Hawkesworth. His BAA is at the .350 mark and he has left a plethora of inherited runners behind him for others to bail out all season. I know he is supposed to be a ‘long’ reliever, but we really don’t have much call for them any more. Put him on the DL, ship him to Memphis, or whatever but do something and let Salas have his place on the roster for a few weeks.

The game was an offensive marathon. You go for the tie and then what? The Reds score in the 10th and you are back to square one. Because he had to go the bullpen early he didn’t have the resources for extra innings. He took a gamble and he lost. It happens.

Matthew …

I’d like to see you comment on an earlier scenario in the game. One I thought more a key determinant in the outcome.

Scenario:
2 on (Freese, Jay), no out in 6th. 2 runs already in, down by 1 run. New pitcher. TLR has LaRue sacrifice, then pinch hits for Boggs with Miles who flies out.

Other possibilities…
Hit and run or play straight with LaRue, bunt with Boggs and save the bullpen.

I’m with Greg; that LaRue moment came closer to being a “chess match” situation than the one in the 9th. The bullpen being the burned-out shell that it was, going for a tie in the 9th wasn’t going to end well, period. The at-bat in the 6th had a much more difficult decision to make. (Incidentally, I used to be a master-strength chessplayer, and I appreciate your use of the term. It fits in both cases because of the need to calculate what’s over the horizon. I just think the calculation is easy in the 9th-inning case.)

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