Chess Match: One and done

The situation: Cardinals lead, 3-0, going into the ninth. Kyle McClellan is coming on strong, having retired 13 straight, and is at 102 pitches. Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt are the scheduled hitters. Both Eduardo Sanchez and Ryan Franklin had already warmed, and Sanchez in particular was ready.

The decision: McClellan stays in the game for one batter, allows a single to Fielder and is removed for Sanchez.

The analysis: There are three or four potential courses of action here.

* You can go ahead and get McClellan out before the inning even starts, going to Sanchez.

* He could have warmed Trever Miller instead of Franklin, and gone to Miller to get Prince Fielder before going to Sanchez.

* You can stay with McClellan, but give him a little bit longer rope, say one more baserunner, and just get him out before he has the chance to be the losing pitcher. This has often been the TLR way over the years.

* Or you can do what he did — leave McClellan in until there is a baserunner.

Staying with McClellan with a three-run lead seems to be largely about giving him a chance to finish off his own game. Within the clubhouse, that’s a powerful factor. But I’m not sure it maximizes the chances of winning the game. Meanwhile, it also makes it highly likely that you’re going to bring in Sanchez with at least one runner on base. The Cardinals have shown tremendous confidence in Sanchez, but even so, it seems like the best bet for his development is to minimize those situations when possible.

Going to Miller wasn’t really an option by the time the ninth started, because he hadn’t warmed up. And I understand why Franklin was warming alongside Sanchez in the eighth. If the Cardinals get a couple of runs, then you’ve got a perfect low-leverage situation for him to get some work. So Miller wasn’t entirely viable, though I think there was a decent case for getting him in there.

It seems that if you’re really trying to maximize winning the game, rather than playing for McClellan to get the shutout, then you do give him a little longer leash than he got. If you truly believe he’s your best option against Fielder, then isn’t he also your best option against McGehee? McClellan is the better bet to get the groundball than Sanchez. He’s also much less likely to issue a walk, and walks are really the most likely way for this inning to get dangerous — as we all saw.

Going straight to Sanchez, meanwhile, gives your closer-in-training a potentially clean inning. It allows him a little leeway and hopefully allows him to pitch aggressively.

The comment: “We were going to watch the eighth real closely. As you know, in the middle of the eighth inning, Sanchez got up and started playing catch. It looked to me that he was right at the point where he had done enough, and he gets the out, so we let him go back out there.” — TLR.

My verdict: I would have gone straight to Sanchez. I don’t think there was any need to push McClellan, and I think it’s also what’s best for Sanchez. If it was in fact McClellan’s game, I probably would have given him two baserunners rather than one. But if it’s not his game to stick it out a little while, then I think the best move is to get him out before there’s any trouble at all.

-M.

6 Comments

Amen Matthew. It was very peculiar the way it played out.
I’m just happy nothing went too awry because of it.

His short leash with some members of the more polished members of the pen has also been interesting

I agree with your scenario. Best to yank Mac before the inning starts to give Snchez a clean slate. I do like the young power arms in the pen. Who goes down or out once Tallet comes back. We do need 2 lefties in the pen.

I gotta go with TLR on this one. The game isn’t yet in jeopardy and McClellan has a shot at a complete game shut out. If you are on your players side you give him the chance. I don’t know if this will actually change the winning percentages for this game, getting to Sanchez one hitter sooner would likely have the same results as he produced once he was in. But showing confidence and willingness to give your players a chance to shine can only help in the clubhouse.

OK, but again… If you’re going to let him go for the shutout, if it’s his game, why pull him after one bloop hit?
-M.

I thought Sanchez should’ve started the 9th. McClellan already had 102 pitches (I believe?) and asking him to finish this was asking a lot. You gotta remember, this guy is still a converted starter and not used to pitching a lot of innings like that.
He was really, really impressive yesterday! And man, Sanchez’ stuff is nasty! And Salas looked great too, only using 3 total pitches. So glad it all worked out :-)

I don’t disagree with any of this, but one other thing: I suspect there may be a subtle change occurring in TLR’s management of the bullpen, away from the “closer” mindset that he helped pioneer, and back toward the “fireman” model that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s. Now that he’s actually got a bullpen that can function that way, there are arguments for doing it — have your best pitcher out there in the highest-leverage situations, not just in the ninth inning because that’s what a closer does. It’ll be interesting to see whether this lasts.

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