Here’s something you hear before every World Series game played in a National League Park where the American League team can’t use its Designated Hitter:
Insert announcer voice: “The (insert team) are losing a big weapon with (insert name of regular DH) being on the bench in the National League park tonight.”
That statement and all like it, are in fact, incorrect. The weapon isn’t lost – you just have to use the weapon in a different manner. This is where the problems usually start for American League teams: It isn’t that they don’t have the weapon to use, it’s that they don’t use the weapon when they can or when they should.
With the caveat of there are always exceptions, as a general rule, letting your pitcher bat for himself in an important part of the game when you have proven Major League hitters on the bench is a mistake. The hitters receive paychecks to hit. The pitchers in the bullpen receive paychecks to come into pitch after. The starter has already done his job. If you have a chance to score runs, you go for it. (Not exactly a radical notion…)
Flash back to last night’s game: Top of the 6th, all tied at one run apiece, both Dallas Kuechel and Clayton Kershaw are dealing for their teams.
Kuechel is due up to lead off the inning with obviously, the top of the order of the best offensive team in baseball due to follow. A.J. Hinch, of whom I’m usually a big fan, makes a somewhat curious decision to let Kuechel bat. As I mentioned, Kershaw was dealing and was getting help from home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, making run scoring a bit of a chore. So a player with a career .132 On Base Percentage with 44 career plate appearances gets sent into the batter’s box against the best pitcher of his generation. Reminder: Evan Gattis and Carlos Beltran are on the bench and available for A.J…
Now to me, this is an obvious decision: Get Gattis or Beltran in there and hope they get on base – statistically speaking they have more than twice the chance of Kuechel to do so. If they do, you have the potential for a big, game ending inning with your best hitters coming up.
But I gave A.J. the benefit of the doubt. He certainly may have been thinking that Kuechel with a low pitch count, throwing the way he was throwing was going to be out there for the long haul given the shaky Astros’ bullpen of late. He may have figured Kuechel being out there for nine innings gave them their best chance to win. Fair enough. I didn’t agree with that logic, but at least it made sense.
Kuechel and his teammates made 3 quick outs and we went to the bottom of the 6th, where – as I’m sure you know – Justin Turner hit a two run HR off Kuechel to give the Dodgers a two run lead that they would not relinquish.
Here’s where A.J. lost me: After a scoreless top of the 7th from the Astros, he then removed Kuechel in the bottom of the 7th after a 2 out single.
Here’s where you went astray, dear Mr. Hinch: You either go for it with your major league hitters taking their swings, or you go with Kuechel for 9. You my friend, managed to let your best offensive options stay on the bench and then removed your best run prevention weapon anyway.
Game. Set. Match.
Maybe it would have mattered, maybe not. Kershaw and the Dodgers bullpen with a 2 run lead is a big mountain.
But maybe if the weapons weren’t left collecting dust in the dugout, the Astros would’ve been the ones with the lead in the 7th, which needless to say, would’ve been a very different game. As with all of these decisions, we’ll never know – but I certainly would rather lose knowing I used every available bullet.
If this doesn’t convince you…
Last night’s home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi was a kyphotic advertisement for robot umpires. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have to watch pitch after pitch that’s clearly outside the zone get called a strike. For those of you who weren’t around in the 19th century, the strike zone was created to force pitchers to throw the ball over the plate so the batter could put the ball in play. If the pitcher did not, he was penalized with a base on balls. Phil Cuzzi, and he’s far from the only one, has changed the entire purpose of the strike zone and looks for pitches that are impossible to hit. It’s a poor, misguided representation of the game and it isn’t fair to anyone involved.
It’s additionally unfair, and quite stupid of us if we’re being frank, to expect human eyes to see a 5” sphere moving close to 100 mph while changing directions through a box they can’t see. It’s not their fault, it’s simply an impossible task for a human.
The technology is there. It’s been there for a long time. Let’s get balls called as balls and strikes called as strikes. I can’t believe that’s considered a radical idea.