In Defense of Jeff Brantley
In case you missed Wednesday night’s SportsCenter, the Cincinnati Reds had a thrilling come-from-behind victory when Edwin Encarnacion hit a game-winning three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning with his team down 5-3 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That wasn’t the best part, though. Jeff Brantley, the color analyst for FSN Ohio, spends nearly the whole at-bat criticizing Encarnacion first for his lack of bunting ability, and later for not being “clutch.”
Fire Joe Morgan, expectedly, loved it. They have the clip up, so check out their post if you’d like to watch it.
Brantley: Encarnacion has struck out three of his last five AB’s, hasn’t hit the ball out of the infield, he had a terrible spring training, and after that pitch right there, like I said, you need to make sure he can bunt. I don’t think he can.
Brennaman: Well, there is no way they’re going to ask him, or at least you would assume there is NO way they’re going to ask him to bunt with two strikes.
One and two to Encarnacion. Breaking ball in the dirt. Count even now at two balls and two strikes.
See, that’s the problem when you ask a guy who has never bunted —
Brantley: Take him out of the game!
(Brennaman and Brantley talk over each other)
Brantley: Put somebody else in there.
Brennaman: If you believe in the bunt in this situation —
Brantley: You’re at home, you’ve got to tie the game.
Brennaman: That’s a “by the book” kind of thing. I don’t know if there’s anybody on that bench that you’re going to bring in and bat for Encarnacion.
Brantley: This guy is not a clutch hitter. He is not a clutch hitter.
Brennaman: His numbers would be contrary to that.
Brantley: He’s not a clutch player.
Brennaman: Two-two pitch.
(Encarnacion hits game-winning three-run home run, Brennaman is extremely excited)
Brantley: You called it! My goodness. I stand corrected, my friend! Wow![…]
Brantley: Boy, when I’m wrong, I love to be wrong like that, my friend.
For starters, yes, Brantley was proven wrong in that event that Encarnacion isn’t “clutch,” (humoring, for the moment, that “clutch” exists in some meaningful way). However, if “clutch” does exist, one event does not turn a player from “unclutch” to “clutch” (just ask Alex Rodriguez bashers). Brantley isn’t necessarily wrong that Encarnacion is not “clutch.”
Brantley is quick to admit his fault, though, and does so in a good-natured way. You have to respect this. A lot of those in the media would slowly tip-toe away from the situation or just completely deny it altogether.
Where Brantley definitively errs is using spring training statistics to back up his statement that Encarnacion isn’t the guy you want up at the plate at that moment. As has been stated numerous times in recent years, there is little correlation between spring training and regular season performance.
Also, bunting in that situation can and cannot be a smart move. Using last year’s Run Expectancy Matrix, runners on second and third with one out yields 1.44328 expected runs as opposed to 1.51044 expected runs with runners on first and second with no outs. However, bunting the runners over eliminates the double play and, obviously, gives the Reds a chance to tie the game up on almost any base hit to the outfield. In the context of that situation — down by two runs in the ninth inning at home — bunting is a winning play.
So, while Brantley probably should stray from the concept of “clutch” since it’s just one of those intangible elements for which its proponents have produced no evidence, he should be given leniency for being a victim of bad timing. Nothing he said was way off the mark, and he was cordial in admitting fault.