Typically, sportswriters tend to save their hyperbolic assertions for after the post-season, on subjects like possible locales for free agents, or necessary trades. Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News, however, isn’t waiting around with the local baseball team on a path to another World Series appearance. This is an actual quote from his article today.
What should be remembered from last night’s game is the 360 pounds of ineptness around second base.
First of all, if shortstop Jimmy Rollins cleanly fields the routine, two-hop doubleplay ball from Andre Ethier, Hamels and the Phillies escape the fifth inning with no blood loss.
Second, if Chase Utley cleanly transfers Rollins’ toss, the Phillies still have a chance at getting Ethier at first base. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t happen. Utley threw the ball into the dugout.
Ah, yes, those inept middle infielders of the Phillies, always letting us down. Let’s look at how bad Chase Utley is defensively. From FanGraphs (image edited for brevity):
Oh, Chase Utley is the best defensive second baseman? Drats!
Rollins, by all accounts, has regressed defensively. According to Bill James Online, the biggest problem for Rollins has been fielding balls to his left. Overall, he has saved 19 fewer runs in 2009 than in ’08. Still, per FanGraphs, Rollins has been a slightly above-average fielder. Slam him for his poor offensive season, sure, but one cannot make an argument that Rollins has been a poor defender compared to his peers.
What happened last night is that Rollins was a victim of bad timing. Throughout the season, fielders will lose line drives in the stadium lights or in the night sky, infielders will have to adjust for tricky hops on grounders, and sometimes the ball will get super-glued to the webbing of the glove. That was what Rollins had to deal with when Andre Ethier hit him that dead-to-rights double play ground ball. It wasn’t a deficiency on his part, just a fluke occurrence that happened to cost the team a run and an inning-ending out.
As the TBS broadcasting crew aptly pointed out last night was that because Rollins had to take the extra second to fish the ball out of his glove, the timing of Utley’s footwork was disrupted. As a result, he had to throw off of the “wrong” foot, couldn’t muster enough velocity, and couldn’t direct the ball as accurately as he would on the other foot. That is of no fault on Utley since it was a result of Rollins’ fluke mishap.
If you’re not convinced, find yourself a ball that resembles a baseball. If you’re right handed, try pushing off with your left foot and landing with your right foot, and try to hit a target about two feet by two feet within about a second and a half while moving and trying to avoid a 170-pound athlete hurtling his body in your direction. That Utley airmailed the ball into the visitor dugout is no surprise and certainly not a reason to brudge the Phillies’ middle infield.
All that error did was allow one run to score. The Dodgers still only had a runner on first base with two outs and Manny Ramirez at the plate. Ramirez was 0-for-2 against Hamels to that point. In the first at-bat, Hamels threw Ramirez six fastballs in an eight-pitch at-bat in the first inning. Ramirez struck out on a low-and-away change-up. He saw six more fastballs in a seven-pitch at-bat in the third inning.
Speaking about the error, Hamels said:
It takes a lot out of you. Those guys are very tough hitters. You get them in a position where you can seal the deal, and you don’t, it takes a lot of emotion to get through that. I really thought we had that.
Good pitchers do not dwell on the past. They do not let defensive miscues, questionable umpire rulings, or the other team’s fans get to them. Hamels was visibly flustered following the Rollins/Utley blunder. Instead of sticking with what worked against Ramirez, Hamels diverged from the game plan and threw Ramirez three straight change-ups.
Let that sink in: three straight change-ups. And without showing him a fastball in that at-bat.
A change-up is supposed to create the illusion of being a fastball due to the pitcher’s arm action, and as a result, the hitter will swing too early and either completely miss the pitch or make weak contact. What is a change-up “changing” if it doesn’t follow a fastball?
Unsurprisingly, Ramirez hit the third change-up into the left-center field stands for a two-run home run that shortened the Phillies’ lead to one run. That is Hamels’ fault and Hamels’ fault alone; not Utley’s and not Rollins’.
Hayes is missing the obvious culprit when he writes [sic], “A doubleplay, and Russell Martin doesn’t score from third to make it 5-2. A doubleplay, and Manny Ramirez doesn’t come to the plate at all that inning.” Hamels could have stuck with what was working, but he didn’t. He let the defensive miscue affect him and alter the way he was approaching the Dodger hitters.
Despite becoming a father after his start in the NLDS, Hamels has displayed a lot of immaturity for a pitcher who is supposed to be the ace of the Phillies’ pitching staff. That couldn’t be any more clear than with his comment about Ramirez hitting that two-run home run after he got ahead 2-0 in the count:
Who looks for a changeup 2-0?
Hitters, when you throw them two straight change-ups and don’t establish your fastball.