A Tactical Review of Wednesday’s Game

Over the years here, Charlie Manuel‘s decision-making has been a frequent topic of discussion, ranging from his overuse of starting pitchers, improper use of his relievers, reliance on the sacrifice bunt, and more, there is usually at least one or two controversial tactical decisions in any given week. There were a few in this afternoon’s series finale, a 4-3 extra-innings loss in San Francisco as Jonathan Pettibone opposed Barry Zito.

The first questionable decision Manuel made was to allow Pettibone to hit for himself to lead off the sixth inning. The right-hander had thrown 90 pitches over five innings but labored hard in the fifth inning allowing one run while throwing 24 pitches. In his prior three starts at the Major League level, Pettibone maxed out at 96 pitches. It’s not that Pettibone can’t go over 100 pitches, it’s that he has typically run out of gas by the time such a decision needs to be made. In that fifth inning, his fastball only once crossed 92 MPH (in 24 pitches) after doing so three times in 13 pitches in the first inning. The 22-year-old still needs to develop the stamina to pitch deep into games.

Additionally, in a close game — the score was 2-1 — who is more likely to keep the game close? A fatigued starting pitcher his third time through the opposing lineup, or a reliever fresh out of the bullpen? According to Baseball Reference, opposing hitters posted a .695 OPS against starting pitchers the first time, .734 the second, and .775 the third. Against relievers, they had a .704 OPS the first time.

This is without addressing the offensive aspect. We don’t have anywhere near a large enough sample to really know how good Pettibone is with the bat, so let us assume he is league-average. The average NL pitcher has a .149 weighted on-base average, and we can safely assume Pettibone doesn’t hit for much power, so it’s almost all singles. The right-handed pinch-hitting options include Erik Kratz (career .287 wOBA vs. LHP) and Freddy Galvis (.296). To put it in a broader scope, the run expectancy with the bases empty and no outs (start of an inning) is 0.48 runs; with a runner on first base and no outs is 0.82; with the bases empty and one out, it is 0.27. It is not a huge difference, but paired with multiple tactical mistakes over the course of a game, it adds up quickly.

Pettibone got burned in the sixth with a lead-off walk to Brandon Belt, but rebounded to get the next two outs. By that point, he had thrown an additional 17 pitches, putting him at 107 pitches. The right-handed Guillermo Quiroz, with a .255 wOBA, strode to the plate. The two options here are: 1) take Pettibone out and bring in a right-handed reliever; or, 2) intentionally walk Quiroz to bring up the pitcher and potentially force the Giants to pinch-hit, in which case you take Pettibone out for a reliever. Manuel opted partially for #2, but left Pettibone in as the Giants let their starting pitcher hit. With the bases loaded, Pettibone threw a 90 MPH fastball and Zito put in play, just out of first baseman Kevin Frandsen‘s reach to plate the Giants’ third run.

That play brings up an interesting question: why was Frandsen holding on Quiroz? Quiroz, a catcher, is not a good runner and holding him on only leaves more room for a ground ball to sneak by. Observe:

There are two outs. The only reason you’d ever want to play with the first baseman up like that is if there are fewer than two outs and you want to go for a force out or tag play at home plate. If the first baseman corrals a ground ball with two outs in this situation, his play is 100% to first base, so he should have been playing back. Quiroz is only scoring on balls deep to right-center, and holding him on or not has zero effect on that.

After that, Manuel finally took Pettibone out for reliever Jeremy Horst to face the left-handed Gregor Blanco. Horst couldn’t find the plate and walked Blanco on four pitches, bringing up the right-handed Marco Scutaro. I didn’t have a problem with leaving Horst in for three reasons: 1) control isn’t something he usually struggles with, so there is no need to worry about the four pitches he threw to Blanco; 2) Marco Scutaro doesn’t show a platoon split over his career: .322 wOBA against right-handers and .325 against lefties; and, 3) Horst hasn’t shown a platoon split in limited MLB action: 4.16 xFIP against left-handers and 4.31 against right-handed pitchers. I’m not sure opting for a right-hander like Phillippe Aumont or Chad Durbin would have been an improvement.

Rewinding a bit, in the top of the sixth, Rollins had reached second base with a one-out double, bringing up Kevin Frandsen. On a 1-2 count, Rollins attempted to steal third base but was thrown out. As with leaving in Horst, I also didn’t have an issue with Rollins’ stolen base attempt despite the poor outcome. As Josh Goldman showed at FanGraphs in November 2011, the break-even rate for stealing third base with one out is 69 percent. Rollins, entering his 13th full season, is a career 83 percent base-stealer overall and 88 percent stealing third base. Opposing base-stealers had a 62 percent success rate against Zito, but a majority of runners were thrown out by Bengie Molina and Eli Whiteside. Opposing base-stealers had a 79 percent success rate against Quiroz, who had never caught Zito prior to this afternoon’s game. In 2012-13 combined, Rollins was a perfect 14-for-14 stealing third base before his attempt today.

As you can see in the above .gif, Rollins ran on a high-and-inside fastball all of 84 MPH with a right-hander batting, all in all not a terrible choice. He takes a weird route as he ends up stepping briefly on the infield grass, which I can only imagine was a mistake. Additionally, his slide was terrible, something you rarely hear about with Rollins.

Finally, getting to third base allows him to score the tying run on some infield grounders and most outfield fly balls. On second base, he only scores on some singles and all extra-base hits. Frandsen is not an extra-base hit machine, as 75 percent of his 210 career hits entering the game were singles.

(To clarify, Rollins likely attempted the steal of his own volition, so this shouldn’t be blamed on Manuel.)

The last strategical point I would like to touch upon is Manuel’s continued refusal to use “closer” Jonathan Papelbon in high-leverage situations in a tie game on the road. Between the time Pettibone exited the game in the sixth and when the game ended in the tenth, ten Giants batters came to bat with a leverage index of 1.00 (average) or greater, including eight in excess of 2.00 (high-leverage). Papelbon, ostensibly the team’s best reliever and certainly the most expensive, really hasn’t been used in the most important situations. Here’s a breakdown of the batters he has faced by leverage index bucket:

The Phillies are more or less assured victory in a large majority of the games in which they use Papelbon, which largely invalidates the need for a $50 million reliever at that point. Between April 23 and today, Papelbon has been used five times in a span of 16 days, only one time involved a save situation, none of them high-leverage. This afternoon was a perfect opportunity to use Papelbon. The Phillies were in trouble in both the ninth and tenth innings and could use Papelbon’s high strikeout rate (30 percent career) and high infield fly ball rate (15 percent career) to limit base advancement. This is not to say the use of Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo was in error, but that Papelbon could have been brought in at the first sign of trouble since he is the team’s best reliever.

Some of these tactical blunders are nothing new — Manuel has been making them since he took over the team in 2005. However, the 2007-11 era teams were good enough in all facets of the game to make up for Manuel’s poor decision-making.  Now, with a depleted starting rotation and one of the league’s weaker offenses, Manuel’s impact on the game is magnified as the Phillies can afford few mistakes.

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18 comments

  1. CB

    May 08, 2013 09:36 PM

    I also thought not having Galvis pinch run for Michael Young in the 9th was a mistake. It ended up not mattering, since Young scored the tying run regardless, but it’s simple slight improvements to your winning chances that Manuel seems to overlook.

  2. the Philly sports desert

    May 09, 2013 05:21 AM

    And this is where you wonder is Ryne S. would make a difference. I have never been a CM hater but the Pettibone at bat just did not make sense and he is deathly afraid, with some merit, of his bullpen. I agree on the Paps assessment, we so overpaid for what we get. Without wholesale changes in the management side, I do not have much hope for the rebuilding of the franchise.

  3. Brad

    May 09, 2013 06:08 AM

    Can someone please explain Chris Wheeler’s frequently stated assertion that Charlie does not want to use the backup catcher, in this case Kratz, as a pinch hitter because then he would have to stay in the game? Once you use Kratz as a hitter, you no longer have a back up catcher on the bench. Why does it matter which guy stays in to catch at that point?

  4. Jonny5

    May 09, 2013 07:10 AM

    Charlie seems to me to be more of a reactionary manager instead of a proactive one. Many times leaving nobody warming in the pen, then lo and behold when we need to yank a guy who is having trouble and nobody is warming so they leave in mr trouble and let him do his best Marmol impression. Bringing in guys like Durbin in close games at home with better pitchers playing hacky sack in the BP.

    Brad, Kratz < Ruiz

  5. TomG

    May 09, 2013 07:57 AM

    “I’m not sure opting for a right-hander like [...] Chad Durbin would have been an improvement.”

    No, no, no! Opting for The Obliging Mr. Durbin is never an improvement, a point I will now prove with an entirely fictional scenario.

    I call CD “The Obliging Mr. Durbin” because it’s the second most insulting name* I can think of. Because he’s very obliging -in that when the opposing team comes up against him, they say, “Gee, Mr. Durbin, we’re up by only one run. We sure could use a couple more. Can ya help us out, can ya?” To which the Obliging Mr. Durbin almost invariably sez, “Sure thing! Here’s a walk, a hanging breaking ball to make it first and third with no outs, and now a cookie for your worst hitter to go yard with!” “Gee, thanks a lot, Mr. Durbin! Much obliged!” “Any time, kid. Annnnnnny time.”

    But then he throws a perfect inning yesterday with two Ks, so fuck me and my strategic, fan-fictional insights. (Which I still stand by, nevertheless.)

    *I may soon go to the most insulting name, which would entail calling him Chad Qualls, even though The Obliging Mr D unquestionably has better hair.

  6. JM

    May 09, 2013 08:35 AM

    I count it as a slight win that Charlie went to Adams & then Bastardo. Both guys are good choices in the situation, and you save your best reliever for the 11th, when the phils would have scored 2 more runs ( I’m an optimist, what can I say). He very easily could have gone to Savery at that point. IMHO, Bastardo is actually a better choice than Pap, simply because he has better value to go multiple innings at that point in the game…

  7. NickFromGermantown

    May 09, 2013 08:50 AM

    Maybe it would be better for a different article about how the Phillies use their relievers overall, but can you make a stacked bar graph for the leverage index one here to show, per bucket, how much Papelbon is used in each situation? A stacked bar graph would have two colors: 1) one for Papelbon and 2) one for everyone else. I think that would provide a lot better context for the point that is trying to be made.

    I love this blog!

  8. Joe

    May 09, 2013 08:52 AM

    TomG,

    You sure that’s a fictional scenario? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that exact course of events seven or eight times already in real life. Well, minus the dialogue, although they could have had the exchange in sign language or something.

  9. Phillie697

    May 09, 2013 10:30 AM

    “and you save your best reliever for the 11th, when the phils would have scored 2 more runs.” Saving your best pitcher for the imaginary lead that you don’t have is why teams lose games like this. The thing the manager CAN control is continue to try to extend the game to allow the offense TO score runs, and worry about how to preserve that lead later.

    Put it another way, you rather your best pitcher pitch with a 2-run cushion, but your other, less skilled, pitcher pitching when the score is tied where give up one run and it’s game over? On what planet where they use logic does that make any sense?

  10. nik

    May 09, 2013 11:29 AM

    Bastardo is not much of a downgrade from Papelbon, so I dont have a huge issue with yesterday. Now if the game went another inning and he trouted out Valdez, then we have a problem.

  11. Phillie697

    May 09, 2013 11:37 AM

    @nik,

    He probably would have. Or someone else not named Papelbon.

  12. hk

    May 09, 2013 12:22 PM

    I didn’t watch yesterday’s game. Was Papelbon even available after Charlie used him on Monday (to protect a 4 run lead) and Tuesday?

  13. EDGE

    May 09, 2013 01:07 PM

    HK,

    Papelbon warmed up yesterday, he was ready to go if they took the lead in the 9th. They didn’t, so Adams came on.

  14. Pencilfish

    May 09, 2013 04:05 PM

    Brad,

    If you use Kratz as the pinch-hitter and stays in the game, then he takes over Ruiz’s catching duties. What do you do if Kratz gets hurt, and you don’t have a catcher on the bench? I think every team has an “emergency” catcher. It used to be Wilson Valdez. Not sure who that is now.

  15. Pencilfish

    May 09, 2013 04:09 PM

    BB,

    Are you saying bring Papelbon in after Bastardo wild-pitched the winning run to 3B with two outs in the 10th? That would have been his 3rd day in a row, so he would be unavailable tonight.

    No question Charlie has made some strange moves over the years. Add this game as another one in a long string of controversial moves.

  16. Steve

    May 10, 2013 06:29 AM

    @ Brad & Pencilfish
    Well that is the flip side of the strategy. It seems that CW and CM seem to have gotten stuck on the idea that when you PH for the pitcher you must perform a double switch and therefore Kratz has to stay in the game for the optimum benefit. You do a double switch if the upside of the double switch is valid. In this case, it isn’t. Leave Ruiz in the game and the new pitcher just bats in the pitcher spot. This is why I wanted to keep HQ on the roster and jettison the BR experiment. Hell, I would still do that as I just don’t see the upside to BR.

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