Charlie Manuel has been the manager of the Phillies since 2005, so you think we’d have gotten used to these kinds of games, but they sting all the same even nine years later. The Phillies, staked to a 4-0 lead through four innings, managed to lose 5-4 in nine innings on a walk-off single by Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez’s game-winning RBI was but a foregone conclusion; the frustration lies in the path taken to get there in the first place. What follows is a tactical breakdown of Manuel’s decisions.
As mentioned plenty of times here, batting order has only a marginal impact on a team’s run-scoring capabilities. Still, you want to be as optimal as possible to squeak out the fractions of a run here and there, which can end up paying dividends on the micro level. The best example of this is Manuel’s continued insistence on batting Ryan Howard fourth and Domonic Brown behind him.
Howard has been completely ineffectual this year, entering last night’s game with a .304 weighted on-base average, exactly one point higher than his output last season, when he returned from a torn Achilles. His 6.3 percent walk rate is a career low and 5.5 percent below his career average. His 29.6 percent strikeout rate is the second-highest rate of any full season in his career. His .186 isolated power is also a career-worst.
Brown, meanwhile, has caught fire. Charlie has often wagered on players in the middle of hot streaks, which makes it puzzling why he continues to bat Brown fifth and sixth in the batting order. Between May 21-29, Brown even hit behind Delmon Young in eight consecutive games. Over the last 30 days, Brown has been by far the team’s most productive hitter, posting a .343/.361/.762 line. It would make sense to try to get your best hitter as many at-bats as possible, but that hasn’t been the case for Brown.
Platooning has been another frequent topic of discussion here and it’s amusing how the Phillies have had two staring them in the face all year (Howard and John Mayberry at first base; Young and Laynce Nix in right field), but haven’t pulled the trigger. There is no reason why Young should have been in the lineup against a hard-throwing right-hander. And although Young did get two hits, they were poorly-struck, fluky hits. As they say, “it’s a line drive in the box score”.
The platoon issue — or lack thereof — didn’t have an impact on the game, but since we’re going over strategy, it is worth bringing up again.
Now, into actual in-game decision-making.
Bottom of the 7th inning
Cliff Lee entered the top of the seventh inning having thrown exactly 100 pitches. He was not particularly sharp at any point during the game. This wasn’t one of those down-tempo games where he had retired 15 of his last 16 batters He walked the lead-off batter, Norichika Aoki, on six pitches after falling behind 3-0. He was promptly driven in on a Jean Segura triple to right field horrifically misplayed by Delmon Young, who should not have been in right field in a close game. Segura scored on a throwing error by Freddy Galvis, tying the game at four apiece.
Because the Phillies had not been warming any relievers to start the inning, which they should have been doing, Lee had to face Ryan Braun with a pitch count at 108 as Mike Stutes just started to begin his warm-up tosses. While Lee doesn’t have a platoon split (he actually has a reverse split this year), Braun hits lefties significantly better than their right-handed counterparts. Thankfully, he was able to strike out Braun with his 113th pitch. And he stayed out there to face Aramis Ramirez, another right-hander who hits lefties well. Lee was able to strike out Ramirez as well, bringing up Jonathan Lucroy, another right-hander. Yup, you guessed it — he also hits lefties well. Lucroy popped out to Galvis at second to end the inning.
Top of the 8th inning
The Phillies were starting to mount a rally. With one out, Ryan Howard was hit by a pitch and was moved up to second base when Domonic Brown drew a walk to bring up Delmon Young. Manuel called Howard back to the dugout for pinch-runner Ben Revere. Manuel’s thought pattern is obvious: if Young were to hit a single, Howard most likely isn’t scoring with his poor lower-half. Revere scores on almost all singles to the outfield, comparatively.
However, Revere should have entered the game to start the bottom of the seventh as a defensive replacement. Revere would have gone to center, taking John Mayberry’s spot, and Mayberry would have shifted over to right field, taking Young out of the game. Acknowledging the butterfly effect, that seventh inning never happens if a better defender is in right field.
Young grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Bottom of the 8th inning
Young finally came out as Revere went to center and Mayberry moved to right. Stutes relieved Lee after 122 pitches.
Ideally, the Phillies would have told “closer” Jonathan Papelbon to start getting loose. Lead-off hitter Carlos Gomez reached on a fielding error by third baseman Michael Young, but Stutes was able to bounce back to get two outs. At that point, the Brewers pinch-hit for pitcher Burke Badenhop with left-hander Logan Schafer. That brought Charlie Manuel out of the dugout to correctly bring in lefty Jeremy Horst. The Brewers countered by pinch-hitting for Schafer with Jeff Bianchi, who popped out to end the inning.
The Phillies had a 1-2-3 top of the ninth against Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez.
Bottom of the 9th inning
Again, Papelbon should have been warming up, but was planted firmly in his seat in the bullpen as Horst came back out to face lead-off hitter Aoki, a lefty. Aoki grounded out to shortstop Jimmy Rollins. With a slew of right-handed hitters due up — in fact, no lefties were due up until the pitcher’s spot, when the Brewers could have used Blake Lalli — there was no reason for Horst to stay in the game. If not Papelbon to face right-hander-heavy middle of the lineup, then Justin De Fratus would have sufficed. But, as play-by-play announcer Tom McCarthy stated during Aoki’s at-bat, the Phillies had no right-handers warming up in the bullpen.
Horst, despite my campaigning for him throughout the season, has not been nearly as good as he was last year. Expecting him to get through the middle of the Brewers’ lineup without a single favorable platoon match-up was a fool’s errand. Segura reached on an infield single, a play Rollins had no shot of making — just a lucky hit. Segura moved to third on a sharply-hit Braun single to center. Finally, Ramirez drove home the winning run with a single down the right field line.
In order, these were the leverage indices for each at-bat faced by Phillies pitchers from the seventh through the ninth innings:
- Lee vs. Aoki: 1.59
- Lee vs. Segura: 2.64
- Lee vs. Braun: 1.52
- Lee vs. Ramirez: 1.18
- Lee vs. Lucroy: 0.83
- Stutes vs. Gomez: 1.82
- (Gomez stolen base) 2.60
- Stutes vs. Gennett: 1.96
- Stutes vs. Betancourt: 2.48
- Horst vs. Bianchi: 3.37
- Horst vs. Aoki: 2.32
- Horst vs. Segura: 1.90
- Horst vs. Braun: 2.98
- Horst vs. Ramirez: 4.99
The leverage index for an “average” situation is an even 1.00, so Phillies pitchers faced exactly one situation of below-average importance in the final three innings. Papelbon did not handle a single one of them. The last time Papelbon faced a situation with a leverage index over 3.00 was on May 29, when he faced Daniel Nava of the Boston Red Sox. Perhaps more importantly, Papelbon has been used exactly once since that May 29 game — on June 4 against the Marlins.
These are not new problems. In May 2011, I complained about Manuel leaving his starters in too long. His bullpen mismanagement was a running theme last year. In the past, the Phillies were more than capable of making up for the several runs their manager cost them every week or so. But in recent years as the team has been decimated by age, injuries, and poor roster construction, Manuel’s flaws have become much more apparent and much more costly. The team faces a crossroads in the near future, and one of the least-talked-about decisions is the team’s continued partnership with Manuel going forward. Tonight’s game should make the correct decision very clear.