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So Much To Dissect In One Game

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Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics
“Something something walk-off capital something something!”
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This is what I love, and have so missed, about live baseball (fans excepted — they weren’t so live): all the moments one can parse, analyze, debate from a single game. And what a game it turned out to be last night, almost into this morning.

Some highlights for your reaction and discussion:

Maddon Outsmarts Himself Twice

Joe Maddon, an overrated strategist whose main goal seems to be to bring attention to himself, made two moves that were costly.

The first was to remove Andrew Heaney after just 4.2 IP and 67 pitches on a night when Heaney was cruising. One can only assume Maddon was getting cutesy with platoon matchups, as the A’s were sending up three right-handed batters. On cue, Noe Ramirez issued two walks to load the bases, then fell behind 3-0 to Marcus Semien before escaping the mess he had made. Semien’s pop fly to LF helped to obscure the blunder of making an unnecessary pitching change in the 5th inning of a 1-1 game.

The second was another platoon matchup, asking the soft-tossing Hoby Milner to come in and face Matt Olson in the 10th, an experiment that lasted all of one pitch and four runs. Your closer is in the game, throwing mid-90s with a high K-rate on his resume, and the bases are loaded with no outs in the bottom of the 10th. Do you want your closer, or your utterly mediocre slop-baller, on the mound? I suppose the answer depends on whether your goal is to win the game or just to go home.

Melvin Gets Away With A “Math-Fail”

Managers tend to get caught up in the notion that there is one guy “you’re not going to let beat you,” and if that’s your mindset then most certainly when you play the Angels that man, or fish if you will, is Mike Trout.

So intuitively, it probably made perfect sense that in the top of the 9th of a 3-3 game, with runners at 1B and 2B and 2 outs, Melvin didn’t want to risk letting Trout bat. The IBB with a base open — albeit third base — loaded the bases for Shohei Ohtani.

Here’s the problem. As otherworldly good as Trout is, his career batting average is .305. That means in a situation where a hit was needed to break the tie, you had just a 30.5% chance of getting burned.

Meanwhile, you put Ohtani up in a spot where reaching base in any way, shape or form was going to give the Angels the lead. Ohtani’s career OBP is .350, meaning that on paper the A’s had a 35% chance of getting burned and falling behind. (If you want to get into matchups, Ohtani’s OBP rises a tick to .361 against RHP.)

So in making a move that seemed logical on its face, the A’s actually increased the chance of falling behind from about 30% to about 35%. Fortunately, Liam Hendriks came up big with some excellent pitches and struck Ohtani out. Don’t mistake this for vindication, BoMel, because remember you were “more likely than not” to succeed either way.

The super-analytic-based A’s should know better than to let the glamour of Trout’s name get in the way of a good metric.

Chapman’s Unusual Base Running Unsmarts

Matt Chapman isn’t so much fast as he is a terrific base runner whose instincts turn above average speed into the results of a true speedster. But last night, an inning after committing a rare fielding error Chapman committed an even rarer show of timid and indecisive base running.

On Ty Buttrey’s would-be wild pitch with Chapman at 3B, the ball took a convenient ricochet back towards the plate that caused Chapman to rethink his dash towards the plate. He then doubled-down on his uncertainty and instead of scrambling back to 3B, which he could have done safely, Chapman hesitated again and got caught in an easy rundown.

The right move? Dash for the plate and don’t stop. Why? Because in a situation like that, the goal isn’t always to beat the throw to the plate. It can simply be to beat the pitcher there, which Chapman had a great chance to do as Buttrey was late to react.

Even had Buttrey beaten Chapman to the spot, he would have been taking a throw on the run and trying to apply the tag in one motion, something most pitchers are not very skilled at doing. If beaten to the plate, Chapman still had a very good chance to elude the tag and get his hand on home plate first.

In contrast I give a full mulligan to Ohtani in the top of the 10th, when he was gunned down trying to advance from 2B to 3B on a sharp one-hopper to Olson. As a runner, you’re taught that if you see the ball is hit on the ground to the right side — or even anywhere left of the SS — you take off.

How often do you see a 1Bman charge a ground ball and fire to 3B? Seldom. It was just a terrific play by Olson, as well as a big-time scoop of the throw by Chapman, to turn a routine “get ‘em over” into a key rally-killing play.

Wherefore Burch?

OK, who had “Burch Smith will be the winning pitcher on July 24th” in the Opening Day pool? A better question is: why was Smith called upon to start the 10th, rather than J.B. Wendelken or Lou Trivino?

Remember that the inning was going to start with a runner at 2B, so not the softest landing. My assumption on Wendelken (whom I was expecting) is that Melvin didn’t want to get him up a second time, having had Wendelken throwing along side Hendriks in the bottom of the 8th as the A’s tied the game and then took the lead.

I’m not sure why Smith over Trivino, but it might speak to the A’s waning confidence in Trivino until they see him succeed. But...passed over for Burch Smith there? Interesting.

Lots to dissect, and it was just one game! Worth 2.7, but still just one game. What a wild ride it shall be...