When I heard the quote from White Sox’ shortstop Tim Anderson, reacting to the A’s choice to start the hard throwing LHP Jesus Luzardo in game 1, with “They didn’t do their homework,” I thought “Ruh-roh, big mistake, Tim.”
First off, the A’s front office team is known as being extraordinarily studious and prepared. Suggesting that they didn’t do their homework is quite the insult. If the A’s front office team isn’t setting trends they are certainly perusing and considering them at all hours of the night. Make no mistake: this is one of the most hard-working, studious, and generally prepared crews.
Anderson’s quote is what we call “bulletin board material,” which stands for quotes that are printed out and posted in the clubhouse for teams to read and use as motivation. Anderson was referring to Chicago’s 14-0 record against LHP starters, but as it turns out it would run deeper than that.
Worst of all, Anderson was proven right.
It starts with the handling of Luzardo to get him to game 1. If the A’s knew a week ago — as they claim — that they wanted Luzardo to pitch game 1, there was no need to mess with his rhythm and routine by having him pitch out of the bullpen in Los Angeles. He could have started that game to tune up for game 1, just as he could have started one of the double-header games on Saturday to prep for game 3.
History is littered with examples of teams that tried to deviate from routine in order to parlay a matchup: pitchers asked to come back on short rest, long rest, and generally it doesn’t go well. There are exceptions, but the rule — if you do your homework — is that your best bet is to keep your pitcher on turn and in his normal routine and you are most likely to get good results.
But then it just gets worse.
The White Sox built their 14-0 record against LHPs by beating up a lot on some mediocre LHPs on mediocre teams such as the Royals and Tigers. What was consistent, however, is that where the White Sox stood out — against SPs, RPs, LHPs good and bad — is that they, in contrast to their peers, mashed fastballs 95+ MPH from southpaws.
Where was that book when Adam Engel was launching a 95 MPH fastball over the LF wall to get Chicago on the board first? And what where the A’s thinking when Jose Abreu crushed a 95 MPH fastball, on a 2-0 count, deep into the smoky skies towards the BART station?
Now there are two important caveats here. One is that undoubtedly both pitches, which were center cut, probably missed their intended location. That’s not a failure to prepare, that’s a failure to execute. And it’s also worth noting that the A’s starting battery of Luzardo and Sean Murphy have combined to play all of 81 games.
But let’s zoom in on that pivotal moment when Abreu took an “anybody’s game” 1-0 lead and gave the White Sox a suddenly formidable 3-0 advantage. Top of the 3rd, runner at 2B, 2 outs, James McCann on deck.
I am actually going to defend the decision, initially, to pitch to Abreu as it was so early and you don’t want to be too quick to put more guys on base as an invitation to a back-breaking 3-run HR. Basically I can see it both ways.
But once the count gets to 2-0, you have to put Abreu on. Or if you don’t, you certainly don’t throw him a fastball — not if you’ve done your homework. And if you do, for some reason, choose to pitch to him and throw a fastball, it had better not be anywhere in the hitting zone, let alone right out over the plate.
The end result? It only took 2.5 innings for everything Tim Anderson said — so insultingly that you wanted to throw it back in his face — to come absolutely true, In how they set Luzardo up to make the start, and then trying to beat the White Sox with 95+ MPH fastballs from the left side, even in situations where literally anything else (including an IBB) made infinitely more sense.
Now, none of this matters so much when your team gets “3 hits, 1 run, 9 Ks, and no one is particularly surprised,” but still...Anderson had no business saying what he did — and he had even less business being absolutely, unequivocally right.