Thursday, September 23, 2004

One Reason The Pirates Lost Tonight

It's the bottom of the eighth, and the Cubs are up 1-0. Jason Kendall and Bobby Hill occupy first and second, respectively, and there are no outs. One can hardly blame Lloyd McClendon for being frustrated, since the Pirates already had men on first and second and no outs twice in the game, and they failed to score both times. Still, what happens next is extremely dumb.

Jack Wilson comes to the plate and lays down a bunt that rolls right to pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who throws it to third, nailing Hill. Now, sacrifice bunts are almost categorically moronic, but they look especially silly when they don't work out (and, anecdotally, they seem to fail an awful lot when the Pirates try them).

But wait, it gets dumber! The next batter is Jason Bay, who's the Pirates' best hitter right now, and he walks. The Cubs then bring in Kent Mercker to face Daryle Ward, and the Pirates use Craig Wilson to pinch hit with one out and the bases loaded. Craig strikes out looking, and Mercker retires Ty Wigginton to end the game.

Let's imagine, for a second, that the sacrifice had worked, and the runners had wound up on second and third with one out. If anything, this situation would have increased Bay's chance of walking, since first base would have been open. McClendon should have been considering the possibility that at that point, with one out and the bases loaded, the Cubs would bring in a lefty reliever. Here, the hypothetical becomes reality: since the sacrifice didn't work and Bay advanced the runners himself by walking, the bases were loaded, there was one out, and the Cubs did bring in a lefty reliever. And the Pirates brought in Craig Wilson, who likes hitting lefties.

I love Craig, but he's a terrible guy to use in that situation. The Pirates only needed one run to tie, and a batter can get that with a hit, a fly ball, or even a well-placed grounder. One near-guaranteed way to fail to get that run is to strike out, and as analysts with resin bags for brains love to point out, Craig Wilson strikes out all the time. Usually, that doesn't mean anything, but in a situation like tonight's, it's important for the batter not to strike out.

So McClendon made two mistakes:
1) He wasted an out with the botched sacrifice.
2) He used a strikeout-prone hitter to pinch hit with the bases juiced and one out.

McClendon's tactics made it very likely the Pirates would score no runs in that inning. And as it turned out, that's exactly what happened. The Pirates lost, 1-0.


Blogger az said...

>I love Craig, but he's a terrible guy to use in that situation.

THAT'S categorically moronic. OK, Mr. Value Over Replacement, who should have "replaced" Wilson there? Nunez? Alvarez? Somebody else with a handful of ML at-bats? McClendon made the right play there, and it's a no-brainer, or even a rosin-bag brainer.

But I do agree with the other stuff. I would have had Jack swing away, and Mac was thinking only one move at a time, when he should have foreseen them walking Bay anyway even if the sac works.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Charlie said...

I'd have let Ward hit, then brought in Wilson to hit for Wigginton and moved Mackowiak to third. Ward's not all that bad against lefties and Wilson still gets to hit (presuming Ward avoids the DP). Ward's also an extreme flyball hitter, which makes it pretty likely he'll drive in the run on a sacrifice fly. Ward would have been a great guy to use in that situation, and if McClendon weren't obsessed with righty/lefty matchups, he'd have seen that.

7:27 PM  
Blogger az said...

I could have lived with that. It wasn't clear from your original post that you advocated leaving Ward in. By the way, when I said what you wrote was "categorically moronic," I meant it in the nicest way possible.--az

9:28 AM  
Blogger Charlie said...

No need for apology. When I go off like that, I open myself to that sort of criticism.

1:16 PM  
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