Tipping Pitches: Sports: Left Out


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sports: Left Out

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I live in Denver, but I'm no Rockies fan. I don't dislike the Rockies. But just want to make sure that's understood up front. My opinions aren't wrapped up in emotion.

The Rockies should have won Game 4 against the Phillies. Problem was that their roster was ill-prepared to close the deal.

It's not that they have a roster that could not win. They simply did not have a roster that could beat the Phillies. It had nothing to do with their offense. Nothing to do with their defense. Nothing to do with the quality of their pitching.

It had everything to do with left vs. right.

The Rockies made a dramatic comeback on Monday night. Down 2-1, they scored three runs in the eighth. The game would seem to be over. Only needed to keep the Phillies from scoring two in the ninth.

They went to their generally reliable closer, Huston Street. He's pretty great on paper: 3.05 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 35 saves, 70 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings pitched. Not too thrilled about the seven home runs allowed (including one to Jason Freaking Kendall), but still a pretty decent pitcher.

Dobbs struck out. Rollins reaches on an infield single. Victorino grounds into a fielder's choice.

Two outs. One on. Up by two.

Pretty much the dumbest thing you could do at this point, Huston Street walks Chase Utley. Now, Utley is a stud. But make the man beat you -- er, tie you. Ryan Howard is on deck.

So now Howard is up with two on and a chance to take the lead -- or at least tie the game with a double. My first thoughts?

"Take him out! Put in a left-handed pitcher!"

Why? Ryan Howard is two players.

Against right handed pitchers, he is possibly the scariest offensive threat in all of baseball: 394 at bats, .320 average, 39 home runs, 108 RBI. That is simply disgusting. It's an All-Star season, yet it's versus only right handed pitchers in a little more than half a season's worth of at-bats.

Against left handed pitchers, Ryan Howard looks like Bill Hall: 222 at bats, .207 average, six home runs, 33 RBI.

Did the Rockies remove the right-handed Street for a left-handed replacement? Of course not. And my initial reaction was that this was yet another example of playing to fulfill roles instead of win a game. Huston Street is your closer, so you have to pitch him. Simply stupid.

So I had this long blog entry worked up in my mind. What were they thinking? Why is this thinking so common? This is a fireable offense!

What I didn't realize at the time is that the Rockies had only one left handed pitcher on their roster. One. Not even a starting pitcher. The only left handed pitcher with a Rockies jersey was Franklin Morales, and he pitched earlier in the game.

How does this happen? The Rockies chose to go into the playoffs with 10 pitchers, nine of which were right handed. Arguably the three biggest offensive threats on the Phillies are left handed: Howard, Utley and Raul Ibanez. Granted, Utley and Ibanez don't have the negative splits of Ryan Howard, but one left handed pitcher? One?

How can you not plan for this? You're playing the Phillies. You know that left handed pitching gives Howard fits. I don't care what the pitcher's name is. Put him on the playoff roster.

Or was it just too important to have Eric Young on the roster? Young, by the way, had one at bat in the series. He didn't get a hit.

Oh, and of course Howard hit a game-tying double. In all seriousness, I would have instead walked him and put the tying run on second. That's hindsight, but you saw the numbers against right handed pitching. No thanks, I'll take my chances against someone else.

This loss could have been avoided. It should have gone to five games. The Rockies still probably would have lost, but I'm just saying. They were set up for failure.

Not that the Phillies didn't try to give it back to them. Let's replay the ninth inning...

Up 5-4, Eric Young gets his only at bat of the series and grounds out. Nice work, EY. Collect your paycheck.

Carlos Gonzalez then singles. Dexter Fowler lines out for the second out. Todd Helton singles, putting the tying run at second with Troy Tulowitzki at the plate.

What should the Phillies do? Scott Eyre was getting knocked around, and it wouldn't make much sense to leave a left handed pitcher in to face the right handed Tulo.

Ryan Madsen already pitched earlier in the game (great planning). Other righties included Chad Durbin, Kyle Kendrick, and Brett Meyers. And, oh yeah, Brad Lidge.

Unlike the Rockies with Street, the Phillies had plenty of options. Granted, not great options, but options. Some guys who had ERA's under 5.00. And even under 4.00!

Or they could go with Lidge. Lidge had a 7.21 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, and allowed 11 home runs in under 60 innings pitched. He blew 11 saves. Eleven! I'm not sure what's crazier, the fact that he blew 11 saves, or that he was put into enough save situations that he blew that many.

You could make a very good argument that Lidge was the least dependable pitcher in all of baseball. No one was worse. No one. But he was dominant a season ago, so you trust him in pressure situations anyway.

Just a case of having too much faith in a player. Blind faith. Lidge is a fragile mind. He alternates dominating and self-destructive seasons. This is a self-destructive one. Understand that.

But no. You have to get an out. Who do you put in? The worst possible option. On the roster. Possibly in all of baseball. Who happens to have a fancy name.

Now, the turkeys out there will point out that Lidge struck out Tulo. Sure. He did. But, it was one out. That's all he could get. The likelihood of the others getting the out was greater. Just because you chose the least possible scenario and it worked doesn't make you a good problem solver.

The Phillies got lucky. They got lucky that their professional pitcher was able to get one out in a pressure situation. They were lucky that the Rockies were ill-prepared to face their left handed stud.

They won. But the Dodgers won't be so gracious.


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