I’ll keep this one short and sweet. While I was rooting for the Rays to win game 5, and ultimately the series, I am thankful that I don’t have to watch Joe Maddon butcher the game any more than he has during this 2008 post-season.
On my blog, I predicted that Maddon would make at least blunder last night. I didn’t have to wait long, and it was a real doozy…
Before I get into that, I will tell you that I would have brought in a lefty from the pen after Jenkins was announced to lead off the bottom of the 6th. Tampa had three lefties available and three more righties (including Garza). If Manuel counters with a right-handed pinch hitter, Maddon at the very least forces him to waste a bench player. If he doesn’t, you have the platoon advantage on Jenkins and then you can decide what to do with Rollins and Werth, and you can bring in another lefty against Utley and Howard. But I suppose that leaving in Balfour until the lefties Utley and Howard came up is defensible. So I’ll leave that at that.
However, what he did in the top of 7th was indefensible. With one out, a runner on first and Howell due to bat, he lets his pitcher bunt. That is atrocious my friends! A sacrifice bunt with one out is practically worthless (yes, I know that if successful it gets a runner into scoring position – thank you for reminding me). It should only be used when you have a poor-hitting pitcher at the plate (an average-hitting pitcher at the plate swinging away is actually a better strategy than bunting – and I can prove that to you at some other time – or you just read my book).
I say that only to emphasize how much worse a bunt with a runner on first and one out is than bringing in a pinch hitter. And did he really need to keep Howell in the game? The fact that he yanked him after the first batter in the bottom of the inning got a hit tells you all you need to know. It is the old, “Let the pitcher hit and then yank him one or two batters into the next half-inning” play.
As my friend Phil D. said, and he is a very smart baseball analyst, “That was probably the single worst move of the postseason.” I have to agree with him. That decision by Maddon shows a complete lack of understanding of the difference between the Rays’ chances of winning the game with a sac bunt attempt there (and there is no guarantee of course that the bunt “works” – did you know that over 20% of the time a typical pitcher fails at the bunt attempt?) and with a pinch hitter. It is enormous. Certainly much larger than whatever gain he might have gotten from keeping Howell in the game.
As a side-note, because this is a Maddon-bashing article, Manuel letting JC Romero, a generic lefty pitcher, hit in the bottom of the 8th,was almost as bad (not quite, because the Phillies were ahead in the game).
Now let’s fast forward to the 9th inning so I can mercifully finish my diatribe. I am not really sure why Maddon pinch hit Zobrist for Baldelli. Granted I have no idea what Baldelli’s health status is, but Maddon started him so he must be reasonably healthy. Not only that, but he started him several times this postseason against right-handed starters. And earlier in 7th inning, when he hit the home run to briefly tie the game, he let him bat against the tough righty, Madson. So I’ll just say that I have no idea what Maddon was doing with that.
Healthy, Baldelli is a great hitter. Of Gross, Hinske, and Zobrist, Zobrist is the weakest. If you consider the “pinch hit penalty” (batters off the bench hit substantially worse than they do otherwise), I really can’t imagine Zobrist being better than Baldelli even versus a righty pitcher. Maybe with Baldelli’s illness, he was tired. I don’t know. I do know one thing though. I’m not giving Maddon a pass on anything anymore. He has shown that despite how he speaks (very intelligently) and the reputation he has garnered through the media, he is an awful strategist. Nothing in the postseason provided any evidence to the contrary.