There is so much more to managing a baseball team that what we see during the games. We only see the line-ups, the batting order, and the pitching changes; we don’t see the human interactions, the coaching, and all of the work that goes into keeping so many large personalities pointed in the right direction. Managing a baseball team is about a lot more than just in-game strategy.
But in-game strategy is part of the job, and on Tuesday night, Matt Williams failed at that part of the job in the most important game of his team’s season. And while we cannot know what would have happened if different decisions had been made, we do know that maybe the best team in baseball just got bounced in the first round in part due to a series of decisions that strain credulity.
Let’s just walk through the pivotal seventh inning. Bryce Harper had just tied the game in the top half of the inning, so the score was tied at 2-2 with the top of the Giants order coming up. The Giants #1 and #2 hitters both bat left-handed, so Williams countered with Matt Thornton, the team’s only remaining left-handed reliever. Perfectly logical.
Thornton got a groundout from Gregor Blanco, then gave up a single to Joe Panik. That put the go-ahead run on base for Buster Posey, the Giants best hitter. The Giants best right-handed hitter. Here is what Buster Posey has done against left-handed pitchers in his career.
631 at-bats, 210 hits, 53 doubles, 2 triples, 32 home runs, 61 walks, 77 strikeouts.
That’s a .333/.393/.578 batting line, which when you account for his home park, translates to a 168 wRC+, meaning that Posey’s vs LHP performance has been 68 percent better than a league average hitter. Do you want some context for that? In 2012, when Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, he had a 166 wRC+. Posey’s performance against left-handers has basically been the equal of the game’s most feared hitter, when he’s having a great year, even by his own standards.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.