Managing Game Seven: Bochy Brilliant, Yost Yosts

The story of Game Seven was, without a doubt, the performance of Madison Bumgarner. He was the story of the whole series, essentially, allowing one run in 21 innings pitched; his teammates gave up 26 runs in the other 40 innings, for reference. No single player can win a series for his team, but Bumgarner had about as large of an impact as any one player can have. Nothing else mattered as much as Bumgarner’s dominance.

But other things did matter, even last night. Besides Bumgarner’s historic relief appearance, there were several key decisions made that helped swing the game, and the World Series, in the Giants favor. Let’s go through them in chronological order.

Bruce Bochy starts Juan Perez in Left Field

Last week, I noted that the Giants best line-up included Perez, not Travis Ishikawa, starting in left field. Besides the lone game started by Jason Vargas, Bochy had stuck with Ishikawa as the starter, going for offense early and defense late. With the season on the line, however, he changed course, and put Perez in the line-up.

This would prove quite significant in the fifth inning, as Bumgarner struggled out of the gate. The tying run was on second base with just one out when Nori Aoki hit a line drive down the left field line. This happened.

That’s a line drive that was caught a couple of steps from the foul line, and even with great positioning, I’m fairly comfortable asserting that Travis Ishikawa does not make that catch. There’s no question that the coaching staff — and likely the team’s analytics department — deserve significant credit for putting Perez in a position where that ball was playable, but even though he wasn’t playing Aoki straight away, that’s still not an easy play for an average defender, much less a converted first baseman.

If that ball gets down, the score is tied at three, and given the way Bumgarner was pitching in the fifth inning, his night might have been much shorter. Bochy couldn’t have known that Perez would have a chance to make a high-leverage catch that would keep the tying run from scoring, but he correctly calculated that Perez’s glove was worth more than Ishikawa’s bat, even against a right-handed starting pitcher with large platoon splits. And maybe more impressively, he ignored the managerial trap of “sticking with what got us here”, reversing his prior decision when it mattered most. Kudos to Bruce Bochy for picking the right left fielder in the most important game of the year.

Ned Yost Sticks with Jeremy Guthrie

In the top of the second inning, the Royals starter hit Pablo Sandoval, then gave up back to back singles to Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt, loading the bases with no outs. Kelvin Herrera didn’t move. Wade Davis didn’t move. Brandon Finnegan did start warming up, but even that was a curious choice, because you wouldn’t bring him in to face either the right-handed Michael Morse or Juan Perez, and Morse’s at-bat — which lasted all of two pitches — wasn’t going to be long enough to get Finnegan warm in time to go after Brandon Crawford. Realistically, warming up Finnegan meant that the next three batters were going to belong to Guthrie, no matter what happened.

Guthrie managed to contain the damage to an extent, giving up two long sacrifice flies that each scored runs before striking out Perez to end the inning, but the damage was done, and the Royals were down 2-0. The Giants win probability increased from 50% to 68% in that half-inning, and the Royals ace relievers watched their #4 starter put them in an early hole.

Maybe even Wade Davis isn’t good enough to get out of that jam, but the three things that the Royals needed there were a strikeout, an infield fly, or a ground ball. Davis had a 39% strikeout rate this year, while Guthrie had a 14% strikeout rate; even regressing those numbers, Davis was probably twice as likely to get a very important strikeout, which could have setup an inning-double play possibility that might have kept the score tied at zero. And even when batters did make contact against Davis, they were more likely to keep the ball on the infield, as 52% of his balls in play were either grounders or pop-ups, compared to 46% for Guthrie.

Going to Davis with no outs in the second inning would have been wildly out of the box, but it might have saved the Royals a run or two.

Bruce Bochy sticks with Tim Hudson, but not for very long

The bottom of the second was remarkably similar to the top half, as the Royals first three batters reached, and Hudson had already given up half of the team’s lead when Mike Moustakas stepped to the plate with no one out and two men on base. Bochy had already begun to warm Jeremy Affeldt, but decided to stay with Hudson against the left-hander in the only move of the night he made that I thought was questionable. Moustakas would fly out, but hit the ball deep enough that Alex Gordon could take third on the play, which then allowed him to score on the subsequent sacrifice fly by Omar Infante.

In the live blog, I argued for Affeldt to come in and get Moustakas, taking advantage of the big platoon splits to try to protect the 2-1 lead, but the next two and three of the next four batters following Moustakas were right-handed, so sticking with Hudson had some merit as well. It’s the one move all night that Bochy made that I might quibble with a little bit, but even this decision was justifiable, given Hudson’s abilities against right-handed batters, the next several hitters due up, and his chances of inducing a double-play.

Hudson ended up allowing the tying run to score, but Bochy was aggressive where Yost was not, bringing Affeldt in with two outs after Hudson gave up a single to Alcides Escobar. Bochy had no problem removing his struggling starter in the second inning, highlighting a primary difference in strategy between the two managers.

Ned Yost sticks with Jeremy Guthrie again

One of the downsides of sticking with Guthrie in the second is that his success in not giving up too much additional damage emboldened Yost to stick with Guthrie, which was rewarded even further when Guthrie rolled through Gregor Blanco, Joe Panik, and Buster Posey in the top of the third inning. Having set down six straight batters, Yost put Guthrie on the mound to start the fourth inning, and again, didn’t have anyone warming up behind him.

This, despite the fact that Yost noted outright that six innings from his Big Three was certainly a possibility, talking openly before the game about using Kelvin Herrera for as many as three innings, while still having Wade Davis and Greg Holland available to pitch more than one frame as well. Getting three innings from Guthrie gave the Royals the chance to simply use Herrera-Davis-Holland for the rest of the game, and have everyone else in the bullpen available for extra innings if it got there.

Alternately, a decent case could have been made for using Finnegan to start the fourth inning, as Sandoval was set to leadoff, and he is demonstrably weaker as a right-handed hitter. If you use Finnegan to turn Kung Fu Panda around, he’d also be able to face Brandon Belt, getting the platoon advantage against two good left-handed hitters; Herrera could have been warmed behind Finnegan to pitch to Michael Morse, either if Finnegan failed to record three straight outs or to start the fifth inning if Finnegan cruised.

Instead, Yost stuck with his starter, despite the fact that LHBs have a career .353 wOBA against him, and had a .364 wOBA against him this year. Unsurprisingly, Sandoval singled again, and Pence followed with a single of his own, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position with nobody out. Herrera was throwing at this point, but Yost stuck with Guthrie against the left-handed hitter. Belt made an out, but his fly ball to left was deep enough to advance Sandoval to third, setting up the Giants to score a run without getting a hit. Finally, Guthrie was removed, but again in a situation where a strikeout or an infield fly could have scored a run, Wade Davis sat and watched.

Kelvin Herrera is a good reliever, but he isn’t Wade Davis. His strikeout rate was half of Davis’ this year. He was as likely to get a grounder or an infield fly, but less likely to get what could have been a crucial strikeout with a runner on third and one out. In that situation, you don’t want contact, which is the normal result against Herrera, even though he throws 100. To his credit, Herrera broke Morse’s bat, but Morse was strong enough to muscle the ball into right field for an RBI single. Herrera came up big with a strikeout of Brandon Crawford and an inning-ending groundout from Juan Perez, but he just couldn’t quite keep Guthrie’s third run from scoring.

He was put into a very difficult situation and pitched about as well as he could have, but the damage was mostly done by the time he entered the game. And the score would never change again. Herrera, Davis, and Holland proceeded to dominate for the 17 outs they were asked to get, but all of those outs came with the team trailing by a run. If they had been asked to get 18 outs instead of 17, perhaps the game ends differently.

Ned Yost sticks with Nori Aoki

We’ve already discussed the plate appearance that led to Perez’s catch, but there’s a pretty good argument that Aoki shouldn’t have ever been able to hit that sinking line drive to left field. Remember, Bumgarner faced the Royals right fielder with the tying run at second base and one out in the fifth inning, after Alcides Escobar had bunted — on his own, according to Yost — Omar Infante into scoring position. The situation was perfectly setup for Josh Willingham to pinch-hit.

Bumgarner’s success is heavily influenced by his remarkable dominance against left-handed hitters; they posted just a .239 wOBA against him this year, a few ticks lower than the .250 wOBA he’s allowed to left-handed batters in his career. He’s not bad against right-handers, certainly, but his K-B%% is 10 percentage points higher against lefties than against guys who bat from the opposite side of the plate. Josh Willingham had a .367 wOBA vs LHPs this year, right in line with his career .369 wOBA against southpaws.

Even accounting for the pinch-hitting penalty, Willingham is a decent match-up for the Royals against Bumgarner, especially given the Royals would get a defensive upgrade from replacing Aoki with Jarrod Dyson in the outfield after the switch. And, of course, Dyson would have immediately pinch-run for Willingham had he reached base, so a single not only ties the game, it puts a very dangerous baserunner in play, giving the Royals a chance to setup a second run in order to take the lead.

Instead, Yost stuck with his starter. Aoki hit the ball hard, and he hit it into an area where balls normally fall in, but the Giants had planned perfectly for what contact from Aoki would look like in that scenario, and it turned into a harmless out instead. The Royals wouldn’t get another baserunner against Bumgarner until the ninth inning, and Willingham would never get off the bench despite Giants getting 23 out of their 27 outs from left-handed pitchers.

There’s no question that Madison Bumgarner made Bruce Bochy’s job easy, and Bochy didn’t have to do a lot in Game Seven in order to help his team secure a win. But we shouldn’t overlook what he did do, including starting Perez and aggressively going to Affeldt in the second inning, as decisions that had a real impact on the outcome of the game.

For the Royals, Ned Yost did what he’s been doing all postseason. And despite our objections, a lot of what he’s done has worked out. He stuck with his regular line-up. He stuck with his starting pitcher. He stuck with Herrera as the first reliever out of the bullpen. He stuck with Aoki against a dominant left-handed starter. He put a lot of his trust in his main guys, and bet on their success leading his team to victory. It’s the kind of strategy that likely engenders loyalty from his guys, and we shouldn’t ignore the benefits of that kind of managerial posture.

But it has its downsides too, and after getting away with a lot of things during the month of October, the Royals bets against probability didn’t work out in the final game of the season. Betting on the probabilities very well might not have worked either, as it’s not like the differences in these decisions would have guaranteed the Royals victories. We’re talking small slivers of win probability here and there. The game is mostly won and lost by the players, and even the strangest managerial decisions aren’t enough to change that.

But Bruce Bochy made a bunch of good calls that worked out in his favor last night, and Ned Yost made some questionable calls that did not. We’ve seen enough bad process/good results in October to know that the outcome of the game wasn’t determined by those decisions, but there’s little question that Bochy deserves significant credit for the Giants third World Series title in five years. He won the managerial battle last night, as he so often does, and this time, it was rewarded with champagne.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

146 Comments
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whoa_now
8 years ago

or Yost bats Gordon 6th/Hosmer 3rd. Gordon would have led off the 9th – man on 3rd with zero outs in the 9th would have been a different ball game.

Paul H.
8 years ago
Reply to  whoa_now

Overall I think Yost did a decent job managing the series, but as you pointed out he made a few critical errors. In my opinion three that decided the series. Two you mention above – Letting Guthrie come out for the fourth was one of the worst tactical mistakes a manager could make, it’s what makes Yost, Yost and it’s what makes him bad in those situations. For all the talk of him “learning from his mistakes.” he certainly didn’t there. The Aoki at bat was also mind boggling – just terrible there.

For me though, the most significant was his mismanaging of game 4 during which he let his pitcher bat in one of the highest leverage situations of the postseason – bases loaded – only to let him come out and pitch again when he should have been looking to the bullpen. With Bumgarner coming back in Game 5, Game 4 should have been all hands on deck. The decisions in the early innings of that game get lost in the final score but if Yost manages it well and turns it over to the bullpen I am confident they win the game, the series end in 6 and KC is planning a parade through Country Club Plaza.

Yost wasn’t terrible, but Bochy was better and it cost the Royals the series. Period.

Jonny's Bananasmember
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul H.

I’ve been saying the same thing to anyone that will listen to me. The decision to let Vargas hit with the bases loaded in game 4 was high comedy. Just a single there and, as you said, the series may have been over in six.

Eminor3rd
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul H.

Maybe my standards are high, but three critical errors doesn’t earn a “decent job” tag in my book.

Shauntell
8 years ago
Reply to  Eminor3rd

Well if your standards are the likes of Mattingly, Matheny and Williams…

Ben Suissa
8 years ago
Reply to  whoa_now

such a stupid point

Ben Suissa
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben Suissa

i mean woah_now

whoa_now
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben Suissa

why? He bats the best hitter in the 6th spot last night. It barely worked out that he got to hit at all in the 9th. would the game be different, maybe not – but I’d rather have Gordon batting 3rd or 4th..instead of Hosmer/butler.

jpg
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben Suissa

Yeah because we know that every single pitch, AB and end result would have been exactly the same if Gordon and Hosmer swapped positions in the batting order…

whoa_now
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben Suissa

jpg, not the point. The point is to maximize the ABs of your best hitter. Batting your best hitter 6th means less ABs.

Buford
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben Suissa

Then why make the incorrect assumption “Gordon would have led off the 9th – man on 3rd with zero outs in the 9th” ?

whoa_now
8 years ago
Reply to  Ben Suissa

I get that the scenario would be different if Gordon batted third or fourth. I was merely stating that lineup construction matters. Now please recognize that he should have hit higher up in the lineup..and that is a fault of Yost.

The assumption of the same scenario was to illustrate how the game could be different if you batted Gordon 3rd or 4th instead of 6th. He is your best hitter, move him up.

ChadT
8 years ago
Reply to  whoa_now

Changing one thing changes everything else that happens after that.

mattdecap
8 years ago
Reply to  ChadT

We can at least agree that having Salvador Perez, he of 92 wRC+ and 40% O-Swing%, bat behind your best hitter is not a good strategy.