Judging the Royals

Dodgers’ bullpen formula backfires, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the manager screwed up

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill sits in the dugout during the second inning of Game 2 of the World Series against the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill sits in the dugout during the second inning of Game 2 of the World Series against the Houston Astros on Wednesday. AP

Baseball has a saying for just about everything and here’s one that applies to Game 2 of the 2017 World Series:

Use enough pitchers and you’ll find one who doesn’t have it.

Managers who constantly go to the mound and change pitchers might look like they’re managing their rear ends off, but those managers risk finding a pitcher who doesn’t have it that night.

So when a starting pitcher is having a good outing, managers tend to get what they can from him. If the starter can go six innings, or better yet seven, and hand a lead to the bullpen the manager might only need two relievers to nail down a win. That allows the manager to skip over middle relievers who don’t have their good stuff as often as his set-up man and closer.

But Rich Hill was pulled early

On Wednesday night Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Rich Hill after four innings, 60 pitches and two trips though the Houston Astros’ order. If body language is any indication, Hill didn’t like being pulled from the game.

Here’s part of why Hill might have been upset:

In the 2017 regular season the first time Hill went through a lineup opponents hit .192, the second time through it was .236 and the third time through it was .158. On pitches 51 to 100, opposing batters hit .194 off Hill. Generally speaking, once Hill settles in, he’s good to go for a while.

In the first four innings of Game 2, Hill had given up three hits (and one of those could have been scored an error), one run and struck out seven.

Those numbers say Hill should have stayed in the game.

But one of the problems with letting numbers dictate how you manage is deciding which numbers matter. In the 2017 regular season, opposing batters hit .214 off Hill in the fourth inning, but in the fifth inning those numbers spiked to .253.

Roberts went to his bullpen early and that came back to haunt him.

Timeout for a detour through one of baseball’s unwritten rules

If you ever visit the Kansas City Royals’ indoor batting cage, check out the metal door; it’s covered with dents.

When a pitcher is pulled or batter strikes out, then leaves the dugout immediately, there’s a good chance that pitcher or batter is going to “snap.” And when a player snaps — throws a glove, screams an obscenity or beats an inanimate object to death with a bat — it’s considered a sign of professionalism to do it out of sight.

That’s why the Royals indoor batting cage door is covered with dents; it’s only a few steps from the dugout and a Royals player can whack the door with a bat, drop an F-bomb and not be seen snapping on camera.

When Rich Hill showed his frustration at being pulled from the game, he threw Dave Roberts under the bus. After that, everyone knew Hill disagreed with Roberts’ decision and that encouraged people like me to write about it.

Now let’s get back to Game 2.

The consequences of going to the bullpen early

After the game Roberts defended his decision to go to the bullpen early by saying that after Hill was pulled, his relievers put up three scoreless innings in a row …which is true.

But the problem with pulling Hill early didn’t show up until the eighth inning.

That’s when Kenley Jansen was called into pitch with a runner on second base and nobody out; Roberts used four relievers to get through those three scoreless innings and then wanted six outs from his closer.

It’s not the first time Jansen has pitched two innings, but during the entire 2017 season Jansen did it only once and that was back on June 2, so getting six outs in a single outing isn’t something Jansen has done much recently.

TV announcer John Smoltz — Hall of Famer, Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star — said the Astros needed to score the runner on second base in the eighth inning — which they did — but just as importantly, make Jansen throw pitches.

Making Jansen work in the eighth inning would give the Astros a better chance in the ninth inning.

Three pitches into the ninth inning Jansen left an 0-2 cutter in the heart of the zone and Marwin Gonzalez hit a home run, tied the game and sent it to extra innings, where the Dodgers eventually lost.

How managers think

Hindsight is 20-20 and we’ve used that point of view to pick apart Dave Roberts’ managing in Game 2 of the World Series. But when a manager’s moves don’t work out, it doesn’t necessarily mean those were the wrong moves.

If a manager has three options and Option A works 80 percent of the time and Option B works 50 percent of the time and Option C works 40 percent of the time, Option A is the right move, even though it fails two times out of 10.

Dave Roberts thought going to his bullpen early was the right move, but he burned five pitchers in the first seven innings, then had to ask his closer for two innings and when that didn’t work, had to use three more pitchers in extra innings. Josh Fields gave up two homers and a double in the 10th and Brandon McCarthy gave up a two-run homer in the 11th and the Dodgers lost 7-6.

Remember where we started: use enough pitchers and you’ll find one who doesn’t have it.

And on Wednesday night, the results indicate that Dave Roberts found at least two of them.

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