In Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, Royals starter Yordano Ventura had the tying run on second base and the winning run, represented by hitter Chris Coghlan, at the plate. Coghlan already had two hits against Ventura, and the rest of the Cubs team had one. With first base open, should Ventura have worked around Coghlan?
A reader sent in an email questioning the wisdom of putting the winning run on base, and that reminded me of this piece about walks and how big-league pitchers use them to their advantage.
In baseball statistics, walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) is a sabermetric measurement of the number of base runners a pitcher has allowed per inning pitched. Since WHIP reflects a pitcher's propensity for allowing batters to reach base, a lower WHIP indicates better performance. — Wikipedia
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On May 14, 2014, Royals closer Greg Holland came in to pitch the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles. Kansas City had a 1-0 lead, so Greg couldn’t afford to make a mistake. Holland needed three outs. The Orioles needed to score at least one run.
The inning started well when Holland struck out Baltimore pinch hitter Steve Clevenger. Greg then walked right fielder Nick Markakis. Third baseman Manny Machado singled, and then Holland struck out center fielder Adam Jones. Holland was one out away from saving the game, but the tying run was on second base and the winning run was on first.
With two outs, Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis stepped to the plate and walked on four pitches. That walk pushed the tying run to third and the winning run into scoring position. But the inning and the Orioles’ threat ended when Holland struck out Nelson Cruz for the third out, the win and the save. Holland faced six batters, struck out three of them, but walked two.
Was Holland’s control that erratic? How did Greg throw so well he struck out three batters, picked up a save and lowered his ERA, but still managed to raise his WHIP? The explanation of that stat says a lower WHIP indicates a better performance. In that inning, a WHIP of 3.00, which is awful, got the job done in high-pressure situation.
After that game, I caught Holland alone, and we talked about his performance. Greg stood by his locker, his throwing arm wrapped in ice, and explained.
If Greg got strike one on a hitter, he went after him. Greg got strike one on Clevenger and struck him out. Holland fell behind Markakis and walked him. Strike one on Machado and Holland pitched aggressively but still gave up a single. Strike one on Jones, and Greg once again pitched aggressively and struck Jones out. But ball one to Davis and, once again, Holland issued a walk.
The pattern was clear: If Holland got ahead of the hitter, he went after him. If he fell behind the hitter, he worked around him.
With the bases loaded and the tying run and winning run in scoring position, Holland had no more open bases and no more wiggle room, so he went right after Cruz, striking him out to end the game.
Holland said he had a plan of attack for Davis, but when he didn’t execute it in the first two pitches — when he fell behind in the count — Greg worked around the Orioles’ power-hitting first baseman. At this level of baseball, not all walks are bad. When they have a base open, big-league pitchers will work around a guy who can hurt them.
Even if it raises their WHIP.
A reader’s comment about Sunday’s game and Ned Yost
Yost can't seem to see when the starter needs relief. Ventura was out of gas. He’d walked a batter then a wild pitch and was facing Coghlin who had I think a double and a single off him. The outcome was so predictable. The same thing Friday when Volquez has 109 pitches but Yost left him in to pitch a four-run blast from Soler. This happens all the time.
A couple of points worth making: Ventura came into the seventh inning with a pitch count of 87. At that point, he had given up three hits, two of them to Coghlan, and no walks. He still was throwing 99 mph, but his control was starting to waver.
In Friday’s game, Edinson Volquez was at 105 pitches when he faced Jorge Soler, not 109, and Soler hit a two-run home run, not a grand slam. After Soler’s home run, the Royals still led 4-3, and Yost did not allow Edinson to face the tying run. He brought in Ryan Madson.
Another reader’s comment about Sunday’s game
While Ventura had pitched well he was at 95 pitches going into the seventh. I thought Yost should have had someone getting ready then even before Ventura walked Montero. As for pitching to Coghlin, why not have a left hander warming in the bullpen for a possible matchup with him? I don't know what Maddon had on his bench, but the fact Yost had no left hander warming up for a possible matchup with Coghlin just baffles me. Even if Maddon makes a countermove to a pinch hitter, you still have first base open.
Like I said in the above response, Ventura was at 87 pitches going into the seventh, not 95. The only lefty in the Royals pen is Franklin Morales and Chris Coghlan is 1 for 2 lifetime on him; so not much of a sample size.
Two obvious options come to mind and neither one was used: pull Ventura after six innings and go to the best bullpen in baseball, Herrera, Davis and Holland—that’s why they’re there—or work around Coghlan if you leave Ventura in the game.
The online chat was great thanks to you
On Monday I did my first online chat, and, being a born pessimist, I expected the worst. It actually went fine. There were plenty of questions — about twice as many as I could answer — and for the most part the questions were good ones.
Thanks to everyone who participated. We’ll do it again next Monday.