Home > Game Recaps, MLB > Game 76 recap: Felix and stupidity win the day

Game 76 recap: Felix and stupidity win the day

Not pictured: The giant spike when Aceves sat down

Highest WPA: Franklin Morales, .401
Lowest WPA: Scott Atchison, -.384

First, the positive. Franklin Morales had his third straight very impressive start, throwing seven shutout innings and striking out seven while allowing just two walks and three hits. Yes, it is the Mariners, and it is SafeCo Field, but Morales has stepped up in a really big way when nobody really knew what to expect from him.

That’s about it for the positives, really. Felix Hernandez was amazing for the first eight innings, as he so often is, and then managed to get through a tough ninth inning thanks to some really good defense behind him. The ninth is also where we get into the second factor behind the loss: Bobby Valentine’s stupid managerial decisions.

David Ortiz hit a ringing single with one out, then Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked. Valentine then removed Ortiz, and replaced him with pinch runner Brent Lillibridge. The speed upgrade is an obvious one, but in a tie game the chances that Lillibridge’s speed came into effect were slim, and didn’t justify taking out the best hitter the Red Sox have. As it happened, Lillibridge didn’t do anything that Ortiz wouldn’t have, although I suppose it’s likely that Ortiz would not have been running on the 3-2 pitch to Adrian Gonzalez. Anyway, it was a dumb move that ultimately meant nothing.

The second dumb move, however, was bringing in Scott Atchison to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning. As any Phillies fan reading this is no doubt aware, managers have this idea in their head that when they’re on the road, they have to save their closer for a potential save situation, and will lose lesser guys in the pen in an attempt save their closer for a time when they have the lead later on in extra innings. More often than not, as it did here, this results in the closer getting the night off and the lesser pitcher walking off the mound with his head hung and the other team celebrating on the field. You can quibble with which non-closer reliever Bobby used–I would have gone with Melancon, myself–but the main point is that Alfredo Aceves should have pitched the bottom of the ninth inning, lead or no lead.

Lastly, there is the intentional walk of Justin Smoak. Smoak is currently touting a batting line of .206/.268/.341, good for a .270 wOBA. Last year his wOBA was .316; the year before that, .300. Simply put, Justin Smoak is a terrible hitter, one who is going to make an out 70 to 75 percent of the time if you just pitch to him normally. Rather than do that, though, Bobby elected to walk Smoak and pitch to Miguel Olivo (who was lifted for John Jaso, who promptly smacked the game-winning hit) with two on and one out, increasing the Mariners’ chance of winning while hoping for an unlikely double play ball.

These decisions, sadly, are not unique to Bobby Valentine. Running for Ortiz, saving Aceves and walking Smoak are all part of baseball’s conventional wisdom; just about every manager would have done the exact same thing in those situations. Just because they’re expected, though, doesn’t make them the right thing to do; tonight, these decisions helped cost the Sox a winnable game against a bad team, on a night when every other team in the AL East lost.

One last thing: Space and I got a good laugh out of Salty dropping the throw home from Ross in the bottom of the ninth, as it’s about the sixteen thousandth time he’s screwed up at something that most catchers can do quite easily. That didn’t lose the game, though; even if he had held onto the ball, the Mariners were still threatening to score. Players drop balls. It sucks, but it happens. Focusing on that takes attention away from the bad processes, not the bad play, that contributed to this loss.

  1. June 29, 2012 at 1:27 AM

    The focus on process, not results, is the way to go – which slightly undercuts my only real objection here: Aceves is probably a worse pitcher than Atchison. Of course, the “process” here – a manager saving whom HE perceives as the best pitcher for a save – is more worth discussion than the specific situation, but suffice it to say, I’m eager for Andrew Bailey to get healthy and give the Sox a “proven closer” who is also better than Aceves. (Melancon is almost surely better, and should have that “closer” label in the minds to whom it would matter, but it’s hard to completely recover from the shell-shock of April.)

    • June 29, 2012 at 1:38 AM

      I certainly wasn’t saying that Aceves should have been in instead of Atchison because he is definitely the better pitcher (I think he is, but the difference is small and for purposes of this discussion immaterial), but rather speaking to the stupidity of the “can’t use the closer unless it’s a SAVE SITUATION” mindset. Do you really think Bobby would have gone to the closer there if it was, say, Bailey? Or even Papelbon?

      Valentine would have gone to the not-closer in that situation, even if it meant bringing in John Wasdin instead of Mariano Rivera. That’s what I have a problem with.

      • June 29, 2012 at 1:40 AM

        Absolutely wasn’t saying that Bobby would’ve gone to ANY closer there; as I said, your mention of process undercut the point I was making about Atchison being better than Aceves. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a manager I WOULD trust to make the right call in that situation. (That’s not an endorsement of Bobby, who has established his unique stupidity plenty before this instance of mundane, routine foolishness.)

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