Sunday, September 2, 2012

When good process goes bad

Those of you who have watched "The Chappelle Show" may remember a segment called "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong". The concept was, people are put in situations where they can do one of two things; take the easy, conventional way out, or do the right thing and stand up for themselves. Sometimes, doing the right thing doesn't turn out the way it should. Baseball is full of those moments, moments I like to call, "when good process goes bad". Last night's Brewers-Pirates game included two such moments.

In the 8th inning, the Brewers were put in a situation where Pirates superhero Andrew McCutchen was at the plate with two outs and a runner on second. Manager Ron Roenicke allowed reliever Jim Henderson to pitch to McCutchen rather than intentionally walk him, the "conventional" strategy. Henderson's second pitch (a fastball well outside the zone) broke McCutchen's bat, but the ball still fell into center field for a game-tying single. Fans cried out, "if only they had intentionally walked him!", and mourned what they felt was an inevitable loss.

But the Brewers did the right thing (free baserunners are bad, mmmkay). It'd be one thing if McCutchen had an automatic out behind him, but the Pirates #4 hitter is Garrett Jones. Ignore what your preconceived notions of Jones are and look at his numbers. He's having a fine year, and had the platoon advantage over Henderson. McCutchen is also in one of the worst slumps of his career, and has been dealing with an assortment of nagging injuries. Is Jones as good as McCutchen? Absolutely not, but neither is McCutchen at this point. McCutchen got a lucky bloop and Jones ended up striking out, so confirmation bias (as well as the Pirates getting away with intentionally walking Braun in the bottom of the 8th) taints our view of what should have happened. Fortunately for the Brewers, the baseball gods simply chose to reward them at a later time.

Now, Clint Hurdle has been mocked plenty both on this blog and by people with functioning gray matter. Casual fans look at the Pirates and thing, "they're overachieving, Hurdle for Manager of the Year!" But anyone who watches Pirates games know this isn't true. Hurdle does just about everything poorly, and has put on a clinic of how not to manage a baseball team in games against the Brewers this season. Bullpen management is a thankless job, and managers are often subject to unfair criticism in that regard (confirmation bias again). But Hurdle's bullpen management is often particularly bad, mostly because he pitches poor relievers in high-pressure situations when far better pitchers are available.

Maybe Hurdle is turning over a new leaf, or maybe Closer Joel Hanrahan needed work, but Hurdle brought Hanrahan Gandalf in to a tie game in the bottom of the 9th, save situation be damned. This was the right move. A future save situation means nothing if you can't even get to it, and you can't lose a close game with your best reliever chewing sunflower seeds and braiding his goatee in the dugout. Sadly for the Pirates, Hanrahan threw a beach ball to the first hitter he faced, and Corey Hart hit the ball to the moon.

Alas, when good process goes bad.

                                                              "YOU SHALL NOT INTENTIONALLY PASS"

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