Should Cain Have Been Pulled for a Pinch Hitter?

It is difficult criticize a manager’s decisions when his team wins 9-0. This is particularly true when his counterpart puts on a managing performance so memorably horrible. Yes, I bravely hold the position that Bruce Bochy is out-managing Ron Washington this series. Indeed, Washington’s decisions (or lack thereof? It’s really hard to tell) from Vladimir Guerrero in Game One to the eternal eighth inning of Game Two have been so bad that my response has gone from baffled to amused to sad to thinking they are so obviously bad they aren’t worth arguing about. So I won’t dwell on Washington’s various mistakes, but on what some think is one of Bochy’s: not pulling Cain for a pinch hitter with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with a runner on second and the Giants only leading by 2-0.

Given the Giants’ seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, it turned out that it wouldn’t have mattered either way, but obviously Bochy couldn’t have known that would happen. That is why there is some traction to the notion that Bochy should have hit for Cain. Like most pitchers, Cain is a terrible hitter, so much so that we don’t need to worry about the pinch-hitting penalty from whomever would have come in. With two outs, a bunt wouldn’t have done any good, so Cain had to swing away. A two-run lead isn’t impregnable, even with Cain pitching well. With no game on Friday night, the bullpen was available, why not use them for the last two innings? These reasons for pulling Cain after a job well done make sense, and seemed pretty persuasive when, with a runner on, Josh Hamilton came up to the plate in position to tie the game with one swing. Bochy ended up going to the bullpen and bringing in Javier Lopez to face him.

On the other side of the argument, just as it’s unfair to consider that the Giants ended up blowing out the Rangers in the bottom of the eighth in evaluating Bochy’s decision, it’s also a not the right move to judge it from the standpoint of Hamilton coming to the plate with a chance to tie the game. We have to go from the information Bochy had available to him at the time. While a two run lead is far from insurmountable, Cain had indeed been pitching well. Perhaps he hadn’t been as dominating in the sixth and seventh innings as he had been earlier, but despite the overall lack of strikeouts, he appeared to be handling the Rangers hitters well for the most part. Whatever stock one puts into pitch counts, Cain wasn’t over 100 at the time he came up to bat. Moreover, the beginning of the eighth didn’t look to be that challenging — Bochy knew Cain would be facing a pinch-hitter (who turned out to be the noodle-batted Julio Borbon; but even Vladimir Guerrero still would have faced both the platoon disadvantage and the difficulty of hitting off of the bench), then Elvis Andrus (who has been hot in the playoffs, but still isn’t much of a hitter), and then Michael Young. Hamilton would only come up if at least one runner got on, which is what happened. However, Bochy still had the option to use Lopez versus Hamilton, which he did. Bochy may not have wanted to bring in closer Brian Wilson because, other than the two innings issue, he still wanted to be able to bring in Wilson later if necessary. One could make an argument for say, Sergio Romo at the beginning of the eighth, but even that’s a judgment call based on how Bochy and his coaches felt Cain was pitching.

I can see the arguments for both sides, and things did get tense once Andrus got on base. But one more bit of data: the leverage index for Cain’s plate appearance was on 0.55. In terms of the Giants chances of winning at that point, the situation wasn’t all that crucial. I can see the arguments for pinch-hitting for Cain and using Romo to start the the eighth inning, but given the low leverage of Cain’s plate appearance, his chances against the likely Rangers hitters, and the availability of Lopez to face Hamilton if he were to come up, if I can’t heartily endorse Bochy’s decision, I have a hard time criticizing it. Given how the game turned out, I realize my position doesn’t take much courage, but hey, I’d say the same thing if Hamilton had homered, right? Uh, right.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


40 Responses to “Should Cain Have Been Pulled for a Pinch Hitter?”

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  1. Wally says:

    Should probably mention that Cain was about face the order for the 4th time, and being that he’s good but not great pitcher, he’s unlikely to give a better performance than some of the better relievers in the Giant’s pen.

    With only two innings to go, an off day tomorrow, plus this 4th time through the order issue, there really isn’t a good reason to leave Cain in with a chance to make it a three run lead, even though the leverage is low.

    In the regular season, with fewer off days, I can see why you might want to leave him in. But in the WS, were each win is not just one out of 90 or so (for good teams) that may or may not matter in regards to getting you into the playoffs, but one out of 4 that make you the world champ, I don’t see why you want to leave even small amounts of win expectancy on the table with little to no carry over effects into other games.

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    • Doug says:

      What more does Cain have to do to prove he’s a good pitcher?

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    • brendan says:

      agree. Cain had tons of balls in play last night. It’s not hard to imagine some dropping in for hits. I think a RP like Romo would definitley have better expected performance in the 8th.

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      • WY says:

        That’s ridiculous. If you’d watched the game you’d realize that there was no reason to take him out. Unless these posts by Wally and brendan are meant to be ironic, in which case your subtlety is commendable.

        I mean, of course there was no reason to pinch hit for Cain. Why even bring this up?

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    • Doug says:

      great rather

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    • Henry says:

      Cain is not a great pitcher? He’s not the best but he’s not just another good playoff pitcher. His career numbers minus W-L are in line with King Felix. Is he not great?

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      • Wally says:

        W-L record at fangraphs? Really?

        Matt Cain has a career 3.84. Good, not great. Deal with it.

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      • Wally says:

        Sorry, career FIP, that is.

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      • baty says:

        Cain is entering his prime, and over the years, is still showing consistent and at times major progress with his overall development (command especially). It’s clear his career/seasonal numbers don’t quite show it, but why restrict a 26 year old with 5 solid seasons under his belt to just that? He has the pedigree. Why would it be so terrible to tag the word great to his name at this point.

        Do we really still have to jump down people’s throats when someone cites a W-L record? It’s not like he was being destructive with it.

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  2. Justa Name says:

    I know there is no statistical backup, but I’ve got to believe pulling Cain there would have provided Texas with a psychological boost for the low probability of another run.

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    • SFG FTW!!! says:

      agree with this and given Cain’s pitch count i’d rather see him start the 8th than any of Romo, Casilla, or Affeldt….and it shows Cain what the manager thinks of his ability – you don’t PH for your elite pitchers in that situation and Cain is getting closer to that status lately(top 15% of SP?)…much better than what Bochy did in late innings of Game 1 with all of those b.s. pitching changes…smacks of panic…

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  3. Andrew says:

    This is honestly the last thing I thought of while watching the game. I would have been livid if Cain were pulled. He was cruising.

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    • Bigmouth says:

      I did wonder if it might make sense to pinch hit for Cain. Texas has such a prolific offense that every run counts.

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      • This is where people just don’t get it: the Rangers are not a prolific offense, they are a good offensive team at home, pretty bad (something like .720 OPS) on the road. They averaged almost 1 less run scored on the road than at home (5.3 at home, 4.4 on road). And remember, they take a hit with the loss of the DH, which probably dropped them to around 4.0 RS in an NL park.

        So the right move is to rely on the coaching staff’s evaluation of where they think Cain is. Each out is precious (if you don’t believe that, then you aren’t a Giants fan who remember 2002’s game 6), so if they think Cain is still capable of getting outs, then he should stay in. And he did get outs, and would have been out of the inning if Renteria didn’t flub the throw from Posey to get Andrus.

        And Game 1’s pitching changes was not panic, it was a demonstration of belief that he has the bullpen depth to do that in order to maximize the odds of getting an out, and still have good enough pitchers to get the rest of the outs in the game.. Also when your closer can go 1.2 IP in a save, you can burn up your whole set-up crew to get the matchups you want and still be safe, knowing that Wilson can handle 1.2 IP.

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    • Judy says:

      Then shouldn’t you have been livid when he was pulled for Lopez 2 outs and 1 BB later?

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  4. zenbitz says:

    I was a little surprised there was no PH, but it’s not a huge swing either way.
    PH vs. Cain is probably worth about 0.15 runs and 1 run there is probably worth about 0.05 Wexp. So you are talking about 0.75% of a win, assuming that there is NO penalty for going to the Bullpen instead of Cain in the 8th. (The penalty cannot be very large, obviously).

    Remember Cain has a .146 OBA – which is terrible but practically speaking not that much difference than the .320 guy they PH with when you are only talk 1 PA and 2 outs already.

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    • Ken says:

      Great post, zenbitz. I couldn’t agree more. Add in what Justa Name said above and it makes a quite compelling argument to leave Cain in. One other factor is that Cain had established that he was throwing strikes, while a bullpen pitcher may have to demonstrate that before he gets as many edge calls from the ump.

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      • Dave says:

        Following up on Ken’s comment, it seems like there is a certain variability in whether a pitcher has a feel for his pitches on a given night — these guys aren’t robots (see: Holland, Derek).

        So forget about edge calls, I’m just talking about finding out whether a pitcher has “it” on a certain night. Cain was more of a known quality at that point.

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    • Bigmouth says:

      What zenbitz said.

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    • fred says:

      Dead on.

      The other consideration is if he goes with someone like Sandoval, Washington probably makes him hit righty where he had a .262wOBA this year (in theory I should probably regress this toward his higher career # of .341). Tack on a PH penalty and suddenly the gain over Cain is looking pretty small.

      The outcomes seem close enough where it’s hard to consider either direction a mistake.

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    • this guy says:

      Cain has looked strong since the all star break, and nothing changed even when Hamilton was coming up. Javier Lopez is on the team for precisely that situation, and the move was made. In the regular season, Cain might have been given the chance to finish that game.

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  5. DrBGiantsfan says:

    The Giants RHP’s out of the bullpen have been a bit shaky in the postseason. The chances of cashing in the run with a PH were not great enough to take Cain out at that point. The two outs he got in the 8’th were outs a reliever might not have gotten. Bochy made the right call.

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  6. darryl0 says:

    I can’t say that I feel that strongly about it either way. I think a good case could be made for either decision.

    Two things need to be mentioned that weren’t brought up in the OP, and should be closely considered.

    1. In general, Bochy has obviously lost a lot of confidence in his bullpen in the playoffs. After the 2 series against Atlanta and Philly, he’s pretty much down to only Wilson, Lopez and Casilla (in that order) in terms of guys he would be willing to put in for Cain at that point in a 2-0 game. Obviously, he wasn’t going to bring in Lopez to face 3 straight RH hitters, and he didn’t want to go to Wilson so early after the work he had put in for game 1. That basically left him with a choice between Casilla and Cain, and Cain won out due to how he had been performing, and the fact that Casilla had pitched > 1 inning the previous night.

    2. Who would hit for Cain? It’s not like the Giants have a guy on the bench that is likely to get a big hit in that situation. The most likely bat would have been Sandoval, but Bochy had to be thinking that then the Rangers would just bring in a LHP and force him to bat righty – where he has been terrible all year long.

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    • fro says:

      the bullpen has been up and down all year long aside Wilson and Lopez…i think some of the faith has been restored in Romo but they’re facing what is supposed to be a real good hitting team so you can’t run just anyone out there – the bullpen gets shorter in the playoffs…

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  7. Jason says:

    Matt Cain is going to the hall of fame as a San Francisco Giant in 15 years. He has been in the league since 2005 and improves every single year. Once he effectively harnesses all four of his pitches, he will have additional swing through stuff and will not be simply good or great. He will be an elite, top 5 pitcher. He’s already close and he’s still learning. Unbelievable! Wow. Giants fans are spoiled.

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  8. Texas_Dawg says:

    The Bochy mistake of leaving Cain in was far worse than any mistake Washington made in the 8th. Cain was only going to face a 2-3 more hitters anyway, and a 3rd run there would have been a significant increase in win probability. Cain walked Andrus, and had it not been for Hamilton missing a mistake pitch from Lopez, Bochy’s decision would have cost the Giants in a huge way.

    As for Washington, the Rangers had a 5% win probability after Posey’s 2-out single. Holland to face the lefty Schierholtz is obviously the correct move. But Holland walked him. So at that point, with the pitcher’s spot in the order due up in the 9th, Washington can go to Feliz for what will be only one out… or let Holland (excellent in his last outing) try to get Ross. Sticking with Holland there is just not a bad move given Feliz would have been pinch hit for in the 9th. But Holland walked Ross… at which point the Rangers win probability was 2%.

    The game was over once Holland didn’t do his job. That’s not Washington’s fault and acting like it is some incredibly bad error is just stupid.

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    • WY says:

      It wasn’t a “mistake.” Stop criticizing managers for every hypothetical %.02 of added win probability. These are men, not machines. Leaving Cain in was obviously the right thing to do. Put down “The Book” and watch the freaking game.

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    • Steve says:

      Bochy’s decision would have cost the Giants in a huge way.

      You are automatically assuming the pinch hitter gets a hit??

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  9. Walter Guest says:

    Cain reminds me a lot of Don Drysdale. He walks one more per 9 but he also strikes out one more.

    Taking him out in that situation would have been dumb. He had a 2 run lead and an acceptable pitch count through 7 and he had the pinch hitter followed by two right handed batters in the 8th. You know that he is going good. Why trust that your reliever, perhaps making his first appearance in a World Series, is going to be as good?

    Bochy/Righetti are as good at handling a pitching staff as any in baseball. They seldom make a mistake.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      Well, one thing that Game One managed to do was to ensure that none of the Giants relievers (other than Mota, who’s barely even on the team) would be making their first appearance in a World Series…

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  10. Sal Paradise says:

    Yes, he should have been removed for a pinch hitter. He may have to pitch twice more in the series and there is little if any gain by leaving him in. I think they should have pulled lincecum in game 1 when he led off the 6th with a 2-2 tie personally. The times through the order penalty is very significant as is the fact that the bullpen is available given the off days, and that these pitchers may be called on with short rest later.

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    • Twice more? What series are you watching, there is only 7 games, at worse he pitches once more, game 6, he wouldn’t even be able to relieve in game 7.

      Again, if the starter is going well, and the coaches think he will continue, each out is precious. As much as we like to place with our baseball simulators, each player is human, you hope that he executes his normal performance, but there is always that margin where this is the game he messes up.

      So Bochy minimized that risk by continuing with Cain – 2-0 lead remember – and got 2 of the 6 outs he needed to WIN the game, which is the objective here. At this point of the game, since we had the lead, I see why his decision is questioned but I think going with the option that he thinks will maximize the outs gained is the better plan.

      About Lincecum, if you look at his stats for the season, the 5th inning is when the other team gets to him, if he gets out of that, the opposing team’s batting line is just as bad as it was in the first few innings. Plus, Lincecum generally is better than any reliever you can put in there, if the coaching staff thinks that he can continue to pitch. If the game is close, unless Lincecum is losing it, there is no reason to take him out.

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      • Sal Paradise says:

        Yes, twice more. I am watching the World Series. The one where every pitcher is available if need be whenever they are needed, including starters coming in and throwing in relief. He could pitch game 5 and be available for a relief appearance in game 7.

        I don’t care about Lincecum’s stats this season when getting through the 5th. I care about the big picture — how many times he’s been through the order, and how that affects pitchers (including Lincecum). I care about how bad of a hitter he is. I care about the greater likelihood of injury when a pitcher ends up hitting/baserunning.

        But please feel free to ignore me, as I don’t think I’ll convince you regardless.

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  11. dustygator says:

    What a good idea, let’s pull a pitcher who’s allowed 0 ER (1 total) in the postseason so far and has less than 100 pitches on the night. Why not go to Romo, the guy who almost single-handedly lost two games for you in the NLDS.

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  12. Noseeum says:

    @Wally, if you’re on this site enough, you should know by now that Cain consistently outperforms his FIP. Sooner or later you have to think it’s not just luck.

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  13. CircleChange11 says:

    Isn’t the answer to ALL of these “should have” questions, YES?

    Since basically all of the answers are based on work by TT and MGL, shouldn’t the titles just be “The Book says … ” , and then just get right to the mocking?

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  14. Gobstopper says:

    “@Wally, if you’re on this site enough, you should know by now that Cain consistently outperforms his FIP. Sooner or later you have to think it’s not just luck.”

    hah!

    I thought Cain looked heavily reliant on defense – Truly thought Bochy was just faking it when he was in the on deck… Couldn’t believe he stayed in.

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