Washington’s Decision Leaves Rangers Cold

Rangers manager Ron Washington played the first chess matchup of Game One correctly, bringing in Alexi Ogando to face Allen Craig in the sixth inning, but Washington imploded the next time he had to make an important move, and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and his charges started the World Series with a win.

While Washington was just an innocent victim of circumstance on Craig’s headline-grabbing hit, he was a deer in headlights when put to the test. When Mike Napoli walked to put runners at first in second in the next half-inning, La Russa went and grabbed Marc Rzepczynski out of the Cards’ bullpen. It was the second time that Napoli had tilted the scales back towards the Rangers’ favor. The first time, his two-run blast dropped the Cards win expectancy almost 23%, and more importantly nearly back to a 50/50 proposition. The game see-sawed from then until Craig’s double, but Napoli’s walk gave the Rangers a ray of sunshine, getting it back to a 40/60 proposition. Here again, Washington started with the correct counter move, bringing in Craig Gentry for David Murphy. But when Gentry failed to get the job done, freezing up on a changeup for a called strike three, Washington made the curious move to bring in Esteban German off the bench.

In a vacuum, German isn’t all that bad of a hitter. German has a career .333 wOBA compared to the .308 wOBA for Yorvit Torrealba — who was the logical choice in that situation. But last night’s game was not played in a vacuum, and German has just 79 Major League plate appearances in the last three seasons — Torrealba had 419 this season alone. Most of the good in German’s line came back in 2006, and he had not had an at-bat at game speed since September 25, while Torrealba had at least one plate appearance in three of the of the Rangers’ previous four games. German’s rust showed. He took a slider for a called strike one, and then waved wildly at the two that followed in a circuitous manner that would have made Wendell Kim proud.

Washington would defend the decision by saying German is a “contact hitter,” but while that is true, you need reps to be able to keep your batting eye sharp, and German did not have them (for what it’s worth — which is very little — German also isn’t a very good pinch hitter). Furthermore, Torrealba isn’t a hacker — his SwStr% this year was essentially league average. The bottom line is that while Torrealba isn’t the best hitter on the planet, he is up to game speed, and has been trusted in crucial situations all season. German was not trusted to be anything other than “highly paid clubbie” for the first two rounds, and before that he was riding buses for Round Rock. You’re talking about a guy who was not called up this year until rosters expanded, and who started only two games at the Major League level — both of which came in the wake of the Rangers clinching the AL West. This was not even remotely the place for him.

The decision also put into sharp light Washington’s decision to carry Matt Treanor on the World Series roster. As Torrealba had served as designated hitter at times this season, it seemed that Treanor was included in an effort to get Torrealba into the game as a pinch-hitter in St. Louis without worrying about being caught (see what I did there?) without a backup catcher. Yet in the first opportunity to do just that, Washington chose German instead. What then, is Treanor doing on the roster? Trying to make the case that Washington was saving Torrealba for a situation later in the game is a nonstarter as well — the Cardinals bullpen has been too good this postseason, and the Rangers needed the run right then and there. They didn’t get it, and wouldn’t get another good chance — Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte set down the next six Rangers in order (we’ll leave the ridiculous non-call on Adrian Beltre’s grounder for another article).

The German decision wasn’t the only curious move Washington made. With Josh Hamilton hurting, you could make the case that the Rangers’ 2-3-4 hitters were their worst last night, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that your team leader in on-base percentage should be hitting higher than seventh. You could also file his decision to test Yadier Molina’s arm in the top of the first, intentionally walking Nick Punto and sacrifice in the top of the sixth in the curious department.

Tony La Russa has been strategizing on the diamond for a long time. Last night, he painted Ron Washington into a corner, and Washington countered by sending up a hitter so cold that the Coors Light “Super Cold” bar was jealous. Tim McCarver may not know how many letters it takes to spell “strike,” but you can bet Ron Washington does — because in this manager battle he now has strike one, and as a result, his team is down in the count in this year’s Fall Classic.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

23 Responses to “Washington’s Decision Leaves Rangers Cold”

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  1. steex says:

    “The German decision wasn’t the only curious move Washington made.”

    This made me chuckle – in addition to its obvious baseball application, it reads well as a political statement from anytime between 1915 and 1990.

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  2. C.J. says:

    “Rangers manager Ron Washington played the first chess matchup of Game One correctly, bringing in Alexi Ogando to face Allen Craig in the sixth inning”

    I felt like he made the wrong move before that by pitching around Punto. I’d rather face Punto in that (or any) situation than Allen Craig. It wasn’t worth it just to force LaRussa to pull Carpenter an inning early.

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    • chuckb says:

      I agree, particularly with what we know about bullpens and platoon splits. They were probably better off trying to get to Carp in the 7th w/ him having thrown already in the neighborhood of 100 pitches than to try and beat the parade of lefty-righty relievers that was headed to the mound. Plus, factor in the difference between Craig and Punto + the additional runner on base. Probably a bad call by Washington.

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    • filihok says:

      what does “pitching around mean”?

      I tried to use wRC+ to modify Tango’ RE chart in order to find more relative RE’s considering the strength of the hitters.


      The 2 moves came out as pretty much a wash.

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  3. Nathan says:

    I was telling Washington through the TV to bring in Ogando to start the 6th, but he didn’t listen to me.

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  4. Dunston says:

    I have to say, I’m a little surprised by how big of a deal the stats-oriented is making this pinch-hitting issue out to be. To say that Torrealba “isn’t the best hitter” is a bit of an understatement – he was one of the worst hitting catchers in all of baseball this year. More or less, the only thing that he’s got going for him is that he played regularly this year. And in what has to be a first for Fangraphs, Torrealba’s veteran-ness and grittiness are also factors, because he “has been trusted in crucial situations all season” whereas German has not.

    Was it the right decision to use German? Probably not. But to say that Washington was “a deer in the headlights” and was “painted into a corner” because he didn’t pinch-hit with his .306 wOBA catcher is ridiculous.

    Doesn’t Jon Daniels deserve far more blame for designing a roster where Washington has to choose between German and Torrealba at a critical point in the game?

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    • bowie says:

      agreed — I really don’t see why people are so fixated on the Torrealba/German decision. Torrealba is a pretty bad hitter, period. To me, it is a toss-up as to whether Torrealba or German is the better option at that point.

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    • KDL says:

      I think the point is this: given the choice between two bad hitters…doesn’t it make sense to have the one that’s batted against live pitching in the last month go to the plate?
      You’re right. Yorvit is not an ideal pinch hitter. But we’re not talking about ideal. We’re talking about him vs. German.
      You’re also right that it stinks that those are Wash’s choices…but that’s all he’s got. And that doesn’t absolve him from mistakes he might make using crappy pieces.

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  5. Anon says:

    “(for what it’s worth — which is very little — German also isn’t a very good pinch hitter)”

    Doesn’t this also apply to Torrealba?

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  6. jkafka says:

    Torrealba is 1 for 37 in his career as a pinch hitter. German is 11 for 55. They have about the same power, but German hits for a higher average and gets on base more often.

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  7. Joel says:

    I agree that pinch hitting Torrealba instead of German might’ve had better odds of working (what’s that thing about hindsight again…?), but I request that in the future you reconsider using the word “imploded,” as in the below sentence:

    “but Washington imploded the next time he had to make an important move”

    Is pinch hitting the wrong guy really an “implosion”? Or is it just a poorly made decision? In interviews after the game he didn’t appear to second guess himself, which makes me think he was confident in his decision at the time he made it (even though it didn’t work out). That isn’t an imposion, really.

    Not trying to be a dick, just encouraging Fangraph writers to stay classy and not resort to bush league hyperbole like blogs do. Fangraphs is legit, after all.

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  8. GiantHusker says:

    The phrase “chess matchup” does not belong in any article also containing the words “Ron Washington” or “Tony LaRussa.”

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  9. bender says:

    I think the term you’re looking for is “pinch hit penalty”

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  10. chuckb says:

    I thought that Washington was bluffing w/ German, hoping that La Russa would counter with the righty (I think Dotel) to maintain the platoon split, and then Washington would pinch hit w/ Moreland, the guy he preferred having up in that spot. La Russa didn’t bite. Why would he w/ German at the plate? It was a really strange decision. Perhaps if he’d have used Torrealba it would have compelled La Russa to go get Dotel so Wash could then come back w/ Moreland but German’s not going to scare anyone.

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  11. Richie says:

    Heck with the platoon advantage, why not just Moreland in that situation? As opposed to a poor-hitting catcher or a subpar utilityman?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      German and Yorvit have almost identical OPS’s versus LHP (~.780), both are about 200 OPS pts higher than Moreland (~.580).

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  12. Luke says:

    I would have left D.Murph in there and then pinch Gentry or Moreland for the pitcher.

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  13. Jacob says:

    So Washington’s “implosion” and “strike one” was using a decision over one pitch-hitter. Really? I thought the whole point of places like FanGraphs was to encourage intelligent analysis to counter long-held beliefs. Like the fact that this would be very significant at all. By this logic we should fire all the umps from last night.

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    • Puffy says:

      You cannot assume that because they have stats here that require more than basic division, that their logical inferences will be equally more sophisticated than general banter.

      Having one guy who can code a data feed does not make all your writers particularly intelligent.

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    • Puffy says:

      The closest thing to a meaningful narrative I can derive from this article is that this guy decided that Larussa is outperforming Washington, and this is the best support he could come up with.

      Most people, especially stupid ones, would never let reality get in the way of indulging in their most comforting belief.

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