Flash back to Game 2 of this World Series. I know, it seems like an eternity ago, but it was a mere six days ago when Kenley Jansen blew that 9th inning save with the chance to put the Dodgers up 2-0 in the series.
Now try and remeber the reaction. The blame wasn’t placed on Jasen, or any other Dodger player. It was placed on Dave Roberts.
After Jansen gave up a 2017 World Series trademarked pop-up home run to Marwin Gonzalez on an 0-2 pitch, the Dodgers really didn’t stand a chance of winning. Despite the offense putting up 3 runs in the 2 extra inning frames, Roberts’ micromanaging of the game left the bullpen depleted, and it certainly showed.
The consensus was that Roberts yanked starter Rich Hill too early, and then made too many subsequent pitching changes so that when his intricate plan backfired, there was no Plan B. Then after Game 5, those same critics said that it was the micromanaging in Game 2 that caused the bullpen implosion in Game 5. I had a different take on the matter. I thought that Roberts managed Game 2 incredibly well, but just got unlucky.
The sabermetrics agree. Advanced stats show that in the regular season, the 5th inning was Rich Hill’s kryptonite. Hitters had a .375 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in the 5th inning against Hill, as compared to .228, .264, and .226 in the previous three innings.
Hill also began to show signs of trouble in the forth, handing out two free passes (albeit one intentional) to put men on first and second. Hill falling behind batters is another tell-tale sign of his demise. During the regular season, opponents slugged almost .500 against Hill when they were ahead in the count, while they slugged just .302 when they were behind. The reason why he was able to escape the 4th unscathed was because he got to face Justin Verlander with two outs. Yanking him after the 4th was the right move.
As for the frequency of the pitching changes after that, the most applicable sabermetric in baseball says that every time a lineup turns around against the same pitcher, that pitcher’s ERA, ERA+, BB (and pretty much every other stat in the book) skyrockets. This effect is even more prominent in relievers. Unless it’s a middle reliever, most back-end guys reach their threshold at around 25-30 pitches. Once that threshold is surpassed, they see a serious dip in velocity and productivity. That explains why–especially when having to face the daunting top of the Astros’ order–Roberts micromanaged his relievers.
He then put in Jansen for a 6-out save, which obviously didn’t pan out. I’m curious why this move ever got any criticism, however. We’re talking about the Reliever of the Year. The guy who went 41/42 in save opportunities. The guy who boasts a 14.4 SO/9 and a 15.6 SO/BB ratio. Opponents rarely put the ball in play against him, let alone get hits. It was just the warm Los Angeles air that allowed Gonzalez’ fly ball to center get over the fence.
If Roberts were to have kept Hill in the 5th inning, maybe even the 6th and 7th, and he got rocked, the consensus would be that he stuck with his guns. But he didn’t. He made the smart move, and got lit up for it.
With all this in mind, he faced virtually the same exact situation in Game 6. Rich Hill was cruising early, but looked as if he was reaching his breaking point. So what did Dave Roberts do? Almost the same exact thing. He went to Morrow, to Watson, to Maeda, and then to Jansen for the 6-out save. The only difference? His bullpen executed. His pen, which went 82-5 when leading after 6 innings and 90-0 when leading after 8 innings this season, went four and a third shutout innings.
So I salute you, Dave Roberts. You stuck with the numbers. Game 2 was just an example of the seesaw of sabermetrics.