Games » Detroit TigersApr8
In Friday’s game Kyle Davies gave up five walks, threw three wild pitches, hit a batter and gave up five earned runs. Before he got his second out, it was clear Kyle was throwing poorly. Why didn’t Ned Yost pull him from the game earlier?
Because the Royals have a game the next day and the day after that.
Fans can get frustrated when a pitcher is getting lit up and the manager isn’t doing anything about it, but let’s run through the logic: the starting pitcher goes out and implodes in the first inning, but going to the pen too early can chew up innings the team may need from its relievers in the next game. (If it’s a must-win game, a manager will do what he has to do to win now and worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow.)
In this game it made sense to let Kyle come back out for the second. The Royals were already down by four, the chances of winning were greatly reduced, so why waste good pitching? Luke Hochevar had a similar start against White Sox, made an adjustment and got through six innings. So Ned sent Kyle back out hoping he can also make an adjustment. Davies got through the second inning OK, but struggled again in the third and couldn’t make it through the fourth.
Davies threw 92 pitches (I don’t know what his pitch limit was, but I’m guessing he was close) and was on the verge of giving up another run when Yost went to the bullpen and brought in Nate Adcock. (The good news here is Nate threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings - he probably got stretched out to protect the other relief pitchers - and Kanekoa Texeira added one more.)
OK, so that’s what happened in this game, but how does a manager decide to pull the starter pitching in most games? I’ll give you the rules of thumb Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave me:
*Pay attention to pitch count.
As I’ve written several times before, 15 pitches an inning is average, and if the starter can stay on pace and the pitch limit is around 100, he’ll give you seven innings. Just remember, a 3-pitch inning and a 27-pitch inning is not the same as two 15-pitch innings. The pitcher at least temporarily will be gassed after a 27-pitch inning, and you’ll often see hitters take their time and pitches in an effort to let their pitcher rest. A bad at-bat by the leadoff hitter, who’s taking strikes in an effort to prolong the inning, might be caused by the previous half inning.
*Never let pitchers struggle a third time.
Long innings take a toll. Ned Yost uses the term ‘troubles’ and has a different way of counting them, but Kyle was at 92 pitches and in the middle of his third struggle when Yost came to get him in this game.
*Never let a pitcher struggle after the fifth.
Before that, they can make adjustments. After that, they may be too tired to get their arm in the proper position.
*Three line drives in a row aren’t an accident.
You’ll often hear pitchers say, “The hitters will tell me when to retire.” The hitters can also tell the manager when to jerk the pitcher. If bloops and bleeders are getting through, managers won’t worry too much about that, but line drives and loud outs will get their attention. Pay attention to those line drives, whether they’re hits or outs. And fastballs pulled foul tell you the guy on the mound may be losing it.
*Pay attention to the third at-bat.
By that time the hitters have a good, or at least better, idea of what the pitcher is featuring that day and they may start to get to him. Also pay attention to the previous at-bats. Let’s say the pitcher’s going out in the sixth to face the eighth, ninth and leadoff hitter and the leadoff hitter has smoked two line drives off him already. If the pitcher gets the 8 and 9 guys maybe the manager lets him face the leadoff batter, but if one of those guys is in scoring position the pitcher might get pulled when the hitter who’s killed him comes to the plate. UNLESS (and there are ALWAYS exceptions) first is open and pitcher can work around the leadoff hitter to get to a guy he’s dominated. Anyway, once the pitcher gets beyond the fifth, start looking at his pitch count and who’s had success against him earlier in the game.
And here’s the final rule that Clint gave me and every time I ignored it, I paid the price.
IF YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT IT, DO IT.
I asked Hurdle what that meant and he said, “Why are you thinking about it? Is he throwing a no-hitter? No, there are runners everywhere, he’s sweating like a horse, staring into the dugout (the sure sign the pitcher wants out of the game - it’s his way of saying please come get me) and he’s walking around the mound acting like he never wants to throw another pitch. Better an inning too soon than an inning too late, better a batter too soon than a batter too late, better a pitch too soon than a pitch too late.”
Truer were words were never spoken.
Pay attention to this stuff and you’ll be able to predict the starter’s departure on a regular basis.
Except when you’re wrong
Think about it: the odds that a fan, or a sports talk show host or a cartoonist with a website has a better idea of what’s happening on the field than the professionals involved are slim. Once in a while a guy brain cramps and throws to the wrong base or tries to stretch a single into a double at the wrong moment, but for the most part every time I saw something that didn’t make sense to me and could talk to the people involved, there was some factor I didn’t know about.
Case in point: late in a losing season a starting pitcher was left in the game long after he should’ve been pulled (according to Clint’s rules). Clint wasn’t the manager, but it was pretty clear to everybody that we were witnessing a complete meltdown. They guy gave every indication of wanting to come out of the game, including staring into the dugout after each pitch. He was giving up rockets, runners were circling the bases, hotdog vendors were grabbing bats for a shot at him, his ERA was spinning upwards like a Vegas slot machine and nuthin’. Nobody come to get him or talk to him and he finally staggered off the mound after getting the third out.
After the game I said to Clint, “So what was that about?”
“Ahh, he’s been complaining that we come to get him too soon. We’re not going anywhere, so we let him have his way. He wants to work his way out of it? Go ahead, work your way out of it.”
Sometimes what you’re seeing is an internal issue that’s being addressed. They were shutting up a whiner and the message wasn’t lost on the rest of the staff.
Ryan beats me to it
After yet another walk Ned Yost went to the mound to talk to Kyle Davies. On the radio broadcast Ryan Lefebvre pointed out that a visit from the pitching coach is usually an adjustment talk, a visit from the manager is usually a swift kick in the pants.
Sitting on my couch, listening to the game, I said, “Look fastball.” (I swear, Ryan. Have I ever lied to you? Um, let me put it another way: have you caught me lying to you?) Ryan said the exact same thing: the idea is that the manager usually tells the pitcher to quit nibbling and throw strikes, which usually means a hittable fastball. The hitter was thinking the same thing because he apparently came out of his shoes on the next pitch.
Look for this situation in games and if the pitcher goes off-speed you know he’s playing mind games, too.