About the Other Night: John Farrell’s Decision to Pinch Hit Pedroia

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The last few years have been rocky for the Boston Red Sox manager. From winning the World Series to a last place finish, followed by last season in which the team’s general manager was replaced. It’s no wonder why his decisions are often scrutinized. Although Rick Rowand has defended the manager in the past, he now questions John Farrell’s decision to pinch hit Pedroia for Travis Shaw.

With a 162-game season, baseball fans have numerous opportunities to question moves that managers make – or don’t make – that put his team in a less than ideal position to win a game. I’m not normally one to criticize decisions that managers make during a game, mainly because I (like other fans) am not privy to the same information that a manager has about the physical condition of the players. Last night, in the ninth inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, I couldn’t help but be critical. And then I looked at the numbers.

John Farrell has never been one to collect accolades for his in-game managing skills, but last night he truly had a “WTF?” moment. Putting all my cards on the table: I have written before about why the Red Sox should retain Farrell, and I am in no way calling for him to be replaced here, while others have written about the need to replace him.

Setting the scene: It’s the bottom of the ninth in a tie game (1-1) at Fenway and Chicago reliever Zach Putnam has just walked Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradle Jr., and Chris Young to load the bases with no outs. White Sox manager Robin Ventura – another manager who is not known for his in-game decisions – decides that now might be a good time to bring in a different pitcher.

In a pure “Tale of Two Zachs” move, Ventura brings in lefty Zach Duke to face the bottom third of the order. In a very nice move, Ventura also decides to just go with two outfielders and five infielders since any ball hit any distance beyond the infield will score the winning run.

Duke was scheduled to face Travis Shaw, Christian Vazquez, and Marco Hernandez, who was playing to give Dustin Pedroia a night off. Not exactly Murderer’s Row. Everyone watching the game at Fenway or on TV knew that at some point, Pedroia would be pinch hitting for someone. The question was who?

Here are the 2016 splits against lefties for Pedroia, Shaw and Vazquez. Hernandez has no ABs in the majors against lefties this season:

Avg/OBP/SLG GB rate K rate BB rate GB/FB rate
Dustin Pedoria .235/.350/.265 61.50% 11.80% 15.0% 5.33
Travis Shaw .156/.208/.289 50.00% 29.20% 2.1% 1.25
Christian Vazquez .240/.341/400 57.90% 21.40% 10.70% 2.75

Glancing at the BA and OBP, it’s obvious that Pedroia and Vazquez give you the best chance of reaching base via a hit or walk. However, the other numbers must also be considered since there are now five players in the infield. The two things the Sox do not need are ground balls (other than the laser-guided-between-the-infielders variety) and strikeouts. A walk or a fly ball of almost any depth will score the winning run.

Shaw has the best chance of the three of hitting one in the air, but the worst K rate and BB rate to go along with his lack of offense against lefties. But, he also has a better slugging % than Pedroia, along with a lower GB rate, and that is mainly a product of fly balls. The difference between hitting .235 and .240 are minimal at best, especially with these sample sizes (40 PAs for Pedroia, 28 for Vazquez, and 7 for Shaw vs. LHP), and Vazquez is more likely to strike out than Pedroia.

This was not as easy a decision as it looks at first glance. Farrell decided to pinch hit Pedroia for Shaw. Pedroia struck out and then Vazquez – who got his base hit for the series earlier in the game – hit a grounder to 5th infielder Tyler Saladino who threw to home for the force. Farrell then brought in future PTBNL Ryan LaMarre to hit for Hernandez. He ended the inning with a strikeout on a caught foul tip.

Farrell had to get Pedroia into the game that inning with the bases loaded and less than two outs. He is the only option the Sox have left as their extremely thin bench is short without Swihart and Holt. The question is: for who?

I suspect that Farrell just went with the standard right handed batter against lefthanded pitcher rule listed on page 18 of the manager’s handbook. Myself, I would have left Shaw in and had Pedroia bat for Vazquez, who would then be replaced defensively by Sandy Leon, who wouldn’t come up again for three more innings. That raises the, “but who would catch if Leon got hurt?” question from some. Every potential move raises “what if?” questions when the bench is this short.

What would you have done?


Rick Rowand has written about Boston’s young stars, David Ortiz’s career, Brock Holt’s aura, and Boston’s new starting third baseman.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

3 COMMENTS

  1. You have completely incorrect numbers for Shaw and Vazquez against LHP? Vazquez is .240/.321/.400, Shaw is 188/.235/.333. Kinda ruins your entire argument?

    • You also completely dismiss the conventional wisdom that it’s bad to sub in your catcher unless there’s some huge advantage. And your only argument is “Every potential move raises “what if?” questions when the bench is this short.” That’s really, really weak.

      • The production team swapped Vazquez and Shaw’s names in the spreadsheet. It’s now fixed, thanks for pointing out the mistake.

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