In case you didn’t hear, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Ross Stripling got pulled after 7.1 no-hit innings in his Major League debut. Anthony Irwin already talked about why pulling him was the right move, and it most definitely was, but that doesn’t mean that a poor decision still wasn’t made directly after that.
In his haste to pull Stripling for the game, first-year manager Dave Roberts promptly overlooked the most vital component to winning a tight game on the road against a good team — you have to put your best players into the game’s biggest moments. The team’s best reliever is Kenley Jansen, and he sat unused at the end of the night as the San Francisco Giants walked off.
Whether or not you agree with the decision by Roberts to pull Stripling from the game should not matter one iota here. What matters is that there was still a poor judgement decision made that affected the end result of a game that could have a large bearing on the standings come October. These games do matter.
With the Dodgers ahead by two runs, and with Stripling tiring — just two of his final 25 pitches had a registered velocity above 92 MPH — due to his pitch count, a decision was made to pull him in favor of relief pitcher Chris Hatcher. However, the second half of that decision — i.e. going to Hatcher — was the mistake, not the other half.
While people will look at the results and say that was why it was the mistake, this speaks to a larger issue at hand. There’s a common thought that still circles the depths of baseball. It goes something like this: your closer should only pitch in save situations. That’s an archaic model that has doomed plenty of teams. Just ask the Atlanta Braves in the 2013 NLDS as Craig Kimbrel stood in the bullpen watching the implosion.
You’re supposed to use your best players, and in the game’s biggest moment, the Dodgers opted to not use closer Kenley Jansen in a huge spot. Jansen had not pitched since Tuesday night when he made just 12 pitches en route to his first, and only, save of the season. It’s the only appearance he’s even made so far. What was he being saved for?
If the answer was that the team didn’t want to use him for five outs on Friday night while then effectively rendering him useless on Saturday afternoon, then that would make some sense. However, they’d also be giving the rest of the bullpen the night off. As it stands now, Pedro Baez will be unavailable for Saturday, as will Chris Hatcher.
The leverage index, which measures just how hugely important a point in the game happens to be based on outs and score, put the Trevor Browne home run at 2.12. To put that into perspective, it was nearly the same exact leverage index as when Brandon Crawford led off the tenth inning with a home run (2.13). In other words, these are massive moments. And Jansen was put on ice.
While Dave Roberts and the Dodgers coaching staff made the right decision to remove Stripling, they made the wrong decision to go to Hatcher, and it had little to do with the result of the first batter he faced. If the issue was that Kenley Jansen had never even been brought in for a five out save in his big league career, then at least it’d be somewhat understandable, but you still would question not using him.
Roberts’ job is to win games, and he’s also there to get the talent to live up to its full potential. The second part of that equation was doing just fine throughout the game as Stripling went 7.1 no-hit innings. The first part, however, was never achieved because he opted to not go to his best reliever for a five out save. And then, after Roberts was ejected in the eighth, the coaching staff went to Joe Blanton over Jansen in the tenth.
A lot of this can be attributed to Dave Roberts being a first-year manager. He’s definitely going to learn more and more as the season goes long. After all, this is only Game 5 of 162. However, these games against division rivals do matter. A lot, in fact. It’ll be interesting to see how Roberts manages these situations going forward, but for now it looks like he might have botched this one just a little bit. Pulling Stripling was the right move, but not going to Jansen was the move that ultimately doomed the Dodgers.