Reader Mail (Aftermath Edition)

The e-mails started coming in fast and furious after Wednesday night’s Yankees-Twins thriller. In particular, a lot of you disagreed with me that Ron Gardenhire‘s decision to leave Joe Nathan in to start the 12th inning was a sound one. My defending Gardenhire — which anyone who reads my blog can tell you comes along slightly less often than Halley’s comet — sparked more “I love you, but you’re dead wrong here” e-mail opening lines than I’ve ever seen before, which I sort of expected.

From Jack:

I have to respectfully disagree with you on your analysis of the 12th inning last night. Living in Toronto, I haven’t had a chance to see Nathan pitch much, but boy did he look tired in his second inning of work. He was working very slowly, taking lots of deep breaths, and getting into very deep counts against the guys he was facing (including the guys he struck out, if I recall correctly). In short, it looked like he was done.

It would have been one thing if Nathan had cruised through his first two innings on 20 pitches, but he had piled up something like 42 in two frames of work against the Yankees. Gardenhire should have bit the bullet and brought in Crain to start the 12th inning. Had Crain ultimately blown it, nobody would have faulted him for pulling Nathan. Unless Crain had trouble getting loose out in the bullpen, I can’t see why he wasn’t used last night. According to the announcers, he was up throwing in the bottom of the 11th, so there’s no reason why he couldn’t be warm to start the bottom of the 12th.

While I did think Nathan was perhaps laboring a bit more than usual in his second inning of work, the fact is that everyone on the mound during the late innings of the game were taking more time than usual between pitches and breathing heavily. The bottom line is that Nathan had absolutely zero problems with the batters he faced in the 11th inning, striking out the last two hitters, Jorge Posada and Ruben Sierra, and keeping his fastball in the 94-97 MPH range.

Jack writes that “it would have been one thing if Nathan had cruised through his first two innings on 20 pitches, but he had piled up something like 42 in two frames of work against the Yankees.” Actually, I think Nathan did cruise through the first two innings. Here’s his “play-by-play” for the 10th and 11th innings:

FLY OUT (7 pitches)
WALK (5)

Nathan needed 32 pitches to get through the two innings, not 42 like Jack suggested in his e-mail. That’s 16 pitches per inning, which is actually fewer pitches than Nathan needed to get through an average inning during the regular season. Incidentally, Nathan threw 30+ pitches in an appearance five times this season and seven times with the Giants in 2003.

Jack’s idea that “had Crain ultimately blown it, nobody would have faulted him for pulling Nathan” is pretty funny, at least to me, since I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Twins lost the game in extra innings and the decision to bring in or stay with the eventual losing pitcher wasn’t criticized. That’s just what happens with managers, especially guys like Gardenhire. It just happens that in this particular case, I don’t agree with the criticism.

From Jason:

you’re way off base, gleeman. you’ve apparently swallowed the kool-aid and like the rest of the twin cities media, you’re afraid to hold management accountable for their actions. as a blogger rather than a member of the ‘mainstream’ media i figured you’d be more realistic and practical. i’m disappointed in you.

your argument about not bringing in romero for one batter is absurd. had the game gone super long, the twins had mulholland to pitch long relief if absolutely necessary.

I have found that there is a definite correlation between an e-mailer referring to you by your last name and that e-mailer having a problem with something you’ve said. I suppose it’s the same reason that the only time my mom ever called me “Aaron Jay Gleeman” was when I did something wrong.

Jason’s e-mail is a good one, because it shows the “damned it you do, damned if you don’t” nature of writing for an audience. I’m guessing Jason hasn’t been a reader of mine for very long, because one of the criticisms I receive most often is that I’m too hard on the Twins’ management, and in particular Gardenhire. My only response to this e-mail is to say that not criticizing someone is different than not holding them accountable. Certainly the easy thing for me would be to go along with the “Gardenhire messed up” opinion, but I agreed with his decision at the time and I’m certainly not going to change my mind just because the move failed.

The mistake a lot of the people being overly critical of Gardenhire’s decision are making is not looking realistically at the alternatives. Now that we know Nathan ran out of steam in the 12th and now that we know the Yankees came back to win the game, it’s easy to say “Gardenhire shouldn’t have let Nathan pitch a third inning.” However, Gardenhire sent Nathan back out there in part because he didn’t like the other options he had, whether it was bringing J.C. Romero in to face a bunch of great right-handed hitters, putting Jesse Crain in for his first taste of a big game in the most important spot of the season, or bringing Terry Mulholland and his 5.18 ERA in, period.

You can’t just say that Nathan being in was a mistake, you have to believe that Nathan being in was a worse option than Romero, Crain or Mulholland being in, and I just don’t buy that. And yes, I do think that if Gardenhire pulled Nathan after the 11th and Crain came into the 12th and blew the lead, people the next day would be saying something along the lines of “why would he put Crain into a situation like that?” or “you have to stick with Nathan there.” That’s the nature of being a fan, but in this one situation I’m not going along with it.

That’s not to say I agreed with everything Gardenhire decided to do in Game 2, because in re-watching parts of the game and thinking about all the key decisions a little more, there were a minimum of 4-5 different things that Gardenhire either did or didn’t do — taking pitchers out, bringing pitchers in, pinch-running, pinch-hitting, lineup construction — that I would have done differently. What happened in the 12th inning isn’t even close to the top of the list.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

From Jamie:

I have to disagree that the option of bringing in Romero or Crain was unpalatable. When no one was warming up in the top of the 12th, I thought to myself “Do they really think Nathan can pitch a 3rd inning after already throwing an inning yesterday?” Especially after Nathan threw eight straight balls, you have to get him out of there. Lose with a fresh pitcher, not one struggling to find the strike zone. And don’t forget that Nathan was now going through the order for a second time, so A-Rod, et. al. had already seen him once in the game. Most of the time you don’t have that luxury with a reliever.

In all your zeal to point out how Rodriguez and Sheffield kill lefties (Sheff killed righties too), you neglected to point out that Romero was better against righties this year in terms of OPS against while Crain totally shut righties down. So what if he’s a rookie? No one seemed to care when K-Rod was a rookie – he just went out and dominated. Crain doesn’t have quite as electric stuff, but his stuff might have been good enough to get a K or a DP – Nathan’s stuff obviously wasn’t at that point and they may have cost themselves the series.

Jamie’s point about Romero’s effectiveness against righties this year is a good one and something I should have included in yesterday’s column. My only real excuse is that it was a couple thousand words long already and it’s sometimes tough writing at one in the morning after your team just lost in the 12th inning.

With that said, here are the numbers Jamie is referring to:

J.C. ROMERO vs RHB (2004)
 AVG      OBP      SLG
.199     .316     .273

Those are certainly outstanding numbers for a left-handed reliever against righties, but there are a few other factors that contributed to me not being comfortable bringing Romero in to face the right-handed meat of New York’s order in a tough situation.

The first is that Romero has been awful of late, showing absolutely zero control while accumulating a 6.92 ERA in September and October. He walked a total of 11 batters in his last 13 innings of the season and gave up three homers, after serving up just one homer in his first 61.1 innings pitched.

Beyond that is the fact that, even when he’s going well, Romero is shaky against righties. In 190 plate appearances against right-handed batters this year, he either walked them or hit them with a pitch 15.3% of the time. Accounting for the fact that Romero would have been coming into a pressure-packed situation, with runners on base, and facing Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, I think that number probably rises to well over 20%.

Plus, in general, Romero struggles when he has to pitch with runners on base. This year, with runners on base, all hitters, righties and lefties, batted .280/.395/.364 off him, including .306/.441/.444 with runners in scoring position. In 2003, he allowed .305/.415/.489 with runners on base and .286/.438/.476 with runners in scoring position. In other words, in the situation he would have come into in relief of Nathan in Game 2, Romero has allowed batters to reach base successfully about 40% of the time over the past two years.

And the final thing going against bringing Romero in to face the stretch of tough New York righties in the 12th inning is that while his 2004 numbers against righties were very good, he was awful against them last season.

J.C. ROMERO vs RHB (2003)
 AVG      OBP      SLG
.314     .424     .500

Last year, Romero allowed right-handed hitters to bat .314 with a .500 slugging percentage against him and he either walked them or hit them with a pitch 17.2% of the time.

I just don’t think Romero was any better of an option than Nathan in this particular spot. For Romero to be a good option, you have to believe that a) his struggles over the last six weeks are over, b) his ability against righties is shown by his numbers this year and not his numbers last year, c) Jeter, Rodriguez and Sheffield wouldn’t have loved facing a left-handed reliever, and d) Romero would have thrown strikes in a pressure-filled situation with runners on base.

As for Crain, obviously there isn’t nearly the evidence at the major league level to make a decision on him as there is with Romero. However, while I think he’s going to be an excellent pitcher and I think he did well in his 27-inning stint with the Twins in the second half, he only struck out 4.7 batters per nine innings and his 14-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio is nothing that suggests he’d be able to come into a tight spot at Yankee Stadium and blow people away.

The short version of all of this (which is funny now that I’ve essentially devoted two entire columns to it) is that, just as Jason’s e-mail showed that “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t” regarding being critical of the Twins, Gardenhire was going to be criticized regardless of the decision he made last night. The only way to avoid that was to win the game, and I think he made the best possible decision to make that happen in the 12th inning. It didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong move or that it would have turned out any better had he done something different.

Comments are closed.