Defending Ron Washington

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the things that begin happening specifically around this time of year: the leaves falling, weather that justifies body fat disguising wardrobe choices, your landlord avoiding you so as not to have to turn the furnace on and of course, the World Series.

I should have also mentioned accusations of incompetence directed at Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington. T’is the season after all.

After last night’s game, the scorn heaped on Washington for apparently being outmanaged by Tony La Russa caught me off guard. Sure, there are some questions to ask regarding his lineup construction, and I’m not exactly sure why he’d attempt a hit and run in the first inning with Ian Kinsler at first base and Elvis Andrus at the plate, but it’s not like La Russa’s batting order was perfect and even The Genius made a questionable sacrifice call in the fifth inning.

The most egregious error that Washington committed, according to most, was his decision to pinch hit Craig Gentry for David Murphy and Esteban German for pitcher Alexi Ogando with runners on first and second base and one out in the top of the seventh inning. St. Louis Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski ended up striking out both Gentry and German, while stranding both of his inherited runners. Most of those shaking their heads at Washington’s decision pointed at Yorvit Torrealba sitting on the bench.

Let’s take a look at how all four hitting options for Washington stack up against left handed pitching.

First, over the course of the careers:

  • David Murphy:  511 PA, .647 OPS, .286 wOBA.
  • Craig Gentry: 106 PA, .645 OPS, .287 wOBA.
  • Esteban German: 481 PA, .783 OPS, .346 wOBA.
  • Yorvit Torrealba: 665 PA, .738 OPS, .320 wOBA.

And, also this past season:

  • David Murphy:  118 PA, .507 OPS, .234 wOBA.
  • Craig Gentry: 79 PA, .735 OPS, .325 wOBA.
  • Esteban German: 6 PA, 1.750 OPS, .609 wOBA.
  • Yorvit Torrealba: 125 PA, .612 OPS, .273 wOBA.

The Gentry vs. Murphy issue is resolved fairly easily by looking at their numbers. In limited at bats in previous seasons, Gentry has had a rough go against left handed pitching, but the tide turned with more consistent plate appearances this season, and he was the superior option to Murphy.

This, of course, brings us to Washington’s selecting German over Torrealba, and the issue that so many had with German getting the call in this situation: He hasn’t seen a whole lot of Major League pitching this season. That’s certainly a valid argument, but complaining about his supposed rustiness is a bit misleading. Yes, before last night, he hadn’t made an appearance since September 27th, but he had participated in a full season of baseball at the Triple A level this year, before getting called up in September and his career splits indicate that historically, he’s the best option off the bench.

And that remains true if La Russa sticks with Rzepczynski or goes with Octavio Dotel a batter early. Versus right handed pitching, over their careers:

  • Esteban German: 689 PA, .718 OPS, .324 wOBA.
  • Yorvit Torrealba: 2022 PA, .695 OPS, .306 wOBA.

It also rings a little false to suggest that Torrealba’s 13 plate appearances since September 27th somehow make him that much better prepared to face a pitcher in the World Series. I think that with any way of looking at it, the difference is negligible.

And that difference becomes even more negligible when you consider that the average run expectancy with two out, and runners on first and second is a whopping 0.42. That’s worse than the run expectancy a leadoff hitter has. Those critical of Washington are neglecting to properly emphasize that there were two outs when he made the decision.

What is being emphasized instead is that in the previous inning, Tony La Russa’s use of pinch hitter Allen Craig resulted in the winning run. Yes, certainly, with runners on the corners and two out, and a run expectancy slightly higher than the one Washington would have the next inning, subbing Craig in for Chris Carpenter was the right move. But the Rangers manager’s counter, pulling C.J. Wilson for Alexi Ogando, was also the right move, and if you simulate that matchup over and over again, more times than not Texas comes out ahead.

But the outcome that actually happened is what makes baseball games exciting. It doesn’t make Ron Washington a bad manager. It’s a seven game series. There will be plenty of poor decisions over the next week on which we may heap our scorn. German over Torrealba isn’t one of them.

In fact, I don’t even think it was the worst one of the night. Why exactly were the Rangers pitching around Nick Punto? And why aren’t people spending more outraged exclamation points on that?