In the eighth inning of this afternoon’s game between the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves, the left handed hitting Brandon Belt was due up to bat with two out, a runner on second base and his Giants down by a single run. On the mound was Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty, a left handed pitcher who relies on a sinking fastball and a slider to find success against left handed batters, and by success I mean holding them to a measly .248 wOBA over the course of his career.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy elected to avoid a lefty on lefty match up, replacing Belt with right handed hitting Justin Christian, who has a career .326 wOBA against southpaws. Removing a young left handed hitter in this situation is hardly an earth shattering managerial decision, especially considering that while O’Flaherty dominates lefty hitters, he’s not so great against righties, who weigh in with a .324 wOBA against him.
However, this is Bruce Bochy removing Brandon Belt, and as we discussed yesterday, Giants supporters have justified reason to question his use of the young first baseman. So, when Bochy made the move to take Belt out of the game, this is the furor that erupted among San Francisco fans:
What bothers me about the move is that it represents an inconsistency in Bochy’s philosophy. If he’s going to justify benching Belt by saying Batter A is playing better, I disagree, but at least the manager is thinking about it. If he says, right handed hitters are better against O’Flaherty, so I’m going to replace a left handed bat with a right handed bat, then once again, I think you need to look at other factors, but at least Bochy has something in terms of an ethos.
However, his insistence on pinch hitting in this instance represents a total turn around from the message he preached the day before. If it’s the hot hand that he’s looking for, why would Bochy overlook the fact that over his last twenty plate appearances against left handed pitching, Christian has a .185 wOBA and a 9 wRC+? Meanwhile, this season, Belt has actually hit left handed pitching quite well, putting up an impressive .412 wOBA and a 165 wRC+ in 98 plate appearances against southpaws.
What we have here is Bochy bending justifications to simply keep Belt out of the lineup. And quite frankly, I don’t understand who benefits from this other than the opposition.
If we break things down further, we see that O’Flaherty might have actually been an even better match up than we would have imagined. He tends to throw his slider low and away to left handed batters, while coming low and inside with his sinker:
Meanwhile, when Belt puts the ball into play against left handed pitchers, he tends to do best with pitches that come low in the zone where O’Flaherty tends to throw.