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How Jim Tracy Lost the Division Series

Another stat-line pop quiz:

You're in the late innings of a tight playoff game. Whom would you rather face?

Player 1 (2009 regular season): 319 BA/.395 OBP/.691 SLG (1.086 OPS)

or Player 2: 207/.298/.356 (.653)

This is roughly akin to asking whether you'd rather face Albert Pujols (1.101 OPS this year) or David Eckstein (.657 OPS).

You may have guessed by now that Player 1 and Player 2 are the same guy: They are Ryan Howard's 2009 splits against right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers, respectively.

Basically, any manager who allows the Phillies' first baseman to face a right-handed pitcher with the game on the line is a stone-cold fool.

Now then, here are Howard's at-bats against the Rockies in the NLDS, from the sixth inning on:

Game 1
6th inning: Facing RHP Ubaldo Jimenez. Phillies up 2-0. Runner on second, nobody out. Result: RBI double. (NOTE: Jimenez was allowed to bat for himself the previous half-inning, then didn't make it out of this half-inning.)
7th inning: Facing LHP Franklin Morales. Phillies up 5-0. Runner on third, one out. Result: Line drive double-play.

Game 2
6th inning: Facing RHP Aaron Cook. Phillies down 4-0. Runners on first and third, nobody out. Result: RBI double.
8th inning: Facing RHP Rafael Betancourt. Phillies down 5-3. None on, no outs. Result: ground out.

Game 3
7th inning: Facing LHP Morales. Phillies up 5-4. None on, two outs. Result: fly out
9th inning: Facing RHP Huston Street. Score tied 5-5. Runners on first and third, one out. Result: Deep sacrifice fly.

Game 4
6th inning: Facing RHP Jimenez. Phillies up 1-0. Leading off inning. Result: ground out.
8th inning: Facing LHP Morales. Phillies up 2-1. None on, one out. Result: strikeout looking.
9th inning: Facing RHP Street. Phillies down 4-2. Runners on first and second, two outs: Result game-tying, two-run double.

Rockies Manager Jim Tracy lost the series by allowing Howard to face right-handed pitchers, again and again, with the game on the line: For the entire four-game series, Howard was 0 for 4 with a strikeout against lefties, and 6 for 12 with three doubles and six RBI against right-handers.

This is simple, simple stuff. It's not a secret that Howard has extreme lefty-righty splits. I've written about it here before. It's nothing new.

True, the Rockies were hamstrung to a certain extent by the loss of lefty Jorge de la Rosa, who likely would have started Game 3 had he not been injured. But why Tracy insisted on making his pitchers face (the equivalent of) Albert Pujols with the game on the line, instead of letting them face David Eckstein is beyond me.

Last night, during the pivotal ninth inning, as Tracy allowed Street to face Howard with the tying runs on base, you could totally see what was about to happen. Although he had already used Morales, Tracy had another lefty, Joe Beimel, available in his bullpen. But he let Street face Howard, and the only miracle is that Howard's inevitable rocket didn't leave the ballpark. Once the Phillies took the lead, Tracy finally yanked Street and put in Beimel to clean up the debris -- too late to save the Rockies' season.

(It's true, as Nationals fans will recall, that Beimel does not exactly own Howard. Over the course of 2009, in fact, Howard came within a single of hitting for the cycle against him, going 3 for 7 with a double, a triple and a homer. But before this season, Howard was 0- for 3 with four walks against him, and Beimel also retired Howard on a weak pop up in the fifth inning of Game 3 Sunday night, in a tie game with a runner on.)

I understand that Street is the Rockies' closer and that closers are supposed to pitch the ninth inning, no matter what. But here is a case where the entire game and your entire season are on the line, and you need one more out, and your choices are simple: Street vs. Albert Pujols, or Beimel vs. David Eckstein. If it's me, I ignore tradition, and I put aside Street's potential hurt feelings, and I pitch to Eckstein.

And then I get ready for Tuesday night's Game 5.

The Rockies, on the other hand, are finished.

I think I want my Manager of the Year vote back.

By Dave Sheinin  |  October 13, 2009; 9:36 AM ET
 
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Comments

Great points, Dave. And that wasn't Tracy's only mistake. How about not arguing and throwing more of a fit the night before over Utley's dead ball up the leg? That was a game changer. Or how about sitting Hawpe and Stewart for pretty much the entire series. Those guys each had over 80 RBIs this season, but because they hit left-handed, they got to watch most of the series. That's a lot of run production left on the bench. You won't see Raul Ibanez sitting out a game against Randy Wolfe in the NLCS b/c he is left handed.

With regards to Tracy sticking with his closer in the 9th, look at Manual. He went with Scott Eyre to face the lefties before bringing in Lidge to close the game against the righties and it payed off big time. Sometimes, managers are too stubborn for their own good and are afraid to put anyone other than their "closer" in the 9th inning and it bites them. Just ask Jim Fergosi. (Mitch Williams losing the World Series in 1993)

By the way, I totally called Phillies in 4. Do I get a prize pack or something?

Posted by: PhilliesPhan | October 13, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

And lets not forget...the Phillies WON the series just as much if not more so than the Rockies lost it.

The Phillies are the most resilient team I have ever seen. They do not give up and they don't panic. Ibanez makes an error, Utley and Rollins make a costly mistake at 2nd base, the Rockies take the lead in the 8th off the bullpen - did the Phillies panic? Hell no. They bore down and scored three runs on the Rockies closer. They worked counts, took pitches, got men on base, put the ball in play, got clutch hits, and did what it took to get their big man to the plate in a crucial spot and he delivered. And the beleaguered closer, Brad Lidge, took care of business with his vintage slider against the Rocks best hitter with runners on, not once but twice.

I know your NL World Series pick just got bounced, Dave, but give credit where credit is due.

Posted by: PhilliesPhan | October 13, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Great post, Shiner, thanks.

And PhPh, I have to admit you are so right. My thoughts exactly watching the 9th. They weren't going to swing at bad pitches. They waited for Street to come to them, then made contact. Werth's hit was a thing of beauty. As if anything having anything to do with the Phillies can posses beauty.

Posted by: utec | October 13, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Nice post Dave. I can't take issue with leaving your starter in the game in the 6th in the 1st two games.

But the 9th inning calls in games 3 and 4 having a righty face Howard, I agree that is inexcusable. It takes a strong person to pull his closer and bring in a journeyman to face an MVP but it's pretty clear that was the right move. I hope the Phillies aren't counting on Torre making that mistake.

Posted by: Avar | October 13, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I'll bite: Name one instance, ONE, of a high-profile closer getting pulled in the ninth inning of a playoff game to get a more favorable matchup. Are you saying that the Yankees should bench Mariano Rivera if they meet Howard and the Phils in the World Series? Such a move would rightly be derided throughout baseball. And don't bother citing Brad Lidge because this season's version is lucky to have a job.

The fault in your logic is that you presume Beimel would be able to get Howard out, something that is far from likely given the stats that YOU quote. Not only was Howard hitting .429 against Beimel in '09, batters were hitting .317 against him since he came to Colorado versus the .194 batter success against Street.

What if you bring in Beimel and Howard gets a single? What then? You've got the right-hand hitting Jayson Werth against the lefty Beimel. You're facing the prospect of going into extra innings without your closer, AND you've sent a clear signal to both teams that you don't trust one of your main guys in the clutch.

The Rockies were 74-42 under Tracy and wouldn't be in the playoffs without him. Given two less-than-perfect options with the season on the line, he went with one of his horses instead of a trading-deadline castoff. No serious manager would have done otherwise.

Posted by: tryks | October 13, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Completely disagree, this is petty monday morning quarterbacking. Must be tough as a Nationals reporter, you never get to do this.

Posted by: jesstyr | October 13, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Street had only two blown saves all season ... you don't pull the lefty/righty garbage on a front-line closer with that kind of success all season. Brad Lidge? After the kind of season he's had, you give him 1-out save opportunities. But Houston Street? He gets the whole inning, whoever is up in the inning ... that's his job. To close the game.

Posted by: chrisduckworth | October 13, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

yeah i agree with the last 2. why would you take out your closer?

talk about hindsight.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | October 13, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Dave,

I know your prediction of the Rockies in 4 didn't quite work out, but it's time you get over it and give some props to the Phillies. They won because they played like the reigning world champs that they are. As for Ryan Howard,you might want to check the home run and RBI stats for the year. Tracy is a great manager. He and his team just ran into a superior, battle-hardened and determined team.Go Phillies!

Posted by: anpall | October 13, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

It takes a strong person to pull his closer and bring in a journeyman to face an MVP but it's pretty clear that was the right move. I hope the Phillies aren't counting on Torre making that mistake.

Posted by: Avar | October 13, 2009 1:31 PM

__________________________

"It's pretty Clear that was the right move". How is it pretty clear? He hit a double off of Street and didn't face Beimel in that situation so nothing is clear as to what would have happened had he hit Beimel. He could have hit a HR, you don't know. And as for your comment about Torre, without a doubt if its the same situation with Howard vs. Broxton there isn't a chance in hell he takes out Broxton and in the past there isn't a chance he takes out Rivera. The guy had 1 blown save all season and the team only lost 1 game all season that they led after 8 innings. You and Shein need to get a clue.

Posted by: 6-2StackMonster | October 13, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Another mistake:
With the game tied 4-4, and first base open, they pitched to Werth rather than walking him to face the pitcher's spot...Miguel Cairo?

Posted by: dclifer97 | October 14, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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