SweetSpot: Ken Macha

Brewers blog joins network, questions Macha

April, 15, 2010
4/15/10
3:34
PM ET
We're pleased to announce another addition to the SweetSpot Network: Jack Moore's Disciples of Uecker, covering (naturally) the Milwaukee Brewers. Jack also writes at FanGraphs and formerly wrote for Beyond the Box Score. A junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this May, Jack is majoring in mathematics and economics.

Blogs, I think, might have been invented for the purpose of reliving crushing losses, and the Brewers had one of those Wednesday, blowing a 6-3 lead in the eighth. And as Jack suggests, it's natural to blame Ken Macha's bullpen management:

    The easy thing to do is to place the blame squarely on LaTroy Hawkins -- he allowed 5 straight baserunners, culminating in Kosuke Fukudome’s 2 run single which put the Cubs ahead for good, 7-6. Hawkins certainly had opportunities to put batters away – both Ryan Theriot and Fukudome recorded hits in two strike counts -- but he just couldn’t draw the whiffs and two balls which weren’t hit terribly hard just managed to find the holes.

    There are currently 8 relief pitchers active on the Milwaukee Brewers roster. They are Todd Coffey, LaTroy Hawkins, Trevor Hoffman, Chris Narveson, Manny Parra, Mitch Stetter, Claudio Vargas, and Carlos Villanueva. Narveson, Parra, and Stetter are all left handed. When Hawkins entered the game, the Cubs lineup contained two left handed batters – Tyler Colvin and Kosuke Fukudome. Chad Tracy, who pinch hit, is also left handed, but he’s not good enough that a manager should be concerned about matchups with him. Coffey and Narveson had already been used, leaving 2 LHPs and 3 RHPs available to record 4 outs, three of which would almost certainly be trusted to Trevor Hoffman.

    After retiring Marlon Byrd and Tracy, the first two batters of the inning, Hawkins walked Geovany Soto to bring up Colvin, a lefty. By this point, Parra or Stetter already should have been warmed up, as Ken Macha should have realized that after Soto, 2 of the next 3 hitters were left handed – Kosuke Fukudome was in the hole at the time. Hawkins is projected to be a roughly 3.60 FIP pitcher this season – certainly decent, but not the kind of pitcher that should be left in against every opposite hand hitter he faces.

    I can understand allowing Hawkins to face Colvin – Hawkins has good stuff and Colvin is a young hitter who hasn’t yet shown the ability to hit in the Majors. However, not bringing in a lefty to face Fukudome is inexcusable. Hawkins is roughly a half-run in terms of ERA worse over his career against LHBs and Fukudome has shown no reason to believe, in his short US career, that he doesn’t exhibit the same platoon splits as most left handed batters.

    Especially given Stetter’s tremendous splits – he’s over 2 runs of ERA better against LHBs – I see no reason not to bring him in to face Fukudome. Certainly, one of either Villanueva or Vargas could have came in to the game if necessary after the at bat. Not only that, but Hawkins was over 30 pitches into his outing when Fukudome stepped up. Nearly everything was against Hawkins recording an out in that situation, and it came back to bite Macha and the Brewers.

    This bullpen is supposed to be a strength, but it won’t be if Chris Narveson is constantly used against right handers and the rest of the righties in the pen are constantly forced to face lefties. Of course, Hawkins wasn’t on his game today, but the situation in which Fukudome recorded the game winning hit and RBIs was completely avoidable.

In isolation, I'm reluctant to kill Macha over this, because he might have been running through all sorts of matchups in his head, faster and better than any of us could.

But as much as we rail against managers going with one pitcher (and only one pitcher) for one inning (and only the ninth inning) regardless of other considerations, the tendency to rely on a single "eighth-inning guy" must be more damaging, if only because the eighth-inning guy, 95 percent of the time, isn't as good as the ninth-inning guy.

Seriously, you're going to ignore the platoon advantage and most of your bullpen in favor of LaTroy Hawkins? Really, Ken Macha?

Essentially, if you don't trust any of your lefties to retire Kosuke Fukudome in the bottom of the eighth inning, then you need to find a new lefty. But I don't think that was the problem here. I think Macha just decided that Hawkins was his guy, and nothing was going to change his mind about that. Managing's a lot easier that way, I guess.

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