Sunday, June 29, 2014

Williams in the 9th Inning: A Debriefing

Last night was the one of the most frustrating loss of the season. Fortunately, it would have ranked 17th from last year. But, it was pretty bad. The misery was compounded by the fact that everyone saw it coming as soon as Jerome Williams stepped out to the mound to close out a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth. Jerome William, you see, has not been very good. By Shut Down/Melt Downs (Shutdown is when a reliever increases the chances of winning by 6%, Meltdown is the opposite), Jerome Williams has been one of the worst relievers in the majors. He is 12th in the majors in meltdowns, but has only one shutdown. Every other pitcher with more than 4 meltdowns has at least 3 shutdowns.

So what series of events conspired to let possibly the worst reliever in the majors at preserving leads come in to preserve a one run lead, in the bottom of the ninth, against one of the best teams in baseball. As it turns out, the bullpen was incredibly short, at least as Porter explained it. The 11 inning game saw 5 relievers used, four of which went an inning. The night before, Porter used three relievers, although Veras only faced one batter. In addition, Keuchel, the scheduled starter, was scratched, and Oberholtzer was called up to take his spot. That lead to BuchaNana being sent down. Because Porter did not want to use Sipp or Veras three nights in a row, the available bullpen arms were Zeid, Qualls, Downs and Williams.

Oberholtzer was fantastic through 6 innings, and. After getting a quick out in the 7th, Oberholtzer walked a batter, and then allowed a bunt single. (Is it just me, or have the Astros been allowing a lot of bunt singles lately). At only 88 pitches, Oberholtzer was pulled for Josh Zeid. Thanks to a little help from Hoes, Zeid got out of the inning with the lead with 19 pitches. The heart of the Tigers order came up in the 8th, and nominal closer Qualls answered, retiring Cabrera, V. Martinez and Torii Hunter, with only a J.D. Martinez double thrown in. And, really, you can't expect even Quallsy to retire J.D. All that took 12 pitches.

We know how the story ended. With only Qualls in inning two, Downs and Williams to choose from, Williams got the call and it went as well as expected. In a vacuum, every move was defensible, which may be all that matters. Oberholtzer was about to turn the lineup over for the fourth time, and was in a jam. Zeid's outing was high stress, and Qualls was probably the right man for the job in the 8th. Qualls pitched the day before and had not pitched more than one inning this year, although he did so 11 times last year, without allowing a run in any of those outings. Downs is much better against lefties, and 3 of the next 4 batters coming up were right handed. (Though that might be overstated, considering Downs wOBA against RH is .302, compared with .379 for Williams).

Perhaps Porter should have pitched Obie more, or Zeid or Qualls longer. Qualls, in particular, was pitching on consecutive days, but had only thrown 21 pitches. I certainly would have gone with Downs over Williams. In the end, it was just one game. There are reinforcements coming to the bullpen soon, so we shouldn't have to deal with his much longer. But, perhaps, given the how short the bullpen was going, those calling for Porter's head should chill. You know, including me.