Matt Williams Rightly Trusts His Pitchers


Apr 18, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams (9) prior to a game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s pretend for a second that Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn didn’t summon his inner Manny Machado and double down the right field line.  In the second inning of Saturday’s game, with two outs and runners on second and third, Nats manager Matt Williams decided to pitch to the eighth batter Tony Cruz with Lynn due up next.  Of course Cruz singled, putting the Cards up 2-0.  Should Williams have walked Cruz?  Was pitching to the backup catcher the right call?

I think most people would say yes, walk Cruz.  The pitcher’s up next, stupid.  Never mind that Cruz is a career .238 hitter with a whopping 30 RBIs for his career or that Nats starter Jordan Zimmerman is paid a lot of money to get batters like Cruz out.  The pitcher bats next!  You walk Tony Cruz!

But, I don’t think Williams made the wrong call.  Using Run Expectancy as our tool of choice, last year a team scored, on average, 0.56 runs with runners on second and third with two outs.  With the bases loaded that number jumps to 0.68, a 20.3% increase.  “Wait,” you might say excitedly.  “It’s the pitcher next!”

Admittedly, Lynn, like most pitchers, is a horrid hitter.  Last year he hit .074 and in ’12 he hit .060.  He’s not Zack Greinke.  Can we assume he was going to make out an out?  Probably.  He strikes out about half the time, so Lynn with a bat is equivalent to Adam Dunn and a flyswatter.  But, what about a wild pitch?  An error in the inning?  A walk?  Both a walk and an error had already happened in that inning, so that had to be fresh in Williams’ mind, and how could he forget Thursday’s comedy of errors.

In that situation, with two outs in the top of the second, you have to trust Zimmerman to get Cruz out.  Intentional walks are awful.  Just bad ideas.  Intentional passes are worth, according to The Book:  Playing the Percentages in Baseball, 0.179 runs per.  Why increase the Cards’ chances 20% and an additional .179 runs when you trust your All Star starter to get a backup catcher out without doing any damage.

Blame Zimmerman for walking Allen Craig earlier in the inning or blame Anthony Rendon for throwing wide to second on a potential double-play.  Walks and errors.  Blame Jayson Werth for failing to field Lynn’s double cleanly, allowing Cruz to score the third run.  Don’t blame Williams, though.

Sometimes you have to trust your players to make . . . ummm, plays.