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Three Catchers, Four Starters, and Other Playoff Thoughts October 26, 2009

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Last night, the LA Angels lost Game 6 of the 2009 ALCS to the New York Yankees. Mike Scioscia started left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders; he carries, as is becoming the norm, three catchers including light-hitting third catcher Bobby Wilson. Joe Girardi also carries three catchers, although his array includes defensive specialist Jose Molina, sometime-DH Jorge Posada, and Francisco Cervelli, who hit .298 in 94 at-bats this season. Though Mike Napoli was hot during the postseason, Scioscia’s group of catchers wasn’t as specialized as it was in 2005, when he carried big-hitter Bengie Molina, Jose Molina for his glove, and Josh Paul for emergencies. Here, he appeared to be carrying three catchers solely because none of them are big hitters. In retrospect, although Napoli and Mathis are both a big part of the Angels clubhouse, Scioscia should have made a move during the regular season to replace one of them with a catcher who was more of the Bengie Molina or Jorge Posada mold – someone whose glove or arm is slightly defective, but who can hit the ball when necessary. Instead, Scioscia was forced to burn two pinch hitters and a second catcher in his attempt to win the game last night, whereas Girardi has in previous games been able to use the traditional approach of starting Molina and using Posada to pinch hit, or starting Posada and using Molina as a defensive replacement late in the game. In a perfect world, Scoscia could have traded Kendry Morales away and acquired Victor Martinez to use mainly at first base and as an emergency third catcher, replacing Wilson’s more or less dead weight with a big bat but not forgoing any real utility.

In addition, Scioscia started Joe Saunders. This isn’t a crime in and of itself. However, in the ALCS, he started John Lackey, Saunders, Jered Weaver, and Scott Kazmir. Girardi, meanwhile, is using Joe Torre’s time-honored trick of carrying only three starters (CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and AJ Burnett) and using traditional long-relief men like Dan Robertson in addition to standard situational relief like Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, and Mariano Rivera. In Game 6, Saunders went only 3.1 innings. Weaver performed well in relief and, frankly, should have been left there for the duration of the series. Instead, Scioscia spread his men too thin and was left making an all-hands-on-deck call in the late games where he used both Weaver and Kazmir in relief. Saunders pitched brilliantly in Game 2, and Scioscia should have been prepared to maximize his usage of Lackey, Saunders, and Kazmir while leaving Weaver in the bullpen. Granted, Saunders pitched like crap last night, but all pitchers have their off nights.

Finally, Girardi will probably do quite well in the World Series, as he’s experienced in managing under National League rules. Hideki Matsui, with his legs in bad shape, will be almost entirely useless in the Phillies’ park. In a perfect world, Girardi would be able to dump fifth-outfielder Freddy Guzman and use Matsui in the field. However, that seems unlikely, so Matsui will remain an overpaid pinch-hitter. With Jerry Hairston, Jr., on the bench, Guzman’s utility as a pinch runner is moderate at best. It would be a gutsy move, but I think Girardi would do best to dump Guzman and bring Shelley Duncan in as a pinch hitter and emergency outfielder.

Still, Girardi gets paid the big bucks to do his job, so I’m sure every move he makes is well-considered.