Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Would you have pulled Zimmermann?


This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night.  Photo Andrew Harnik/

This picture is 2 years old; replace it with a red jersey and you would have thought it was last night. Photo Andrew Harnik/

On his 100th pitch of what I certainly thought was going to be a 3-hit shutout masterpiece to resurrect this playoff series for the Nats, Jordan Zimmermann missed on a fastball up to Giants #2 hitter Joe Panik, issuing his first walk and just the fourth base-runner of the night.

I was not entirely shocked to see Matt Williams trot to the mound, but I also wasn’t happy.  As my wife can attest, I uttered the following phrase: “I think he’s going to regret taking him out.”

Sure enough.  Another Drew Storen meltdown, another blown 9th inning lead that led to the team snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

To be fair; this isn’t entirely about second guessing.  You can quite easily make the argument to put in Storen as thus: Storen has been lights out for the entire year.  The Giant’s most dangerous hitter (Buster Posey) was coming to the plate.  You would rather have Posey going at a fresh Storen than getting his 4th look at Zimmermann (most starters’ third time through the lineup averages inflate wildly, to say nothing of their 4th).  It was righty-versus-righty.

Well, sometimes you can over-think things.  Certainly Tom Boswell feels that way, based on his column this morning.

On the other hand, if the following scenarios had played out, I’m not sure anyone would have argued against the strategy.

  1. After giving up the walk, Williams walks out to talk to Zimmermann, he stays in and gives up the Posey single, *then* Storen comes in and gives up the run-scoring double to Pablo Sandoval.  You’ve yanked the starter after putting two guys on, and you’ve gone to your closer in the highest-leverage situation of his career and he got unlucky.  That’s still harsh on Storen, but more understandable.
  2. After giving up the walk, Williams leaves Zimmermann in like a total old-school manager and watches him subsequently give up the single and then the double, all while his closer warms up in the bullpen.  That would have led to the reverse second-guessing; why leave him in when you’ve got your closer ready to go?

Major league manager; sometimes you just can’t win.  Williams had a quick hook last night.  Don Mattingly had an excruciatingly slow hook two nights ago, letting his ace Clayton Kershaw give up *SIX* hits in the 7th inning of the Dodgers-Cardinals series before relieving him, and then watched his reliever give up a 3-run homer to turn a 6-2 lead into a 7-6 deficit.  That’s “lose your job” kind of decision making (if the Dodger’s don’t get out of the NLDS).

You guys know what I follow and am most interested in; starting pitching.  So you probably know what I would have done; stick with my starter.  But sometimes it isn’t that simple.  So I’m not going to kill Williams for last night.  I do think Storen’s future with this team is in serious doubt; would you throw him again this post-season?  Would you trust him going forward?  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice …. and I see Storen in a new uniform next year.

I spent 6+ hours watching that baseball game (practically the first time all summer I have watched a game from start to end).  The longer I watched, that more and more looked like it was going to be the inevitable disappointment, as Yusmiero Petit looked like the second coming of Roger Clemens and the Nats hitters looked like a AAA team at the plate for much of the night.  A deflating end to a long night.  Tanner Roark gave up the game-winning homer on a mistake (he missed over the plate while trying to hit the outside corner and Brandon Belt destroyed it), but the offense had more than their share of walk-off opportunities.

The Nats have a long road ahead; they match up with the Giant’s Ace next, have to win 2 straight on the road just to get it back to a 5th game.  Lets see if they have what Tim Hudson implied they may not have: I can’t say it here in a PG blog but it rhymes with “Walls.”  🙂

25 Responses to 'Would you have pulled Zimmermann?'

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  1. Thanks for posting this, Todd. Last night’s game has been creeping around in my brain all day, and Boswell’s column just made me angrier about it. I think his column went wayyyyyy too far. Like you, I too would have kept Jordan in the game, but I also agree with you that it’s a close call. Maybe even 50/50. If I’m in Williams’s shoes, I’d have let Jordan face one more batter; if a runner got into scoring position, pull him. Storen had been lights out, so there was no reason not to trust him with the ball. Even as negative as I can sometimes be, I never would have imagined he’d instantly fold like he did. I also agree that his days in Washington are done. And the cherry on top was that Soriano was perfect last night.

    So I don’t blame this loss on Williams. He made a textbook baseball decision. If Zimmermann had allowed 6-7 hits over the course of the game instead of retiring 18 in a row, Storen would have come in to start the 9th rather than coming in with 2 outs. No, I blame this appalling series on almost the entire lineup, especially Span, Werth, LaRoche, Desmond, and Ramos. Harper and Cabrera have played well enough. Only Rendon has shown his grit. And that’s what it all comes down to for this team. To paraphrase Tim Hudson, it’s not about talent in the playoffs, it’s about grit. And the Nationals evidently have none. They scorched up the league since the All Star Break, and especially over the last month, but put them in the playoffs and they instantly wilt under the pressure. Shut down by mediocrity like Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson. From a fan’s perspective, devastating.


    5 Oct 14 at 3:36 pm

  2. I’d been wondering if JZ would finish the game from about the 7th inning on. I think I would have let him do it, at least face Posey, but more because I don’t quite have the confidence in our bullpen that their stats imply. But no way to fault Williams on this one, and I don’t really even fault Storen. He made a good pitch to Posey – outside edge of the zone with a 95 FB that Posey pulled weakly into LF, and the Sandoval pitch wasn’t horrible either. Two good batters executed well, and I think 8 times out of 10, the result by them on those exact same pitches is a strike or an out. Given how Posey jumped on the first pitch, I might knock Storen for not wasting the first pitch toSandoval, but other than that he made good pitches, I thought. I think he gets another shot if it arises in the playoffs, but I have a hunch that Monday might not be close.

    But it doesn’t matter, because the result sucks. F!ck Hudson though. I am pretty sure he wouldn’t be saying that he has no balls if they got Posey in the ninth and he lost.

    Like everyone else, I have mostly lost faith in the offense. Geez, this is horrible stuff.

    Bigger question for the Nats: if they get knocked out here, don’t you really have to think about a big overhaul, given how pricey the payroll is and how many guys are coming out from under control? How can you add two more $100m contracts to this roster with only two NLDS losses on the books? And once you start, don’t you start reading most of them this winter?


    5 Oct 14 at 5:25 pm

  3. Reading = trading.


    5 Oct 14 at 7:12 pm

  4. I was at last night’s horror show and stayed all the way until about two seconds after Belt’s homer (the wife and I were on I-66 and had almost reached the Beltway when it mercifully ended). I agree with your sentiment, but we were on the first base side and boy did Z-nn look angry as he left the mound. He had a look on his face all night that was even more intense than during his no-hitter.

    Still, if you’re going to excoriate anyone for this mess, it has to be the entire offense. They proved over and over, especially through the extra innings, that Hudson was absolutely right about them.


    5 Oct 14 at 8:05 pm

  5. I was pissed when he pulled JZ. Seems like MW makes his plan and sticks to it no matter what. That’s not admirable – we could hire a computer to manage that way. How did JZ feel at the time? He looked good? Why not have a lefty to face Sandoval per his splits? Seemed like MW was antsy to pull Zimm.

    Andrew R

    5 Oct 14 at 9:57 pm

  6. I was completely OK with the hook. The Giants made solid contact through the third time through the order, and only some good BABIP luck kept it at a 3 hitter. The Panik at bat was the capper. It wasn’t just walking him, although walking a slap-hitting middle infielder to bring up a Buster Posey is a cardinal sin. No, it was that JZ put only one pitch in the zone to Panik … and Panik roasted it. He rode it into the second deck, and only JUST foul. Yes, Joe Panik of 1 HR in 287 plate appearances. Off the bat I thought we had our own Bucky Bleeping Dent moment. Leaving Zim in is the Boswell move of managing to the narrative, not to WIN THE GAME. I.e., dumb. Well, that’s strong. But certainly dumber than leaving him in.

    The irony of roasting MW for reflexive managing is that he didn’t manage it “new school” (closer gets the 9th) or “old school” (starter gets to finish). He also showed a strong preference to bring in relievers at the beginning of the inning. He was actually on the road less traveled last night, and gets accused of managing by rote. Funny.

    John C.

    6 Oct 14 at 12:05 am

  7. JohnC: good point on the hook. I forgot about the Panik yanking of that ball. Nonetheless, first walk and fourth baserunner of the night? As you said earlier, I think one more batter was earned. Williams trusted his closer … and sometimes your closer burns you.

    Todd Boss

    6 Oct 14 at 8:32 am

  8. Here are my suggestions for tonight (changes only):
    Zim @ 1B
    Espy at 2B
    Lobo @ C
    Harper-Werth_RZim bat 3-4-5.
    Would love to also swap out Span, but there really isn’t an option with this roster (not comfortable with Harper in CF, despite Todd’s love for him there. If Souza was on the roster, I might try him in CF).

    Two reasons: (1) the guys being benched haven’t been effective and while it certainly is SSS, when down to your last potential game, I think you have to consider a quicker hook. On balance the guys being inserted have a good to better chance at producing based on track record plus matchups (except maybe Lobo/Ramos, but Ramos just looks bad at the plate lately). (2) this is a secondary reason, but I’d stand behind the guys that will be here next year and beyond. I wouldn’t bench a clearly better player for that reason, but when it is a toss up, it matters to me.

    So there, I took a position before its been announced. Zim obviously depends if he is healthy enough to go, but he does have all offseason to heal, so I’d push it.

    Btw, Matt Williams has actually improved this year as a manager. I am now comfortable with him. His last remaining irritation for me is a blind spot for some of these vets like ALR and Werth, but I can live with it.


    6 Oct 14 at 8:33 am

  9. You have to wonder if Williams will go with an all-righty lineup today. But if he sits LaRoche, is he also sitting Harper? I mean, who among those two lefties do you think has a better shot of producing in this game?

    I wouldn’t sit Cabrera for Espinosa, not with what Cabrera has shown at the plate the last two games. Switch hitter too. Agree; tough that souza isn’t there (but thank god Frandsen is! sarcasm).

    Todd Boss

    6 Oct 14 at 10:14 am

  10. The series is on the offense, and that’s that.

    They get Fister tonight, and they better figure out what to do. That simple. The team is good enough to win tonight, and it is professional enough to do just that.


    6 Oct 14 at 11:07 am

  11. I wouldn’t sit Harper. In fact, I’d go the other way with him now. I’d sit him down and tell him it is time to him to take over and I’d bat him 3rd for however long they are still it.

    Clearly no saber metric thinking there. Harper loves the drama and being the ‘Guy’, and I’d fire him up. Let the world see that the team is his and Rendon’s now. Even if they lose tonight it is a good signal to send going in to next year. Werth and Zim go 4th and 5th, with ALR swapping back in tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow. If they get knocked out now, Rendon and Harper are the future, everyone else is a spare part and I’d start acting like it now. It’s not like any other lineup gives you a materially better chance anyway.


    6 Oct 14 at 11:42 am

  12. Wally, you basically articulated my thinking better than I could. Go Nats!


    6 Oct 14 at 12:10 pm

  13. That is, in your last post. I would not use Lobaton or Espi. Zimm yes, and as you say, no other lineup gives a better chance. They have nine innings to score a bunch and a pitcher who can give them lots of innings.


    6 Oct 14 at 12:12 pm

  14. Todd Boss

    6 Oct 14 at 12:48 pm

  15. Interesting fangraphs analysis of the Umpire in game 2.

    Todd Boss

    6 Oct 14 at 12:57 pm

  16. Game 2: The big “decision” was for one batter. If Posey reached, there’s no question that Storen would have been in (or a lefty to turn Panda around–I don’t know who the Nats had warming). If Zmnn had walked Panik without the HR-distance foul ball, he might have gotten his “yeah baby” say. But that shot combined with the good wood the Giants had put on the ball in the 8th (which John C. noted) sealed his fate. Regardless, Zmnn would not have faced Sandoval, and he’s the one who did the real damage.

    But not the ultimate damage, because, completely lost in everything else, Harper made the sound baseball decision, hit the cutoff man perfectly, and Desi nailed the relay. And for once, Ramos didn’t drop it. Anyway, everyone is always so quick to criticize Harper, but I haven’t heard or seen anyone make note of this game-saving (for the moment) play. (Meanwhile, Werth cost a run with a four-hop, off-line throw from short right in the first game. Sorry Todd, but I’m moving him to 1B in 2015 and Zim to LF.)

    Games 3-5: You have to win them one at a time. Fister would be everyone’s pick to be on the mound in this spot. The Nats have already beaten Bumgarner this year. Win this one, and the pitching match-ups swing decidedly in the Nats’ favor. They bombed Vogelsong this season, and one would think that Peavy’s mumbo-magic might run out a second time around.

    But of course none of this means anything if the Nats don’t start to hit. Perhaps the Bandbox by the Bay will help.


    6 Oct 14 at 12:58 pm

  17. On the professional opinions, there are others (CJ Nitkowski on FOX, for example) who clearly agreed with the move. Williams should have left Zim in? My response is “Grady Little.” If JZ throws that pitch to Posey that he threw to Panik, the Nats are looking at a 2-1 deficit. Remember Chien-Ming Wang with a one run lead at RFK on Father’s Day in 2006? Torre rode his starter, and that was the first of Zim’s walkoff HRs.

    It’s not a slam dunk either way, therefore the manager gets a pass from me on this one. The bottom line message for a baseball manager is simple: don’t make moves that don’t work out.

    John C.

    6 Oct 14 at 1:06 pm

  18. Read the fangraphs article on the abhorrent strike zone consistency, *especially* to Panik.

    Todd Boss

    6 Oct 14 at 1:13 pm

  19. The reason that Zimmermann v. Storen doesn’t get me worked up at all is that there are very plausible arguments for going either way, so that means that the decision is only going to get reviewed by the result, not the process. I read somewhere, maybe FanGraphs, that the odds of the Nats winning increased less than 1% with the move to Storen. Whatever decision MW makes there, he is a hero or goat, depending on the result. Does anyone really think that if MW left in JZ the whole time, and the result was exactly the same, that MW doesn’t get fried?

    On Espy, I only want it because we get RH Espy. I think that RH Espy v. LHP is a better player than Cabrera v. LHP. If it was LH Espy, no way I make the move.


    6 Oct 14 at 1:40 pm

  20. Looks like the same line up. I assume Zim isn’t healthy enough to play.


    6 Oct 14 at 1:55 pm

  21. Perfectly stated, Wally: people are looking at the result, not the decision. A decision doesn’t become a bad call just because it didn’t work. Plenty of good decisions don’t work out. And after reading the sportswriter links Todd posted, I’m more annoyed by the aftermath of the loss than I am about the loss. If you told me in April that I’d be taking Williams’s side after a controversial playoff loss, I’d have called you crazy.


    6 Oct 14 at 1:59 pm

  22. Oh, please resign Fister.

    And, how happy must these vets be that they get another chance to reverse their abominable offensive showing? By now they all ought to know that no lead is safe!

    Let’s hope Gio doesn’t fail the Hudson test the way Storen seems to.


    6 Oct 14 at 8:10 pm

  23. Or the way MadBum did? :). I’d like to hear Hudson’s take on that one.

    They hit 1 solid ball off Storen there. Maybe the media and fan reaction to two straight post season blown saves signals that Storen won’t be the guy next year, but the reality is that only Pence hit the ball hard. Everything else was a dink or squib.


    6 Oct 14 at 8:15 pm

  24. You win three by winning one at a time. The Nats have clocked Vogelsong twice this year. Stay alive and get back home.

    Anyone in Detroit still trying to defend the Fister deal? Sure glad WE had him for OUR game 3!


    6 Oct 14 at 8:43 pm

  25. I read that a SF player said that they had a big smile on their face when Zimmerman was pulled, and that they would rather have faced Sandy Koufax than more of Zimmerman at that point.


    17 Oct 14 at 3:57 pm

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