Wednesday, May 05, 2004

A Knuckle, Sandwiched 

I rarely engage in second-guessing individual managerial moves, because I can't watch or listen to enough games to make that productive. But last night's game offers a simple opportunity to evaluate Bob Brenly's decision to leave Steve Sparks in the game against Sammy Sosa. Admittedly, Sammy's home run parked into left-center field bleachers didn't affect the final outcome (except by closing the gap to 3 runs, it meant that Valverde's stellar 9th qualified him for the save), but I wanted to do some quick checks to see whether there might have been a more obvious move in retrospect.

First, Sparks had handled Sosa well all night -- 3 ground balls. Knuckleballers should do well against aggressive batters that don't draw walks, and Sosa fits that category. That argues for keeping Sparks in the game. But he'd given up two hits, and could have been losing his effectiveness.

If you were to bring in a reliever, who'd be most likely? Well, since Sammy hits righty, you probably wouldn't want to bring in a lefty (and, indeed, most people haven't -- Sammy's had just 4 at-bats against lefties this season). In addition, Choate's been poor this season and Randolph, although I like him, has already given up 2 home runs this season, so also not the guy to bring in in this situation.

Right-handed relievers? Koplove is the most obvious, and Brenly went to him after Sosa's home run. But would he have done any better? Who knows.

The problem with knuckleballers is when they screw up, against good batters, good batters will make them pay. Heck, even bad batters will make them pay. Just ask Tim Wakefield and Red Sox fans. I don't have a strong case against Brenly's decision; it's just unfortunate that it turned a stellar performance into a good one.

Of course, after the game last night, the radio announcers said Brenly's decision to keep Sparks in the game to face Sosa showed "guts." One would think after the Pat Tillman situation, sports announcers and reporters could lay off the word "guts" for awhile. Especially in the case of managerial decisions that aren't easily second-guessed.

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