The Fallacy of The Matchup

Sunday night’s game between the Yankees and the Dodgers was certainly one of the most exciting of the 2010 season thus far. Robinson Cano delivered the big hit in the 10th inning, a 2-run homerun off of lefty George Sherrill.  When Joe Torre called for the lefty (wow, it’s been awhile since I wrote that), it seemed like a logical matchup.  Cano was 0-11 in his career against Sherrill, as the announcers were quick to point out.  But was it? While Sherrill has been good in recent years, he’s been terrible this year, with a WHIP over 2 and an ERA+ below 70. Cano has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball all season.

Does that mean it was the wrong move? Not necessarily, because honestly I don’t know how many options Torre had. Ramon Troncoso hasn’t been very good, so leaving him in was no sure bet. I guess Torre could have gone to Jeff Weaver, but we all know the pitfalls there.

Anyways, the point I’m trying to make here is not to kill this one move. What I do think is worth noting is how 2 of the most important factors managers use when determining what matchup they want – handedness and matchup history – are probably overrated.

One of the biggest issues I have with Joe Girardi’s bullpen use is that he uses too many guys.  My logic has always been that if a reliever is pitching well, you should stick with him, since relievers by nature are so volatile.

Back to the case of Cano though. If you look at his splits, he gets on base more versus righties but hits for more power versus lefties. So no huge platoon split. Consequently, aren’t you better simply going with whatever pitcher is the best?  Sure, for guys like David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, and yes, Curtis Granderson, it might make sense to go to the lefty even if the lefty isn’t as good. But for everyone else? It’s debatable.

Matchup history is also flawed as it is a great example of a small sample size.  In some ways, you could argue that matchup history means the opposite of what it suggests. Cano was 0-11? Well then, considering how good a hitter Cano is, it would seem that that number must regress back to the mean. Using this kind of logic, you can justify any result based on the matchup history, which essentially makes it useless.

It is up to the manager to try and get his pitchers who are pitching the best on the mound when the team needs them and looking at a pitcher’s handedness and matchup history doesn’t accomplish that.

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One Response to The Fallacy of The Matchup

  1. Mike S. says:

    My attitude is that you never, NEVER, change the rhythm of a game that is working for you. I associate a game with music. You don’t go from Led Zep into polka music mid-beat, do you? Of course not. Don’t change the rhythm of a game that is in your favor. Think of a game as a symphony. If you have a good beat going, keep it.