Joe Morgan, Jerry Manuel and no-brainers

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No, I’m not just being redundant.

Certainly according to Joe Morgan and Steve Phillips, it was the
easiest decision of all-time: walk Derek Jeter to get to Mariano
Rivera. Men on first and second, two outs, one of the game’s most
clutchtastic players at the plate or bases loaded and Rivera batting
for the third time in 15 years as a major leaguer. The announcers were
positively stunned when Francisco Rodriguez threw his first pitch to
Jeter a bit off the outside corner for a generous strike one call. Two
balls further outside and finally two intentional balls followed,
setting it up for Rivera to hit with the bases loaded.

Of course, Rivera went on to walk, giving the Yankees a two-run
cushion. Morgan and Phillips had never even mentioned it as a
possibility and perhaps even a reason not to put Jeter on
automatically. I agreed with the idea of walking Jeter, but I’m not
sure it’s quite as clear cut as it was made out to be.

In his major league career, K-Rod has limited hitters to a
.164/.244/.221 line with men on first and second. The typical hitter
has a one-in-six chance of getting a hit against him in that situation.
Now Derek Jeter isn’t the typical hitter. He had five singles and four
walks in 14 career plate appearances against K-Rod. Suffice to say, he
did have a better than one-in-six chance of getting a hit in the
situation. However, K-Rod had an advantage as well, in that he didn’t
have to give Jeter anything to hit. He could have continued working
Jeter very carefully and backed up that fastball off the corner with a
heater up and then a slider low and away. Jeter likely would have
expanded his strike zone, knowing that Rivera was up next. It’s
possible that K-Rod could have retired him without ever having to throw
a strike.

But instead, we had Mariano Rivera up with the bases loaded. The
league has hit .233/.338/.400 against K-Rod with the bases loaded in
his career. Rivera, while an amazing athlete, probably isn’t a league
average hitter. He doesn’t have bad form in the box, but I don’t think
I’d want to count on him batting any better than .050 against K-Rod. If
he was going to reach, it’d be far more likely to come via the walk.

And I think there was always a real possibility that it would happen.

This is just another guess, but I imagine the typical major league
pitcher can, if he’s not trying to do anything else, throw his fastball
for a strike a little better than 90 percent of the time. Maybe not
quite 95 percent — I’ve seen too many 3-0 walks to believe that — but
90-92 seems reasonable. With K-Rod, I’d say it’s a lot closer to 60-70.
He’s just different. Much of the time, he seems to have better command
of his get-me-over slider than his fastball. But he never tried one of
them against Rivera. After all, Rivera might have gotten lucky and
timed one of those. He probably wasn’t going to put a fastball into
play.

My argument is based on this: there are pretty much three base
situations in which you especially don’t want to issue walks, when a
man is on first, when men are on first and second (and Mariano Rivera
isn’t on deck) and when the bases are loaded. K-Rod has unintentionally
walked 54 in 515 plate appearances in those situations (10.5 percent).
The rest of the time, he’s unintentionally walked 141 in 1,469 plate
appearances (9.6 percent). K-Rod simply has no ability to start
throwing strikes when he needs to. He’s an outstanding pitcher anyway,
but it’s still because he’s so difficult to hit. Unfortunately, the
intentional walk to Jeter put him in a situation in which he didn’t
have to give up a hit to allow a run.

I still think it was the right move. Even if we go based on my
theory that K-Rod was just as likely to walk Mariano Rivera there as he
would have been Alex Rodriguez, that 10 percent chance and the maybe
five percent chance of Rivera getting a hit doesn’t top Jeter’s chances
of getting a hit. However, I do think Mets manager Jerry Manuel should
take something from sequence. Asking K-Rod to issue an intentional walk
is typically the wrong strategy, and it’s not a good sign that K-Rod
has already had four this year, matching his total from 2007 and 2008
combined.

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Bruan is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.

Mets unhappy with Dodgers’ request to make outfield markings to position fielders

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28:  The 1986 New York Mets are honored before the game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on May 28, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.The New York Mets are honoring the 30th anniversary of the 1986 championship season.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mets have asked MLB for clarification on the Dodgers’ use of a laser rangefinder for defensive positioning over this weekend’s series at Citi Field. The Dodgers notified the Mets’ ground crew that they wanted to mark certain positions in the outfield grass after determining positions with the rangefinder. The grounds crew said they could leave two marks in center field and one in left field.

However, the grounds crew then went to their superiors and told them that the Dodgers threatened to dig holes in the outfield grass with their cleats, so the grounds crew was then instructed to “erase or obliterate” any of the Dodgers’ markings.

According to Rosenthal, Major League Baseball reinforced a few weeks ago that teams aren’t allowed to use markers to aid defensive positioning. The Dodgers haven’t been accused of doing anything nefarious during a game. Howie Kendrick was seen pulling something out of his pocket in the outfield, but Brett Anderson clarified on Twitter that it was just a piece of paper with notes for defensive positioning.

The series between the Mets and Dodgers has been heated, as Noah Syndergaard was ejected for throwing at Chase Utley on Saturday. Utley then responded by hitting two home runs, one of which was a grand slam. The Mets may have a legitimate concern, or it may just be gamesmanship.