Matt Williams

Matt Williams on decision to pull Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2: “I kicked myself all night.”

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Nationals manager Matt Williams was proudly watching Jordan Zimmermann mow down Giants hitter after hitter with relative ease through eight innings. The right-hander was looking like he was going to throw a shutout on fewer than 100 pitches after getting two quick outs in the ninth.

Unfortunately, Zimmermann issued a two-out walk to second baseman Joe Panik, which brought Williams out of the dugout to replace Zimmermann with recently-promoted closer Drew Storen. The move was controversial even at the time with the outcome still undecided. Zimmermann had only just reached 100 pitches and still looked strong despite issuing his first walk of the evening. And, though Storen had been untouchable since taking over the closer’s role for Rafael Soriano in early September, he is still young and last pitched in the post-season when he forked over four runs to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.

As it turned out, Storen allowed a single to Buster Posey, followed by a Pablo Sandoval line drive double down the left field line. Panik scored easily, and Posey nearly gave the Giants the go-ahead run, but a nifty relay throw by left fielder Bryce Harper to shortstop Ian Desmond, and a strong throw home to catcher Wilson Ramos allowed the Nationals to record the final out of the inning following a replay review on the tag at home plate.

The Nationals went on to lose 2-1 in 18 innings, and Williams has been roundly second-guessed for his decision. Per MASN’s Dan Kolko, Williams says he kicked himself “all night”. The manager added, “we also have a reason for that move,” seemingly a vague defense of his decision to take Zimmermann out.

Though replacing Zimmermann appears wrong in retrospect, it was certainly justified. During the regular season, Zimmermann held opposing hitters to a .577 OPS his first time through the order. The second time through, that OPS rose to .671. (The third time through fell slightly to .659, but selection bias has a strong effect here, as pitchers don’t get a chance to face a lineup for a third time unless they’re pitching well.)

Mitchel Lichtman expanded on the “times through the order penalty”, or TTOP, at Baseball Prospectus last year. He raises many great points, but the one I would like to highlight is this:

Good and bad pitchers show around the same magnitude of TTOP. The third time through the order, all starters are expected to pitch around .35 runs per nine innings worse than they do overall.

Many critics of Williams will say, “but it’s Zimmermann, the guy who just threw a no-hitter and was working on a three-hit shutout!” Ostensibly, they would be more comfortable with taking out, say, Tanner Roark in that situation compared to Zimmermann, but Lichtman’s research shows it really doesn’t matter who you have on the mound — they’re each more likely to be hit harder the third time through.

Furthermore, it’s hard to fault Williams for going to Storen. Storen finished the regular season with a 1.12 ERA and a 46/11 K/BB ratio in 56 1/3 innings. In 11 September relief appearances after taking over for Soriano, Storen was 10-for-10 in save chances, allowing zero runs with a 10/0 K/BB ratio.

Ultimately, however, it’s not as black-and-white as proponents of either side would have you believe. The .35 runs per nine innings penalty Lichtman observed is a puny fraction in the sample of one or two batters, as it was in the ninth inning, and as such the variance is so high. If the Nationals are ushered out of the NLDS, whether it’s Game 3 or Game 5, there will have been plenty of bigger reasons for their failure than Williams’ ninth-inning decision on Saturday night. For example, going into Monday’s Game 3 in San Francisco, Denard Span is 0-for-11, while Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth, and Ramos are each 1-for-10.

Braves sign former football player Sanders Commings

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 15:  Cornerback Sanders Commings #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs on the sidelines during the pre-season NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 15, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Braves have signed former football player and current outfielder Sanders Commings, an Augusta, Georgia native, to a minor league contract, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports.

Commings, 26, was a defensive back who played for the University of Georgia before being selected by the Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. He appeared in two games in the 2013 season.

Commings also played baseball for Westside High School and was selected by the Diamondbacks in the 37th round of the 2008 draft. He chose to attend the University of Georgia instead. When football didn’t pan out, Commings started training with Jerry Hairston, Jr. Hairston said he was “blown away” when he saw Commings hit for the first time.

Obviously, Commings’ path to success as a professional baseball player will be long, but it’s a no-risk flier for the Braves. The club has past experience with football players, including Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan.

The next task for the Braves will be to acquire Ryan Goins from the Blue Jays. That way, players will look at the lineup card each day to see if it’s Commings or Goins.

Justin Verlander: “I’d like to see the AL and NL have the same rules… I vote NL rules.”

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 10:  Starting pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the first inning at Safeco Field on August 10, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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On Thursday afternoon, Rays pitcher Chris Archer asked his Twitter followers, “Lots swirling around what needs to be changed about the game of baseball. What do y’all want to see changed, if anything, & why?”

Tigers ace Justin Verlander responded:

To that, Archer said:

For what it’s worth, Verlander hasn’t been much of a hitter. In 47 career plate appearances, he has three singles and no extra-base hits. And if the AL did get rid of the DH rule, the Tigers would have nowhere to put Victor Martinez. Verlander, though, would have an easier time pitching to opposing pitchers rather than their DH’s.