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Joe Maddon pulled a Buck Showalter and it cost the Cubs Game 2 of the NLCS

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Last October, much was made of Orioles manager Buck Showalter opting not to use closer Zach Britton in a tense situation late in a playoff game. Britton was Showalter’s best pitcher last year but he chose to go with Ubaldo Jimenez and it cost the Orioles their chance to move on in the postseason.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was guilty of a similar offense during Game 2 of the NLCS on Sunday night, but he won’t get nearly as much blowback for it because of his reputation as a savvy, unorthodox skipper.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, lefty Brian Duensing returned to the mound for his second inning of work. One probably wants closer Wade Davis in that situation rather than Duensing, especially if you figure hierarchy into the equation. Duensing walked Yasiel Puig to start the inning. Then, one should be leaning even more in favor of bringing Davis. Duensing stayed in. Charlie Culberson moved Puig to second base on a sacrifice bunt. Duensing then struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer.

Maddon made the slow stroll to the mound. This must be the part were Davis comes in. Maddon instead brought in veteran starter John Lackey. Lackey is nearly 39 years old and did not have a great regular season, finishing with a 4.59 ERA over 170 2/3 innings. During the regular season, Davis struck out hitters 12.2 percent more often than Lackey while having an equivalent strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Lackey and catcher Willson Contreras couldn’t get on the same page as Lackey repeatedly asked for Contreras to go through the signs again. He fell behind Chris Taylor 3-1 before eventually walking him, bringing Turner to the plate. Turner is a great hitter and that may even be an understatement. He hardly struck out — his 10.3 K-rate was second-lowest among qualified hitters in baseball this season behind only Joe Panik. Facing Davis, though, increases the odds he does swing and miss. Turner took a first-pitch cutter in the dirt from Lackey for ball one, then drilled a 92 MPH fastball to left-center field for a walk-off three-run home run, winning Game 2 of the NLCS for the Dodgers by a 4-1 margin.

If, before Turner’s at-bat against Lackey, one were to rank the possible outcomes from likely to least likely, a home run is not that far from the top of the list. Lackey is just not that good anymore and he’s never been a bat-missing maven.

After the game, Maddon said, “We needed [Davis] for the save,” Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports. Maddon wanted to hold Davis for a situation his team was never guaranteed to reach, rather than utilizing him to bridge the gap to gaining a potential lead.

Managers are put under a microscope in the postseason. It’s just part of the game. Sometimes we are guilty of nitpicking, but this isn’t such a case. Maddon improperly utilized his personnel and his team is now behind two games to none in a best-of-seven series as a result.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.