By Connor Thomas
The Philadelphia Phillies knocked off the Washington Nationals 6-2 last night, in what the box score would suggest was just your average mid-May MLB game. If you’re a Phillies fan, you can’t really argue with the result. The issue that has become a theme this season, however, is the process that Manager Joe Girardi uses to get to certain results. Or, sometimes it seems, it’s a lack of process. Last night, the Phils got a stellar start from their #5 arm, as Chase Anderson did not allow a run through his first 5 innings of work. After allowing consecutive hits to the first 2 batters of the game, Anderson did not allow a hit through the bottom of the 5th, and the Phillies headed into the top of the 6th inning with a 3-0 lead. Until this point, the game had been a manager’s dream. Your starter is cruising and you hold a breathable lead, no worries to be had. Then in the top of the 6th, Rhys Hoskins reached on an error. Didi Gregorius was awarded a hit, but essentially reached on a fielding misplay as well. Odubel Herrera walked to load the bases, and all of a sudden, Girardi was looking at a bases loaded, no outs situation with the pitcher’s spot in the order coming up. Part of the thought process in that situation has to be to consider Anderson’s ability and what you can realistically expect from him for the rest of the game. The last time Chase Anderson recorded a 6th inning out was in September of 2019. He has never thrown a complete game in his 6+ years in the majors. Statistically speaking, it’s likely that you’re not getting any more than about 1 inning out of him if you keep him in the game.
On the contrary, Girardi could have chosen to pinch hit with the bases loaded, no outs, and already up 3 runs. Let’s dive into some quick probabilities. With the bases loaded and 0 outs in any given inning, the probability of scoring 1 run is about 27%, scoring 2 is about 21%, and scoring 3+ runs is about 39%. Only 13% of the time does that situation end in the team not scoring. Assuming your pitcher gets out without pushing across a run (which is what in fact happened last night in Anderson’s at bat), those probabilities change significantly. 1 run scored drops to about 26%, 2 runs scored drops to about 16%, and 3+ runs drops to about 25%. The chance that you don’t score in that inning rises by about 20%! All of those percentages are basically meant to say, your chances of not getting anything out of that prime scoring opportunity increase SIGNIFICANTLY if you allow Chase Anderson to make the 1st out rather than pinch hitting and giving a batter a chance, and Joe Girardi decided to take those odds, despite the fact that Anderson is not a pitcher who has a track record of throwing deep into games over the past couple seasons. Anderson, by the way? Batting .000 on the year. Sure, a 3-0 lead in the 6th still gives a team a probable chance of winning, but 5-0 or 6-0 lead in the same situation is basically a sure win when you look at the numbers. Yes, the outs made by Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura following Chase Anderson’s were costly, and are not the fault of the manager. But it does not change the fact that Girardi made a very questionable choice to not pinch hit for his pitcher.
*If you’d like to play around with these probabilities, check out https://gregstoll.com/~gregstoll/baseball/*
Well, sometimes the numbers don’t play out. Nothing is a sure thing, especially not when it comes to the game of baseball. There should already by a healthy amount of questioning of Girardi’s decision to not pinch hit for Chase Anderson, but what came in the bottom of the 6th was possibly even more indicting. Anderson promptly gave up a solo homer to Trea Turner on his first pitch, then walked Juan Soto in the next at bat to bring the tying run to the plate. Not an ideal reaction to being left in by any means, but hey, if Girardi’s not going to pinch hit for Anderson in a spot where you could put a game away, then he has to trust him to work his way out of this jam right? Wrong. Ball 4 to Juan Soto was Anderson’s last pitch of the ball game, cementing the fact that Girardi had essentially traded the opportunity to pinch hit someone like Andrew Knapp or Nick Maton in a bases loaded, no out situation, for 7 more pitches from his #5 starter that resulted in a home run and a walk. It was already a strange decision to not pinch hit for Anderson in the top of the 6th, but pulling him 7 pitches after that makes this sequence inexcusable for Girardi. If you’re going to put your faith in your starter enough to forfeit a golden run scoring opportunity, then you have to give him more than 2 MORE BATTERS!
Again, the Phillies did end up winning the ball game, and the final score doesn’t indicate that the game was in peril down the stretch. But this was yet another questionable management of the pitching staff by Girardi in a year that has already raised numerous questions about his aptitude for in game decision making. For a man who played Catcher in the Majors for 15 years, you’d imagine he would have a solid grasp on how to handle pitching changes, but so far this year, it has been one of Girardi’s most noticeable flaws. Following a season where a controversial pitching change may have cost the Tampa Bay Rays the World Series, it has never been clearer how costly issues like this can be. Let’s hope Girardi figures it out before it hurts the team in an important spot.