When he was hired, Dave Roberts was described as the happy medium between the sabermetric nerds, and the old school baseball die hards. An intelligent mind who was such a hit in his interviews, he beat out the rumored front office favorite Gape Kapler for the job. Also, such on old school gamer, he made one of the most memorable plays in modern baseball history. Just 5 games in, faced with a big decision, he would prove to be just as advertised.
What a decision. Do you leave a tiring pitcher in the late innings to go after a historic no-hitter, or remove him to the angst of the fans and media critics? If only it were that sample. Once you add in the additional layers, the decision becomes easier for some, more difficult for others, but absolutely more complicated.
This would not have been any normal no-hitter. Among last nights’ accomplishments Russ Stripling can proclaim he excavated the name Bumpus Jones from ancient baseball history books. Bumpus is the only pitcher in history to debut with a no-hitter. This could have been a most memorable night indeed. After a slightly controversial call to send out his tiring pitcher for one more inning in the previous game, which the team eventually lost, rookie manager Dave Roberts, found him encountered an exponentially more unenviable position.
It was the top of the 8th inning, the newly minted rookie fifth starter, who was about the fifth option for the role, had just completed 7 historic innings. He showed beginning signs of fatigue in the bottom half of the previous inning. He had reached 91 pitches of a estimated 100 pitch count. The debate began.
On the Sabermetric side, the data screams. Stripling was returning from Tommy John surgery. He had barely thrown 90+ pitches in all of spring training. He was the fifth option, for the fifth starter role, only chosen because of serious injuries to 2 pitchers, and underwhelming springs from the remaining 2. He needs to be eased back into pitching. The win is more important than individual accomplishment, It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Remove him now.
The old school die-hard crowd lashed back, there’s no way you remove him. He’s young. He’ll have 4 days to recover, more if you skip a start. Let him go until he gives up a hit or finishes the game. It’s his game to finish. History is at stake. He may never get this chance again.
We all know what transpired. Roberts chose the send him out for the 8th, with a short leash. He ended up removing Stripling after a 1 out walk in which he was clearly fatigued. It just happened to be his 100th pitch, a number Roberts proclaimed before the game would be the limit. Roberts considered both options and decided down the middle. This is where fans who are neutral in the “nerd” / “die hard” debate will appreciate Roberts. He will thoughtfully consider the spreadsheet data, but he won’t always submit to it. Neither will he always succumb to the old-school line of thinking. He’s the happy medium.