You can be damned if you do. And damned if you don’t.
One night after sticking with his starter for too long, Ned Yost activated the final two-thirds of the HDH Triumvirate in the same manner that has been so successful for the better part of two seasons. The result was the same.
Both losses hurt to different degrees. Your mileage may vary as to which one leaves a larger mark.
Entering the game, Wade Davis had pitched twice since the start of the month. Battling a sore back, the sight of him entering the game was a relief. One of our bullpen cyborgs was back and ready to do his thing. Davis gave up a leadoff single. That’s OK. That’s all part of the Wade Davis Experience. The next batter was Mike Trout.
Please keep in mind, I really dislike complaining about the umpires. There are some who it seems their lone reason to watch is so they can kvetch about the men in blue. You can say I’m not a fan of those fans. The umps are not perfect. Some are truly brutal at their jobs. I have no idea where Gary Cederstrom falls into the umpiring spectrum. I know his name simply because he’s been around forever. In the Deadspin series from a couple of years ago, Cederstrom was noted for being “pro-pitcher.” I wish that had been the case on Thursday.
The above is the location of Wade Davis’ pitches to Trout. Ball one was a 96 mph fastball down the chute. How that pitch was missed by the ump, I’ll never know. Pitch two was borderline. An 86 mph curve that broke to the lower edge of the zone. A plate appearance that could have been 0-2 in favor of Davis, or at the very least even at 1-1, was skewed in favor of the Angels MVP. As you can see from his splits after certain counts in 2015, this gave Trout a massive advantage in his at bat.
Trout is a great player. A once in a generation talent who will likely wrap this year with his second consecutive MVP award. To go with his two second place finishes. In four full seasons. The sOPS+ in the above table is how Trout performs in each scenario balanced against the rest of the league. Remember, 100 is average. Anything above 100 is considered above average. So while he hits .227 after he falls behind in the count 0-2, he’s still considered an outstanding hitter when compared to the rest of the league. (By the way, the rest of the league hits just .165 after they fall behind 0-2.) The lesson is, you never, ever want to face Mike Trout.
And you really don’t ever want to face Mike Trout if the home plate umpire is going to shrink the strike zone to the size of a pinhead.
Davis did battle back, but threw too many pitches to Trout. With a 3-2 count, he sat dead red, got a fastball over the heart of the plate (not to removed from “Ball 1”) and crushed it to center, over the head of Lorenzo Cain for a run-scoring double. Two ground outs later and two runs had been scored off Davis for the first time since April 5, 2014.
(Let’s not forget the Eric Hosmer brain cramp on the Johnny Giavotella bunt. It seems when the bullpen is struggling, it surprises the defense so much, the players on the field momentarily lose their minds.)
The four run lead was down to two. With three outs to go, this is Greg Holland territory. The game still should have been safe. It wasn’t.
Holland has been shaky all season. He’s had some rough outings that could be placed in the “Bad Luck” file and he’s had some outings where he’s struggled with command and created his own problems. On Thursday, it was the latter that derailed the Royals.
There is some thinking to do about Holland and why he’s lost effectiveness. That’s the subject for another post. Really. There are some numbers to crunch and some data to analyze to uncover what’s happened this year and even then I’m not sure we can get the whole story as to why Holland is no longer the automatic Saveman he’s been the last couple of years. This was Holland as his absolute worst. He faced six batters, retired none, and gave up four hits and two walks. And four runs.
After 111 consecutive wins when leading after seven innings, the Royals now have back to back losses when leading after seven. Sometimes, the Baseball Gods decide to take something back. The Royals bullpen has been a huge reason they are in the position they currently occupy. It’s vitally important to their success. We had to have known that at some point, it was going to falter. And because they have been rolling for so long, any failure was going to be uncomfortable and brutal. It’s amazing they were able to lock down so many wins for so long.
This isn’t the beginning of the end. While there are questions surrounding Holland, the rest of the bullpen is in fine shape. One night doesn’t define them. Not after the sustained success they’ve had over the last two seasons. Hopefully, they will ride the lead into the later innings again on Friday and Yost will once again activate his Bullpen Cyborgs. I still like their chances.