What Bo Porter did in the eighth inning on Monday night wasn’t breaking new ground, but it *was* something that we don’t see too often. In the bottom of the eighth, lefty Tony Sipp started off the inning by striking out lefty Gerardo Parra. There was no chance in hell that Porter was going to let Sipp face right-hander Paul Goldschmidt next, especially given his insane splits – Goldy has hit .316/.399/.594 against lefties over his career, compared to just .283/.366/.495 against right-handers. Still very good, but not *as* good.
With left-handed Miguel Montero on deck, Porter didn’t want to take Sipp out of the game and burn through three relievers in the inning, especially with the only other lefty in the pen being Darin Downs. So what did he do? Porter brought in Jerome Williams to face Goldschmidt…and moved Sipp to right field, pulling left fielder Robbie Grossman from the game and shifting Alex Presley to right. The move made sense, given that there was another strong lefty coming up after Goldschmidt.
The move paid off…sort of. Jerome Williams replaced Sipp on the mound, and he walked Goldschmidt on five pitches. It wasn’t a game-tying home run, but it wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. Sipp then trotted back to the mound from right field, with Presley shifting back across the outfield and Marwin Gonzalez coming in to play left. Sipp then struck out Montero (whose splits are even more extreme than Goldschmidt’s – he’s hitting just .235/.297/.349 against lefties for his career), and exited the field for good, being replaced on the mound by Kyle Farnsworth. Farnsworth then struck out the right-handed hitting Martin Prado (who hits lefties better than righties) to end the inning.
Like I said in the intro, this isn’t something Porter invented. We’ve seen this strategy used plenty of times before by guys like Whitey Herzog and Bobby Cox. But in recent years, it hasn’t popped up too much, especially with the advent of more specialized bullpens. It’s actually pretty shocking how many managers just let their lefty relievers face right-handers with the game on the line. Hell, you could argue that Fredi Gonzalez has helped kill Luis Avilan’s career by turning him from a LOOGY into a traditional middle reliever, with disastrous results.
But for a lot of teams, it’s difficult to make these sort of transitions. Using the Braves as an example, what would Gonzalez do – remove B.J. Upton from the game, shift Jason Heyward to center, throw Avilan in left, and then slot the vastly inferior Jordan Schafer into center when Avilan returns to the hill? When you have three average or better outfielders starting, you can’t get too creative. Maybe a team like the Dodgers, who have five outfielders that are varying degrees of good, could do this with J.P. Howell. Maybe the White Sox can get a little creative considering they typically start Dayan Viciedo in the outfield, and there’s no way he should even be wearing a glove in the late innings of a close game.
With the mountains of information that coaching staffs have in front of them these days, there are plenty of opportunities for managers to get creative with their in-game strategies. Hell, we’ve seen that with shifting, and the results are clear – as a whole, the league’s OPS on pulled balls has decreased by 85 points from 2006 to 2014. Maybe we can see even more strategy implemented with relievers (more than usual), and specialists won’t continue to get destroyed when they don’t have the platoon advantage.