Lindbergh: The in-game edge of mixing pitches

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at on March 24, 2015:

Late in the seventh game of the 1925 World Series, Washington Senators manager Bucky Harris faced a season-defining decision. Starter Walter Johnson was a few weeks away from his 38th birthday, and, while he’d won Games 1 and 4, he was no longer the workhorse he’d once been. With Johnson laboring and the Senators’ lead slipping, Harris could have summoned Firpo Marberry, a proto-relief ace who led the majors in appearances, games finished, and (retroactively calculated) saves in each season from 1924 to 1926. Marberry had saved Game 3 and finished Game 5, and he was rested and ready. Instead, Harris chose to stick with his starter, who allowed five runs over the final two innings to drop Game 7, and the Series, to Pittsburgh.

“Inexplicably, Harris had failed to use Marberry even as Johnson was increasingly ineffective as the game progressed,” wrote [SABR members] Mark Armour and Daniel Levitt in Paths to Glory. “A furious Ban Johnson, the American League president, accused Harris of relying on sentimentality at the expense of his team and league.”

Eighty-nine years later, another manager of a 96-win Washington team had to choose between a top starter and a fresh reliever with a playoff game on the line. In Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS, Nationals manager Matt Williams called for closer Drew Storen to replace Jordan Zimmermann, who had held the Giants scoreless for 8.2 innings before walking Joe Panik, who represented the tying run. Storen allowed a Buster Posey single and a Pablo Sandoval double, erasing the one-run lead. Nine extra innings later, a Brandon Belt home run broke the tie to give the Giants the game. Williams was criticized for not trusting his cruising starter to get one more out — for, essentially, not relying enough on sentimentality.

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Originally published: March 24, 2015. Last Updated: March 24, 2015.