On more than one occasion, this Detroit Tigers fan watched then-manager Brad Ausmus take future Hall of Fame bats out of the lineup late in games so he could pinch-run for them. And yes, the relay team of Miguel Cabrera-Victor Martinez-Prince Fielder is not going to win many races and tended to clog the basepaths like doughnuts do arteries. But for every time inserting a swifter runner worked, there were two or three or nine when the spot in the order vacated by these premier hitters came up in a later inning, exposing the folly of such short-term planning.
Ausmus is gone and Ron Gardenhire's first year at the helm wiped off all memory by a global pandemic. Alas, friends, it brings me no pleasure to report that the newish guy in town is up to the same old tricks. And perhaps raising the bar when it comes to confounding decisions and choices that desperately need to be probed by those with the ability to ask questions.
Last night, with Detroit leading Kansas City 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Gardenhire lifted Cabrera from first base with another runner at second and one out. C.J. Cron quickly followed up with an inning-ending double play ball. Just like that, the presumed and proven best hitter in the order was gone to the showers.
Ultimately the move didn't cost the Tigers an early-season victory. Stellar work from the bullpen preserved the score in amber. It could have, though. Quite easily, in fact.
Pulling Cabrera with eight outs remaining in regulation virtually guarantees costing him at least one at-bat should the bottom of the ninth be deemed necessary. More plate appearances, potentially, if the game goes into extra innings. Detroit would either be tied or trailing in that situation. Pretty crucial if you ask me, which no one did, but I will plow past because the momentum has reached critical mass.
I am but a humble blogger with a tenuous grasp of baseball strategy. Yet I simply cannot believe that the cost of willingly sacrificing a middle-of-the-order bat is worth the benefit of having more speed representing a run that could make it a three-run lead. How often, percentage-wise, does inserting a runner in this situation lead to a higher win probability than having Cabrera in the lineup in case he's needed later?
I am genuinely asking. There has to be an answer. And if it's the smart baseball decision, I promise to stand down and shrink back into the shadows and let the great Gardenhire cook. If it's not, well, someone should point that out to him so he can use that information in his pursuit of winning baseball games.
Thank you in advance to the person who helps me in the quest to understand just what the hell is going on here. No thank you to those who sit idly by and allow me to further lose what's left of my sanity over it.