By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)
In Sunday’s uncomfortably close win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the bottom of the seventh inning looked promising. Up 4-2, the Brewers would bring Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, and Aramis Ramirez to the plate against mediocre right-handed starter Vance Worley – an excellent opportunity to add insurance runs and seal the deal. Indeed, everything went according to plan after Lucroy grounded out: Braun and Ramirez both singled, leaving two on with lefty Scooter Gennett coming to the plate.
Clint Hurdle did the logical thing at that point and pulled Worley, replacing him with LHP Justin Wilson. The young Wilson’s splits somewhat surprisingly favor left-handed batters, but he still holds them to a career 247/.311/.337 line. Scooter, however, has always struggled against southpaws, and as a major leaguer has hit just .132/.154/.145 off them.
It made all the sense in the world to substitute Rickie Weeks, the right-handed portion of the second base platoon and a career .259/.383/.440 hitter against lefties. The Brewers had dropped the first two games in the series and are locked in a tight NL Central race in which the Pirates, at the time, were just four games back. The Pirates would get another opportunity to bat the heart of their order against the Brewers’ bullpen, so the game was certainly still within reach for them in the late innings.
Instead, manager Ron Roenicke left Scooter in to hit, and he rather predictably grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, ending the threat.
Fan justifications for this move ranged from “Scooter’s never going to learn to hit left-handed pitching if he never faces them” to emphasizing Scooter’s admittedly superior defense at second base. Both fall short.
It is true that Scooter is very young and might still adapt to hit southpaws; I don’t want to sell him short so early in his career. But if he is to learn, the late innings of a tight game against a surging division rival with a man in scoring position is not the place to do it. Whatever growth might be accomplished in that one at-bat is not worth the potential sacrifice to a team that hopes to secure a playoff berth.
And while Scooter does indeed have a superior glove to Weeks, it’s not as if Weeks is a fish out of water at the position. He’s been a second baseman his entire career. To be sure, Weeks’ range leaves much to be desired. The defensive deficiencies are somewhat mitigated by the short amount of time – just two innings! – he would be stationed at second. He might have seen perhaps two balls hit his way (in point of fact, Scooter saw one). Any defensive liabilities Weeks brings to the ledger were overcome by the increased opportunity for a run or two during the seventh inning.
I am not opposed to offensive growth or emphasizing defense. But there is a place for both, and in the heart of a pennant race, you have to manage for the win.