Things about the manager's decision that make you say, "Huh?"

Yes, I borrowed part of DQuail's headline from his article below.

Without question, Cecil Cooper's late game tactics Saturday have created controversy among Astros fans...and well, among Astros.

According to the Chronicle's Jose Ortiz, Astros' players were more than a little surprised by the manager's chess moves in Saturday's game.  Ortiz says he couldn't find any players or coaches who would defend Cooper's decisions.  (I particularly liked Jose Cruz's comment, "I just work here.")

First, let's go over the two most talked about situations. 

In the top of the 9th, the Astros had clawed back into a tie game, and had runners at 1st and 2d with no outs.  Jason Michaels was sent up as a pinch hitter, and instead of bunting, he swung away, eventually flying out.  If he had bunted and moved both runners up--the conventional move--then Matsui's fly out which followed would have scored a lead run for the Astros.  Instead the Astros stayed tied.  If Cooper had wanted to sac bunt, he probably should have used Keppinger or Smith as a pinch hitter.

In the bottom of the 9th, Piniella (unlike Cooper) played for 1 run, using a sac bunt to move the lead off walk to 2d base.  With Soriano up next, Cooper eschewed the intentional base on balls.  And this move wasn't just an effort to pitch around Soriano, because Cooper said later that he wanted to pitch to Soriano to get  the out. Apparently Cooper believes Theriot is a more dangerous hitter in that situation.  Oh, OK.  In an 0-2 count, Hawkins gave Soriano a pitch too close to the zone, and he produced a walk off single.

Now, back to Ortiz's discussion of the clubhouse response:

It's never a good thing when players are text messaging beat writers or asking them in the clubhouse afterward: "Why didn't he have Jason Michaels sacrifice? Why didn't he walk Alfonso Soriano?"

Cooper never consider walking Soriano, and he paid for it.
He wasn't tempted to sacrifice with Michaels, and the Astros paid for that too.

And, he added:

Let's be clear that players win and lose games, but they also have to believe in their manager. For the first time since I described the clubhouse as toxic last year in Baltimore, this visit to Wrigley is the first time when I've been approached with so many disgruntled players.

While I can conceive of some arguments for both decisions, Cooper's rationale made my head hurt.  Like the reason for pitching to Soriano:

“That's exactly the reason you pitch to him,” Cooper said of Soriano’s strikeout possibility. “The other guy (Theriot) is probably a tougher out because he's a contact hitter."

Yeah, but contact can result in an out.  It's not like the Astros are that scared of the runner advancing to 3d on a groundout. And, more importantly, contact can produce a double play, which is one of the reasons for a IBB in that situation.  Comparing Soriano and Theriot, by the way: Soriano is twice as likely to hit a flyball as Theriot, and Theriot is 40% more likely to hit a groundball. Soriano is also the best Cubs' hitter--and, according to Fangraphs, he is the best Cubs' clutch hitter.

Cooper on the situation in the top of the 9th:

Asked if it was tempting to sacrifice with Michaels, Cooper dismissed the thought.

“Not it all. It wasn’t,” Cooper said. “He’s my best pinch hitter. I’m going to let him hit. I’m trying to win the game. I’ll do it over again. Ninety nine out of 100 times I’ll do it again.”

Oh, the only way to win the game is a hit?  A bunt and a groundout can't win it?  Personally, I think this could be a closer call, particularly if you believe that one run is unlikely to be enough to win the game (which is a fairly pessimistic view of the bullpen).  I can understand why he doesn't want Michaels to bunt; Michaels has very little game experience bunting.  But that begs the question, why not put a bunter in as a pinchitter, instead of Michaels?

Just to pile on with the second guessing, I'll mention the 8th inning when the Cubs tagged on an extra run.  Why was Wesley Wright used to start the 8th inning?  Lefthanders are batting .474 with a 3.60 WHIP, which makes him an ineffective LOOGY.  Wright isn't pitching well enough to put him in late game innings in a close game--particularly when Sampson is available.

 

 

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