So, I had a couple of paragraphs ready for this recap about Hunter Brown and his struggles this season. Saturday’s game against the Yankees was sort of the perfect example as he looked good at times — see the first inning — while looking lost in the other innings. Honestly, that analysis is probably better served as its own standalone post, but I making the point that it was my starting point. I felt good about its direction for this recap.
Then that ninth inning happened.
We’ve all known that Dusty Baker isn’t the greatest tactical manager dating back to his time with the Giants. When the Astros hired him on the heels of the sign-stealing scandal, Baker was brought in to help stabilize the franchise. Considering the circumstances surrounding the club at the time, his hiring made sense. It was still a strong roster and had legitimate chances to win in October for the foreseeable future. Lo and behold, the Astros have done exactly that with Baker at the helm. It also wasn’t a job that necessarily required Baker to be the greatest tactician. There are other positive attributes that he brings to the role, but optimizing the lineup every game or using his best reliever in the most high-leverage situations was going to be a thorn in the side. To no one’s shock, it has been a recurring issue.
Saturday’s game against the Yankees featured two decisions by Baker that arguably solidified the end result. The first occurred in the top of the fifth when Brown walked Aaron Judge followed by an error with the next batter by Mauricio Dubón that put runners in scoring position with no outs. Brown already had a short leash considering it was his third time through the order, so Baker had a choice to make about which reliever to bring in. Based on the leverage index with Giancarlo Stanton coming up to bat (2.43), you could make an argument for bringing in your best reliever. With a one-run lead, the situation at least justified using Ryan Pressly or Bryan Abreu earlier than expected. Even Héctor Neris is a defensible choice.
Alas, Baker chose Phil Maton to address the threat. Not the same Maton, mind you, who had a sub-1.00 ERA through the first two months of the season. We’re talking about a version of Maton who allowed ten earned runs in July followed up with three earned runs in August in only 4 1⁄3 innings. Even accounting for the volatile nature of a reliever’s performance throughout the season, Maton wasn’t the ideal choice for this assignment. Walks, in particular, have become an issue for the right-hander with 13 free passes in his last 13 2⁄3 innings leading up to September. Again, with a one-run lead and his recent track record, it wasn’t a great choice by Baker. It ended as one could expect with Maton allowing two runs to score, although he wasn’t charged with a run. The lead was subsequently gone.
Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth inning. The Astros still trailing by a single run. The lineup has been held in check since Yainer Díaz’s two-run shot in the fourth inning. José Abreu and Michael Brantley produced the first two outs of the inning. All hope for a comeback was nearly gone. Then Díaz hit a groundball to the left side of the infield to reach first base. The leverage index jumped to 3.44. With Jake Meyers running for Díaz, it is possible that even a well-placed ball to the outfield scores him. Chas McCormick was due up next. However, Baker decided to pinch-hit Jon Singleton for McCormick.
Yes, you read that right.
Singleton subsequently struck out looking and the Astros lost the game. For as much as I have enjoyed Singleton’s return to the majors, the decision to sit McCormick for him in that spot was a massive blunder. Yes, McCormick has a 117 wRC+ this season against right-handed pitchers like Clay Holmes. For his career, it drops to a 102 wRC+. Singleton is a left-handed bat, albeit with a 58 wRC+ against right-handers for his career. In 71 plate appearances against right-handers this season, he has a 22 wRC+. Under no situation, with Holmes on the mound, should Singleton ever pinch hit for McCormick in that situation. Just a ridiculous decision made even worse by the rationale provided by Baker in his postgame comments.
Dusty Baker said the Astros “projections” showed Jon Singleton was projected to hit .275 off Clay Holmes. Chas McCormick was .220, Baker said. Baker was worried about Holmes running the sinker in on McCormick, and said “that’s why we have Singleton up here” to take those ABs— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) September 3, 2023
In fact, McCormick’s usage in this series has been mind-boggling. For one, the Astros had an off day on Thursday heading into this weekend’s series against the Yankees. McCormick wasn’t in the lineup on Friday, even with southpaw Carlos Rodón on the mound. For the record, McCormick has a 169 wRC+ in 317 plate appearances against left-handers.
Again, mind-boggling. But the Astros will look to avoid another sweep at home on Sunday. Let’s hope the decisions are better. I doubt it, though.