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Questionable decision making by Buck Showalter?

The starters for tonight’s American League winner-take-all wildcard game have been tagged and I’m scratching my head over Buck Showalter’s decision to start Joe Saunders.  When you see Joe Saunders vs. Yu Darvish the very first word that should come to mind is mismatch.  Yu Darvish had a very good first year in the major leagues going 16-9 while striking out 221 hitters in 191.1 IP.  His 3.90 ERA is a bit high for a “staff ace” but his xFIP of 3.52 would suggest he was hurt by pitching half his games in the hitter friendly confines of Arlington Ballpark.  Joe Saunders on the other hand was 9-13 while striking out 112 hitters in 174.2 IP.  His ERA of 4.07 was close to that of Darvish but given that his xFIP was 4.25 he was not nearly as effective in the starting pitching role in 2012. 

Despite the pedestrian numbers posted by Saunders he does do one thing extremely well, which is he gets left-handed hitters out.  Lefties are hitting just .198/.222/.229 against Saunders this year.  Now if this were 2008 and Saunders was facing the Philadelphia Phillies I’d tip my cap to Buck for putting a mediocre pitcher in a big game in order to neutralize a lineup held together by lefty power hitters (most notably Chase Utley and Ryan Howard).  But this isn’t 2008 and he’s not facing the Phillies tonight.  He’s facing the 2012 Texas Rangers who are a heavily right-handed team with the exception of Josh Hamilton.  In fact all Ron Washington has to do is bench David Murphy and Mitch Moreland tonight and he can run out a lineup of 8 right-handed hitters and Josh Hamilton to absolutely pummel Joe Saunders and the Baltimore Orioles.  And since David Murphy and Mitch Moreland are not Chase Utley and Ryan Howard there is no reason to doubt this is exactly what Ron will do.  His lineup should look something like this: 

  1. SS – Elvis Andrus (.971)
  2. 2B – Ian Kinsler (1.464)
  3. RF – Josh Hamilton (1.317)
  4. 3B – Adrian Beltre (.680)
  5. LF – Nelson Cruz (.950)
  6. 1B – Michael Young (1.045)
  7. DH – Mike Napoli (n/a)
  8. C – Geovany Soto (2.083)
  9. CF – Craig Gentry (n/a)

The numbers in parentheses represent the career OPS for each respective hitter against Joe Saunders (Napoli and Gentry have never faced him).  As you can see all of these guys, with the exception of Beltre, have absolutely raked against Saunders.  I hate to question Showalter who’s led these Orioles to an impressive playoff berth through timely hitting and 16 extra inning wins in a row but this decision seems downright foolish to me.  Let’s hope he’s got some more magic up his sleeve come 8:37 PM EST tonight.

~Ben Hale

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One response

  1. The way I see it is that Buck is going to rely heavily on his bullpen as he has all season long. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buck pulls Saunders after just 3-4 innings even with no runs given up. I truly want to see the O’s win this game and make a playoff run because I love the underdog story, which the O’s have been all season long. Unfortunately I feel that Texas will get their shit together and inevitably win tonight, but wouldn’t it be nice for baseball if they didn’t.

    October 5, 2012 at 5:36 PM

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