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Mike Shildt vs. the Double-Switch

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Removing Mike Shildt’s interim tag raised some questions with national writers. Let’s address one of them.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of the decision to hire Mike Shildt as the full-time manager, there were a lot of interesting comments from national sportswriters. Great writers questioned the notion of hiring a manager based on 38 games (at the time he was hired), and noted the unsustainable bullpen performance in the face of their middling second half peripherals. Craig Edwards did a great job of addressing much of this at Fangraphs, so I won’t belabor it. Just read his article. However, among the criticism, one comment in particular jumped out at me.

It was preceded by this comment:

I’m a Joe Sheehan fan, and his specific reference to double-switches on two occasions made me wonder if he had a point. Let’s dig back through Shildt’s games through Wednesday and see where he double-switched a pitcher in for a hitter in the top six of the lineup.

July 21

The situation: With the Cardinals ahead 1-0 headed to the bottom of the 6th, Shildt brings in Greg Holland. He places him 2nd in the lineup, replacing José Martinez. In the 9th slot of the lineup, Matt Carpenter comes in to play first base. The 9th slot was due up third in the next inning.

What happened: Holland got a pop-up, then yielded a walk and a single. Paul DeJong made an error, and then Holland walked in the tying run with the bases loaded. Then, Shildt went to Jordan Hicks, double-switching him in for Greg Garcia in the 8th slot. Kolten Wong came in to play second base in the 2nd slot. Hicks eventually worked out of the jam, but not before the Cubs took the lead, 3-1.

Carpenter came up to bat in the 7th and popped a solo homerun. He also led off the 9th with a walk, sparking a three-run rally that won the game. Wong scored in the 9th after reaching on a fielder’s choice.

The verdict: It worked out as well as you could possibly expect. He double-switched in a better defensive first baseman (Carpenter) for a disastrous defensive first baseman (Martinez), and gained a slightly better hitter in the process. It was a 1-0 game at the time, so defense mattered more than normal. He also subbed in Wong for Garcia, which is a defensive upgrade. Garcia had a slight offensive edge at the time, but Wong’s glove more than makes up for it. One might gripe about the choice of Holland, but it was game two of a doubleheader amid a 5-game weekend. It was also Holland’s last game as a Cardinal. These double-switches were good choices.

July 22

The situation: After Jose Martinez hit in the top of the 6th inning of a game tied 2-2, Shildt replaced him with Mike Mayers in the 5th slot. Jedd Gyorko went to the 9th slot to play third base, and Matt Carpenter moved over to first. Mayers’ slot in the order was due up fifth.

What happened: Mayers gave up a homerun in the 6th, then yielded another run in his second inning of work. By the time his spot in the order came up, the Cardinals were down 4-2 in the 7th. Shildt pinch-hit with Greg Garcia, who struck out. Brett Cecil came in and was torched for three runs in the 8th, effectively ending the game 7-2.

The verdict: This one is wonkier. It was a close game at the time, and Shildt needed to stretch his next reliever for multiple innings given the fact that this game came the day after a doubleheader and was game number five in four days. Opting for defense and a better chance to stretch a reliever isn’t a terrible idea on its face. By the end of the moves, he needed Martinez’s bat, and Mayers coughed up the lead. The process seems fine to me, but the move is murkier than most. If anything, the sin was making this move earlier in the game when Martinez had at least one more at-bat in him.

July 28

The situation: Jordan Hicks was placed in José Martinez’s slot (cleanup) after Martinez batted in the bottom of the 7th inning. Carpenter moved from third base to first, and Jedd Gyorko entered the game in the 9th slot to play third base. The Cardinals led 6-2 at the time and it would be eight more hitters before the cleanup slot would come back to the plate.

What happened: Hicks pitched a scoreless inning, Bud Norris pitched a scoreless 9th, the cleanup slot never hit again, and the Cardinals won 6-2.

The verdict: It’s hard to imagine a double-switch working out better. Looking at the process, there’s a drop at the plate from Martinez to Gyorko. However, by the 8th inning, the odds of that gap being the difference were small, and the defense gained by removing Martinez made perfect sense.

August 1

The situation: It was a carbon copy of July 28th. Hicks entered for José Martinez (hitting fifth) after Martinez batted in the bottom of the 7th inning. Carpenter moved from third base to first, and Gyorko entered the game in the 9th slot to play third base. The Cardinals led 3-2 and it would be seven more hitters before Martinez’s slot would come back to the plate.

What happened: Hicks pitched a scoreless inning, and the Cardinals plated three runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Hicks/Martinez slot came up in the bottom of the 8th with two outs and a runner on first. Pinch hitter Greg Garcia grounded out, but the damage was already done- a 6-2 lead. Mike Mayers entered for Garcia and allowed one run to make it 6-3 before finishing out the game.

The verdict: Like July 28th, this worked out as well as possible, and the process was perfectly sound.

August 4

The situation: After José Martinez batted in the top of the 8th, he was replaced in the fifth slot by Mike Mayers. Yairo Muñoz replaced Martinez in right field. The Cardinals led 7-4 at the time, and the Martinez/Mayers slot wouldn’t come back up for seven more hitters.

What happened: Mayers pitched a scoreless 8th, Carpenter hit a solo shot to push the lead to 8-4 in the top of the 9th, and Norris closed it out.

The verdict: This one is a little shaky because Muñoz is questionable in right field as well, though certainly less so than Martinez. With a three run lead and six outs to go, the idea of removing your worst defender from an outfield slot makes perfect sense. Dexter Fowler’s broken foot, which had occurred the night before, limited Shildt’s options. I’ll call this a push.

August 5

The situation: Ahead 2-0, Chasen Shreve replaced José Martinez in the third slot in the order entering the bottom of the 7th. The Shreve/Martinez lineup spot wouldn’t come up for eight more hitters. Muñoz entered the game in right field in the ninth spot in the order.

What happened: Shreve faced two hitters and was popped for a game-tying homerun before giving way to Mayers. After Mayers got into a little trouble, he combined with Hicks and Norris to retire the final seven Pirate hitters en route to a 2-1 victory. The third slot in the order didn’t bat again. Muñoz struck out in his lone plate appearance leading off the top of the 9th.

The verdict: It’s much like the previous game. Removing Martinez was a wise move, and lacking Fowler limited Shildt’s options. Muñoz is a questionable choice in right field. It’s worth noting that the lone hit allowed by Mayers was laced into the right field corner and Muñoz chased it down with enough aplomb to prevent Jordy Mercer from scoring the game-tying run. Like the day before, we can call this a push only because of Muñoz’s questionable skills in right field.

August 7

The situation: After taking a 3-2 lead in the top of the 8th inning, Dakota Hudson replaced José Martinez in the third slot in the order entering the bottom of the 8th. Martinez had made the last out in the top of the 8th, meaning Hudson was the ninth hitter due up. Muñoz entered the game in right field in the ninth spot in the order.

What happened: Hudson pitched a scoreless 8th, Norris closed out the win in the 9th, the third spot in the order never came back up, nor did Muñoz in the ninth slot. Moreover, Muñoz didn’t have any chances in right field.

The verdict: The results are a clear victory. However, if August 4th and 5th are a push because of Muñoz’s ability in right field, this one qualifies too.

August 13

The situation: With a 6-4 lead entering the top of the 9th, Shildt places Norris in Jose Martinez’s slot in the order (third) and inserts Adolis Garcia in right field and the ninth spot. The Martinez/Norris spot in the order was eight turns away.

What happened: Norris melted down a bit against the Nats, giving up three singles, a walk, a wild pitch, leading to a 6-6 tie. Two of the singles were hit to Garcia in the 9th, though both were sure hits. Garcia was charged with a throwing error on the second one, although the error was questionable and it didn’t lead to any runs. Hudson relieved Norris, closed out the inning, and Paul DeJong hit a walk-off homerun to lead off the bottom of the 9th.

The verdict: This is the opposite scenario of using Muñoz. The process is rock solid. Garcia is known as an above average defender, and Shildt only needed three more outs. Martinez’s spot in the order wasn’t due up until much later. It was an obvious time to make this double-switch.

August 14

The situation: With a 6-3 lead and two outs in the top of the 8th inning, Hudson enters the game in the sixth spot in the order, replacing Jedd Gyorko. Patrick Wisdom is placed in the ninth spot in the order and replaces Gyorko at third base. The Nats have a runner on second. Gyorko made the final out in the previous inning from the sixth spot in the order, meaning Hudson would be the ninth man in order. Martinez had already been replaced in right field an inning earlier with Tyler O’Neill.

What happened: Hudson was shaky, allowing a walk and a run-scoring single before escaping the jam. Jordan Hicks closed the door in the 9th. Wisdom’s spot in the order came up in the bottom of the 8th, and he grounded out. He didn’t have any chances in the field. The Gyorko/Hudson spot never came up to bat.

The verdict: We have our most questionable double-switch yet. Depending upon which metric you use, Gyorko is a solid-to-good third baseman defensively. Wisdom can hold his own over there, as well, but it’s a reach to say he’s an obvious upgrade. Gyorko also profiles as the better hitter. It was nifty to get the pitcher nine slots away from hitting with the double-switch, but it seems to be the only thing accomplished. I can’t defend this one.

August 20

The situation: With two outs in the bottom of the 7th and runners on first and second, Shildt brings in Hicks. Gyorko goes in to the ninth slot and plays third base, while Hicks replaces Wisdom in the fifth spot in the order. The Hicks/Wisdom spot is the ninth slot in the order due up, as Wisdom made the final out the previous inning. The Cardinals led 3-2 at the time.

Before the bottom of the 9th and with a 5-3 lead, Shildt removed José Martinez from the second spot in the order for Bud Norris. O’Neill, who had pinch hit in the top of the 9th in the Wisdom/Hicks/Brett Cecil spot, replaced Martinez in right field.

What happened: Hicks allowed the tying run to score, though none of the double-switched players played a role in it. Hicks was lifted with two outs in the bottom of the 8th for Brett Cecil, who closed out the inning. Tied 3-3 entering the top of the 9th, Gyorko’s spot in the order came up and he blasted a go-ahead homerun against Kenley Jansen. Carpenter followed up with a homerun of his own. Norris entered in Martinez’s slot and closed out the game.

The verdict: The Gyorko move made perfect sense. Shildt pushed the pitcher nine slots away from batting, and Gyorko represented an offensive upgrade over Wisdom and at least a defensive push. The fact that the results justified the process so dramatically, with Gyorko’s game-winning homerun, is icing on the cake.

It’s tough to argue with removing Martinez for O’Neill entering the bottom of the 9th with a two run lead. Both of these double-switches were wise moves.

August 21

The situation: With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, a 5-2 lead, and a runner on first base, Carlos Martinez comes in to pitch and replaces José Martinez in the leadoff slot. Carpenter replaces José Martinez at first base and hits ninth. The leadoff spot is five hitters away.

What happened: Carlos Martinez struggled a bit in his first game back from injury, but survived 1.1 innings without giving up a run. Norris finished it off in the 9th. The first hitter Martinez faced, Yasmani Grandal, grounded out to Carpenter- Jose Martinez’s replacement. Carpenter had a hand in every Dodger out for the remainder of the game. He struck out in his lone at-bat, and Miles Mikolas struck out pinch hitting for the leadoff slot in the top of the 9th.

The verdict: Moving the pitcher from ninth to leadoff in the double-switch is questionable, as you only gain one more batter before you see that slot again. However, replacing Jose Martinez with Carpenter, in the 7th and holding a three-run lead, is clearly a positive move. Like the July 21st move, Shildt enhanced his defense and offense. It was a good move.

August 24

The situation: Entering the bottom of the 9th with a 7-5 lead in Colorado, Bud Norris enters the game in the third spot in the order for José Martinez. Yairo Muñoz takes over in right field and bats ninth. The Martinez/Norris spot is eight hitters away.

What happened: Norris got into and worked out of a jam. It could have been worse except Muñoz handled a tricky liner off the bat of Ian Desmond for the second out of the inning. The Cardinals won 7-5, and the Martinez/Norris spot in the order never came up.

The verdict: This is like the other Martinez/Muñoz double-switches. In a vacuum, it makes sense to remove Martinez for a better defender late in games with a lead. It’s a question of how much of an upgrade Muñoz represents. However, he’s increasingly proving himself as a reasonable right fielder. Moreover, this move happened with Marcell Ozuna on the disabled list, limiting Shildt’s options.

Conclusions

All of these have happened as a result of trying to protect a late lead, and almost all of them have involved removing José Martinez. We can break them out this way:

  • Muñoz in for Martinez in right field (four times)
  • Gyorko in for Martinez, Gyorko to third, Carpenter to first base (three times)
  • Carpenter in for Martinez at first base (two times)
  • O’Neill in for Martinez (once)
  • Adolis Garcia for Martinez (once)
  • Gyorko in for Wisdom (once)
  • Wisdom in for Gyorko (once)
  • Kolten Wong in for Greg Garcia (once)

The claim was that these double-switches were awful. I don’t agree. Gyorko for Wisdom, Carpenter for Martinez, Adolis Garcia for Martinez, and Wong for Greg Garcia are all clear positives. The Gyorko for Martinez swaps, with Carpenter moving to first, are mostly clear positives, though less emphatically than the others. The same is true for O’Neill for Martinez. That accounts for eight of his 14 double-switches as varying degrees of positive, and one Gyorko for Martinez double-switch as mostly good process.

Originally, I referred to the Muñoz swaps as a push. On at least two occasions, he has executed in the outfield in ways where Martinez would probably falter. He has gotten the job done when asked to replace a defensive liability. If you want to leave them as a push, I won’t argue. However, the results have been a positive even if the process leaves room for second guessing.

The Wisdom-for-Gyorko move on August 14th is the only awful one. It made no sense. That leaves a final tally of 8 good/solid double-switches, 5 you could call a push, and one bad one. Shildt has done at least a reasonable job of deploying the double-shift.

It’s possible that the criticism comes from the belief that most double-switches made for defensive purposes are bad, and that the odds are low that your team will lose a game because of a single poor defender. I appreciate that point of view, but it drastically underrates how poor José Martinez has been defensively everywhere he plays. Choose any metric you like and it bears out the truth. The gap between Martinez and a slightly below average defender is significant, and even more so when compared to the defensive gains from O’Neill, Adolis Garcia, or moving Matt Carpenter to first base.