Joe Girardi’s most controversial double switch turned out to be his most effective one of the season and it’s not even close.
In Saturday’s demoralizing 12th inning 8-7 defeat to the Atlanta Braves, Girardi took out Jean Segura in the seventh inning, who was 7-for-9 with a home run and three RBIs since coming off the injured list Friday, and moved Nick Maton to the nine-hole on the double switch.
José Alvarado was in to pitch and the clean-up hitter J.T. Realmuto was due up the next inning. Girardi wanted to have Alvarado pitch the bottom of the eighth, so the Phillies skipper did not want to risk having the pitcher’s spot come up in the top of the eighth.
In the 11th inning, Maton faced left-hander A.J. Minter and drove an 0-1 pitch into the gap to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead with two outs. The Phillies bullpen failed to hold onto three leads that night, but Girardi’s head-scratching decision to take Segura out worked in his favor.
With one swing, Maton became the team’s most valuable offensive substitute of the 2021 season. His double increased the Phillies’ chances of winning the game by 30 percent (.300 WPA). Twenty other Phillies offensive substitutes provided a positive impact in terms of win probability added or WPA. The sum of every other net positive offensive substitution the Phillies made this season (20 players combined) equals a WPA of .200, ten points fewer than what Maton provided that night. Overall, Phillies offensive substitutes are worth a combined -.815 WPA.
In layman’s terms, the Phillies are not getting nearly enough big hits off the bench. Win probabilities shift dramatically when a team gets a game-tying or go-ahead hit late in games. Seventeen of the last 21 Phillies games have been decided by two runs or fewer and the bench has failed to contribute in all but one of those games.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, Maton was not the most valuable offensive substitute in the game. Ehire Adrianza, who drove in the tying run in the 11th and the winning run in the 12th, had a higher WPA (.376) than Maton. His ninth-inning walk gave Pablo Sandoval a chance to tie the game with one swing. Sandoval’s home run increased the Braves’ chances of winning by nearly 50 percent (.489 WPA). When it comes to bench players and WPA, Sandoval is in a league of his own. He’s worth a combined 1.748 WPA as a pinch hitter this season.
It’s part of the reason why the Braves were heavily favorited to finish with a much better record than the Phillies this season. Atlanta always finds a way to get a more than sufficient level of production out of the bottom half of their roster.
There is some hindsight that needs to be addressed. What if Segura was never taken out of the game? His spot came up with a runner on first and second with nobody out in the tenth against lefty Will Smith. The Phillies instead went with Rhys Hoskins, whose strikeout swinging decreased the Phillies’ chances of winning by about 12 percent (-.1.222 WPA). Bryce Harper and Realmuto failed to get a run home. Brandon Kintzler held the Braves scoreless the next half-inning.
The Phillies probably would have felt better about their chances of taking the lead in the tenth if Segura was at the plate as opposed to the struggling Hoskins. With National League rules in play for at least one more season, Girardi has to weigh the importance of keeping certain hitters in the lineup along with ensuring he can get the proper length out of the relievers he intends to use.
“Sometimes, if you don’t close the game out, it can cost you,” Girardi said before Sunday’s game. “but I’m not planning for extra innings. That’s not what I’m planning for. I knew that I needed multiple innings out of [Sam] Coonrod and Alvarado possibly and it kind of forced my hand just because of where we were.”
In his first full season managing under NL rules since 2006, Girardi has used the double switch 31 times in 35 games. McCutchen, Didi Gregorius and just about every Phillies starting center fielder besides Odúbel Herrera are frequently the ones to get the boot in favor of a bench player.Embed from Getty Images
Phillies offensive subs are slashing .177/.278/.291, which explains why every double switch from Girardi is rightfully scrutinized. The Phillies have one of the least productive benches in the National League. Brad Miller is the only player on the team with multiple pinch hits (three). Their pinch hitters have combined to go 6-for-41 with two extra-base hits. Considering that the bench mostly consists of Miller, a backup catcher (Knapp), a hitter who is struggling to find his swing (Scott Kingery) and two currently injured outfielders who struggled offensively for most of the season (Matt Joyce and Roman Quinn), it’s easy to understand why the bench is a weakness.
Girardi is almost always sacrificing offense for bullpen preservation when he double switches and the benefit of his decision is never tangible. It could mean Girardi has an additional reliever available to him in the following game, but then again, Girardi’s bullpen rules that are put in place to keep pitchers healthy and limit innings are his own constraints. Managers today are hesitant to use a reliever three days in a row. Maybe it’s the difference between a key reliever getting injured in July or not. We’ll never know.
But on Saturday, Maton broke a trend. As the Phillies offense returns to full strength, the 24-year-old is relegated to a bench role. Girardi prefers to have young players take regular at-bats but with a lack of position player depth on the 40-man roster, the Phillies will have no choice but to fit a square peg into a round hole. Maton is taking fly balls in all three outfield positions with the hope that he could be the go-to guy to come off the bench in a double switch.
It’s not the ideal role for the player, but the team will need Maton to come off the bench and find any way to get on base for the time being.
It’s not like he can do much worse.
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