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Was Andy Green’s hook too quick?

Joey Lucchesi was pulled from last night’s game in the sixth inning at 69 pitches. Andy Green’s move drew a lot of criticism.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

In last night’s game, Joey Lucchesi had one of his better starts of the season. Through five full innings, he had only surrendered one run while looking generally sharp. He came back out for the sixth inning and gave up a single and a walk before recording an out. His pitch count was at 69. With Anthony Rendon due to step into the batter’s box, manager Andy Green came out and relieved Lucchesi. The move has drawn scrutiny from many fans, and Luchessi was visibly unahppy with being pulled from the game. The team’s early struggles have focused criticism on the job that Andy Green is doing, but he generally has solid logic behind his moves. There are arguments on both sides of this debate.

Why Andy was Wrong:

  • At only 69 pitches, last night’s start was the shortest of Lucchesi’s season so far by pitch count. He had thrown between 75-103 pitches in each of his previous seven starts this season.
  • In 23 starts Last year in Lake Elsinore and San Antonio, Lucchesi threw no fewer than 72 pitches. He’s used to working deep into games.
  • Last year Lucchesi threw 139 total innings, so he should be scheduled for a season load closer to 160-180 innings. Innings or pitch count limits shouldn’t be a concern at this point in the season.
  • Young pitchers need to be able to work through jams as part of their seasoning at the MLB level. Pulling Lucchesi from this situation may have suggested that Green doesn’t trust Lucchesi completely, which can reflect on the entire pitching staff.
  • The Padres bullpen has been relied upon heavily so far this year, so pulling a pitcher earlier than necessary further depletes a scarce resource.
  • By using Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates, and Brad Hand in the game, all three are limited in availability for tonight’s game, which is the first start of the season for Jordan Lyles.

Why Andy was Right:

  • In his first two at-bats against Lucchesi, Anthony Rendon was 2-for-2 with a solo homer in his second time up, which was a no-doubter to the Nationals bullpen in centerfield.
  • Lucchesi had just given up a first-pitch single to Michael Taylor on a poorly-placed sinker in the middle of the zone, followed by a four-pitch walk to Trea Turner where Lucchesi’s last two pitches were way off target.
  • The next three hitters in the Nationals lineup (Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Howie Kendrick) are all right-handed hitters. Righties are posting an OPS that’s nearly 200 points higher than his performance against lefties (.742 to .543).
  • When working through a lineup the third time in a game, opposing hitters are slashing .292/.357/.542 as their OPS jumps by over 200 points (.674 & .670 for the first and second time through the order, .899 when facing batters a third time)
  • Craig Stammen has been particularly successful in stranding inherited runners.
  • Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates, and Brad Hand all had two days of rest since their last outings.
  • The bullpen had pitched 17.2 innings over the previous five days, which isn’t heavy usage.
  • Lucchesi seems entrenched into the rotation, so he’ll have other chances to work through jams.

Andy Green’s job is to try to win baseball games. He makes his decisions based on the available data to maximize the team’s chances to win the game. While managing the development of the players on his roster falls under his job description, the win-loss record is the loudest metric when assessing his job performance. Pulling Lucchesi and inserting Stammen to clear the jam in a close game is the correct move “by the book” to win the game. The issue with the move comes into focus when we look at the bigger picture. The bullpen has been taxed heavily so far this season. With Jordan Lyles on deck to make his first start of the season, it’s highly likely that the bullpen will be called upon to pick him up today.

The arguments on both sides are equally convincing. I tend to agree with Green’s decision to pull Joey and do his best to win the game, but with Jordan Lyles taking the mound today, I’ll cringe if he gets a quick hook and then Robbie Erlin struggles behind him.