Arizona Fall League play began Tuesday, and as we discussed last week, it's serving as a testing ground for experimental rules that may make their way up to the major league level in one form or another.
The pitchless intentional walk is one of them, and I didn't want that rule to climb the ladder because the White Sox scored a go-ahead run on an airmailed attempt in the 10th inning against the Angels. Sure, it happened three years ago, but you always hold out hope that something that stupid happens again.
It was already insane that the Giants took the lead on some classic #WILDPITCHOFFENSE as Aaron Barrett lost the zone with the bases loaded. The wild pitch moved all runners ahead 90 feet, which gave San Francisco a 1-0 lead and opened first base with still only one out. Matt Williams called for an intentional walk to reload the bases, and after missing low on the previous pitch, Barrett missed very, very high ...
... to his benefit, somehow.
That right there is the argument against pitchless intentional walks. The pace-of-play problem stems from too much time avoiding action. The intentional walk is composed of baseball actions -- or four of the same action, more specifically -- so it doesn't need to be abbreviated. It may be an abused form of risk avoidance by managers seeking crutches, but it still represents the playing of the game. If it didn't, it wouldn't result in a play that fans will be talking about more than any other one.
Speaking of managerial crutches, Williams used Matt Thornton (against a righty), Barrett (a rookie) and Rafael Soriano (who was nearly unrosterable) in the game's most crucial situation, and they couldn't escape the inning unscathed. Meanwhile, his closer (Drew Storen) and two superior setup guys (Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen) remained out in the bullpen, unused in an elimination game.
Williams explained his reasoning thusly:
Williams on why he went with Thornton/Barrett: "Those are our seventh inning guys. ... We're not going to bring our closer in in 7th."
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 8, 2014
My favorite reaction to that:
"We're certainly not going to use our closer in the 7th inning." -- Matt Williams, manager of a baseball team no longer playing
— RandBall (@RandBall) October 8, 2014
This touches on a couple things that came up during our podcast (which you should listen to if you haven't already). Seeing Bruce Bochy and Buck Showalter manage circles around Williams and Brad Ausmus made me wonder if experience would become a bigger priority for teams seeking new managers. We saw Robin Ventura tighten up considerably in his first September, which ended up playing into Jim Leyland's hands.
The hope is that Ventura has learned from those episodes -- if he's still managing the Sox by their next competitive September, anyway -- and that the recent pitching hardships have forged new habits. Rick Hahn gave his support, saying Ventura might have gained a unique handle on leverage after the first three closer options rendered themselves unavailable.
By the last month of the season, he basically figured out that Jake Petricka was his best late-inning option against righties, and Zach Putnam had a better handle on lefties. So you had games like Sept. 19 against the Rays, when Petricka faced Evan Longoria and Wil Myers in the eighth inning, leaving the bottom half of a weak Tampa Bay lineup for Eric Surkamp and Putnam. His next time out (Sept. 22 against Detroit), he faced J.D. Martinez to end the eighth, then completed a 1-2-3 ninth for a four-out save.
Five of Petricka's last six appearances started in the eighth inning, and the results were mixed (although seeing the Royals destroy the Angels with speed makes Petricka's two losses to Kansas City easier to reconcile). But one of the only benefits of a lost season is the ability to experiment under far less scrutiny, and Ventura seemed to take some advantage of it. Whether it was a reflection of creative impulses or a reflexive survival method is a different question, but we won't know until next year, or whenever Hahn finds a way to arm Ventura to the teeth with arms.