Should Kirk Gibson Have Walked Prince Fielder?

MILWAUKEE, WI: Prince Fielder #28 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a two run home run in the 7th inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during Game One of the National League Division Series at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In retrospect, it probably didn't matter. In retrospect, there probably wasn't much that Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson could have done to prevent his club from losing Game 1 of their Division Series to the Brewers, 4-1. Thanks to Yovani Gallardo and John Axford, the D'backs collected only four hits and scored just once.

Still, three of the Brewers' four runs scored immediately after moments when at least some observers would have recommended intentional walks that were not ordered by Gibson.

My friend David Schoenfield, writing at The Sweet Spot, summed the matter well:

The Brewers were helped by two questionable decisions by Arizona manager Kirk Gibson. Now, generally speaking, intentional walks are a bad idea. The risk of opening up a big inning by putting more runners on base outweighs the benefits gained from facing a weaker hitter or gaining a platoon advantage.

--snip--


The second decision, however, was the game-breaker. In the seventh, Ryan Braun doubled with two outs to bring up Prince Fielder. Now, Fielder led the majors with 32 intentional walks for a reason. Against right-handed pitchers, his OPS of 1.046 was second-best in baseball only to Miguel Cabrera. In Milwaukee, where Fielder had an OPS 227 points higher than on the road, he's like Babe Ruth. He loves Miller Park as much Brewers fans love beer and tailgating. Down 2-0, with two outs and a right-hander on the mound and right-handed Rickie Weeks on deck, you simply cannot let Prince Fielder beat you.

The postseason is not the time to show extraordinary faith in your players.

Kennedy hung a curveball inside and Fielder lined it into the first few rows in right field. Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 0. Game over.

I snipped the first decision because I didn't want to break any Internet laws. In a nutshell, Yuniesky Betancourt tripled in the sixth, bringing light-hitting Jonathan Lucroy to the plate with two outs. With pitcher Yovani Gallardo on deck, some managers probably would order an intentional walk for Lucroy. Gibson didn't, perhaps in part because Gallardo's career hitting stats aren't much south of Lucroy's. And also because, you know, it's pretty neat when the pitcher has to lead off the next inning.

This didn't work out so well, because Lucroy blooped a single into left field, scoring Betancourt. But when Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy beat you, there's really nothing to be done except, if you must, curse the baseball gods.

The other thing didn't work out so well, either, and Gibson is undoubtedly going to be asked about it. In the booth, Victor Rojas and Joe Simpson certainly were skeptical about Gibson's decision (non-decision?) to eschew the intentional walk to Fielder.

It should be said that we're talking about very small percentage differences here. Would the Diamondbacks' percentage chance of winning have been higher if Gibson had ordered the intentional walk?

Maybe. But if so, by just a little. I mean, a little.

But this is the way Gibson's been playing it all season.

This season, the National League leaders in intentional walks were the Braves and the Marlins, with 73 and 72.

Last on the list were the Brewers and ... the Diamondbacks, both with only 16 intentional walks all season. Kirk Gibson just doesn't like intentional walks, and neither does Ron Roenicke. Which is a +1 for both of them, since intentional walks usually lead to more runs, not fewer.

In this case? Again, the percentages are small. Schoenfield argues that the postseason "is not the time to show extraordinary faith in your players" ... but perhaps it is exactly the time, particularly if not showing faith won't really improve your chances much.

What might have improved the Diamondbacks' chances? A new pitcher entirely.

Kennedy gave up the home run to Fielder in the bottom of the seventh inning. Kennedy was slated to bat in the top of the eighth. Even if the score had still been 2-0, would Gibson have let Kennedy hit? He would not. So why leave Kennedy in the game for just one extra hitter? Especially a hitter like Fielder, who murders right-handed pitchers?

Granted, Gibson has just one left-hander in his bullpen: Joe Paterson.

But Paterson pitched only 34 innings in his 62 appearances this season. He exists, in the baseball sense, solely for situations exactly like this one: tough lefty hitter, just one out needed.

The percentages are small here, too. But I'll bet it's less small. And I'll bet Paterson gets the nod, if this situation comes up again.

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