It's been a banner year for bizarre DH choices in Chicago, and on Friday night, the visiting Royals decided to get involved. Facing Mark Buehrle and trying to fight their way back into the AL Central race, the Royals penciled in Willie Bloomquist as their starting DH. The same Willie Bloomquist who is hitting .232 with no power this season. Indeed, the same Willie Bloomquist who is a career utility man who possesses only two assets for a team: an ability to play a variety of positions and speed. On Friday night the Royals took away Willie's glove and said, "just focus on what you do worst: hitting."
The White Sox had to have been impressed. Ozzie Guillen infamously started Omar Vizquel (great glove, no bat) at DH earlier this season, who may have actually been a better choice than Brent Lillibridge, who has also DHed for the Sox in 2010. Using all speed/defense players as hitters only has been an odd feature of Guillen's 2010 strategy for the White Sox, who have given Juan Pierre eight starts at designated hitter.So why did the Royals start Bloomquist at DH, something he hadn't (for good reason) done since 2006? The answer lies in the matchup stat, one of the stupidest managerial crutches of the modern game. Royal Manager Ned Yost explained, "if you see his numbers against Buehrle, you'll know why. Willie's got great numbers against Buehrle."
Bloomquist is, indeed, a .455 hitter against Buehrle, who he has faced 37 times since 2003. Bloomquist also a career OPS of .650 in 1946 plate appearances. It's curious that so many managers remain, at least officially, to be very anti-statistical when they talk about the game, yet at the same time can be swayed by the most meaningless stats one can use. There are thousands of plate appearances showing that Willie Bloomquist is not a good hitter, yet Yost saw more meaning in 37 completely random plate appearances between Buehrle and Bloomquist, despite the fact that those matchups have occurred with great irregularity over seven seasons.
As these things go, Bloomquist's 37 battles with Buehrle are actually quite many. The next time you watch a game, pay attention to how many times you hear a broadcaster talking about how player X always does well against pitcher Y. Usually, the evidence used to generate that statement is something like six or seven at bats. Numbers like that aren't stats that tell us anything about the player or the game, they're simply trivia. In most cases no different than how a player hits on Tuesdays or when the team wears throwback jerseys. Amazingly, Bloomquist only went 1-4 on Friday (a single, no surprise), failing to live up to his nonexiste
But, returning to Yost's decision, Bloomquist didn't merely start for the Royals on Friday night, he was used as the DH. Even if you buy the thesis that Bloomquist owns Buehrle, there's still the matter of using a solid defensive player as a DH, while allowing a lesser defensive player to stay in the field. Perhaps Yost just wanted to impress Ozzie Guillen: being tactically nonsensical is the new way of showing how old-school you are.