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Astros: Why Dusty Pinch Hit Last Night

This is going to be one of the most bizzarro moments of the LarryTheGM website. At probably one of Dusty Baker's most unpopular moments, where people who are NORMALLY analytic driven are just RAILING on Dusty; I am going to defend him. Yes, you read that right. I am going to DEFEND DUSTY BAKER for making a move last night for which some of you think he should be fired.

Before getting to the ninth inning, let me show you the lineup charts we have been doing almost daily. Of course, I took a day off yesterday to watch my Longhorns and you never saw this from me.

There was a LOT of negativity over Dubon leading off. I understand it but having a 0.287 xwOBA hitter leading off is not a huge hit. I probably would have scored this lineup about an 8 and maybe even higher.


People were shocked to see McCormick batting eighth. One could argue he could have led off. I suspect he would have seen more changeups, cutters, and sinkers. More on that later.


As far as the biggest moment and discussion topic:


Last night Dusty Baker PH for Chas McCormick with Jon Singleton in the ninth inning with a runner at first.


This is what Dusty had to say about the move.

Honestly Dusty's explanations are a part of his problem. Let me start at the beginning with the Astros lineup and then I will explain why and Dusty Baker pinch hit Chas McCormick with Jon Singleton last night.


Let me start with a few themes I am going to ask you to accept.

  1. MLB teams including the Astros use EXPECTED stats which build off of the quality of contact (exit velocity, launch angle, etc.) to determine strategy. You may not like this. You may think they base decisions on batter vs. pitcher data of less than ten plate appearances.

  2. Baseball is a sport of failure. In small sample sizes, the results will DRASTICALLY misrepresent true talent or a future likely outcome. THIS is why metrics that use precursor data like exit velocity are more predictive.

  3. I do not believe Dusty is comfortable with most of this data. He does not seem to understand most of it but the people around him do understand. I think Dusty has gotten to the point with all of the very justifiable criticism that he just does what the analytical group provides the strategy coach and Espada.

Let's walk through the situation in the ninth inning step-by-step.


A. Clay Holmes is pitching.


Clay Holmes, the Yankees closer, was pitching the game in the ninth inning. Here is the predictive data vs, RHB and LHB for Holmes this season.

Holmes is PRIMARILY a sinker ball pitcher throwing that pitch nearly 68% of the time. However, I would argue that his slider and sweeper pitches have been FAR more effective.


Yet in Dusty's explanation he is completely focused on that sinker ball. Why? Let's look at the pitches he has thrown since 8/1/23.

In the last 33 days, Holmes is now throwing the sinker nearly 77% of the time. In the small sample he has been even MORE effective vs. RHB.


B. Chas McCormick is up after Yainer Diaz scrambled to get on.


Down one run with two outs with a runner at first. Here was the shot for the Astros to stage a miracle comeback. Astros fans feel GREAT with Chas McCormick coming up.


Let me take a minute to give you all a McCormick xwOBA vs. RHP/LHP and different pitch types table.


McCormick has been INCREDIBLE in 2023. He does have some pitches he is far below average at hitting.

Teams are pitching more sinkers from RHP to McCormick. They are cutting their 4-seam fastballs to him significantly. It is a game of adjustments. I believe Chas can hit the RHP Sinker like he does a LHP Sinker, but he hasn't yet.


How does McCormick matchup with that Sinker from an RHP? Not great.

Dusty was quoting the BA number of 0.220 vs. that Sinker. His xBA was even lower. I would say with two outs the Astros needed more than just a hit. They needed a double or HR. The xwOBA number of 0.253 means the Holmes sinker WAS NOT a pitch the Astros wanted McCormick to face with the game on the line. I love Chas McCormick as much as anyone in the Astros fan base. Down to your last out he was NOT the option. Who was?


Here are the Astros players vs. the Sinker this year.

Do you see who is second on the list? Jon Singleton. Yes, one of the things Singleton does best is hit sinkers and 4-seam fastballs. Here is Singleton vs. an RHP that throws the pitches Holmes throws to LHH.

His numbers with the Astros are sky high vs. that RHP Sinker. Holmes COULD have, and I would argue probably SHOULD have attacked Singleton with a slider or two in the AB. He didn't.


Before Singleton, Holmes had thrown 15 pitches to the Astros last night- 14 were sinkers. THEY KNEW it was going to be Holmes's sinker vs. either McCormick or Singleton.

I calculate that matchup xwOBA two different ways, but the result is the same.


For those that can't calibrate to xwOBA, I translated this to an OPS number.

Sending Singleton to the plate was like sending a player you thought had a better than Yordan like opportunity to succeed - a 1.043 OPS. Sending McCormick IN THAT SITUATION would have been like sending Cory Julks- a 0.653 OPS. That is almost 0.400 OPS!


Folks, I know we question everything Dusty does. I would submit it is because he has done some REALLY DUMB things. Late night pinch hitting for McCormick with Single was NOT a dumb move. It was the right one.


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