Dodgers: Pulling Hill Out Early Was Roberts’ Biggest Mistake

It’s been over a day, but the Game 2 loss is probably still stinging many fans. It was the Dodgers bullpen that blew the game, but they should not have been put in that spot in the first place.

Rich Hill was dealing; there’s no way to deny that. Why the Dodgers pulled him is understandable, but the move was utterly wrong and unneeded, there’s no way to deny that either. Through four innings of work, Hill had given up three hits, one run and three walks (one intentional) while punching out seven. And he was getting better as the game went on and he was only at 60 pitches (42 strikes).

A strong argument can be made that the one run he gave up shouldn’t have ever happened because Josh Reddick (the guy who scored) got on base on a hard grounder second baseman Chase Utley couldn’t handle. But Utley will be the first to tell you that he should have made the play, especially considering he got his glove on the ball.

After the first run scored in the third inning, he had runners on first and second with one out and had to face the daunting duo of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, so this was a terrible spot to be in. What’s he do? He promptly strikes them both out to get out of the jam.

But after the fourth inning, when the lineup turned over to the third go-around, Roberts took him out in favor of Kenta Maeda. The more a batter sees a pitcher, the more comfortable he becomes with him because of the familiarity factor. Thus, statistically, it makes sense that most pitchers get hit harder the third time through the lineup than he does the first two times.

And throw in the fact that he’s a southpaw and the Astros best hitters are their first four batters who also happen to be righties, so you can see why Dave Roberts wanted to take him out.

But Hill isn’t most pitchers. The Dodgers are paying him $16 million a year for a reason. He debunked the “third time through the lineup” myth. It’s not a myth, but it seems like for him. This is how batters fared against him in 2017:

First time through a lineup:  .192/.286/.318

Second time through a lineup: .236/.324/.450

Third time through a lineup: .158/.208/.200

And it’s been a pattern throughout his whole career. 2017 wasn’t an aberration in the sense that there’s a gap in his performance the third time through:

First time through a lineup: .221/.311/.339

Second time through a lineup: .222/.306/.386

Third time through a lineup: .227/.294/.384

You’d think that a data-based organization would have known about these numbers.

Plus, he’s a starting pitcher, and you have to let your best ones go more than four innings. Why pay a total of $48 million for a guy if you’re just going to turn to bullpenning with him? At 60 pitches and getting stronger with his spot in the lineup still six spots away, Hill should have been given another inning or two at least. So his anger was understandable.

And I’d take my chances with him against the Astros’ top of the lineup. Springer and Bregman both had hits, but that’s because Hill just missed his spots. Altuve and Correa, on the other hand, were 0-4 with three strikeouts. Altuve looked rattled against the veteran and Hill had just fooled Correa in his last at-bat with his nasty curveball. And Hill is a reverse-splits guy, meaning he’s better when facing right-handed hitters. He limited them to a .583 OPS in the regular season.

And while initially, the move looked harmless because Maeda and Tony Watson combined for two scoreless innings, in reality, things started snowballing from the moment Hill was removed.

If you let him stay in an inning longer, that would push Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen back an inning. Morrow wouldn’t have had to come in the seventh and Jansen wouldn’t have been asked to complete an incredibly difficult six-out save. Jansen didn’t have his best stuff, but that would have been masked if he just needed to get three outs instead of six.

But this wasn’t the only bad move Roberts made. Why he brought Ross Stripling in during the seventh inning is beyond me. He’s not a guy you bring him in to protect a two-run lead in the seventh. So a pitcher was wasted right there when the Dodgers could have used him in extras instead. The bullpen was asked to do too much, so don’t put the entire blame on them.

And why Joc wasn’t hit for in the bottom of the seventh with Cody Bellinger on third with one out? Yes, he hit the home run earlier, but you should know your players. He’s a free-swinger, and he struck out swinging at three pitches that weren’t in the strikezone. You need a guy who could make contact in that situation. But ultimately, that missed opportunity wouldn’t have been as vital if Roberts managed the pitching staff better.

John Smoltz and Joe Buck discussed during the broadcast that relying too heavily on your bullpen is risky because you need every reliever to be on his game that day for everything to go right. But it won’t always work out that way because there are days where a pitcher just doesn’t have it. And if one guy doesn’t have it, the whole plan is ruined.

As the Joker said in The Dark Knight (RIP Heath) “Nobody panics when things go according to plan.” No one previously questioned Roberts’s bullpen-management once in the playoffs because everything went according to plan.

But expecting a bullpen to get 15 outs is very risky, it’s just asking too much. There is a higher chance for error, and when that mistake comes, everything and everyone goes nuts. No one would have panicked and questioned Dave Roberts if the Dodgers had won in nine innings because “it’s all part of the plan.” But they didn’t so we have to look back at what went wrong.

While Astros manager A.J. Hinch probably left his relievers in too long, Roberts took them and Rich Hill out way too early, which ended up causing him to empty his bench and bullpen too early. He got too cute. There’s no way around it. All we can do now is look forward to the next game and hope Yu Darvish can deliver once again in a Game 3.