Brandon League faced six hitters last night in the 9-3 loss to Milwaukee. He retired exactly one of them. Three runs scored while he was on the mound. He got hung with a loss. He launched an endless amount of angry tweets from Dodger fans.
He didn’t pitch poorly at all.
This seems crazy, and maybe it is, but a large part of what makes baseball writing fun is the opportunity to look deeper than the box score and put out a position that seems contrarian, as long as you can back it up. Brim did a good job touching on this in the recap last night. I want to really look at it in detail, because what the hell, it’s Saturday.
Setting the scene: The Dodgers scored twice in the top of the seventh, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, thanks in part to a timely pinch-hit from Andre Ethier in place of the “is not a big league hitter” Miguel Rojas. In the bottom of the inning, Jamey Wright got the first out. J.P. Howell walked Rickie Weeks, so Don Mattingly brought in League. (Three batters, three pitchers. You wonder why games take four hours.) Remember why League exists for a second. It’s not to miss bats. Of the 300 pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, only eight have a lower strikeout percentage. And even “only eight” is generous, because one of those guys is Paul Maholm. He doesn’t get strikeouts. You may think he should because of his contract, but that’s really not relevant any longer. He doesn’t.
What he does do is get grounders, perhaps better than anyone else in the National League. Of those same 300 pitchers, only one generates a higher grounder rate than League’s 71.7%, Baltimore’s Zach Britton. You bring in League when you want a ground ball. More often than not, he’ll get you that ground ball. You just have to pray it goes to the right place.
So a situation where you’re up by one in the seventh, with a man on and a man out, a perfect double-play scenario with a slow-footed runner at the plate, is exactly where you’d want to use League. Obviously, you know the ending already: this didn’t end well. But let’s remember why. Warning: The GIFs, they are a-coming.
No. 1: Mark Reynolds
Did League do his job? Yes!
One on, one out. You hope and you pray that your reliever can deliver a grounder that can be turned into a double play. League really couldn’t have delivered much better, getting Reynolds to ground a tailor-made DP ball right up the middle to…
…oh. That’s Justin Turner, the third Dodger shortstop of the game. He was in because Hanley Ramirez left early with an injury — shocking, I know — and because Rojas had been hit for by Ethier, which was absolutely the right call considering the situation and Rojas’ ineptitude with the bat, no matter how much you want to second-guess it now. Turner has been a shockingly valuable part of the team this year (2.1 WAR in part-time play) and though he’s probably a bit stretched at short, he did make a fine play on a liner for the first out of the inning. This happens. It’s unfortunate.
Inexplicably, this was ruled a hit. Official scorers are the worst. Never trust fielding percentage, friends.
No. 2: Martin Maldonado
Did League do his job? Sorta.
The Brewers decided they wanted to give an out away, so Maldonado bunted.
This was ugly. League probably should have tossed the ball with his hand rather than flipping with the glove, but I’m not sure he would have been able to make the play anyway. This probably depends on how heavily you weight a pitcher’s ability to field in his overall value.
No. 3: Elian Herrera
Did League do his job? Sure.
Now with the game tied, one out, and runners on second and third, old friend Herrera came up and lined out to Yasiel Puig in center. No GIF here because it’s not all that interesting or relevant. If League’s “job” was to get another grounder, then no. If his job was to get an out, then yes.
This was the second out, so there’s still two on and a tie game for…
No. 4: Khris Davis
Did League do his job? Yes. Again..
At this point, League has arguably induced four outs. (That’s generous, because you can’t assume a double play, and because it was his choice to try for home rather than first on the bunt, but still.) Davis steps up. League gets the grounder he needed. Except:
Yikes. That’s another grounder that didn’t turn into an out. This inning should have been over weeks ago. Now, the bases are loaded. Guess what?
No. 5: Carlos Gomez
Did League do his job? Absolutely.
For the third time in the inning, League got a Brewer to hit a grounder to shortstop. This one had to work out, right?
Three grounders, and a bunt. Zero outs. So when the sixth hitter, Gerardo Parra, essentially put the game away by driving in two on a liner to the outfield (the inning mercifully ended when Gomez was thrown on the basepaths) it hardly seemed to matter. The damage, at that point was done.
Needless to say, League did his job and then some. He threw 18 pitches, and 14 were strikes. He really should have been out of the inning on three pitches, and when the first grounder didn’t work out, he managed to maintain composure and get two more. None of it worked. So yeah, he gets the loss, but it just goes to show yet another reason why pitcher wins and losses are silly. If this loss is on anyone, it’s on Turner, and he’d probably be the first to admit that.
Remember, the point here isn’t to dump on Turner for the worst inning of his entire life; as I said, he’s been a very valuable player this year. It’s just to remember that baseball is a team sport, and although League was the one on the mound as things fell apart, this is hardly on him. And if Ramirez’ latest injury keeps him out for a while, the Dodgers may suddenly have an issue at shortstop, needing to choose between solid fielders with no offensive output (Rojas or Erisbel Arruebarrena) or decent hitters who probably don’t belong at shortstop (Turner or Alex Guerrero). It’s not a fun thought.