Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Homefield Advatage was Won (or Lost)

As the National League finally broke through and won an All-Star Game, I began to wonder just how this happened. With nearly everyone picking the American League to continue its dominance because of their absolutely murderous lineup, many were overlooking a couple of small things that made a big impact. Although the AL lineup was particularly devastating on the surface, once substitutions were made, the lineups began to really even out. Also, Joe Girardi underutilized his pitching staff while Charlie Manuel got the most he could out of the arms he had available to him. Now the NL will enjoy home-field advantage in the World Series for the first time in years.

Looking at the initial lineup for the AL, its no wonder that most were picking them to take yet another All-Star Game.

1. Ichiro Suzuki RF

2. Derek Jeter SS

3. Miguel Cabrera 1B

4. Josh Hamilton CF

5. Vladimir Guerrero DH

6. Evan Longoria 3B

7. Joe Mauer C

8. Robinson Cano 2B

9. Carl Crawford LR

I’m a sure stud like Ubaldo Jimenez or Josh Johnson would even nervous about facing that lineup! Who wouldn’t be? Once Jimenez and Johnson began throwing up zeroes, however, substitutions started to occur and this evened out the rosters quite a bit. Elvis Andrus replaced Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko replaced Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista replaced Josh Hamilton and John Buck replaced Joe Mauer, just to name a few key losses to the AL lineup. By the end of the night, the American League lineup was no longer such a daunting force.

By comparison, the National League lineup was deeper and didn’t see nearly the drop off once substitutions started. Aside from Michael Bourn taking over for Matt Holliday (who had replaced Ryan Braun earlier in the game), replacements on the NL side were fairly even. Raphael Furcal replaced Hanley Ramirez, Brandon Phillips replaced Martin Prado, Adrian Gonzalez replaced Albert Pujols, Joey Votto replaced Ryan Howard, Scott Rolen replaced David Wright, Chris Young replaced Andre Eithier (which is a offensive downgrade but a huge defensive upgrade as Eithier was making his major league debut in centerfield), Marlon Byrd replaced Corey Hart (whose base running speed was critical to scoring the third NL run as Byrd scored from first on the McCann double) and the day’s hero, Brian McCann, replaced light-hitting Yadier Molina. In the end, the NL lineup may have lost a small amount of pop but was quite a bit stronger defensively and ultimately held up better than the AL lineup did.

Charlie Manuel clearly did a better job of managing than Joe Girardi. When it came to managing the pitching staff, Manuel utilized the NL arms better than the AL skipper. Manuel allowed Johnson to pitch two full innings rather than one, then played the matchups the rest of the way out while continuing to utilize quality arms for the appropriate amount of innings. Girardi, on the other hand, underutilized two of his very best pitchers. Cliff Lee and Andy Petite should have been able to pitch two innings apiece rather than only one. Of course this would have limited the amount of innings pitched by other pitchers but, with home-field at stake, it was more important to get his money’s worth out of guys like Lee and Petite. For what its worth, Cliff Lee, arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now, threw only six pitches while Petite threw only nine. Phil Hughes clearly had a bad outing but Matt Thornton should never have been allowed to face three batters. Middle relievers should not be asked to pitch to the equivalent or an entire inning against such intimidating lineups, especially when guys like Lee and Petite only get to pitch one inning. Let Thornton pitch? Definitely. Let him pitch to three batters when he’s clearly not that effective? Not in an All Star Game. Add this to the Alex Rodriguez fiasco and Manuel definitely out-managed Joe Girardi.

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