Selecting a Game One starter is always a thoughtful process, for any team in any year. But the A’s decision to hand the honor to youngster Jesus Luzardo raised a few eyebrows. I’d be remiss not to mention Tim Anderson by name. He didn’t just raise his eyebrow but opened his mouth to say “[Oakland] didn’t do their homework”. It’s a bold statement, but by all means, true.
Chicago has an undisputed offence. But what they’ve done against lefties takes it to a new level. The White Sox led Major League Baseball in wRC+ versus lefties. A whopping 43% above average. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that their all righty (or switch) hitting lineup tagged Luzardo for three earned runs in three and one-third innings this afternoon.
We don’t need Tim Anderson, who backed up his statement with three hits today, to question the A’s decision. And Oakland wasn’t the only team to, in the words of Blue Jays’ manager Charlie Montoyo, “get creative” with their pitching. Montoyo sent Matt Shoemaker to the bump for today’s game one start against Tampa Bay over Hyun Jin Ryu.
There are a few universal reasons to bump your number one starter back a day. For one, in a three-game series, you’re not going to be able to leverage another start out of them at the tail end of the series. Anyone who gets a start is going to get just one. Furthermore, teams facing an elite hurler may elect to “concede” that game and try their luck at winning two straight, starting with their number one in game two.
Facing Lucas Giolito, an all-star and no-hitter author, the A’s knew they had a difficult task ahead of them, especially with a Chapman-less lineup. Aside from that, the selection is rather puzzling.
While Luzardo may boast the highest ceiling of the options available to Bob Melvin, he probably comes with a bit less peace of mind. Ultimately, a few smaller considerations may have culminated in Luzardo’s game one start. I’ve already mentioned a potential cop-out, swerving Giolito to try their chances against Keuchel tomorrow. Luzardo is closer to a third starter than a first. Which, considering his upside works out well.
Perhaps Luzardo had the best chance of beating Giolito with the added bonus of not having to dispense Chris Bassitt or Mike Fiers. At the end of the day, it looks like teams are beginning to value the first win in a series less. Especially if they’re facing a team who’s starting their number one right out of the gate, consistent with tradition.
How did all that work out? Assuming today’s outcome wasn’t foreseen by the A’s, not very well. While five strikeouts illuminated Luzardo’s upside, surrendering seven hard hits among 11 batted balls made it fairly obvious Oakland was at a disadvantage.
Of course, it’s easy to critique the decision to let Jesus pitch game one after he’s hit the showers. But assuming Oakland wasn’t shying away from Lucas Giolito and his eventual six perfect innings, was Jesus Luzardo the best, or even a reasonable option?
You’ve probably already heard that the White Sox went 14-0 against left-handed starters. I’ve cited their league-leading wRC+ against southpaws. What I didn’t mention was that Chicago’s 143 wRC+ didn’t just lead baseball in 2020. It’s the best team wRC+ against lefties this century. Moreover, Tim Anderson’s 2020 campaign produced the highest wRC+ (300) against lefties this century (minimum 55 plate appearances).
Reducing the sample size to 35 plate appearances allows teammate James McCann to join the leaderboard at 16th with a 236 wRC+. The pair join Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer of the 2014 Rockies as the only pairs of teammates together in the top 30.
That only contextualizes two White Sox batters and their lineup as a whole. What about each individual? Only two of today’s game one starters had a sub 100 tOPS+ against left-handed starting pitchers this season. The White Sox mash lefty pitching.
|Player||tOPS+ vs LHP (2020)||tOPS+ vs LH Starter (2020)||tOPS+ vs LHP (Career)||tOPS+ vs LH Starter (Career)|
There’s a lot more that goes into this equation than platoon splits. We could use Jesus Luzardo’s extremely stratified home-road splits as evidence to support Bob Melvin’s choice. But that isn’t (shouldn’t be) a particularly significant part of this decision, better served as trivia.
|Jesus Luzardo, 2020||Games||Games Started||ERA||IP||WHIP||K/9|
Instead, take a look at just how well Luzardo plays into the Sox’ lineup. Facing lefty batters Jesus has allowed a .260/.283/.420 slash line suppressing batters’ OPS to 88% it’s normal value. Against righties, the entirety of the White Sox’ lineup? A .256/.325/.432 slash good for 2% better than their season OPS. The on-base percentage is a big part of that. Which is interesting considering Chicago didn’t draw a single walk against Luzardo. Then again, they didn’t have to. They mash against lefties and righties mash Jesus Luzardo.
|Jesus Luzardo, 2020||PA||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||BABIP||tOPS+|
Did pitching Jesus Luzardo in game one of a three-game series force the A’s to watch the World Series from home? It’s impossible to say for sure. Without any context, he’s not a terrible choice. Considering he was pitching what turned out to be an unwinnable game against a dominant Lucas Giolito, maybe he wasn’t the worst selection to start Game One. But against an offense that hits left-handed pitchers historically well, he may have been better suited for a different role.
All data sourced from fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com and baseballsavant.mlb.com.
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