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Why Luis Rojas’ early hook of dominant Taijuan Walker was ridiculous


Luis Rojas walks to mound at Citi Field August 2021

Luis Rojas walks to mound at Citi Field August 2021

In the seventh inning of the Mets’ game against the Giants on Wednesday night, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And Luis Rojas‘ mind boggling decision put an exclamation point on what turned out to be one of the Mets’ most maddening losses of the season.

Entering the inning, the Mets had just taken a 2-1 lead. Taijuan Walker, who has looked much more like his first-half self lately, was cruising.

Over the first six innings, Walker had allowed just one hit (a solo homer to Kris Bryant), had walked one, and was in total control — having retired the last seven batters he faced.

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In the seventh, though, things got dicey because of Walker’s teammates.

First, third baseman Jonathan Villar booted a routine grounder off the bat of Bryant to allow the leadoff batter to reach. Then, a blooper by Alex Dickerson that had tons of hang time and arguably should’ve been caught by either second baseman Jeff McNeil or right fielder Michael Conforto hit the grass instead.

The above set up a first and second, none out jam. But with Walker cruising and at just 74 pitches, he was ready to buckle down and try to get out of it. Instead, Rojas began a slow walk to the mound and removed an incredulous Walker in favor of Aaron Loup to set up a lefty-lefty matchup against Brandon Crawford.

Walker was understandably livid, and did not hide his emotions after he got to the dugout. He also did not attempt to hide his disgust when Crawford ripped Loup’s first pitch into the right field corner to drive in two runs.

Now, was Rojas’ choice to want Loup to face Crawford insane? No. Loup has been the Mets’ best reliever this season.

But the circumstances surrounding the pitching change, the way Walker was pitching, and Rojas’ reasoning after the game made the move ridiculous. Basically, it’s not that Loup was brought in, it’s that Walker was taken out.

Aug 25, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) pitches in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field.

Aug 25, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) pitches in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field.

Here’s how Rojas explained it after the game:

“First of all, starting the inning we had Loup up just in case anything crazy happened. We know [Walker] was throwing a really good game, one hit, the home run. But the two plays dictated the decision, basically. Run into a first-and-second, no-out, you have a guy like Brandon Crawford at the plate who is their best hitter, and we have probably one of the best lefties in the league in Aaron Loup who has come in and done a good job for us, so we went with the matchup. Last third of the game, seventh inning, up a run. We felt like Loupy was going to come in and probably get that out.

“It didn’t work … We can call it aggressive because of the way Walker was pitching. He didn’t deserve to be out of the game, but the back-to-back plays just led to that decision. He threw the ball well. He did not want to come out of the game as you guys saw. He always wants to be in there competing, especially with the way he was throwing the ball, but after it happened, we just had to minimize the damage right now.”

Rojas, as has been the case during his entire tenure as manager, was accountable. He gave a lucid, detailed explanation for his move.

But the problem here is that Rojas allowed his eyes to be overruled by a predetermined plan.

Had the first two runners reaching base been Walker’s fault, as part of perhaps a sign of him tiring or the Giants hitters seeing him better as they got more looks at him, sure, pull him.

But that was not the case.

Now, this is not a blanket argument against using advanced statistics and analytics to help inform decisions. But sometimes, you have to trust your eyes. And on Wednesday night, Rojas didn’t trust his eyes.

The result was a furious Walker, a ballpark chanting “fire Rojas,” and a 3-2 loss.

Taijuan Walker

Taijuan Walker

Talking after the game, Walker lamented the shrinking role of starting pitchers, saying that he wants to go “as deep as possible.” And he said he was “pretty surprised” by Rojas’ decision to pull him.

“I thought I was throwing the ball well today,” Rojas said. “Got a ground ball and a pop-up and things just didn’t go my way right there, but I still felt good and confident in my pitches. I feel like I was still a ground ball away to get a double play with Crawford coming up, and another pitch to get out of it. It is what it is and there’s nothing I can really do about it, just keep going out there every fifth day and pitching.”

Might Walker have failed if he was left in? Sure. But with the way he had been mowing down the Giants, he should’ve been given the opportunity to continue. Instead, Rojas made what looked like a panic move.

There is also a larger conversation to be had here when it comes to the role of most starting pitchers, who often find themselves on an incredibly short leash as teams rely more and more on power bullpen arms in the mid-to-late innings.

Again, this is not an argument that the entire strategy should be scrapped. Rather, it’s an argument to allow for pitchers who are dominating to remain in regardless of what inning it is and regardless of the handedness of the batter they’re about to face.

Aug 18, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; New York Mets manager Luis Rojas (19) celebrates his team during the 11th inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park.

Aug 18, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; New York Mets manager Luis Rojas (19) celebrates his team during the 11th inning against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park.

It should also be noted that while Crawford has hit righties a bit better than lefties this season, he has still hit lefties relatively hard, slashing .276/.327/.490 against them.

Had the Mets not been in the midst of a tailspin that has derailed their season, what happened on Wednesday night might simply be a footnote.

But they are in a tailspin. And as they continue to spiral further and further out of playoff contention after being in control of the NL East for most of the season, every move Rojas makes is going to be magnified.

I’m still of the opinion that Rojas should not pay for the Mets’ collapse with his job. He has been largely good in-game this season, and his savvy with the media, relationship with his players, controlled demeanor, and communication skills are all huge assets. He cannot help his players hit middle-middle fastballs.

However, if the Mets continue to stumble, Rojas’ mettle will be tested in a big way. He failed the first test on Wednesday night.

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