Chicago Cubs Joe Maddon and Questionable Pinch Hitting Strategy

Darryl Strawberry: You’re pinch-hitting for me?
Mr.Burns: Yes, you see you’re a left-hander and so is the pitcher. If I send up a right-handed batter it’s called playing the percentages. It’s what smart managers do to win ballgames.
Darryl Strawberry: But I hit nine home runs today.
Mr. Burns: You should be very proud of yourself. Sit down.

The above exchange is from “Homer at the Bat,” a now-classic episode of The Simpsons. And I’d be lying if what happened in the eighth inning of the Chicago Cubs’ loss to the Cleveland Indians Thursday night didn’t make me think of this comedic exchange when Mr. Burns opts to pinch hit Homer in lieu of Darryl Strawberry.

Between Joe Maddon’s reputation and the hype surrounding his surprise hiring this offseason, Maddon is the manager Cubs fans think is going to take this long-suffering operation to the promised land.

And he very well might.

What this mindset has also done is create a mad scientist persona around Maddon –often times placing him above reproach. No matter the wildness of his ideas, or the quirkiness of his strategy, it’s all celebrated as the eccentricity that is Joe Maddon’s managerial style. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, Joe Maddon has this thing figured out.

Almost all of the time, I think that is a fair assessment of his approach.

But it still doesn’t fully explain the bizarre strategic choices in the eighth inning of the Cubs’ loss to the Indians Thursday night.

With the Cubs down 4-3 and two runners on base, Maddon pinch hit with David Ross over Chris Coghlan, then opted for Mike Baxter over Chris Denorfia. These moves were made based on righty/lefty match-ups.

Hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s easy to criticize after watching Ross strikeout and Baxter ground out softly, but you cannot convince me that in a late-game RBI spot you’d rather have David Ross hitting over Chris Coghlan. And with Denorfia currently clubbing .396, I find it hard to buy Mike Baxter as a viable alternative either.

Maddon defended his choices with valid, albeit broader, concepts like “I like to play everybody. Everybody has a role on this team.” He also went with more specifics as it relates to Mike Baxter’s pinch hitting ability, as well as Indians’ pitcher Bryan Shaw’s toughness on right-handed batters.

Statistics let you argue almost any angle you want, so long as you look at the right ones, but this series of managerial decisions, regardless what the numbers say, seems to fail the old eye test.

And it cemented the Cubs’ eventual defeat.

But what do I know? Homer ended up driving in the winning run.



Brian Davis

I'm a writer and a musician who happens to have a great affinity for Chicago sports.

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