Boston Red Sox place baffling amount of faith in Chris Owings
By Sean Penney
A case of analytics over common sense proved costly to the Boston Red Sox when they used Chris Owings as a pinch-hitter in a key spot.
There are two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the tying runs are in scoring position. This represents the best chance for the Boston Red Sox to rally for a win to even the series. The game is on the line, so naturally, manager Alex Cora turns to… Chris Owings?
The seldom used utility player was called upon to pinch-hit for the left-handed Marco Hernandez against southpaw Jose Alvarez. Needless to say, it didn’t pan out. Owings whiffed on a changeup down and in for strike three, ending the threat while stranding a pair of runners.
Substituting for the platoon advantage is a strategic chess match that managers play late in games to gain an edge. Alvarez hasn’t exactly been lights out against anyone but he has fared better against lefties (.250/.296/.424) than right-handed bats (.298/.356/.383). He gives up a bit less power from the right side but the Red Sox only needed a base hit to tie the game. The binder full of cheat sheets that managers rely on dictates you want a right-handed bat against Alvarez in this situation.
I’m not sure the logic applies when that bat belongs to Owings. The 28-year old is batting .128 with a .405 OPS this season in time split between Boston and Kansas City. Since making his Red Sox debut earlier this month, he is now 1-for-13 with a whopping 9 strikeouts following his rally-killing punchout.
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Unfortunately, Boston’s bench didn’t offer many viable alternatives. Mitch Moreland has been useless against lefties (.143), reminding us why he’s been stuck in a platoon role for the bulk of his Red Sox tenure. The switch-hitting Sandy Leon shouldn’t be pinch-hitting for anyone.
The only other option Cora had at his disposal was the left-handed Brock Holt, who the manager has actively avoided using against lefties. Holt has struggled against southpaws this year (.211) but his career batting average platoon splits are nearly identical, suggesting his issues this season are the result of a small sample size.
Pinch-hitting for a lefty with another lefty would be a bit of a head-scratcher but I’d feel far more confident in Holt coming through in the clutch than Owings. If nothing else, Holt’s 17.3 K% is among the best strikeout rates on the team so you can at least trust him to put the ball in play.
Cora should have stuck with Hernadez. The splits may indicate you want a right-handed bat against Alvarez but Hernandez is no ordinary lefty. He’s 9-for-29, ranking second on the team this season with a .310 average against left-handed pitching. For his career, Hernadez is batting .340 in 53 at-bats against lefties.
This was simply a case of a manager over-thinking the value of the platoon advantage. Cora found the match-up of a right-handed bat against Alvarez appealing but he unfortunately only had one at his disposal. You can blame the manager for making a questionable decision but the real problem is that a team with the highest payroll in baseball had a fringe major league player who was released by the lowly Royals as their only right-handed bat on the bench.