Taylor Walls, pinch-hitter. Pinch-hitter Taylor Walls. I stay turning the phrases round in my head, like a mantra. Taylor Walls, pinch-hitter. Walls, Taylor: hitter, pinch. Sometimes it makes extra sense to me, from time to time much less; over sufficient time, anything else you repeat sufficient turns out to lose all that means. It’s known as semantic satiation: your mind begins to understand anything else as gibberish if it’s repeated continuously sufficient.
In this situation, I’m no longer even certain the word made sense within the first position. Taylor Walls, pinch-hitter? This man? The person who hit .172/.268/.285 this yr? In the sport to hit? It sounds peculiar appropriate from the bounce. Maybe I began from a erroneous premise someplace. Maybe pinch-hitter Taylor Walls most effective exists in my head. Maybe that is all a peculiar fever dream.
Only, it’s no longer. There’s field ranking proof of it, appropriate on MLB.com:
There he’s, pinch-hitting in a playoff recreation. He’s hitting for Isaac Paredes, a right-hander, which supplies us our first piece of proof. Walls is a switch-hitter. Surely, then he got here into the sport to bat left-handed. Indeed he did: he confronted off in opposition to Nick Sandlin, a right-handed reliever, in that preliminary plate look.
Handedness issues. Left-handed hitters get a spice up when hitting in opposition to righty pitchers; right-handed hitters face a penalty. The Rays love boosts and hate consequences, naturally sufficient. Can we write it off as a platoon state of affairs and contact it an afternoon?
We can not. To give an explanation for why that’s no longer sufficient reason why, let’s scale back the guideline to an absurdity. I’m left-handed. That’s only a truth. I’m additionally a worse choice than Paredes to stand Sandlin. I’d be a worse choice than sending up a right-handed pitcher off the bench to stand Sandlin. Being left-handed isn’t sufficient. Having a platoon benefit is helping, however it doesn’t override talent.
Taylor Walls, pinch-hitter. Taylor Walls, pinch-hitter. Taylor Walls… pinch-bunter? Maybe Walls was once up there seeking to drop down a sacrifice bunt and manufacture a run. After all, the Rays had simply introduced on Vidal Bruján, their best possible pinch-runner, in the beginning base. Get him into scoring place, and maximum base hits may just ruin the scoreless tie.
Indeed, Walls confirmed bunt overdue at the first pitch:
Now, I’m no longer satisfied that Walls is a top class bunt artist. He’s effectively transformed a sacrifice bunt most effective 5 instances in his skilled occupation. Paredes, for his section, has 10, although most effective seven within the final two years. With Bruján on base, although, you don’t wish to be an excellent bunter; simply placing the ball in play at the floor would most probably be sufficient.
Or wouldn’t it be? The Guardians aren’t some inert robotic, sitting there within the box immobile as Tampa Bay schemes. Before the 0–1 pitch, José Ramírez took a number of steps towards house:
That act minimize down on Walls’ margin of error considerably. Ramírez is a wonderful defender; Walls, as I discussed, is an detached bunter, no less than to the level that we will be able to inform from primary and minor league knowledge. True to shape, he gave up on his bunting plan and swung away on 0–1:
As you’ll be able to infer from Austin Hedges, Bruján was once at the transfer. The Rays determined to check out to take 2d by means of stolen base, leaving Walls to swing away. Indeed, for the remainder of his time on the plate, Walls by no means such a lot as confirmed bunt, and the Guardians sponsored off into a regular protection. Whatever the Rays sought after Walls for, it wasn’t in reality bunting, or they might have attempted greater than a cursory disguised bunt at the first pitch. In the tip, Walls struck out, although Bruján took 2d anyway:
That simply brings the preliminary query again into center of attention: why did Tampa Bay choose the Walls-Sandlin matchup to the Paredes-Sandlin matchup? Paredes had a 106 wRC+ in opposition to righties this yr. He has a occupation 85 wRC+ in opposition to them, in a sufficiently small pattern measurement that it’s more likely to basically be noise. A regressed estimate of his platoon talent would counsel he’s a kind of league reasonable hitter in opposition to righties. Walls has a occupation 69 wRC+ in opposition to righties, and it’s no longer some bizarre artifact of platoon splits; he has a occupation 70 wRC+ general.
Is Sandlin a specifically unhealthy matchup for Paredes? He’s most commonly sinker/slider, with a sweeping breaking ball. He throws the occasional four-seamer, however they appear most commonly like slightly-shifted sinkers; they have got a large number of horizontal run and no longer very a lot experience relative to a “textbook” four-seamer. Paredes struggled in opposition to right-handed sliders this yr, as did maximum right-handed hitters. He didn’t seem specifically liable to the sweeping selection, posting identical numbers in opposition to sharp and sweeping sliders, however it’s truthful to be expecting that Sandlin would throw kind of not anything however sliders in spite of everything. Paredes’s best possible protection in opposition to sliders is taking them; he most effective presented at 18.8% of out-of-zone righty sliders this yr, significantly better than league reasonable. If Sandlin may just find the pitch, although, it will most likely be a excellent matchup for Cleveland.
Walls, alternatively, holds up smartly in opposition to sliders. Many switch-hitters do; they at all times have a platoon benefit in opposition to the pitch, and sliders show a bigger platoon break up than another pitch kind, specifically sweeping sliders. That eradicated one in all Sandlin’s best possible pitches. But Walls struggled in opposition to sinkers this yr and fastballs generally. That’s been true all the way through his transient primary league occupation. The Rays have been most probably exchanging sliders to Paredes for fastballs to Walls.
It’s transparent that the Rays weren’t that nervous about letting Paredes face right-handed pitchers with sliders. He began, which is why he was once within the lineup to be pinch-hit for. Cleveland’s starter that day? You guessed it: Triston McKenzie, a righty who throws a slider. McKenzie’s slider is extra sharp than sweeping, however as I discussed previous, Paredes posted equivalent numbers in opposition to each kinds of slider. He’d carried out rather smartly in opposition to the pitch to this point on Saturday, for what it’s value; he took a handful out of the zone for an early stroll and fouled off the one one he swung at.
My wager is that the Rays have been lifeless set on keeping off the Sandlin/Paredes matchup. They weren’t scared of the usage of Paredes in opposition to tricky righties; they’d actually pinch-hit for Walls with Paredes in opposition to Shane Bieber the day before today. Perhaps it was once a situational resolution with two outs and the bases empty in opposition to Bieber, and Paredes having way more energy. But it’s no longer like Walls is the awesome on-base play; he struck out extra incessantly than Paredes and walked much less continuously. It wasn’t a right-hander, then: it was once Sandlin particularly.
Those single-season numbers aren’t the end-all be-all. Maybe the Rays have been 100% sure that they had to keep away from the Paredes-Sandlin matchup. Maybe they have been promoting out for touch with Bruján at the basepaths. If that’s the case, Paredes isn’t an excellent have compatibility: he is taking a large number of pitches, and although he’s no longer a large swing-and-miss man, when he places the ball in play, it’s incessantly within the air. Maybe they have been optimizing for one thing difficult to understand, like grounders plus line drives consistent with plate look. Except, that may’t be it: Paredes checked in with a better mark than Walls there regardless of a fly ball manner and an incredibly low line force charge, as a result of he doesn’t strike out very incessantly. So that brings us again to the staff being utterly unwilling to let Paredes face Sandlin. Nothing else is sensible.
Taylor Walls, although! We’re no longer attempting to determine why Paredes left the sport. We already know why: to get Walls into the batter’s field. But why did Kevin Cash flip to Walls particularly? He had Jonathan Aranda, a left-handed thumper, nonetheless to be had because the final guy at the bench. To choose Walls in that spot, the staff needed to suppose he was once much more likely to get on base than Aranda, and I don’t suppose that’s the case.
Aranda by no means got here into the sport, although Walls batted two times extra, as soon as in opposition to a lefty and as soon as in opposition to a righty. In truth, Tampa Bay didn’t use Aranda in any respect; he would have needed to pinch hit both for Walls or Manuel Margot given the avid gamers final, and neither matchup appealed to them.
Maybe the Rays have been in a defensive bind. Walls stayed within the recreation to play 3rd base. But Aranda can do this, too, racking up 300 innings on the sizzling nook between Triple-A and the majors this yr. Walls is a greater defender, however you must ranking some runs ahead of you’ll be able to offer protection to a lead. In any case, there was once at all times the solution to carry Walls in as a defensive substitution. They obviously didn’t want that final participant at the bench; Aranda by no means entered the sport, in spite of everything.
Did I remedy it? I don’t know. My best possible wager is that there was once only a large blinking pink gentle within the Rays’ matchup grid that instructed them to keep away from letting Paredes face Sandlin below any cases, and that Cash most well-liked Walls to Aranda for a pinch-hit look. They couldn’t have identified the sport would drag on for 15 innings, or that Walls would bat thrice. They couldn’t have identified he’d bunt that first pitch foul, or that Bruján would get a number of blank jumps off of Sandlin, granting the staff 2d base and not using a sacrifice.
All of this is ex-post pondering. But the reality stays: the Rays used Taylor Walls, who was once their worst hitter this season and one of the crucial worst on a regular basis regulars within the majors, to interchange Isaac Paredes, who was once one in all their best possible. Walls struck out. The Rays didn’t ranking any runs. If you’re in search of a four-word summation of what went flawed for Tampa Bay in 2022, it’s worthwhile to do worse than “Taylor Walls, pinch-hitter.” When the chips have been down, he was once the most productive the Rays may just carry to endure. It wasn’t sufficient.