Bases loaded. Two outs. Top of the fourth inning. The Giants had taken a 3-2 lead against their rivals. They were the first three runs the Giants had scored in the first four innings of any game so far this season. Derek Holland had allowed two runs, including a booming home run to Enrique Hernandez to lead off the game, three walks and a single in 70 pitches through the first three innings. Bruce Bochy kept him in the game to hit.
He lined out on the first pitch.
In the bottom of the fourth, Holland looked like a different pitcher on his way to striking out the side. Still, let’s go back to that moment in the top of the fourth. The Giants had rallied down 2-0 to take a 3-2 lead and despite an eight-man bullpen, a shaky performance up to that point by Holland, and off day today, Bruce Bochy stuck with his starter. Why? Because it’s his prerogative and he was going to get his guy the win.
It mostly worked out, much like Bochy’s decision the other day to walk the bases loaded ahead of Manny Machado — Machado drove in a run, but it was on a groundball that might have been an out had “I’m not Johnny Hustle” hadn’t hustled down the first base line. Holland’s 1-run lead against the Dodgers was really nothing given the power and skill of the Dodgers’ lineup, but Bruce Bochy had faith in his bullpen, as he probably should.
But why didn’t he choose to optimize the team’s chances of scoring runs? That’s just not the way he manages. And it’s the last time we’re ever going to see a Giants manager make regular season decisions based on his gut or care for a starting pitcher. After he retires, the nameless Macbook Air that will be installed as manager will make the most dispassionate decisions any stats-minded baseball fan could imagine based on the probabilities.
For better or worse, that’s the modern game, and Bruce Bochy is the last of the old ways. Getting a starter a win is a vestige of whatever. The pitcher win has been so thoroughly “debunked” that it feels odd in the year 2019 to still see a manager out there making decisions based on it. Now, could Bochy argue that he didn’t want to start a reliever carousel so early in the game and find himself out of pinch hitters down the line? Sure. And couldn’t going to the bullpen so early suddenly leave the Giants susceptible to a surprise Max Muncying or Joc Pederson bomb in the middle innings? Yeah, probably.
But, it still wasn’t a decision based in optimizing run production, which could explain at least in part why the Giants have not been able to optimize their run scoring opportunities in the Bruce Bochy era. It definitely felt like managing for a pitcher win over a team win, which feels like a really bad call to make until you realize that’s the way he’s always done it.
Still, what would’ve been the harm in burning Connor Joe in that situation?
Joe might’ve been able to draw a walk or he might’ve been able to pull a ball for his first hit. Or he would’ve made an out, because he’s really struggling, but if you’re going to do questionable things early in the season, it seems like going with the pitch-taking rookie hitter who won’t have to contend with a left-handed pitcher throwing him soft away is better than sticking with a shaky pitcher just to maintain good vibes in the clubhouse.
Then again, that’s why Bruce Bochy has had success over the past 25 years. Clubhouses get behind him because he makes it clear how he’s going to run the show. The next manager(s) will have their own experiences and desires driving how they engage with their players, but given what we know about who will be hiring the next manager(s), those desires won’t include doing whatever it takes to get a starting pitcher a win.