A few hours before the 4.5 hour long 4th game of the ALCS — and the ensuing outrage over fan interference — the general baseball populace, and more specifically the commentators on FS1, were dumbfounded when Craig Counsell and the Brewers removed their starting pitcher Wade Miley after one at bat and gave the ball to one of their other pitchers Brandon Woodruff. The commentators didn’t understand what was going on and the coverage went to commercial with them stunned. The other side of the commercial break they found someone — Tom Verducci — who new why this was going on. This was a calculated plan by the Brewers because the Dodgers have what is called a ‘Platoon System’ squad.
A platoon system is a method of sharing playing time, where multiple players are selected to play a single defensive position across the season instead of just one individual. The theory behind this is that generally players hit better against their opposite-handed counterparts, and that in some cases the difference is extreme enough to warrant complementing the player with one of opposite handedness.
So, typically a right-handed batter in the platoon is played on days when the opposing starting pitcher is left-handed and the left-handed player is played otherwise. The Dodgers take this to a further level with most of their players able to cover multiple defensive positions in the infield and outfield allowing greater flexibility. Generally you don’t want to build a roster that has platooning as a part of it, you would prefer to have hitters who can hit both LHP and RHP well. However, the Dodgers roster this year hasn’t led to that.
They have multiple players that have a significant difference between their offensive output vs LHP compared to RHP. Two of them, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, have differences that take them from being either up there with the stars of the games (equivalent to Matt Carpenter or Aaron Judge), or well below average players who would struggle for playing time at the Detroit Tigers. This difference means that the line-up for the Dodgers is ever changing and is sometimes based on the starting pitcher they are going to face. Because generally that is who they are going to face the most during the game.
Also in the National League a manager has to think a lot more about their full roster than an American League manager does. Because of the pitcher hitting they have to think about if they want to pull the pitcher and pinch hit each time the pitcher comes up to bat. So Dave Roberts has a lot of decisions to make every time he names his starting line-up especially when he has just a 25 man roster and it is the postseason.
So what were the Brewers trying to do? I can only speculate but this is what it looked like to me.
Firstly, by saying that Wade Miley was starting they wanted the Dodgers to adjust their line-up for the left hander to make it easier for Brandon Woodruff who is a right handed pitcher.
Secondly, if the Dodgers did adjust their line-up Miley, getting them to adjust back to Woodruff by making changes to their line-up earlier than usual. Thus giving the Dodgers less option later on in the game when they might need pinch hitters.
So overall allowing them to get ahead of the Dodgers in the early innings, then rely on their bullpen to hold a lead later on in the game. If possible, the Brewers want to get Kershaw pulled early on in the game as the Dodgers needed runs, so chose to pinch hit for him.
Did it work? Well you can say they lost the game so therefore no but I am inclined to say they were at one point one out away from it being perfectly done. The first part of it kind of worked, Wade Miley hadn’t pitched on short rest this season and Brandon Woodruff didn’t pitch in the 13 inning game the before so the Dodgers might have known something was up. Dave Roberts didn’t start either of Pederson or Puig but he still started Cody Bellinger who the Brewers will have hoped to have seen not in the starting line-up.
The Brewers scored a run in the 3rd to get 1-0 up and then before the 4th innings started the Dodgers made a line-up replacing David Freese with Joc Pederson, which is much earlier than the standard for line-up changes. So going into the bottom of the 5th the Brewers were 1-0 up and the plan was definitely working, Woodruff had thrown just 41 pitches and was still looking fresh.
Then came a defensive mistake from the Brewers on a difficult play to first, it was followed up by a stolen base and within flash the Dodgers had a man on 3rd with no outs. Although this was undoubtedly bad for Brewers it actually put them in a position where they could force the Dodgers hand once again. The next three hitters were 7, 8 & 9 for the Dodgers, Enrique Hernandez, Austin Barnes and Clayton Kershaw. The Brewers knew if they got the first two out, they left Roberts and the Dodgers with two options.
- To pinch hit for Kershaw, have four innings for the bullpen, hope to drive in the tying run and maybe more.
- Let Kershaw bat and pitch more innings, deciding that he is likely to give up less runs in those innings when compared to the releivers.
Woodruff struck out Hernandez but gave up a single to Barnes and all these hypotheticals were made mute. Kershaw was allowed to bat, pitch a further two shutout innings and by the time he was replaced for the 8th Inning the Dodgers had a 5-1 lead.
Why did the Brewers try to do this? The reason they decided to do this is they have to come up with none traditional ways to play the game as they don’t have the squad of players that would let them compete playing baseball the same way as the Dodgers. Across the season the Brewers rank 13th for Offence (wRC+), 4th for Defensive (Fangraphs DEF), 18th for Starter Pitching (FIP) and 4th for Relief Pitching (FIP). The Dodgers are 1st, 24th, 2nd & 8th so all most the opposite of the Brewers.
The Brewers are a team that is difficult to beat if you are behind in the later innings, they won 33 games by 1 run which was only bettered by Seattle. They are constantly trying to work out where the can make gains by taking a non-standard approach. For me it is fascinating, I cannot wait to see what they do next and how Miley pitches in game 6 after having to “pitch” for one batter the day before.
Note – If Wade Miley pitches as is now planned in game 6, he will be the first person since 1930 to start in back to back games in the postseason and will be the first pitcher to pitch 3 times in the NLCS before game 7.