Joe Maddon out-galaxy beheads himself, still manages to win


Shohei Ohtani scored twice to save manager Joe Maddon.

Shohei Ohtani scored twice to save manager Joe Maddon.
picture: Getty Images

In recent years baseball has had some key questions that regularly overlap: “Why can’t the Angels win when they have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, two unique talents who are among the greatest the game has ever seen?” ‘ and ‘How could Joe Maddon ever win a World Series with the Cubs if he’s forever embroiled in the gimmick he’s attempting?’

Friday night this intersection was lit up like Times Square as Maddon pulled off an all-time stinker while Ohtani, Trout and Jared Walsh (an All-Star in his only full season and owner of a .841 career OPS in 215 Games) drifted the Angels to a 9-6 victory over the Rangers.

Maddon’s latest “Look at me, the big brain genius” came during the main “Why can’t the Angels win with these generational talents?” part of proceedings when starting pitcher Reid Detmers was knocked out 3-2 in the fourth inning with two runs already were scored in the frame and runners at the corners with an out.

Austin Warren came out of the Los Angeles bullpen and led lead man Marcus Semien to four places, loaded the bases for Corey Seager, whom Maddon ran on purpose, and brought in a run.

This is an incredibly rare move that makes very little sense at first glance, but can come in handy in very special situations. For example, on August 17, 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays had a four-run lead over the Rangers in the ninth inning at Arlington’s old ballpark, which didn’t need to be replaced with a huge Home Depot. That night in Texas, Rangers had Josh Hamilton on the record to represent the tie, and it was the first of Hamilton’s great years – he was a month away from his iconic Home Run Derby appearance at Yankee Stadium and on course for the lead League in RBIs and total bases.

Maddon, who was managing the Rays at the time, gave Hamil a free passton, making it 7-4. Dan Wheeler replaced Grant Balfour, knocked out Marlon Byrd and it was game over.

Before that, the previous case of a bases-loaded intentional walk was the most famous: May 29, 1998, when Barry Bonds received a free RBI from the Diamondbacks instead of being allowed to put four on the board with a grand slam in Arizona’s 53rd game ever — and although it worked, they obviously haven’t repeated it in the 24 years since.

In this case, there were two outs again in the ninth inning, and the choice was to pitch to Bonds (as a pinch hitter for Chris Jones, who had actually homed earlier in the game) with bases loaded and an 8 lead – 6, or pitching to Brent Mayne with bases loaded, up 8-7. Mayne had a career OPS of .652 in 1998. Bonds were valued at 0.609 batting percentage this year. So the reaction to Buck Showalter’s move, which worked when Gregg Olson beat Mayne, was yes it was weird, but it was also Barry Fucking Bonds (and that should be a reminder of how amazing and feared he was before BALCO) too loaded bases versus an expansion team, and that’s a situation where you have to get weird.

According to SABR, there have been four other intentional loaded-base walks in MLB history, but those were in a separate league and don’t matter. This was the third time in 75 years, and it didn’t happen in the ninth inning with two outs, but in the fourth inning with one out.

Seager’s a damn good player. He is a two-time All-Star, 2016 National League Rookie of the Year, 2019 league doubles leader, and 2020 NLCS and World Series MVP. He got a $325 million contract this winter for a reason. He’s also gotten off to a good start in this compact, having gone 9-for-26 in his first six games with one homer and five RBI.

There’s still a big gap between “this guy’s one hell of a player” and Prime Bonds or Hamilton. Seager’s career high is 26 home runs, and that was in his rookie year. He hasn’t dug 20 times in a year since 2017, when he hit 22 – during a Homer-crazy era.

Seager now has 18 intentional walks in his career. Bond’s 120 freebies in 2004 are obviously the record and the stuff of legends, but Bonds only had five seasons (including one in 2005, when he played 14 games) in which he was intentionally run fewer than 18 times — because Bonds hit more career homers had until the end of his first MVP season in 1990, when Seager has been scoring throughout his tenure in the majors.

They don’t intentionally walk Corey Seager with loaded bases because even though he has two grand slams in his career, the chances of him hitting one are far less than the chances of him making an out. In fact, Seager has completed three doubles games with loaded bases in his career. Since he’s not a home run hitter, Seager’s biggest concern should be a double, which he’s done four times with full pockets in his previous 58 plate appearances…compared to five strikeouts. Why not give him a chance to do those things and maybe get out of the inning with zero more runs? Why put a free run on the board and invite an opponent who is already ahead to extend their lead?

Seager doesn’t skew the run expectation matrix enough to make Maddon’s strategy viable in a Bonds or Hamilton situation, let alone going from one run deficit to two with one pitcher on the mound who had thrown four balls and zero shots. Regardless of how it worked out, it was stupid administration.

And although the Angels won, thanks to Ohtani going deep twice, Trout reaching base and homering three times, and Walsh smashing a two-run shot for insurance in the seventh, it didn’t work. Mitch Garver missed a grand slam by the length of the warning lane and settled for a sacrificial fly, and then Warren failed with a run to 6-2 – the result it would have been had Seager hit a bases-clearing double.

Adolis Garcia fouled out to end the inning and the Angels lined up six straight hits in the top of the fifth to make it all moot – on this occasion. But it’s that kind of nonsense from Maddon and a pitching staff that’s ranked in the bottom half of the American League for each of the last four years and hasn’t been in the top 5 legal runs since 2011, that’s the answer to the Bigger of the questions for Orange County and baseball in general: why, as good as Ohtani and Trout are, we don’t see them in October. The Angels won Friday night, but Friday night was the reason.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *