The curious use of Junichi Tazawa

A curious thing happened during Sunday’s game in Arlington before Clayton Mortensen gave up a series sweeping walk off hit to Adrian Beltre.

Junichi Tazawa entered the game in the bottom of the 8th inning with the game tied at 3 runs each. Coming into the game, the 26 year old Japanese had posted a more than credible 2.57 ERA for the season, and on the previous night he’d struck out three Texas hitters in one inning of relief. In this game, he’d face only one batter in the right hander Nelson Cruz, and he’d throw only one pitch, a 93 mph four seam fastball, which Cruz quickly popped-up to the first baseman Mike Napoli, and that was that. Manager John Farrell then promptly removed Tazawa in favour of left hander Andrew Miller.

To burn a reliever, who’s been pitching so brilliantly, after throwing one pitch seems somewhat peculiar.

Miller came in to face the left hander A.J. Pierzynski, and you might reasonably think it was because Pierzynski has less success against left handed pitching, or that Miller has some great numbers against him. Pierzynski has, in his career, hit lefties to the tune of .259 and right handers at a .291 clip, so while there is a slight advantage it’s not all that clear cut.

Pierzynski is 3 for 9 in his career against Tazawa (.333 BA) with 1 double and 2 strikeouts. Against Miller (including Sundays at bat which ended in a strikeout) he is 2 for 5 (.400 BA) with 1 double and a strikeout. Those numbers provide no overwhelming argument for Miller over Tazawa, in fact, Tazawa slightly edges Miller albeit in a very small sample size.

So what about pitch counts? Tazawa threw 21 pitches in his appearance on Saturday, his third highest pitch total of the season. Miller, on the other hand, threw only 12 pitches in that game and so had the advantage of a fresher arm. If arm freshness was a reason to remove Tazawa (after a single pitch) then why pitch him at all?

Nelson Cruz reverses the platoon splits of Pierzynski, batting .261 against right handed pitching and .291 against left handers. Cruz had faced Tazawa only once before and had a hit in that at bat. Cruz had 3 plate appearances against Miller in 2011 and was 1 for 3 with a strikeout.

Was it Farrell’s choice to pitch a right hander against Cruz and then a left hander to Pierzynski, taking advantage of their platoon splits?

It might seem this way until you consider that Tazawa has been dominating left handed hitters this year, they are hitting just .188 against him. Conversely, Miller has a .353 BA against left handed bats. So conceivably Tazawa could have continued to pitch to the lefties Pierzynski and David Murphy, and it seems fair to assume he had another 10-15 pitches in him despite throwing 21 pitches the night before. Furthermore, one of the three strikeouts Tazawa collected on Saturday was from A.J. Pierzynski.

According to reports Tazawa has now been instilled as the interim closer while Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan recover from arm injuries. This suggests that John Farrell believes Tazawa can be successful against both left and right handed hitters (a notion backed up by his statistics), which only makes Sundays one pitch outing all the more curious.

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