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Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams' confusing double switch

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Nats manager Matt Williams hasn't utilized the double switch very often over the past two years. Perhaps we saw why he doesn't employ that strategy very often on Friday.

Matt Williams double switched to move his pitcher's spot up in the order. Huh?
Matt Williams double switched to move his pitcher's spot up in the order. Huh?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

During his tenure as the Washington Nationals manager, Matt Williams hasn't utilized the double switch very often. He's generally stuck to his lineup, preferring to keep the pitcher's spot batting ninth and using his pinch hitters when that spot comes up late in the game. In Friday night's 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins, Williams strayed from his strategy a bit and employed the double switch after Matt den Dekker pinch hit in the bottom of the seventh. Perhaps Williams gave us an example of why he doesn't double switch very often in that game.

The Washington Nationals trailed the Miami Marlins 4-3 in the seventh inning of Friday night's game. They had the bottom of the order coming up in that inning: Trea Turner leading off, the pitcher's spot due up second, and leadoff man Jayson Werth scheduled to bat third. Williams did what any manager should do in that situation during the bottom half of the inning, pinch hitting for starting pitcher Max Scherzer after Turner began the inning by flying out to right field. Matt den Dekker came through with a single, but Werth grounded into a double play to cancel it out and end the inning. That's where things got a little confusing.

When the Nats took the field in the eighth inning, den Dekker remained in the game and took over in left field. Starting left fielder Danny Espinosa moved to second base, removing Turner from the game and moving the pitcher's spot from the ninth spot (due up eighth based on the spot in the order) to the eighth spot (due up seventh). Jayson Werth, who made the final out of the inning, remained in the game in right field.

There are two main reasons that we see the double switch employed by managers.

  1. They want the pitcher's spot as far away from the current spot in the order as possible
  2. We'll occasionally see managers use the double switch to improve the defense, primarily with the lead. Of course, this is also usually accompanied by dropping the pitcher's spot as far away from the current spot in the lineup as possible as well.

It's reasonable to believe that Williams accomplished goal number two to a certain extent. We really don't know just how good a defender Turner is at second base (he did make an outstanding play last night that we'll show below). Between the minors and the majors Turner, a natural shortstop, has played less than ten games at second base. Danny Espinosa is an elite defender at second base, though he doesn't have a lot of experience in the outfield. Matt den Dekker is an above average corner outfielder defensively.

Of course, there are a couple of other things to consider here. The Nats didn't have the lead, so the goal behind the double switch probably wasn't to improve the defense and protect the lead. More importantly, the double switch moved the pitcher's spot up in the order from eight spots away to seven spots away, which is contrary to the primary reason that managers use the double switch. Werth made the final out of the inning, thus he made far more sense as the player to be double switched out of the game.

Of course, the pitcher's spot did come up in a big spot later in the game. In fact, it came up with two outs and the tying run on second base in the ninth inning. Matt Williams called upon Clint Robinson to pinch hit for Turner Blake Treinen. Robinson flied out to right field to end the game.

Would Williams have called upon Robinson to pinch hit for Turner anyway? Maybe. Turner has yet to notch his first hit in the big leagues (boy, could that have been great theater if he'd remained in the game and gotten his first hit in that spot!), so he's not exactly the ideal hitter to send up there with the game literally riding on that at bat.

Did it cost them the game? Meh. When you have your $210 million ace throwing against a fringy 25-year-old prospect pitcher on the third worst team in baseball, it shouldn't come down to one (or two... you all know how I love bunting) decision(s) by the manager.

Of course, that's not the point. Williams employed a tactic that is mainly used to put the pitcher's spot as far away from the current spot in the order as possible and actually moved the pitcher's spot closer to the current spot in the order. It was just another confusing decision that we can add to the pile of them that he's made in his first two seasons as the Nationals manager.