In 1,160 games through Friday night, the right-hander’s complete game was one of only 10 thrown in the big leagues this season, and one of seven shutouts. To finish off the contest, he faced four batters for a fourth time through the order, something that’s happened only 100 times in the 43,883 plate appearances taken in the majors in which a hitter saw a starter that often. Let us do the math for you – that’s 0.23 per cent.
In other words, rare.
The case against letting a starting pitcher get that deep is, of course, well known – the more often hitters see a starter, the more productive they become. So far this year, the OPS versus starters goes from .718 the first time through to .758 the second time and .770 a third time. Interestingly, the OPS a fourth time through drops to .670, but given that only dudes truly showing up are going to get the opportunity, that’s somewhat understandable.
Then, consider that across the majors, the OPS against starters is .745 while versus relievers it’s .700 and you can see why it’s really hard for a manager to stick with a starter deep into the game, and why what John Schneider did Friday night with Bassitt really ran against the grain.
“The numbers say take him out,” Schneider said of his eighth inning trip to the mound to chat with Bassitt before leaving him in to face Ronald Acuna Jr. a fourth time. “That’s proven … stuff that we spend a lot of time on diving into and it basically comes down to just track record. It’s not like some magic number that just says do this or do that. It’s the track record with each individual person. And there are certain nights where you just throw them out the window, based on what you’re seeing.”
For his career, Bassitt’s OPS each time through the lineup go .658/.688/.682/.687 and given that he’s got eight pitches in his arsenal, he may be better equipped than most to keep opponents guessing. As Schneider said, “it is very unique to where he can have a different sequence of pitches every at-bat to each hitter.”
For all of those reasons, Bassitt going the distance was “a unique spot to where you have a guy with really good stuff, it was holding throughout the game and the ability to kind of not do the same thing over and over again.”
On Saturday, it was back to convention for the Blue Jays, who lifted Jose Berrios at 101 pitches after a two-out Michael Harris II single in the sixth inning of a 2-2 game that eventually finished as a 5-2 win over Atlanta.
Berrios was due to face No. 9 hitter Orlando Arcia – who doubled in the third and grounded out in the fourth – for a third time and having him finish the inning would have made lining up the bullpen far cleaner.
But Berrios had already grinded hard – he allowed two runs on six hits and three walks – and his OPS against splits in times through the order this season, .537/.675/1.031, would have pointed to a move far earlier. So Schneider brought in Yimi Garcia and he induced a groundball to short that ended the frame.
“In the sixth, you look at pitch count, you look at where they are in the lineup trying to lock in specific matchups once you get towards the end of the starter’s outing,” said Schneider. “Could have very easily tried to rip through one more there in the nine-hole and decided to go with Yimi. I thought (Berrios) battled. Probably didn’t have the command he had last outing but still made really good pitches when he had to.”
A couple of those came in the fifth, when with two on and none out, he induced a fielder’s choice from Sean Murphy and then a line out from Eddie Rosario, chased down cleverly in right by a diving George Springer.
Berrios clapped his hands over his head multiple times before pumping his fist on the mound.
“I got pumped up because I know George plays so hard this game and that play in that situation is pretty huge for him, and also for me, obviously, and for the team,” said Berrios. “So I enjoyed it more than him. That’s fun when you see a play like that out there, we got a good result from it and we have to enjoy it.”
The Blue Jays tied the game in the bottom half, when Bo Bichette, who hit lasers at 105.8 and 102.1 m.p.h. outs earlier, dunked a base hit into right field at 64.8 m.p.h. to cash in a Kevin Kiermaier hustle double. That was one of two runs they scratched out against Bryce Elder, who mixed-and-matched his way through five frames, a Whit Merrifield RBI groundout in the fourth the only other damage against him.
Crucially, the Blue Jays pitched themselves out a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh as Garcia induced a grounder from Sean Murphy cleverly scooped and relayed home by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for one out before Erik Swanson came in to strike out Eddie Rosario and get Harris on a fly-out to right.
“It’s huge,” said Swanson. “That’s my job in that inning, to go in and keep the game where it’s at, keep anybody from crossing home. Luckily I was able to do it and we capitalized on it that inning with a couple of runs and end up winning the ballgame.”
Kiermaier and Springer then opened the bottom half with singles, completed a double steal and were cashed in on another Bichette single and Guerrero sacrifice fly for a 4-2 lead.
After Swanson locked down the eighth, Merrifield walked, stole second and third and scored on a Danny Jansen double to pad the advantage before Jordan Romano came on for the ninth to finish off a second straight win against the National League leaders.
On a day when instant offence via the homer wasn’t there, they used their speed to help create runs.
“That’s another element that we can bring to win a game when we need to,” said Merrifield. “We can mash, we can pitch and play defence and we can find ways to get runs on the bases. It’s helpful when one part isn’t necessarily clicking to be able to rely on other things.”
As always, the moves made and those not loomed large. Beforehand, Schneider acknowledged that “I love numbers and they drive a lot of conversations and decisions,” which should come as no surprise. The challenge for everyone in the sport is how to weigh feel and the subjective into the equation. For a second straight day, Schenider and the Blue Jays got it right.