The Process: J.P Howell vs. Josh Hamilton

ST. PETERSBURG - OCTOBER 03: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Tampa Bay Rays removes pitcher J.P. Howell #74 during Game Three of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field on October 3, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Even though the majority of you out there don't need a reminder, here's the scenario. Top of the seventh, two outs, and the Rangers had recently hit a two run home run off David Price to go up 2-1. Price was looking about done, and he let up a two out single to Craig Gentry. The top of the Rangers' batting order was coming up, and Maddon decided to go to the bullpen.

I think everyone can agree that now would be an ideal time to bring in one of the best relievers in your bullpen. You're only down by one run and you need to keep the Rangers from increasing that lead, and if your reliever gets one out they can continue into the 8th inning. This is a late inning, high leverage moment, and you should go with one of your best arms available.

Going into the postseason, if you had to ask me which relievers I trusted the most on the Rays, I'd have listed Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, Jake McGee, and Brandon Gomes. McGee and Gomes are in a lower tier from Peralta and Farnsworth, as they only started to piece things together at the end of the season, but they both have excellent stuff and showed flashes of dominance down the stretch in September. Maddon had been trusting both of them in high leverage spots throughout the last month, and I didn't expect that to change.

In retrospect, the decision came down to Gomes or Peralta, since you would want a righty on the mound to attack Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. Peralta is the better overall pitcher, but he's had more success against lefties than against righties this season (1.93 FIP vs. L; 4.79 FIP vs. R). Last season he was also better against lefties (2.43 FIP) than righties (3.33 FIP). Meanwhile, Gomes has been a righty killer all season long (3.15 FIP vs. R; 4.71 FIP vs. L).

These sort of splits are all subject to small sample size problems, so I'd be careful how much stock you put in them. But even if you regress the numbers for both of them, I think you'd still see a slight difference in their splits: Gomes is better versus righties, and Peralta is better against lefties. Peralta is still the better overall pitcher, though.

Gomes had thrown 28 pitches over the last two games to the Rangers, as Maddon was using him as a big weapon against the Rangers' righty heavy lineup. Peralta, meanwhile, had only throw 9 pitches in one appearance. So who do you go with in this instance? Hindsight is 20/20 -- not to mention, these splits make the decision a lot tough than I initially thought -- but I still believe you should go with your best reliever in this situation: Peralta.

Gomes is a defensible choice, though; you can certainly argue both sides here. I would have liked to use the more rested Peralta, but it's not the end of the world either way.

Now that I'm 500 words in, let's get to the situation hinted at in the title: the Josh Hamilton at bat.

Maddon called in Gomes to face Kinsler and Andrus, but he allowed walks to both of them, loading the bases. At this point, Maddon obviously needed to make another call to the bullpen as Gomes struggles against lefties. So who should he have called in? Here were the Rays' main options:

FIPvs. L

BAA vs. L

Peralta

1.93

0.152

Howell

2.79

0.222

McGee

3.14

0.164

The Leverage of this situation was incredibly high -- 2.8, one of the most important moments of the game. Simply put, if you didn't bring in your best reliever earlier in the inning, now you reallyreallyreally need to do it. Especially when that reliever has the best splits on your team (well, this season at least) against left-handed batters.

The call to bring in Howell makes somewhat, kinda-sorta sense considering he does have good splits against left-handed hitters this season. Howell only made the postseason roster as a LOOGY -- or at least, so I'm assuming -- and Maddon chose to use him like one in this instance. But that still doesn't make Howell the correct call. You simply don't want one of the weakest arms in your bullpen pitching in one of the most crucial situations of the game, especially when there's a better overall pitcher that looks equally capable against left-handed hitters.

Normally I'm fully behind Maddon's bullpen decisions, but this is one of those instances where I'm still baffled. Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt on calling in Gomes earlier in the inning, the decision to not bring in Peralta with the bases loaded is appalling.

Love ya Maddon, but I hope you learn from this moment.

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