I agree with Steve Smith! I'll pinch-hit with a pitcher if I feel like it! Yeah! (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Baylor fans are obviously - and understandably - upset by the 1-0 loss this evening to Arkansas. Please believe me when I say that no one is more disappointed than I am. However, I want to play a little game of devil's advocate right now. I've heard over and over (not just on this site) that Coach Smith really screwed the pooch by pinch-hitting Josh Turley for Jake Miller. Baseball is such a clear game in hindsight. Everyone seems to believe that Steve Smith's decision was not only wrong, but obviously wrong to the point of temporary insanity. This is simply not true.
I saw a that #5withabullett wondered where the genesis for this idea would even come from. Perhaps I can help with this answer: It partially came from the game on April 1st, 2012 against Oklahoma State University. In said game, Smith pinch-hit Turley for Dan Evatt in the bottom of the 13th inning. The result? Game tying single up the middle followed by a throwing error for the win. Smith is a genius.
It's easy to think of pitchers as unable to hit, especially if you're a fan of the American League, where pitchers can't be bothered to dirty up their hands by touching those nasty wooden things (that's for you, Mark). However, you have to remember that these college pitchers are not far removed from High School, where every one of them played the field and hit as well. Turley is not a terrible hitter. Is he great? No, but he has had a handful of at-bats every season he has pitched at Baylor. Is that because he's terrible and awkward with a bat in his hands? No. He can hit a little bit, and Smith had him pinch hit for the weakest link in the offensive chain. Jake Miller is a very good ballplayer, but he had the lowest average of any of the starting position players on the team. If you're going to take a shot, that's where you do it. Smith also pinch-hit for Miller (a righty) against a righty pitcher. Putting in a lefty bat (Turley) against a righty pitcher is pretty common and not at all out of the blue.
I've also been seeing a lot of talk about Jake Miller's defense, and how, if he had still been in the game, he could have stopped that hit that got by DalPorto and kept the game tied. Is that possible? Yes. Would it have definitely happened? Nope. The Bears, like most college teams, have a shortstop who really isn't a shortstop. Shortstop is the single most difficult defensive position because of the combination of traits (strong/accurate arm, quick first step, soft hands, ability to get down on balls) that it requires. Miller has some of the traits, such as a really great arm, but don't let a few brilliant plays fool you. Miller is too big at 6'3"-200 and too slow to be a shortstop. That's why he led the team with 22 errors this season, twice the number of anyone else on the team. I don't have the time or inclination to do college UZR type stats, but I can guarantee you they would not be friendly to Miller at short. This is not meant to berate Jake Miller. He would be an excellent 3rd baseman, but let's not wring our hands over how he would have saved the day on that play. He does not have range at the position.
At the end of the day, the Bears did not lose this game because Smith lost his mind. They lost because they had men on the corners in the fourth with no outs and failed to score. Their offense let them down, and Smith took a shot at the end of the game. I don't know why he did, but I take issue with people saying it was a ridiculous decision. No one seemed to question it when Turley brought in the winning run against OSU to keep the winning streak alive.
It has been a hell of a season for Baylor Baseball. It speaks to how great it was that a Super Regional is a disappointing finish. Next year should be very interesting with the pitching turnover that will occur. Until that time, we can tide ourselves over with news of football recruits. As always, Sic 'em Bears. Feed that Beaver.