‘The number’: Mariners’ Servais shares how he plays matchups after Vogelbach’s pinch-hit slam

Sep 18, 2018, 11:07 PM | Updated: 11:11 pm
Mariners 1B Daniel Vogelbach hit a grand slam when Scott Servais pinch hit him Monday. (AP)...
Mariners 1B Daniel Vogelbach hit a grand slam when Scott Servais pinch hit him Monday. (AP)

HOUSTON – With the Mariners trailing 1-0 in the eighth inning and the Astros’ right-handed sometimes closer Hector Rondón on the hill, Scott Servais went to his bench three times on Monday night, replacing right-handed bats with lefties to try and get the tying run across the plate.

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With runners on first and second, Robinson Canó was up first replacing Cameron Maybin, followed by Denard Span hitting for Mike Zunino. Then, with the bases loaded, Servais went to Daniel Vogelbach. We all know what happened next.

The move paid off with Vogelbach hitting his first grand slam in the majors. It was a curious decision, however, as Servais had other more experienced lefties still on the bench at the time. On Tuesday, I asked Servais in his pregame media session why Vogelbach was his choice. The answer goes far beyond conventional left/right matchups.

“I look at my cards, and there is a number on these cards which is tied to an algorithm that is put together which gives me an idea of what the chance for success is based on that particular pitcher or that particular hitter,” Servais said. “It has nothing to do with prior matchups and Vogey’s number was one of the higher ones. I went with the numbers.”

So it was more than just a hunch that factored in Servais sending Vogelbach up to face Rondón, a pitcher he had stepped into the box against before. “The numbers” are are one number per player for each opposing pitcher, to be exact. It is not a number that anyone outside of the Mariners organization has access to, and like all organizations, they have their own metrics and measurements. The ratings on the card that Servais has in the dugout take into consideration, among other things, a player’s swing and how that plays against the pitcher he would be facing. It also includes how similar hitters have fared against that pitcher and how the hitter has fared against similar pitchers.

Every bit of information that can help the manager make his decisions are all wrapped up into one number. While that gets substantial consideration when decisions are made, it is up to Servais to fill in the blanks.

“I use a little bit of both,” he said. “The fact that Vogey hit a home run the day before helped push me along. He’s seeing the ball good.

“I do trust the numbers. I don’t use them all the time. Situations like that, what am I going to go off of? Again, I saw him do it yesterday. His timing was really good. He’s played recently, the number lines up – let’s give it a shot.”

It was a snapshot look provided by Servais into how decisions are made in-game and the information that he has available to him. Vogelbach had one of the higher numbers in a matchup with Rondón on the card, but what Servais had seen with his eyes the previous few days came into play as well. There were obviously no guarantees, but enough information in the good column for Servais to make the switch.

On Monday night, the move paid off.

“He could have popped it up and we may not have won the ball game,” Servais acknowledged. “But let’s give it a shot.”

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‘The number’: Mariners’ Servais shares how he plays matchups after Vogelbach’s pinch-hit slam