SF Giants manager Gabe Kapler made an interesting decision in Monday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed Wade Meckler to hit against a left-handed pitcher at a key moment in the game. However, he reversed course by substituting Austin Slater for Meckler in a similar situation on Wednesday. Is Kapler sending mixed signals?
Did SF Giants manager Gabe Kapler send mixed signals with Wade Meckler's usage?
Meckler came to the plate on Monday with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning against lefty pitcher Jacob Lopez. It was a lefty-lefty matchup and the Giants try to optimize those matchups as much as possible by using Slater in that role.
The Giants were down 6-1 against the Rays, so a hit would have brought them back into the game. However, the rookie outfielder struck out, leaving all three runners stranded on the bases. Both Slater and Heliot Ramos remained on the bench.
It was an interesting decision because it went against the grain of what the Giants do. Kapler supported his decision by expressing confidence that Meckler could become an everyday player. He does not see the left-handed bat as a platoon hitter. It is the type of thing you want a manager to say with respect to one of the team's better prospects.
Fast forward to Wednesday, Meckler was scheduled to hit in a nearly identical situation. The Giants were down 6-1 with the bases loaded. Lefty pitcher Colin Poche was on the mound with Meckler's spot in the lineup coming up. Kapler opted for Slater instead of Meckler. Slater grounded into a double play because that has been the Giants' luck lately.
Kapler supported his own decision while having an odd back-and-forth with KNBR Giants beat writer KNBR Danny Emerman. Kapler has since apologized to Emerman for the exchange.
So Meckler batted against a lefty in a key spot on Monday, but was replaced in a very similar situation on Wednesday. What changed?
I think the first detail that needs to be mentioned is that Jacob Lopez, who was a former Giants farmhand, was making his big league debut. On the other hand, Poche is a relatively established reliever in a good bullpen.
Perhaps, Kapler was betting on some first-game jitters from Lopez against Meckler, who was also making his major league debut. It did not work out and Meckler struck out to leave the bases loaded.
Poche has pretty even platoon splits (.647 OPS vs. RHP, .672 OPS vs. LHP) in his career. The case could be made that a lefty bat has a slight advantage, but the Giants believe in platoon matchups and Kapler's decision was just an extension of that.
Slater has excelled against left-handed pitching throughout his career, posting an .836 OPS against lefties across seven seasons. In that sense, it was a good process decision by Kapler to use Slater and those decisions will pay off more often than not. Obviously, that was not the case on Wednesday as he grounded into a double player.
While this is a good process decision, there probably needs some context as to why it might be more of a gray area than just the situation on paper. As good as Slater has been against lefties, he has struggled badly at the plate lately. His offensive production is not too dissimilar to the rest of the Giants lineup.
The veteran bat has just a .521 OPS in 68 plate appearances since July 1. And, he has not recorded a hit since July 29. His hitless streak has reached 18 at-bats. Slater goes through these slumps each season and it is often associated with the sporadic playing time that comes with being a platoon hitter from the right side.
I cannot fault Kapler for making what I believe to be a good process decision. I think this is an example where the Giants manager opens himself up to criticism as he is too systematic with his in-game decision-making. On paper, the right call is using Slater, but applying instinct considering his recent struggles might come to a different conclusion.
I do think that Meckler could be good in run-scoring spots as he has above-average bat-to-ball skills. The Giants strike out far too often and Meckler's skill set goes against that trend. I have no major league data to support my opinion other than Meckler has good contact skills and good bat control. These qualities typically do well with runners in scoring position.
So, did Kapler send mixed signals to Meckler? I do like that he allowed him to hit against a lefty in a key spot. I can understand the thought process that went with using Slater instead of him as well. I guess it feels mixed but it is a gray area. Context is needed, but using Slater is typically a good process move.