A very questionable action was displayed by SF Giants reliever Zack Littell on Monday night. Giants manager Gabe Kapler came to the mound in a close game to replace Littell with left-handed reliever Scott Alexander. It was a one-run game with a runner on third base and left-handed bat Matt Olson at the plate, so the move made plenty of sense.
What was SF Giants reliever Zack Littell thinking on Monday night?
However, Littell was very demonstrative toward Kapler as he walked off of the mound. Kapler handled the situation privately by taking Littell into the tunnel to talk to him away from cameras. Besides this conversation in the dugout tunnel, the entire scenario was caught on camera.
The right-handed reliever was brought in to preserve a 3-0 lead and he immediately allowed two earned runs on a double and a walk followed by consecutive singles. To his credit, Littell nearly pitched out of the jam by inducing a double play to Austin Riley.
It was clear that the five-year veteran wanted a chance to finish the inning, but Kapler typically manages in favor of the platoon matchup when it makes sense and it made sense in that scenario, especially with a good hitter like Olson up at the plate.
It should be noted that the left-handed bat has nearly identical splits (.804 OPS against LHP, .802 against RHP) in 2022, but he has been modestly better against righties throughout his career.
I can understand Littell's frustration. Athletes often play with raw emotion, so instances like this can and do occur. That said, the optics of it do not look great given that the veteran reliever has struggled to the tune of a 5.08 ERA in 39 appearances in 2022.
He was called upon in a leverage situation due in part to the fact that the bullpen had been used heavily over the past couple of days. He was one of a few options even available.
Littell did handle the aftermath of this interaction like a professional in that he accepted responsibility and regret toward the Giants manager. On Tuesday, San Francisco optioned him in favor of left-handed reliever Thomas Szapucki.
The altercation with Kapler did not necessarily cause the demotion as Littell has struggled this season, but it certainly did not help either. The righty will be out of options next season and eligible for arbitration for the first time in the winter, so it is possible that his time with the Giants has come to an end.