When a reporter asked Terry Collins why Willie Harris was starting in left field tomorrow, he said, “Just look at the numbers.”
Harris has 22 career plate appearances against Johnson. In them, he has four hits including a double and a homer, seven walks and six strikeouts: a .267/.500/.533 line.
Problem is, 22 plate appearances is a critically small sample. Josh Johnson is an awesome pitcher and Willie Harris is not an awesome hitter, at least not by Major League standards. On paper, Lucas Duda, despite his inexperience, seems a better bet to get hits and big hits off anyone.
Of course — and bear with me here — just because something occurs over a tiny sample size doesn’t mean it cannot exist. I have no doubt that certain hitters do fare better against certain pitchers, due to that pitcher’s particular arsenal, the way the hitter can pick up the ball out of his hand, everything. My favorite example is Howard Johnson against Tim Worrell, incidentally.
So, because Opening Day is a time for optimism, I will hope that Collins cited Harris’ 22-plate-appearance dominance over Josh Johnson because it’s a quick-and-dirty explanation but not the sole justification for the decision. I will consider that Collins might have had several reasons unknown to us. The manager denied that it had anything to do with starting the veteran over a rookie on Opening Day, but for all we know that’s the type of thing Collins says so Duda doesn’t doubt his manager’s confidence in him.