Over-managing playoff managers and bunts that “work”

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If I ever owned a baseball team, I’d want to hire Jimmy Dugan from “A League of their Own” as my manager. This isn’t only because he dislikes the bunt, though that helps — you probably remember the scene where he finally notices what’s happening on the field and calls off Geena Davis’ bunt sign (“We want a big inning here”). It’s also because, especially early in his career as manager of the Rockford Peaches, he had a tendency to fall asleep in the dugout.

Managers, it seems to me, could afford to do that a bit more often. If I was an owner, I’d put pillows in there.

I have long believed that managers hurt their teams as much or more than they help when they decide, as Bugs Bunny once did, that a moment calls for a little strategy. They will give away outs, they will intentionally put opponents on base, they will sit their best players for some short-term gain, they will call for that special lefty out of the pen for that special situation, they will try daring base-running exploits all in order to bewilder their opponents into blinding defeat. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works when the other way would have worked too. Sometimes it fails and it wouldn’t have worked the other way. Sometimes it fails and it would have worked the other … you know what it’s like? It’s like switching lanes in heavy traffic. It might speed you up. It might slow you down. In the end, you’ll probable realize the futility of it all.

Monday night, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays played a game that lasted — spitballing here — approximately 59 hours. This is in part because Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz apparently gets paid by the hour, in part because the two managers used 11 stinking pitchers in a 5-4 game, and in part because the two teams hit a lot of foul balls. There were more than 300 pitches thrown in the game. OK, well, that’s baseball in 2013.

The game was 3-3 going into the eighth inning. And now we’ll climb into the mind of Boston manager John Farrell. I like Farrell. His Bostonians don’t sacrifice much, and they steal bases at a very high percentage, and they intentionally walk fewer hitters than any team in baseball. He tends to let the game go, tends to stay out of the way most of the time, tends to let players win and lose games. I wish there were more like him.

But, this was a playoff game, meaning it was important, and the more important the situation the more it this tests the will of people to stay the bleep out. We as human beings have an overwhelming aversion toward doing nothing. It goes against every impulse we have. Think how often in movies if the hero would just NOT do something, the movie would end happily an hour before it actually ends.

So, eighth inning, and David Ortiz leads off with a walk. It’s well known that David Ortiz is slow. It’s also well known that David Ortiz is the best hitter on the Boston Red Sox. What to do? Farrell decided — and I think most managers would decide this — to pinch-run Quintin Berry for Ortiz. The logic behind the move is pretty simple. It’s the eighth inning, so it’s possible — probable even — that Ortiz’s spot will not come up again. Quintin Berry, in his major league career, had stolen 24 bases without ever being caught; pinch-running was the WHOLE REASON he was on the roster. And, obviously, with the score tied this late in the game, one run could win the game. The pinch-run was the move.

Here’s what happened: Berry stole second base like planned. He was actually out, but the umpire missed the call. Then, a groundout, an intentional walk, a strikeout and foul-pop-up and the inning ended.

Now, what happens if Farrell goes Jimmy Dugan and falls asleep? Mike Napoli was the one who grounded out to short, so if that happened you would have had a double play. But we don’t know what would have happened. Obviously, there would not have been an intentional walk to Jonny Gomes. It would have been a different inning. But, remember, David Ortiz would have still been in the game.

The Rays scored a run in the bottom of the eighth in what was a Joe Maddon concerto. I like Maddon a lot too — everybody does — but, whew, he does love to get in the middle of things. In the eighth, there was a walk, a bunt that worked for a hit, another bunt that didn’t work at all, an infield single, and a run-scoring groundout, pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, pinch me I’m dreaming. So the Red Sox trailed by a run going into the ninth.

And that meant facing Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney. He has a good fastball and a great change-up. Last year, Rodney gave up nine runs in 74 innings and did not blow a save all year. This year, Rodney walked five batters per nine innings gave up 27 runs in 66 innings. This is how it goes for relievers. When you look at Rodney, last year was really an outlier — he has, throughout his career, been a bit of a wildcard, a guy who is hard to hit, and a guy who walks a lot of guys and, largely because of that, gives up his share of runs.

And, as if to prove the point, he immediately walked Will Middlebrooks on five pitches. Pinch runner Xander Begaerts came in. Rodney then threw two straight balls to Jacoby Ellsbury and on the third Ellsbury hit a little pop-up that dropped in a triangle made up of the Rays’ third baseman, shortstop and left-fielder. Bogaerts apparently is faster than Middlbrooks but did not get a great read on the ball and so stopped at second base. First and second, nobody out, and here were the next three batters:

Shane Victorino

Dustin Pedroia

Quintin Berry

Ah yes, the third of those … it might have been David Ortiz. It might not, the whole situation might have been different if Ortiz had run for himself. But Ortiz’s spot was coming up, and Ortiz was not, and so goes the strategy. Runners on first and second, nobody out, the TBS announcers were now PLEADING for a sacrifice bunt. It was staggering how much John Smoltz and company lobbied throughout the game for managers to make moves, but in this situation they seemed utterly panic-stricken that the Red Sox might not bunt with Victorino.

The bunt here is not a bad strategic move. Let me say that first. By Fangraphs, a successful bunt would very slightly increase the Red Sox win probability — making it a better decision than most bunts. But it seems to me there are things to consider.

1. You have a pitcher on the mound who, like usual, is having trouble throwing strikes.

2. You have a hitter, Shane Victorino, who very rarely hits into double players. This year, he hit into five double plays in 101 opportunities, less than 5% of the time.

3. You have one of your best hitters in Victorino followed by another of your best hitters in Pedroia followed by Quintin Berry or a pinch hitter of some sort. So, you have two good hitters followed by a total wildcard — would you really want to give up an out AND take the bat out of one of those two good hitters?

4. While the bunt does slightly add to win probability, which is the more important metric, it does slightly decrease run expectation. Teams score more runs with runners on first and second with nobody out than with runners on second and third with one out. I think you could put it this way: Your chance of scoring one run goes up slightly. Your chance of scoring two runs or more goes down slightly. More on this in a second.

Farrell decided yes, he would sacrifice, and Victorino bunted much to joy of TBS and the part of the nation that loves small ball. It was a successful bunt, moving the runners to second and third. The rest was predictable enough. Pedroia grounded out, which scored the tying run. Pinch-hitter Mike Carp struck out looking. A one-run inning.

OK, well, the Red Sox tied the game. They lost it in the bottom of the ninth when Jose Lobaton hit a walk-off homer. But the point here is not win or lose. The point here is a question: Did the bunt work? I think most people would say: Yes, it did. The Red Sox scored the tying run. That was the most important thing, right? it worked, right?

I don’t think so. The run expectation with runners on first and second with nobody out is 1.4 runs. That means teams, when you average it all out, score MORE than one run in general when they have runners on first and second and nobody out. This obviously includes every strategy, every situation, every kind of pitcher, and I’m not trying to make too much out of it. I’m just saying that if teams score 0 or 1 run, they have scored BELOW the expectation. If they score two or more, they have scored MORE than the expectation.

So, to me, the bunt did not work. Put it another way: If someone is a 70 percent free throw shooter, and the team trails by one, and he gets two free throws, the is expected to make 1.4 free throws. If he makes one of two, I don’t think anyone would consider that a successful trip to the free throw line. Admittedly, it might be harder to score two runs against a closer like Rodney. Then again, you don’t often have two hitters as good as Victorino and Pedroia coming up (not to mention Ortiz, if he had been in the game).

A lot of smart people, much smarter than me, think the bunt was not only right call but the only call. I personally think the Red Sox would have had a better shot to win Monday’s game if Farrell had taken a little Jimmy Dugan nap.

A security guard takes a ball from a little kid at the Braves-Pirates game

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This is not a great look.

Last night, during the Pirates-Braves game in Atlanta, Braves third baseman Rio Ruiz hit a ball fair past first base. When it got down the right field line an adult fan reached over the railing and grabbed it. As the ball was still in play that was fan interference. A security guard came down and, quite justifiably, told the fan that he had to leave the park. You can’t do that, man.

The problem, however, is that before the guard got there the fan gave the ball to a little kid. It looks like it may have been his little kid, though we don’t know. The security guard wasn’t having that, and demanded and took the ball from the kid:

I imagine he was thinking “hey, I can’t let this interfering fan keep his ball and if his kid is getting it, it’s like HE’S keeping it!” But really, dude, take a step back. That ball was going to go into a big bucket for batting practice at best. No one was going to take it and sell it for hundreds of dollars as a “genuine Rio Ruiz game-hit ball!” The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine really doesn’t have a place here.

Braves announcer Joe Simpson was, for once, talking a lot of sense:

“Have some common sense there, fella, give the ball back to the young man. Give the ball back to the kid. He’s not the one that messed up.”

I hope someone with the Braves made that right. Even if the adult was a dingus here, the kid was as excited as hell for that ball. Letting him have it wouldn’t have encouraged more people to be dinguses and interfere with balls.

UPDATE: Yep, the Braves made it right:

Good on them.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 5, Mariners 1: Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer. He hit two homers and drove in five on Tuesday. Guess you can say he likes playing the Mariners. Then again, everyone should like playing the Mariners these days. They’ve lost five in a row and have been outscored 41-5 in that span.

Athletics 4, Marlins 1: Sonny Gray struck out 11 batters over seven one-run innings. Gray has only pitched five times this year but so far the results are pretty good, pointing to the sort of bounceback season the A’s were hoping for from their potential ace. He’s got a K/BB ratio of 28/8 in 29.2 innings, a WHIP of 1.08 and is holding batters to a .216 average.

Twins 4, Orioles 3: The Twins swept the O’s in Baltimore — the first team to even win a series there this season — but what I would really like to do is I to show you a couple of pitches Jose Berrios threw yesterday afternoon:

And this:

That game started at 1pm. I know the studies are inconclusive — and it may make me sound old fashioned — but I think it’s wrong to show this sort of pornography when children are awake and can easily stumbled upon it. Please, Paul Molitor, only allow Jose Berrios to pitch after dark.

Reds 4, Indians 3: Speaking of pornography, check out Billy Hamilton‘s speed. He beats out what would’ve been a game-ending double play if anyone else on the planet was running and then he scored from first base on a single (and outfield miscue by Michael Brantley) to help the Reds come back from a 3-2 deficit in the ninth inning to win the game:

That Brantley brain lock aside, I don’t think many other runners score on that play. Hamilton’s wheels won that dang game for Cincinnati.

Rockies 7, Phillies 2: Tyler Chatwood allowed one hit in seven scoreless innings and struck out eight as the Rockies continue to impress. They scored seven runs in the third, hitting, collectively, for the cycle in the inning. Carlos Gonzalez hit the homer, Ian Desmond hit the triple, Trevor Story hit the double and Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado all singled. Fox executives are gonna jump outta windows when they see the ratings for this year’s Rockies-Twins World Series, but it’ll be totally dope for most of us if it happens.

Blue Jays 8, Brewers 4: Ryan Goins is gonna lose his job to Troy Tulowitzki soon, but he’s not letting that bother him. He hit a grand slam here and Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis and Jose Bautista went deep as well.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I want you to know that in the course of putting these recaps together I came across this ad at the bottom of a web page:

Given that he’s been dead for 11 years I’d say it’s understandable that fans were stunned regardless of the reason he left the show. And that’s the case even if the shuffling, decomposing corpse of Don Knotts were merely citing something boring like creative differences with Desilu Studios or a desire to more movies.

Working on the Internet is so cool. OK, back to the recaps:

Yankees 3, Royals 0: Luis Severino‘s year of fulfilling his potential continues as he allowed four hits over eight innings, striking out seven. The 23-year old is looking better than he did in his rookie year and way better than he did in 2016. On the bad side of things, Jacoby Ellsbury slammed into the wall while making a catch in the first inning and left with a concussion and sprained neck. It’s the second time this season he’s face-planted like that.

Diamondbacks 8, White Sox 6: The sweep. The Dbacks have won 8 of 9 and are ten games over .500 for the first time in six years. Five different Arizona batters drove in a run. Jose Abreu was 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBI in a losing cause.

Red Sox 9, Rangers 4: The Sox were down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh but then they put up a seven-spot. Chris Sale struck out only six batters, snapping his streak with double digit strikeouts at eight, but I’m sure he’s cool with it.

Padres 6, Mets 5: Mets blew a 5-1 lead but had a chance to tie or win it in the ninth only to be smacked down by Brad Hand. New York loaded the bases with nobody out, but Hand struck out Curtis Granderson and Rene Rivera and then Juan Lagares flied out to end it. Losing a lead and seeing a would-be rally fizzle like that are demoralizing enough, but having them both happen in the same game is a real kick to the beans.

Pirates 12, Braves 5: Speaking of demoralizing: the Braves — whose bullpen has been pretty fantastic lately — had a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning only to see Jose Ramirez cough it up by surrendering a two-out, bases loaded single to Jose Osuna. The tenth inning was way worse, when Josh Collmenter came on for Atlanta and decided it’d be more fun to spread kerosene all over the place than to get dudes out. Collmenter allowed six hits — three of them homers — and seven runs in the final frame. The 10th inning dongs came back-to-back-to-back in the space of ten pitches. The men doing the yard work for Pittsburgh: David Freese, Osuna and Jordy Mercer

Rays 5, Angels 2: Steven Souza homered twice. Too bad he did it in May. Two months earlier and we could call him “The March King.”

Cubs 5, Giants 4: Anthony Rizzo homered twice and Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs over seven. Wade Davis allowed two runs over one, via a homer to Mac Williamson, but he got the save anyway.

Tigers 6, Astros 3Jose Iglesias finished a triple shy of the cycle — which is not a thing, even if it’s fun to say — and Ian Kinsler had two hits and scored twice. The Tigers snapped a three game skid.

Cardinals 6, Dodgers 1: Mike Leake allowed four hits over eight one run innings. His ERA is now down to 1.91 on the year. Yadi Molina homered and drove in two. Someone let me know if this game was more interesting to Bill Plaschke than Tuesday night’s game, which he found boring despite the fact that it featured a nine-inning pitcher’s duel featuring an all-time great and ended on a walkoff hit by the home team. As this one only took two hours and 44 minutes, I presume it was more pleasing to him.

Baseball writers, man. They’re the worst.