Latest research shows managers inefficient when taking pitchers out of the game

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Peter Dizikes of the MIT News Office highlights one of the finalists in the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, currently being held in Boston. The paper, “A Data-driven Method for In-game Decision Making in MLB”, was developed by John Guttag and Ganeshapillai Gartheeban.

Guttag and Gartheeban’s developed a model that suggested when managers should take their starting pitchers out of the game by using data from the first 80 percent of the 2006-10 seasons to develop a model. Then they tested their model against the results in the final 20 percent of the season.

Dizikes summarizes some of the important findings:

The study finds that from the fifth inning on, in close games, pitchers who were left in games when the model recommended replacing them allowed runs 60 percent of the time, compared to 43 percent of the time overall.

[…]

Over 21,538 innings, the Guttag-Gartheeban model disagreed with the manager’s decision regarding his starting pitcher 48 percent of the time. About 43 percent of the time, the manager left the starting pitcher in when the model indicated he should be replaced. In just 5 percent of the cases did managers pull starting pitchers when the model suggested they should stay in the game

Guttag and Gartheeban do note that their methodology doesn’t consider every factor and recognize that the manager is considering a lot more than just the current game situation. Hypothetically, leaving Justin Verlander in with a 110 pitch count in a 2-1 game in the bottom of the eighth in late September when the Tigers are only in the lead by a game could be justifiable when most objective models would suggest taking him out.

That being said, many managers can improve simply by not having their pitchers throw unnecessary innings, like the seventh inning after their team has taken a 10-1 lead.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.