Archive for October, 2013

Last night I lambasted the Cardinals’ sophomore manager, Mike Matheny, for some errors in bullpen management that I estimated cost his team over 2% in win expectancy (WE). Well, after tonight’s game, all I have to say is, as BTO so eloquently said, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Tonight (or last night, or whatever), John Farrell, the equally clueless manager of the Red Sox (God, I hope I don’t ever have to meet these people I call idiots and morons!), basically told Matheny, “I’ll see your stupid bullpen management and raise you one moronic non-pinch hit appearance!”

I’m talking of course about the top of the 7th inning in Game 5. The Red Sox had runners on second and third, one out, and John Lester, the Sox’ starter was due to hit (some day, I’ll be telling my grandkids, “Yes, Johnny, pitchers once were also hitters.”). Lester was pitching well (assuming you define “well” as how many hits/runs he allowed so far – not that I am suggesting that he wasn’t  pitching “well”) and had only thrown 69 pitches, I think. I don”t think it ever crossed Farrell’s mind to pinch hit for him in that spot. The Sox were also winning 2-1 at the time, so, you know, they didn’t need any more runs in order to guarantee a win <sarcasm>.

Anyway, I’m not going to engage in a lot of hyperbole and rhetoric (yeah, I probably will). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that not pinch hitting for Lester in that particular spot (runners on 2nd and 3rd, and one out) is going to cost a decent number of fraction of runs. It doesn’t even take a genius, I don’t think, to figure out that that means that it also costs the Red Sox some chance of ultimately winning the game. I’ll explain it like I would to a 6-year-old child. With a pinch hitter, especially Napoli, you are much more likely to score, and if you do, you are likely to score more runs. And if on the average you score more runs that inning with a pinch hitter, you are more likely to win the game, since you only have a 1 run lead and the other team still gets to come to bat 3 more times. Surely, Farrell can figure that part out.

How many runs and how much win expectancy does that cost, on the average? That is pretty easy to figure out. I’ll get to that in a second (spoiler alert: it’s a lot). So that’s the downside. What is the upside? It is two-fold, sort of. One, you get to continue to pitch Lester for another inning or two. I assume that Farrell does not know exactly how much longer he plans on using Lester, but he probably has some idea. Two, you get to rest your bullpen in the 7th and possibly the 8th.

Both of those upsides are questionable in my opinion, but, as you’ll see, I will actually give Farrell and any other naysayer (to my way of thinking) the benefit of the doubt. The reason I think it is questionable is this: Lester, despite pitching well so far, and only throwing 69 pitches, is facing the order for the 3rd time in the 7th inning, which means that he is likely .4 runs per 9 innings worse than he is overall, and the Red Sox, like most World Series teams, have several very good options in the pen who are actually at least as good as Lester when facing the order for the third time, not to mention the fact that Farrell can mix and match his relievers in those two innings on order to get the platoon advantage. So, in my opinion, the first upside for leaving in Lester is not an upside at all.  But, when I do my final analysis, I will sort of assume that it is, as you will see.

The second upside is the idea of saving the bullpen, or more specifically, saving the back end of the bullpen, the short relievers. In my opinion, again, that is a sketchy argument. We are talking about the Word Series, where you carry 11 or 12 pitchers in order to play 7 games in 9 days and then take 5 months off. In fact, tomorrow (today?) is an off day followed by 2 more games and then they all go home. Plus, it’s not like either bullpen has been overworked in the post-season so far. But, I will be happy to concede that “saving your pen” is indeed an upside for leaving Lester in the game. How much is it worth? No one knows, but I don’t think anyone would disagree with this: A manager would not choose to “save” his bullpen for 1-2 innings when there is an off day followed by 2 more games, followed by 100 off days, when the cost of that savings is a significant chunk of win expectancy in the game he is playing at the present time. I mean, if you don’t agree with that, just stop reading and don’t ever come back to this site.

The final question, then, is how much in run or win expectancy did that non-pinch hit cost? Remember in my last post how I talked about “categories” of mistakes that a manager can make? I said that a Category I mistake, a big one, cost a team 1-2% in win expectancy. That may not seem like a lot for one game, but it is. We all criticize managers for “costing” their team the game when we think  they made a mistake and their team loses. If you’ve never done that, then you can stop reading too. The fact of the matter is that there is almost nothing a manager can do, short of losing his mind and pinch hitting the bat boy in a high leverage situation, that is worth more than 1 or 2% in win expectancy. Other than this.

The run expectancy with runners on second and third and one out in a low run environment is around 1.40. That means that on the average with a roughly average hitter at the plate, the batting team will score, on the average, 1.40 runs during that inning, from that point on. We’ll assume that it is about the same if Napoli pinch hit. He is a very good pinch hitter, but there is a pinch hitting penalty and he is facing a right handed pitcher. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. It could be 1.2 runs or 1.5 runs. It won’t make much of a difference.

What is the run expectancy with Lester at the plate? I don’t know much about his hitting, but I assume that since he has never been in the NL, and therefore hardly ever hits, it is not good. We can easily say that it is below that of an average pitcher, but that doesn’t really matter either. With an average pitcher batting in that same situation, and the top of the order coming up, the average RE is around 1.10 runs. So the difference is .3 runs. Again, it doesn’t matter much if it is .25 or .4 runs. And there really isn’t much wiggle room. We know that it is a run scoring situation and we know that a pinch hitter like Napoli (or almost anyone for that matter) is going to be a much better hitter than Lester. So .3 runs sounds more than reasonable. Basically we are saying that, on the average, with a pinch hitter like Napoli at the plate in that situation, runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out, the Red Sox will score .3 more runs than with Lester at the plate. I don’t know that anyone would quarrel with that – even someone like a Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan.

In order to figure out how much in win expectancy that is going to cost, again, on the average, first we need to multiply that number by the leverage index in that situation. The LI is 1.64.  1.64 times .3 runs divided by 10 is .049 or 4.9%. That is the difference in WE between batting Lester or a pinch hitter. It means that with the pinch hitter, the Red Sox can expect, on the average, to win the game around 5% more often than if Lester hits, everything else being equal. I don’t know whether you can appreciate the enormity of that number. I have been working with these kinds of numbers for over 20 years. If you can’t appreciate it, you will just have to take my word for it that that is a ginormous number when it comes to WE in one game. As I said, I usually consider an egregious error to be worth 1-2%. This is worth almost 5%. That is ridiculous. It’s like someone offering you a brand new Chevy or Mercedes for the same price. And you take the Chevy, if you are John Farrell.

Just to see if we are in the right ballpark with our calculations, I am going to to run this scenario through my baseball simulator, which is pretty darn accurate (even though it does not have an algorithm for heart or grit) in these kinds of relatively easy situations to analyze.

Sound of computers whirring….

With Lester hitting, the Red Sox win the game 76.6% of the time. And therein lies the problem! Farrell knows that no matter what he does, he is probably going to win the game, and if he takes out Lester, not only is he going to bruise his feelings (boo hoo), but if the relief core blows the game, he is going to be lambasted and probably feel like crap. If he takes Lester out, he knows he’s also going to probably win the game, and what’s a few percent here and there. But if he lets Lester continue, as all of Red Sox nation assumes and hopes he will, and then they blow the game, no one is going to blame Farrell. You know why? Because at the first sign of trouble, he is going to pull Lester, and no one is going to criticize a manager for leaving in a pitcher who is pitching a 3-hitter through 6 innings and only 69 pitches and yanks him as soon as he gives up a baserunner or two. So letting Lester hit for himself is the safe decision. Not a good one, but a safe one.

After that rant, you probably want to know how often the Sox win if they pinch hit for Lester. 79.5% of the time. So that’s only a 2.9% difference. Still higher than my formerly highest Category of manager mistakes, 1-2%.

Let’s be conservative and call it a 3% mistake. I wonder if you told John Farrell that by not pinch hitting for Jon Lester his team’s chances of winning go from 79.5% to 76.6%. Even if he believed that, do you think it would sway his decision? I don’t think so, because he feels with all his heart and soul that having Lester, who is “dealing,” pitch another inning or two, and saving his bullpen, is well worth the difference between 77% and 80%. After all, either way, they probably win.

So how much does Lester pitching another inning or two (we’ll call it 1.5 innings, since at the time it could have been anywhere from 0 to 2, I think  – I am pretty sure that Koji was pitching the 9th no matter what) gain over another pitcher? Well, I already said that the answer is nothing. Any of their good relievers are at least as good as Lester the 3rd time though the order. But I also said that I will concede that Lester is going to be just amazing, on the average, if Farrell leaves him in the game. How good does he have to be in order to make up the .3 runs or 3% in WE that are lost by allowing Lester to hit?

A league average reliever allows around 4 runs a game. It doesn’t matter what that exact number is – we are only using it for comparison purposes. A good short reliever actually allows more like 3 or 3.5 runs a game. Starting pitchers, in general, are a little worse than the average pitcher (because of that nasty times through the order penalty). A very good pitcher like Lester allows around 3.5 runs a game (a pitcher like Wainwright around 3 runs a game). So let’s assume that a very average reliever came into the game to pitch the 7th and half the 8th rather than Lester. They would allow 4 runs a game. That is very pedestrian for a reliever. Almost any short reliever can do that with his eyes closed. In order to make up the .3 runs we lost by letting Lester hit, Lester needs to allow fewer runs than 4 runs a game. How much less? Well, .3 runs in 1.5 innings is .2 runs per inning. .2 runs per inning times 9 innings is 1.8 runs. So Lester would have to pitch like a pitcher who allows 2.2 runs per 9 innings. No starting pitcher like that exists. Even the best starter in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, is a 2.5 run per 9 pitcher at best.

Let’s go another route. Remember that I said Lester was probably around a 3.5 run pitcher (Steamer, a very good projection system, has him projected with a 3.60 FIP, which is around a 3.5 pitcher in my projection system), but that the third time through the order he is probably a 3.80 or 3.90 pitcher. Forget about that. Let’s decree that Lester is indeed going to pitch the 7th and 8th innings, or however long he continues, like an ace reliever. Let’s call him a 3.00 pitcher, not the 3.80 or 3.90 pitcher that I think he really is, going into the 7th inning.

In case, you are wondering, there is no evidence that good or even great pitching through 6 or 7 innings predicts good pitching for future innings. Quite the contrary. Even starters who are pitching well have the times through the order penalty, and if they are allowed to continue, they end up pitching worse than they do overall in a random game. That is what real life says. That is what happens. It is not my opinion, observation, or recollection. A wise person once said that, “Truth comes from evidence and not opinion or faith.”

But, again, we are living on Planet Farrell, so we are conceding that Lester is a great pitcher going into the 7th inning and the third time through the order. (Please don’t tell me how he did that inning. If you do or even think that, you need to leave and never come back. Seriously.)  We are calling him a 3.0 pitcher, around the same as a very good closer.

How bad does a replacement for Lester for 1.5 innings have to be to make up for that .3 runs? Again, we need .2 runs per inning, times 9 innings, or a total of 1.8 runs per 9. So the reliever to replace him would have to be a 4.8 pitcher. That is a replacement pitcher folks, There is no one on either roster who is even close to that.

So there you have it. Like Keith Olbermann’s, Worst person in the world, we have the worst manager in baseball – John Farrell.

Addendum: Please keep in mind that some of the hyperbole and rhetoric is just that. Take comments like, “Farrell is an idiot,” or, “the worst manager in baseball,” with a grain of salt and chalk it up to flowery emotion. It is not relevant to the argument of course. The argument speaks for itself, and you, the reader, are free to conclude what you want about whether his moves, or any other managerial moves that I might discuss, were warranted or not.

I am not insensitive to factors that drive all managers’ decisions, like the reaction, desires, and opinions of the fans, media, upper management, and especially, the players. As several people have pointed out, if a manager were to do things that were “technically” correct, yet in doing so, alienate his players (and/or the fans) thereby affecting morale, loyalty, and perhaps a conscious or subconscious desire to win, then those “correct” decisions may become “incorrect” in the grand scheme of things.

That being said, my intention is to inform the reader and to take the hypothetical perspective of informing the manager of the relevant and correct variables and inputs such that they and you can make an informed decision. Imagine this scenario: I am sitting down with Farrell and perhaps the Red Sox front office and we are rationally and intelligently discussing ways to improve managerial strategy. Surely no manager can be so arrogant as to think that everything he does is correct. You would not want an employee like that working for your company no matter how much you respect him and trust his skills. Anyway, let’s say that we are discussing this very same situation, and Farrell says something like, “You know, I really didn’t care whether I removed Lester for a pinch hitter or not, and I don’t think he or my players would either. Plus, the preservation of my bullpen was really a secondary issue. I could have easily used Morales, Dempster, or even Breslow again. Managers have to make tough decisions like that all the time. I genuinely thought that with Lester pitching and us already being up a run, we had the best chance to win. But now that you have educated me on the numbers, I realize that that assumption on my part was wrong. In the future I will have to rethink my position if that or a similar situation should come up.”

That may not be a realistic scenario, but that is the kind of discussion and thinking I am trying to foster.

MGL

If you followed my tweets last night, you know the answer. They both did something very wrong, got away with it, and then got punished for something that was not their fault!

Disclaimer: I actually believe that there is a good chance that OJ is not guilty and that his oldest son Jason, was the real culprit. Check out this book if you are interested in another point of view. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the information in the book is made up or not. If it isn’t, there is a whole “nother” side to the story.

(If you want to “skip to the chase” go to the 6th paragraph from the bottom starting with, “So let’s see if…“)

Well, that was rich. We went from a mildly funny joke to a serious “ting.”

Back to baseball. Rob Neyer beat me to the punch on this one, but he has not told you the whole story either. So I am here to tell you the rest of the story as Paul Harvey used to do so well back in the day.

Rob talks about Matheny’s mistake of not using Choate, his LOOGY, against Ortiz in the top of the 6th inning with a runner on first and 2 outs. That wasn’t the big mistake. The mistake was letting Lynn, the starter, start the inning and pitch to Ellsbury, Nava, Pedroia, and Ortiz. It was the the start of Lynn’s third time through the order. We all know about the “times through the order” penalty for starters. I, and many others, have been talking about this a lot lately, It is the new Moneyball (not really, but that sounds cool).

On top of that, 3 out of the first 4 batters due up that inning are lefty batters (Nava is a switch hitter, much better from the left side). And, Lynn has a pretty big platoon split, mainly because he throws from a three quarter arm slot, which is fairly unusual for a RH pitcher. Nonetheless, he is excellent versus RH batters and very mediocre versus lefties. The third time through the order, he is close to replacement level versus lefty batters. So, essentially Matheny’s choice starting the 6th inning, was to have a replacement level pitch pitch to 3 of Boston’s first 4 batters and a slightly better than average pitcher (even against a righty, the third time through the order, Lynn becomes almost average) for the other one. That is not a good choice in the 4th game of the World Series is.

So his decision was really fait accompli long before Big Papi stepped to the plate. Now, you don’t want to bring in Choate to face Ellsbury because then he has to face Nava (or a pinch hitter like Napoli) from the right side, and then Pedroia from the right side, before he faces another lefty in Ortiz. And you do not want Randy Choate anywhere near a right handed batter. I mean if he just walks by a righty in the clubhouse, I think a ball goes careening off the walls. He is terrible against RHB. Just awful. Worse than replacement. Your right- handed grandmother would be better.

So let’s see, does Matheny have someone in the pen, who can get out lefties and righties. Hmmm. Let’s see. No, I don’t…Wait a minute. There is this guy named Siegrest, I think, who throws with his left hand, can fire the ball into the catcher’s mitt oh, maybe 95 mph or so. Let’s see, his career (albeit in a small sample) wOBA against lefties is .195 and .216 versus righties. You think maybe this guy is the man for the job? To face 3 lefties, a righty and a switch hitter who can’t hit lefty pitchers? Or would your rather use a near-replacement level pitcher in Lynn?

Oh yeah, Lynn is throwing a 1 hitter so far and Siegrest once gave up a home run to Ortiz (I think it was a couple days ago, but I’m not sure – like most managers, I have little long-term memory anymore).

Yeah right! Having given up a home run to Ortiz is worthless as far as pitching to him now, and the fact that Lynn is pitching a one hitter has almost zero predictive value and doesn’t negate the fact that he is likely a crap pitcher facing the lineup for the third time, with 3 out of the first 4 lefties to boot!

Anyway, you know what went down. Lynn retires two batters, gives up a hit and a walk to Ortiz (pitching to Ortiz was the piece de resistance of Matheny’s utter cluelessness), Maness comes in to pitch to Gomes ( fine move, but too little, too late) and bang!

But, let’s not worry at all about the results. The correctness or not of his moves has nothing whatsoever to do with what ensued in that inning or whether the Cards lost the game or not. A decision is to be judged solely on what we know at the time it was made. It was only ironic that when he finally brought in the right pitcher, everything blew up in his face.

For the record, if you were not following my tweets last night, just as be brought in Maness to pitch to Gomes, and after I had been screaming bloody murder, I tweeted this.

Let’s see if we can figure out about how much win expectancy Matheny cost his team by his “non moves” in the 6th, since, really, that is the only thing that counts in terms of evaluating his decisions – not how it turned out (please, memorize that and recite every night 10 times before you go to bed).

Overall, I project Lynn as a pitcher who allows 75% league average runs versus RHB and 108% versus LHB. That’s a large split for a starter. Compare that to Bucholz, who is 88% and 100%. The third time through the order, a good rule of thumb is to add 10% to those numbers. So  Lynn becomes an 85%/118% pitcher, not too good, especially the latter number.

Siegrest, on the other hand, is terrific against both RHB and LHB. I have his projection as 83% and 54%, respectively. Compare that, BTW, to Choate, at (wait, get a barf bag ready) 165% and 68%. You don’t have to take these numbers as the gospel. There are certainly error bars around them, but it doesn’t really matter. We know about the times through the order penalty, we know that Lynn, at his best, is no Adam Wainwright, we are pretty sure that Lynn has a large true platoon split, and we are pretty sure that Siegrest is a really, really good reliever with very small platoon splits.

The average leverage during these 4 batters was around 1.25. So any run impact we get is multiplied by that number. Against Ellsbury, the difference between Siegrest and Lynn is around .07 runs. You’ll just have to take my word for it since it is 2 in the AM and I am tired of writing. Nava, around the same even though he is a switch hitter, since he hits almost like a lefty only. Pedroia is around a .002 difference only. And Ortiz is around .08. These are all  ballpark numbers, no pun intended. Add them all up and multiply by 1.25 (the average LI), and we get a grand total of .22 runs or .022 wins, which is 2.2% in WE.

That is huge folks! Ginormous! A couple of days ago in a post I wrote on SBN, I think, I constructed a set of criteria for what I called Category I, II, II, and IV mistakes by a manager. Category I contained the most egregious ones, and I think I said that those cost 1-2% in WE. I can’t imagine making any mistakes that cost a team more than that.

2.2%?

I may have to invent a new category.

I am afraid OJ’s got nothing on Matheny!

My father had this running gag whenever someone in the family would do something stupid. He would say (affectionately of course), “You know, if there were a contest for idiots, you would come in second place!” Invariably the transgressor would reply, “Why second?” to which my father would gleefully  exclaim, “Because your an idiot!”

Don’t worry, we never understood it either.

In last night’s Game 3 of the World Series, the Cardinals’ and Red Sox’ managers, Matheny and Farrell, probably tied for first in my Dad’s idiot contest. As exciting as the game was, it was also painful to watch. It was a managerial comedy of errors. It was like the Keystone Cops meet the Three Stooges, or an episode of Gilligan’s Island where the group is just moments away from being rescued and Gilligan does something stupid at the last moment. We can all probably get together and file a class action lawsuit against those two managers for intentional infliction of emotion distress (although our lawyers would be too busy with the other lawsuit against Tim McCarver for the same thing). I also think that if Bill James were dead, he would be turning over in his grave about now (sorry Bill).

Of course it is not PC to criticize a manager when he wins the game or his particular decision “works out” but I don’t play that stupid game. A mistake is a mistake is a mistake, regardless of how it turns out or who wins the game. All of you would be more successful in life and a lot smarter if you would analyze your decisions independent of the results of those decisions when the connection between the decision and the results is tenuous, which is almost the case in baseball. Imagine this: Your manager has two choices. With one of those choices, his team is supposed to win 80% of the time and with the other, his team is supposed to win 79%. So clearly choice A is the right choice and choice B is the wrong choice. Let’s say that he makes his decision and we don’t know whether he chose the right one or the wrong one. How helpful is the result in us figuring out whether he made the right or wrong decision, assuming that there is an equal chance of him making one or the other?

If his team wins, which is likely whether he makes the right or wrong decision, there is a 50.3% (80/159) chance that he made the right decision and a 49.7% chance that he made the wrong decision. In other words, not very helpful. The outcome of the game barely helps us determine whether he made the right or wrong decision. That is why we don’t use it in our evaluation process. At all. 50.3 to 49.7 is essentially 50/50. Regardless of how the decision “turns out,” if that’s all we know, we have gained virtually no information. If there was a 50/50 chance that he made the right decision before the outcome, there is a still around a 50/50 chance that he made the right decision after the outcome, whether it turns out good or bad. (If he ends up losing the game, there was a 51.2% chance that he made the wrong decision.)

Now, I’m not going to talk about not pinch hitting for the Cards’ starter Kelly with bases loaded and 1 out in the 4th inning and then leaving him in there for a grand total of another 4 outs. I’m also not going to talk about bringing in Choate to face Ortiz and then removing him for the righty Maness to face the righty-killer Nava, rather than bringing in Siegrest (who is actually better than Choate) and then leaving him in there to face Nava (who would have to bat from the right side, or perhaps Gomes would have pinch hit for him). I am not going to mention the foolish IBB of Ortiz in the 8th, or the equally foolish IBB of Molina to face Freese. I am certainly not going to talk about letting Workman bat for himself (what was that all about?) and then taking him out 3 seconds later. Or Beltran’s bunt on a 3-1 count early in the game (although that one is probably on Beltran and not Matheny).

Note: I just read this quote from Farrell:

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said “in hindsight” he should have avoided having rookie reliever Brandon Workman bat in the ninth inning of Saturday’s Game 3 of the World Series.

Eh, it’s only the World Series. No big deal.

Anyway, what I really want to talk about is whether or not it was correct to IBB Jay in the bottom of the 9th with 1 out, runners on second and third, tie game, Kozma on deck and Koji on the mound. I don’t think that they had anyone to pinch hit for Kozma and I think that Wong, another light hitting infielder, was batting after Kozma. I think that the IBB was in order there, but honestly, I am not nearly sure. It seemed to me that most managers would have issued the IBB, but that Farrell is pretty stubborn about not doing some things that most managers do, like issuing IBB’s and attempting sacrifice bunts.

Figuring out the exact win expectancies for each alternative is difficult in this case. Instead, I am hoping that the decision turns out not to be close, one way or another. Sometimes when the analysis of one decision over another is difficult to do, we can only hope that a rough analysis results in one alternative being much better than the other. If that is the case, we can generally say that we have identified the “right” decision, even if our analysis is far from perfect. It it ends up being close, even if one decision is slightly favored over the other, we would call it a tossup, again, if our analysis is rough. Sometimes it is simple to evaluate two decisions. In those cases, even when we find a small difference, we can often say which one is right and which one is wrong with a high degree of certainty.

Here is what I am going to do with this one. I am going to look at situations late in the game with a very good pitcher on the mound, runners on second and third, 1 out, and the infield likely playing up. The infield should be playing in with any tie game or one in which the fielding team is losing in the 8th or 9th innings. Let’s see how often the defense escapes the inning without allowing a run.

Then we’ll do the same thing with the bases loaded and a couple of weak hitters due up. I think it is reasonable to assume that Jay represents a somewhat average batter and that Kozma and Wong represent very weak hitters. Perhaps I’ll look at bases loaded situations and the #8 hitter due up. With runners on second and third, maybe I’ll look only at situations where the #7 batter is due up. I might look at all pitchers rather than just very good ones like Koji. I don’t want to have tiny sample sizes. In most of these situations, there is likely to be a very good pitcher on the mound, and in any case, we are mostly interested in the difference between runners on second and third, and the bases loaded, so the exact quality of the pitcher is not that important. I might, however, only look at pitchers with low walk rates. If you are going to walk the bases loaded, obviously you want your pitcher to have a low walk rate. You can’t get a much better pitcher in that regard than Uehara! Let’s see what the data says:

Let’s start out simple. We’ll look at all situations as I describes above, either runners on second and third or bases loaded, in the 8th or later, with any pitcher and any batter (other than a pitcher) at the plate.

Runners on second and third, 1 out, no IBB, 1998-2012

No runs score 37.2% of the time (plus or minus 2.5%). N=1621.

The batting pool had a .332 wOBA and the pitching pool, .327.

The average batter in the league for these seasons was .340, and the average pitcher, .339.

Now let’s compare that to the bases loaded, again, presumably with the infield playing up or for the DP – in any case, trying not to let any runs  score at all.

Bases loaded, 1 out

No runs score 33.6% of the time (plus or minus 1.1%). N=3452.

The batting pool had a .338 wOBA and the pitching pool, .329.

So we actually do have more scoring with the bases loaded, although the batting pool is slightly better than with runners on second and third (which is probably to be expected since you would tend to not IBB the batter if he is a weak batter).

Let’s see what happens if we restrict the bases loaded batter to a RH batter with a RHP pitcher on the mound.

Bases loaded, 1 out, RHB and RHP

No runs score 35.4% of the time (plus or minus 2.4%). N=1750.

The batting pool had a .338 wOBA and the pitching pool, .330.

I presume there are more GDP with a RHB and lesser offense with the pitcher having the platoon advantage. But still not as good as pitching with runners on second and third.

Let’s look at the #7 and #8 batters only with the 8th batter being RH and the pitcher RH:

Runners on second and third, 1 out,  #7 batter at the plate, #8 batter is RH

No runs score 32.9% of the time (plus or minus 11.1%). N=85 (oops).

The batting pool had a .313 wOBA and the pitching pool, .325.

Now we have such a small sample, the number is unreliable.

How about bases loaded with the #8 hitter, a RHB, due up?

Bases loaded, 1 out, #8 hitter, a RHB, and a RHP

No runs score 39.9% of the time (plus or minus 4.8%). N=421.

The batting pool had a .315 wOBA and the pitching pool, .333.

This is probably closer to the situation we had in the game. A weak #8 and #9 hitters and the pitcher having the platoon advantage on that #8 hitter.  This is actually the highest “no score” situation I found so far. The sample size is still fairly small, so we are not very certain of that 40% no score numbers (it is 35-45% at the 95% confidence level).

Let’s try one more thing. Let’s limit the pitcher to one who has a very low walk rate. I think that is critical in deciding whether to issue the IBB or not for obvious reasons. I only looked at pitchers with a below average walk rate for that season. Otherwise I just limited my sample to RHP and RHB batting with the bases loaded or next with runners on second and third.

Runners on second and third, 1 out, low walk RH pitcher

No runs score 38.3% of the time (plus or minus 4.2%). N=561.

The batting pool had a .330 wOBA and the pitching pool, .325.

Now let’s compare that to the bases loaded, again, presumably with the infield playing up or for the DP – in any case, trying not to let any runs  score at all.

Bases loaded, 1 out, low walk RH pitcher, RHB at the plate

No runs score 35.3% of the time (plus or minus 3.6%). N=780.

The batting pool had a .338 wOBA and the pitching pool, .330.

So, again, the base loaded is worse  as far as preventing any runs from scoring, but we have a better pool of batters in the inning. That is because, as I stated before, historically managers will tend to pitch to the batter with first base open if he is a poor hitter. In our situation with Jay at the plate, he is not a poor hitter and he has the platoon advantage (although Koji has virtually no platoon splits).

I guess the final verdict is that it is inconclusive, but I lean towards thinking that that not walking Jay was the correct move. Certainly in that spot you are trying to strike him out and you don’t mind the unintentional walk (although Jay is trying to do the exact opposite). As I said at the outset, and I am a man of my word, if an incomplete analysis, which this surely is, yields results that are close or even ambiguous, and I think that is true as well, we can’t really conclude anything one way or the other. I guess we can give the benefit of the doubt to the manager, although I don’t think that either one has demonstrated that he is worthy of that!

Finally, I want to say a few words about the  obstruction call. Not that it hasn’t been discussed already a million times on the web and elsewhere. There really is no controversy, or at least there shouldn’t be. The call was 100% correct according to the rule book and there would be no reason not to call it according to the rule book. If the obstruction call had not been made, it would simply be a bad, missed call and the Cardinals would have had a right to be furious and perhaps been able to file a protest, since there really is no judgment involved with that call in that situation (although they would probably lose a protest on the grounds that is was a judgment call) . The rule clearly states that a fielder when not in the act of fielding a ball or receiving a throw, and I am paraphrasing, may not impede a runner in any way shape or form. There is no intent necessary. In other words, it could be by complete accident, for example, the fielder could be lying dead on the field, or it can be an intentional act by the fielder. The umpire, thankfully does not and did not have to make that judgment. All that was necessary was that the fielder was not in the act of fielding a batted ball, which Middlebrooks wasn’t, and that he was not in the act of receiving a throw (which requires that the throw be on the way, by the way), which he was not, and that the runner be impeded in any way shape or form, which he was. Obstruction. Q.E.D.

A few people including Middlebrooks himself, were barking about “the baseline.” The baseline has nothing to do with this call. Neither the runner nor the fielder must be or not be anywhere in particular. The assumption of course is that the runner does not completely alter his direction in order to “throw himself” in front of a fielder, but clearly that was not the case here. If you want to invoke some kind of “baseline” argument (which, as I said, is a strawman argument since the rule has absolutely no “baseline” requirement one way or the other), the generally accepted definition of a baseline is that which the runner creates, not some straight line between the bases. If the obstruction rule required that a runner stay withing some pre-defined baseline like a straight line between the bases, imagine this play: A runner rounds third base trying to score. He is around 4 or 5 feet outside of “the baseline” between third and home as he rounds third, the normal position for a runner trying to score. At that point, a fielder steps in front of the runner and the runner does a flip over the fielder lands on his back and the throw beats him home. The fielder is not guilty of obstruction because the runner was “outside of the baseline,” right? No, I don’t think so. Anyway, the baseline has nothing to do with this rule. Read it. It is in the definition of terms in Rule 2.00, and it is in rule 7.06, under the runner. The intent of the rule as it is written is obvious. A runner can never be out just because he trips over, bumps into, or is impeded in any way by a fielder, regardless of whether the fielder intended to impede him or not. The runner must allow a fielder to field a ball and sometimes to catch a thrown ball, but absent that the runner has the absolute right to advance or return to any base without being impeded by a fielder (presumably without the runner deliberately veering off his own base line in order to create obstruction). Period. End of discussion.

We all know the obvious results. He is safe and the RE or WE (we’ll only talk about run expectancy from now on) changes to reflect a runner on second rather than first (although now we are in middle of a PA, so it is not quite so simple). Or he is out and the RE reflects a base runner removed, although again, we are in the middle of the PA with some kind of a ball and strike count.

But, what happens when the base runner is attempting a steal and the batter puts the ball in play? That is the hidden value (presumably) of stolen base attempts, not withstanding the effect it might have on the pitcher and the defense, as per conventional wisdom. I will look into that in Part II.

Where does that extra value come from? In the extra bases that the runner takes on a single or double, staying out of the GDP, removing the force play even when a GDP was not in order (but the force still was), and occasionally forcing a FC no out (when they tried to get the force on the runner at second and he was safe) or a hit, when the only play would have been a force at second had the runner not been in motion. The one downside is the occasional DP on a line drive or short fly ball.

Unfortunately, there is no database that I have access to that tells me whether a runner was in motion or not. I don’t know why. This is a basic piece of information that is necessary for all kinds of important research. I am pretty sure that most of the database companies track this information (it is certainly easy to do so – just one more click of the mouse on occasion), but for some reason they don’t include it in the information that is available to me, and that includes retrosheet.

So, I had to figure out a way to infer when a runner might be running and the batter puts the ball in play. Here is how I did that:

First, I looked only at base runners on first that had a high stolen base attempt per opportunity for that year (.20 per opp or higher). Then I split the pitchers into 2 categories – those who allow very few stolen base attempts per 9 innings (<.35) and those that allowed quite a bit (> 1.80). The assumption is that even these high frequency base stealers would attempt a stolen base much less often against the first group of pitchers than against the second group. I also only included RH pitchers, otherwise the “low attempt pitchers” would contain too many lefties and the batted ball results would be biased.

I only looked at situations where there was a runner on first base, and no other base runners.

What we want to look at is the rate that all that good stuff I mentioned above happens when the runner at first is either likely to be running on the pitch or not.

So let’s look at some data.

Remember that all of the data are with high frequency base stealers (HFBS) on first base, and no runners on second or third. A high frequency base stealer is any player who had at least 50 base stealing opportunities (runner on first, no one on second) and a 20% attempt rate, in that season.

Then I looked at what happened with those runners on base with two groups of RH pitchers on the mound – one, those that allowed very few SB attempts (less than .35 per 9 innings) and those that allowed a lot (> 1.8 per 9). The presumption is that against the first group even these prolific base stealers attempted a SB infrequently, and against the second group they ran a lot. This assumption turned out to be true.

Table I: SB attempt rates (among prolific base stealers), when on first base and no one else on base.

Against low frequency pitchers (Group I) Against high frequency pitchers (Group II)
7.6% 41.3%

That is a lot of base stealing against the second group of pitchers! These are attempts that resulted in a SB or CS only. They don’t include pickoffs, balks, etc.

These numbers do not include when the runner was in motion and the batter put the ball into play. That number has to be inferred. You will see in a second how I did that.

Now let’s look at the GDP and Force out (and FC) rates when the batter hit a ground ball with less than 2 outs.  Presumably, some percentage of the time these high frequency base stealers were running on the pitch and the ball was put into play (therefore no SB or CS was recorded). We can assume that they did so much more frequently against the Group II pitchers than against Group I pitchers since the SB attempt rate was so much higher against Group II than Group I.  In situations where the runner attempt to steal a lot, he will also necessarily be in motion quite often when the ball is put into play. If in a certain situation there are very few steal attempts, then the runner will likely not be running much on a ball in play.

Table II: GDP and Force out (and FC) percentages against Group I and II pitchers

Against low frequency pitchers (Group I) Against high frequency pitchers (Group II)
Batter hits a ground ball out or FC w/ runner on first, less than 2 outs 12.3% 12.8%
GDP 39.3% 30.6%
Force out at second, batter safe 20.9% 21.7%
Fielder’s Choice, no out .5% .6%
Runner safe at second, batter out 38.3% 47.2%

From these numbers, we can infer, at least approximately, how often the runner at first is running on the pitch (attempting to steal or perhaps a hit and run).

Against Group I pitchers, the runner is out at second (via a force or a GDP) 60.2% of the time. With Group II pitchers on the mound, they are out at second only 52.3% of the time. That suggests that at least 7.9% of the time that a ground ball out is made, the runner at first is on the move. I say, “At least,” because some small percentage of time the runner is on the move against Group I pitchers as well (remember they still allow a 7.6% SB attempt rate) and occasionally when a runner on first is off with the pitch, he is still forced at second (e.g., on a hard hit ball right near the bag).

So let’s do some fairly simple algebra. If the SB attempt rate against Group I pitchers is 8%, and 41% against Group II pitches, we have this equation:

.41 * P  – .08 * P = .08

where P is the ratio of runners on the move when the ball is in play to runner on the move when the ball is not in play (an actual SB attempt). Solving for P, we get .24. That means that for every SB attempt by a base runner, there is an addition .24 times when the batter puts the ball in play and the runner is on the move. This creates an advantage for the batting team by staying out the DP and rarely being forced at second, and advancing the extra base more often on a single or double.

By the way, the percentage of fly ball or line drive double plays for both groups was almost the same: 1.5% when running a lot (against Group II pitchers) and .9% when not running a lot. While that suggests that the runner in motion gets doubled up slightly more often than the runner not in motion, it is a rare occurrence in either case. So the disadvantage to the runner in motion by virtue of the occasional extra air ball DP can probably be ignored (it is actually worth – .0065 runs per SB attempt, or around -.26 runs per year for a 40 SB attempt player).

Let’s compute the average RE on a ground ball out against both groups of pitchers, to see the actual advantage in runs on an attempted steal of second base with less than 2 outs. We will assume that with 2 outs, there is not much of an advantage, although that is not exactly true.

Table III: RE after a GB out

Against low frequency pitchers Against high frequency pitchers
Average RE after a GB out .317 (0 and 1 out combined) .364 (0 and 1 out combined)

As you can see, there is a .048 run gain when a batter hits into a ground ball out against a Group II pitcher. This is because the runner is more often running on the pitch and ending up safe at second. From Table II above, a ground ball out happens around 13% of the time (with a runner on first only and less than 2 outs) against Group II pitchers. So the overall gain is .048 * .13 or .0062 runs with a 41% steal rate. So, per steal, that is a .0152 run gain (.0062 / .41). So being able to avoid a force out at second ball on a ground out by the batter is worth an extra .0152 runs for every stolen base attempted by a runner. If a prolific base stealer attempts 40 SB per year, that is an extra gain of .61 runs, nothing to write home about.

Finally let’s look at advancing on hits. Presumably, the runner in motion will be able to take the extra base more often that one who is not on the move. Here is the data:

Table IV: Advancing the extra base on a hit 

Against low frequency pitchers Against high frequency pitchers
Extra base on a single 41.2% 42.3%
Runner out trying to advance .8% 1.4%
Batter moves up a base 6.4% 9.9%
Extra base on a double 52.0% 51.5%
Runner out trying to advance 3.9% 2.9%
Batter moves up a base 2.8% 2.6%

Although I only looked at outfield singles, and I assume that virtually all doubles are to the OF, there is obviously no guarantee that a runner on the move will be able to take the extra base. If I had to guess, I would say that rather than a 40-50% advance rate when the runner is likely not on the move, there will be a 75-80% rate when the runner is going. Let’s see if this estimate fits the data.

From the GDP data, we estimated that the runners were moving when the ball was put into play around 8% more against Group II pitchers than versus Group I pitchers. If we expect a 35% increase in the advance rate when the runner is attempting a steal, then the overall advance rate for the Group II pitchers should be around 2.8% higher than with the Group I pitchers.  For singles, we see only a 1.1% increase and for doubles it is actually a .5% decrease (unfortunately these are very small samples – 371 and 127 opportunities, singles and doubles against Group I pitchers, respectively). If we combine them (weighted according to number of opportunities, of course), we get a .67% increase with Group II pitchers, less than expected (2.8%). Of course the 35% increase (75-80% rate of advance) in advance percentage with the runner off on the pitch was a wild guess on my part. It could be only 25% more or it could be 45% more. In addition our sample sizes of singles and doubles are so small, that the differences between the two groups is not very meaningful. So I think that our 8% or .24 runners on the move per stolen base attempt, garnered from the GB data is still a reasonable estimate.

As I did with the GDP numbers, let’s see how taking the extra base adds to the value of a SB attempt, if at all.

Table V: RE after a single or double

Against low frequency pitchers Against high frequency pitchers
Average RE after a S or D 1.186 (1 out) 1.190 (1 out)

Using the numbers in Table IV above, there is a only tiny difference in the resultant RE after a single or double with the runner on first, .004 runs. These situations occur around 20% of the time, which results in an overall advantage of .002 runs per SB attempt. Suffice it to say that advancing the extra base more often when on the move is probably not worth very much overall. Even if we assumed a 2.8% extra advancement rate, rather than the modest .67% in our small sample, that would be worth .008 runs per SB and not .002.

So, there does not seem to be much of an extra advantage from the stolen base attempt, beyond the traditional numbers gleaned from the success percentage (and catcher errors on a SB, pickoffs, pickoff errors, and balks). Staying out of the GDP and taking the extra base on a single or double are likely very small advantages, and hitting into the occasional air ball DP appears to be a tiny disadvantage. if we add up all the numbers, we get .0152 for the GB situations, .008 runs (we’ll assume the more optimistic number) for the single and double advances, and – .0065 runs for the air ball DP. That is a total gain of .017 runs per SB attempt or around an extra .7 runs per season for a high frequency base stealer.

About the only thing we have really accomplished is to estimate that a base stealer is on the move when a ball is put into play about .24 times for every time he records either a SB or a CS. In other words, around 19% of the time (.24 / 1.24) that a runner takes off, the batter puts the ball in play. Unfortunately, that extra few steps isn’t worth much to the offensive team, at least terms of what I looked at so far, staying out of the GDP and force outs, and advancing extra bases on hits.

In Part II, I’ll look at how the hitter’s results are affected by the runner attempting a steal of second (or not). Can we expect more hits when the runner is in motion because the infield is moving? Is the batter distracted by the runner going? Is the pitcher distracted with a prolific base stealer on first? Does the batter take some pitches that he might ordinarily swing at? Are some of these “runner going” situations hit and runs such that the batter is forced to swing at anything? Stay tuned for Part II…

I’m talking about John Farrell and the Boston Red Sox. They had 24 sacrifice bunt attempts during the regular season, the 4th fewest in baseball. I don’t know how many they attempted or where they rank in attempts.

In game 6 of the ALCS, Boston attempted 2 sacrifice bunts, one with Victorino and runners on first and second, and one with Drew and a runner on second. With Victorino the game was tied, and with Drew the Sox were down by a run.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with both of those attempts. As I have always said, in a potential bunt situation, if the batter is good bunter and fast (I assume both of those batters are), he can bunt some (specific) percentage of the time on a random basis, as long as the infield is not overplaying one way or another. If the infield is playing optimally, according to game theory, then it doesn’t matter whether the batter bunts or not – the win expectancy (WE) should be the same for both strategies. That is the definition of the defense playing optimally – making the offense agnostic as far as bunting or hitting away is concerned.

Now, it is possible that even if the infield is playing up as far as they can, the bunt can still have a higher WE than hitting away. I suspect for that to be the case, the batter has to be a very poor hitter and an excellent bunter with good or great speed. It is also possible for the defense to be playing back all the way yet the WE for hitting away is still greater than the WE for bunting. That is often the case with good hitters at the plate who are also not good bunters and/or they are not fast. However, if the defense is playing anywhere but all the way back (as they would if it were not a potential bunt situation) or all the way in, the assumption is that they are playing in a configuration such that the batter can bunt or not bunt and the WE is exactly the same. If that isn’t true, then the batter must either bunt a lot (if the defense is playing too far back) or hit away a lot (if the defense is playing too far in).

Back to these two situations. The thing about the defense and the WE (of both bunting and not bunting) is that the latter is not static throughout the PA. As the count changes, so does the WE for both the bunt and hitting away, especially hitting away. That is obvious, right? If the count goes to 1-0, the batter becomes a better hitter. To a lesser extent, even if the defense remains the same, even the WE of the bunt attempt probably goes up. One, you are more likely to get a buntable pitch, two, if you bunt foul or take a strike, you are now 1-1 rather than 0-1, and three, since you don’t have to offer at every pitch even when bunting, you are more likely to ultimately draw a walk when attempting to bunt at a 1-0 count.

As the count changes, the defense should move to reflect the fact that the WE from hitting away likely changes more than the WE for bunting. If the count goes in the hitter’s favor, they should move back. It is not so much that they now anticipate the bunt less often, although they should, it is just that they want to play in such a way that they make the WE from the bunt and hitting away exactly the same – and that requires moving back in hitter’s counts (and up in pitcher’s counts other than with 2 strikes). So really, even when the count changes, the batter should still be agnostic as far as bunting or hitting away in concerned – it shouldn’t matter what they do.

But, we all know that managers often employ less than optimal strategies, especially when it comes to the sacrifice bunt, both on offense and on defense. It is likely that the defense did not move back when the count when to 1-0 on Victorino and 2-1 later on Drew. If they did move back at the 1-0 or 2-1 count, then either the bunt or the non-bunt would be justified. Let’s assume that the defense didn’t move though. And let’s use run expectancy (RE) rather than WE to for my analysis, just for simplicity sake.

In a low run environment, the RE with runners on first and second and 0 outs is around 1.5 runs. Let’s assume that that is the case with the defense playing a little up in anticipation of a possible bunt. If the defense is playing optimally, the RE for the bunt and hitting away should both be 1.5 runs, given the batter, pitcher, fielders, etc. Again, at that point it doesn’t matter whether the batter bunts or not. Now the count goes to 1-0. How much does that affect WE? At a 1-0 count, instead of a RE of 1.5 runs, it is around 1.56, so somehow the bunt has to be worth at least that much for it to be correct to bunt. The only way that is possible, assuming that the bunt and hitting away had the same RE when the AB started, was for the defense to back up at the 1-0 count. Even if the defense did move back, for the offense to be playing optimally according to game theory, when the count goes to 1-0, the batter has to hit away more often!

In case you are actually able to follow this, you might be asking, “Why must the offense still bunt and hit way in a certain proportion even when the defense makes them agnostic to their own strategy?” If they don’t, the defensive team can change their positioning at some point before the pitch arrives at the plate or the batter gives away his intention. As well, it tips off the defense the next time this situation comes up, although you can change your strategy to account for that.

The other thing is that Victorino used to be a switch hitter. In fact, I could swear that he hit from the left side in game 3 or game 4. If Victorino bats from the left side, the RE from hitting away with runners on first and second is higher for 2 reasons: One, fewer GDP, and two, he moves the runners over more often on an out.

Which brings up the second instance with Drew at the plate and a runner on second only. With a runner on second and no outs, the RE is around 1.13 runs. At a 2-1 count, it is 1.18. So, you have a similar situation as you had with Victorino. If the defense does not change their position with the count, you must switch to hitting away (at least a greater percentage of the time), and if they move back, you still must hit away more often, on a random basis. Again, I doubt that Detroit changed their defensive alignment. I am pretty sure that Jim Leyland was absent from class on the day that they went over game theory. And of course, before the count went to 2-1, it started out at 1-0 and then 1-1. The 1-0 count, as with Victorino, was another good time to switch to hitting away (you could then switch back to bunting at 1-1 and then not bunting again at 2-1, although with this kind of strategy you risk being too predictable).

The worst part about this bunt was that Drew is a lefty. I don’t know why lots of managers insist on bunting runners over from second base with a lefty batter. Surely they realize that he is going to move the runner over on an out when hitting away a significant percentage of the time. With a lefty batter and a runner on second, even if he is a good bunter and fast, you probably want to bunt much less often if at all. And the defense should play accordingly (not nearly as far in as with a comparable – in hitting and bunting ability, and speed – righty batter), in which case the offense would be agnostic as to their strategy.

To give you an idea of the difference between having a lefty and righty batter at the plate with a runner on second and no outs, here are the respective RE’s (there is no guarantee that they of equal hitting talent of course):

RHB: 1.104

LHB: 1.157

That is a pretty big difference. So, the RE from bunting if you are a left-handed hitter like Drew (and Victorino if he batted lefty) has to be a lot higher in order to justify a bunt attempt, as compared to a right-handed batter. Combine that with the 1-0 or 2-1 count and the bunt becomes questionable. Then again, it depends where the defense is playing, as always. If they are playing optimally, given the handedness of the batter (along with everything else), then it doesn’t matter what the batter does. And so the defense cannot take advantage of the offense, the batter must bunt and hit away in some exact proportion which makes the defense agnostic to their positioning (wherever they play, the RE from the bunt/hit away strategy of the offense is the same).

By the way, does that pitch from Veras go down in post-season history as one of the most predictable and worst location pitches on an 0-2 count ever? You probably have to throw the fastball more than you normally would at that count because you cannot afford to bounce a curve ball (especially with the gimpy Avila behind the plate) and you surely want to throw the curve ball in the dirt in that situation, if you choose to throw the curve ball.

Edit: The following article was edited and revised from its original version. There were some mistakes and coding errors. I take full responsibility for the errors.

It goes without saying, per conventional wisdom at least, that when your starter is pitching a shutout and he has not thrown too many pitches, say, less than 90 or even 100, you leave him in there until his pitch count is elevated, he gets into some trouble, or you have to pinch hit for him in a close game or one in which you are losing. And even this last consideration is sometimes ignored – you often see a manager let an NL pitcher hit in the 6th-8th inning in a close or losing contest, if he is pitching well.

Not only is this conventional wisdom, but it would be heresy to think otherwise. For example, in the NLCS game 4, Lynn, the Cardinals starter, came out to pitch the 5th inning in a close game. No one thought anything of it even though he was facing the batting order for the 3rd time, and he wasn’t even pitching a shutout – he had allowed 2 runs in 4 innings. In game 2 of the ALCS, Tigers manager JIm Leyland was mildly criticized for taking Scherzer out after 7 innings – he had thrown 108 pitches and allowed 2 hits and 1 run.

So what happens when we let a starter pitch another inning when he is throwing a shutout? Surely we know the answer to that – at least managers do, right? Yeah, right! Managers do 100’s of things right and wrong, when they have no idea what the numbers are (somehow they think they do, I guess). I truly find it hard to believe that after 100 some odd years of baseball no one can tell us what happens when a starter is pitching a shutout versus, say, after allowing a couple of runs, or even 5 or 6. Managers will gladly remove a starter after 5 or 6 innings when they have allowed 4 or 5 runs, but almost never do that when they are pitching a shutout. I realize that some of that has to do with not alienating your players, building confidence and stamina in young starters, etc. You can’t, I guess, be yanking pitchers left and right in the early innings when they have been pitching well.

However, there is not a manager alive, I don’t think, or most everyone for that matter, who does not think that a pitcher who is pitching well through 4, 5, 6, or 7 innings will not continue to pitch well, as long as his pitch count is reasonable (and he is a regular starter who is used to throwing 6 or 7 innings, etc.).

We addressed this issue to some extent in The Book. If you want to know what that research had to say, you’ll have to consult your copy or buy one. I also posted about this earlier in the year on The Book blog.

Here is some new research:

I looked at all games in which the starter was pitching a shutout so far and how they did in the subsequent inning. For example, if they were pitching a shutout after 1 inning, I looked at how they performed in the second inning. If they pitched a shutout through 2 innings, I looked at how they pitched in the 3rd inning. Etc.

I could not just look at innings that they completed – that would be a biased sample. Completed innings tend to be good ones and partial innings, when a pitcher is yanked min-inning, tend to be bad ones. So if a pitcher was yanked mid-inning, after facing at least one batter, I used the run expectancy of the base/out state when they left as a proxy for the number of runs that they allowed that inning. In other words, I assumed that the starter completed the inning and that he allowed a number of runs equal to the RE when he left (plus any runs he did allow). That is a little bit of a fudge, but I don’t think that it is a huge deal.

In presenting the numbers, the number of runs allowed in each inning after pitching a shutout so far, I adjusted for the quality of the batters in that inning. For example, if a pitcher pitches a shutout through one inning, he likely is facing the middle or bottom of the order in the second. If he allowed 3 or 4 runs, he is likely back to the top of the order in the second inning (and he is facing them for the second time). I also multiplied the runs per inning, typically around .5 of course, by 9, in order for it to look like a runs allowed per game.

I also adjusted for park factors. Shutouts tend to occur in pitchers’ parks and when pitchers allow lots of runs, that tends to occur in hitters’ parks. These are minor tendencies.

Column 3, next to the adjusted runs allowed, is the pitchers’ collective actual runs allowed for that season. This is the expected number of runs allowed in any inning (once you adjust for the batters in that inning). So comparing column 2 with column 3 is the key to this analysis. If there is a carryover effect to pitching a shutout, we would expect column 2, runs allowed in that inning, to be less than column 3. runs allowed per 9 for the whole season for these pitchers. If there is a carryover effect for getting shelled (allowing 4 or more runs), we expect column 2 to be greater than column 3.

Keep in mind that it is expected that after 1 or more shutout innings, subsequent innings will be slightly worse than seasonal numbers. What I mean by that is this: If a pitcher allows exactly .5 runs per inning for an entire season, in any inning other than 1 or more shutout innings, he is naturally going to allow slightly more than .5 runs. In other words, in any game where that pitcher has some shutout innings, the other innings will be slightly worse than his overall seasonal average – and vice versa for games in which a pitcher allows lots of runs through 1 or more innings. I adjusted for this by subtracting out the requisite number of shutout or shelled innings. So for example, if the seasonal RA9 were 5.00, then we might expect a starter to allow 5.15 runs per 9 after 5 shutout innings. After 5 innings of 4 runs or more, we might expect an RA9 of 4.90. These adjusted numbers are what is presented in column 3.

Anyway, here is the data:

These are pitchers who are pitching a shutout through X-1 innings, where the first column is inning X. The second column is the number of runs allowed in inning X for pitchers who allowed no runs in innings 1-X, adjusted for the park and the batters in that inning. Remember these are not quite actual runs allowed (almost). They are runs allowed adjusted for batters and park. And remember that they include the run expectancy for that inning when a starter leaves mid-inning.

The time period I studied was 1998-2012, and I limited the sample to games in AL parks only for various reasons. As I said, the runs in each inning were prorated to 9 innings (multiplied by 9) so that they look like runs scored per game per team.

The 4th column is the league-wide average number of runs scored in that inning (for all games and all pitchers), also adjusted for the batter pool in that inning, but not adjusted for the quality of all pitchers who pitch in that inning.

The last column is the percentage of batters who batted from the same side as the pitcher throws in that inning. As starters stay later in the game, they tend to face more same side batters, which makes sense. This column is more FYI only, although to some extent it can affect the numbers.

Note that the 5th column is now opponent runs allowed (the pitching team’s runs scored) through that inning, prorated to 9 innings. This gives us an idea as to the run scoring environment, although it appears to be dependent on how long the starter pitches so don’t put too much stock in it.

Shutout prior to inning X

Inning Adj RA Pitchers’ season RA9 Lg Avg runs Pitchers’ team RS Batter wOBA Park Factor Pitcher platoon adv
 2 4.68 5.07 4.83 4.88 .335 1.00 41.1%
 3 4.90 5.00 5.16 4.87 .331 1.00 40.4
 4 4.73 4.94 5.13 4.96 .346 1.00 40.0
 5 5.05 4.86 5.25 4.94 .326 1.00 41.4
 6 4.85 4.80 5.15 4.96 .340 1.00 39.5
 7 4.92 4.70 4.86 4.95 .334 .99 40.3
 8 4.80 4.61 4.61 4.69 .322 .99 39.8

I don’t know about you, but I think that those numbers in the runs allowed column are a little troubling. They should be to managers too – virtually no one thinks that you should take out a pitcher who is throwing a shutout and has a reasonable pitch count, because surely he is going to continue to pitch well, right?

In the first few innings, we see a small carry over effect from throwing a shutout thus far – maybe (it could just be a lower run environment, other than the park, for various reasons – weather, umpires, year, etc.). After 4 shutout innings, we don’t see any carryover effect at all – in fact, we see starters pitching worse than they normally do.

As it turns out, the deeper in the game they go, despite pitching very well so far, the more they face the lineup. By the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, they are facing the lineup for the 3rd and 4th time. Look at the 7th and 8th innings. Starters pitching a shutout are allowing between .08 and .1 runs more than the average pitcher (which are mostly relievers of course) in those innings!

In the 5th and 6th innings, these pitchers are allowing .20 to .30 more runs per 9 than they typically allow for the season as a whole. By the time they pitch in the 7th and 8th, they are allowing .40 more runs than usual! Again, that is the times through the order penalty. There is no carry over from pitching a shutout that trumps that penalty.

And look how good the pitchers are (column 5) who make it deep into the game. By the time we get into the 7th and 8th innings, only aces are allowed to continue, on the average. But still, they pitch more like middle relievers.

The number of times a starter faces the batting order is way, way, way more important than how he has been pitching. I cannot emphasize that enough and it may be the single most important thing that managers (and everyone else) should get through their thick skulls!

Let’s look at the same chart for all pitchers who have allowed at least 4 runs prior to the listed inning.

 4 or more runs allowed prior to inning X 

Inning Adj RA Pitchers’ season RA9 Lg Avg runs Pitchers’ team RS Batter wOBA Park Factor Pitcher platoon adv
 2 5.90 5.53 4.90 5.01 .347 1.01 41.6%
 3 5.02 5.40 5.21 4.94 .342 1.01 40.8
 4 5.72 5.28 5.08 4.94 .335 1.01 41.4
 5 5.45 5.20 5.27 5.05 .350 1.00 41.3
 6 5.25 5.02 5.23 4.91 .332 1.00 42.6
 7 5.21 4.83 4.88 4.54 .336 1.00 43.5
 8 4.78 4.74 4.59 3.99 .346 1.00 45.8

Other than the 3rd inning, here we also see a small carry over effect in the other direction from pitching badly in the first few innings. By the 5th inning, however, as with the shutout pitchers, the times through the order penalty is evident with very little additional carry over effect. Of course allowing 4 or more runs after 4 or 5 innings is not terrible pitching.

What about pitch count? How does that play into it?

Let’s look at pitchers who are throwing a shutout, but we’ll only look at those innings in which he starts the inning with fewer than 100 pitches:

Shutout so far, under 100 pitches going into inning

Inning Adj RA Pitchers’ season RA9  Lg Avg runs Pitchers’ team RS Batter wOBA Park Factor Pitcher platoon adv
 2 4.68 5.07 4.83 4.88 .335 1.00 41.1%
 3 4.90 5.00 5.16 4.87 .331 1.00 40.4
 4 4.73 4.94 5.13 4.96 .346 1.00 40.0
 5 5.05 4.86 5.25 4.94 .326 1.00 41.4
 6 4.85 4.80 5.15 4.97 .340 1.00 39.5
 7 4.95 4.69 4.86 4.98 .334 .99 40.2
 8 4.71 4.65 4.61 4.78 .322 .99 39.7

So even at fewer than 100 pitches going into the mid to late innings of a shutout game, you are going to give up lots of runs. Pitch count, and I presume fatigue, appears to have little to do with why pitchers, even when throwing well, give up lots of runs late in the game. Times through the order, times through the order, times through the order!

Pitching a shutout, but over 100 pitches going into the 7th or 8th inning

Inning Adj RA Pitchers’ season RA9  Lg Avg runs Pitchers’ team RS Batter wOBA Park Factor Pitcher platoon adv
 7 4.39 4.78 4.86 4.61 .326 .99 43.6
 8 5.19 4.38 4.61 4.27 .332 .99 40.4

If you do have a high pitch count while throwing a shutout, you are worse in the 8th, but better in the 7th, overall about the same. The sample sizes are small (205 and 333 innings, respectively) so these numbers are not particularly reliable. Notice that only aces are allowed to pitch into the 8th inning with a high pitch count. Nevertheless they allow a lot more runs than they normally do – .81 runs per 9 .

What if you have given up 4 or more runs, but still have a low pitch count (< 100)?

Allowing 4 runs or more – fewer than 100 pitches going into the 6th– 8th inning.

Inning Adj RA Pitchers’ season RA9  Lg Avg runs Pitchers’ team RS Batter wOBA Park Factor Pitcher platoon adv
 6 5.21 5.03 5.23 4.91 .331 1.00 42.7%
 7 5.15 4.86 4.88 4.56 .333 1.00 43.5
 8 4.42 4.69 4.59 3.96 .344 1.00 48.6

And finally, here is what happens when pitching badly (4 or more runs allowed) and you have a high pitch count:

Allowing 4 runs or more – more than 100 pitches going into the 6th– 8th inning.

Inning Adj RA Pitchers’ season RA9 Lg Avg runs Pitchers’ team RS Batter wOBA Park Factor Pitcher platoon adv
 6 5.69 4.96 5.23 4.96 .335 1.00 41.7%
 7 5.33 4.75 4.88 4.49 .344 1.00 43.6
 8 5.18 4.80 4.59 4.03 .348 1.00 42.6

As you can see, if you have allowed lots of (4 or more) runs going into the middle and late innings, it matters how many pitches you have thrown. If you have thrown more than 100 pitches, you will allow anywhere from .03 to .07 more runs (in the next inning) than if you have thrown fewer than 100. Again, small sample size warning for these numbers!

Summary

To summarize these results, a starter who is throwing a shutout does not appear to allow runs in any subsequent inning much less than what he normally allows. His runs allowed in innings 2-4 are slightly lower than league average as well as what he normally allows based on that season’s stats, but that could be due to an overall depressed run environment in these games. Once he gets into the middle and late innings, where he is facing the order for the 3rd or 4th time, he experiences the normal “times through the order” penalty despite the fact that he has not yet allowed any runs to score. In other words, even a very good pitcher throwing a shutout is not so good starting in the 5th or 6th inning. Don’t expect a pitcher who is pitching a shutout to continue to pitch well into the middle and late innings even with a low or moderate pitch count. There is little carry over effect and the times through the order penalty is too powerful.

Pitch count does not seem to be a factor for pitchers throwing a shutout. If they are under or over 100 pitches going into the middle to late innings, they pitch about the same – in a very mediocre fashion.

Pitchers who allow 4 or more runs through X innings don’t really continue to pitch badly other than innings 2 and 4 where they pitch a little worse than they usually do. For some reason in inning 3, they pitch very well – I have no idea why that might be. Maybe batters the second time through the order are acting sub-optimally since they scored 4 or more runs in the first 2 innings or maybe the starters are trying to make up for a poor first 2 innings. Or perhaps it is just a random anomaly (although it is a pretty large sample size – 2031 innings).

Pitch count does seem to be a factor for pitchers who have allowed 4 or more runs. Under 100 and you actually pitch better in the later innings than pitchers who are throwing a shutout, relative to how you pitch normally! Over 100 and it is time for you to hit the showers, although your performance in the late innings is not terrible.

Question for tech savvy readers?

Posted: October 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

I would like to change the address of this blog. I actually purchased the domain name, baseballsolutions.org and when someone goes to that site, it automatically goes to http://baseballsolutions.wordpress.com.

I am using WordPress blog software, obviously. What is the best way to do this? Can I link one site to the other for a while? Can I put up a duplicate blog on another domain and then just tell people for a while on this site that I am transferring domains? Any other suggestions would be helpful. Thanks in advance!

Edit: I was able to complete the new address and redirect. Thanks for all your help!

I have Miller as way the better pitcher than Kelly – more than a half run per 9. Miller is projected very well by Steamer, had a very good FIP this season, and fantastic K and BB rates in his minor and major careers thus far.

Is there something wrong with him?

While we are on the subject of mediocre pitchers (Kelly), surely you want to pinch hit for him leading off the 5th inning in today’s game, down 3-2. Of course I want to get mediocre starting pitchers  out of the game as soon as possible, preferably after facing the order at most 2 times. Which brings up another interesting point: When a starter gets in trouble early and then settles down a bit, why is it important to still get him out of the game as soon as possible? Because he has likely burned through the order twice by virtue of getting in trouble! Folks – and I know I sound like a broken record – times through the order is everything for a starting pitcher. Not “how they are pitching” or pitch count, or anything else. Times. Through. The. Order.

You want a funny/ironic illustration of the nonsense that is spewed by commentators/ex-pitchers about how pitchers “are doing during the game?” After Greinke was in all kinds of trouble in the first inning, and then quickly retired the Cardinals pitcher (yes, the pitcher) to lead off the 2nd, Ron Darling, who I’ve lost all respect for (never really had much in the first place), remarked that “Greinke was now locked in after a shaky first.” What happened next? He gave up 4 straight hits and 2 runs!

And I’m not sure why Choate didn’t pitch to A-Gon and Ethier in the 8th. Isn’t that what he is there for (he is less than worthless versus RHB)? Gotta punish Mattingly for back to back lefties in the order.

 

Not sure why Boston is so enamored with Craig Breslow, especially against RHB. Steamer has a 2014 FIP projection (good proxy for current talent) of 4.21. I have him a little better but not much. He has very little splits over his career and reverse splits this year, but he throws mostly fastballs and sliders (pitches with the most splits, depending on what kind of fastball), suggesting that his sample splits may be a random anomaly. Basically, he is not that good of a reliever. I have him projected as pretty bad versus RHB, at least for a short reliever.

In the PA where Napoli hit the homer, I said to my sleeping dog, “Max, surely he doesn’t want to throw a fastball here and if he does, it better be down and away.” The reason I said that was that Napoli was the last legitinate power threat in the batting order that inning, he is a slow base runner, so it would likely take at least 2 more hits to score him, and I suspected that Napoli was looking fastball (even though I thought that off-speed was a better pitch) and looking to break the tie (with a HR). It turned out that I was prescient in all respects, however, I am going to criticize my own analysis:

If I think that Verlander should throw off speed here, then Napoli should be thinking the same thing, so maybe fastball is the right pitch. Of course, Napoli could be thinking the same thing. Which is why it is necessary for pitchers to randomize their pitches – so no one can get an edge by out-thinking the other! And maybe Verlander was going to throw an off speed pitch here 70% of the time and the fastball 30% and the die just happened to land on fastball!

Similarly, in the last AB of the game, Avila, a catcher no less, surely has to be looking splitter at that 3-2 count, no? (Uehara doesn’t mind walking him, he has to protect against the HR, and he had already shown that inning that he really liked his splitter). Maybe not 100%, but certainly 75%. If you are looking mainly splitter, do you swing and miss at that last pitch?

Cabrera’s AB – you know, that Cabrera who is the best hitter in baseball and the clutchiest – was just awful. Boston already was on record that they were going to pitch him away with fastballs. So what does he do in a critical situation? Swing at 2 fastballs that were 3-6 inches off the plate. Perfect illustration of why the notion of a clutch player is largely nonsense.

Finally, what makes an umpire, at a critical juncture of a post-season game, make an awful, obviously bad call? I’m talking about that 1-1 pitch to Peralta of course, with a runner on first and no outs. I’ve said this before and I firmly believe it. It would take about a week for almost everyone to get used to computers calling balls and strikes. If you actually watch the pitch trax during a game, you will clearly see that the pitch trax is never obviously wrong. Never. The criticism that, “The strike zone is 3-dimensional, yada, yada, yada,” is a complete non-factor. At most, a pitch which nicks the strike zone might occasionally be called a ball and vice versa. As opposed to a dozen or more pitches per game that are flat out called wrong by the human umpires we have now.

From time to time, I will be posing a question, mostly something you hear on TV all the time from the talking heads who corrupt our children’s baseball minds. Feel free to comment in the comments section. There are no guarantees that my math is correct, since much of it is done at 2 in morning!

You often hear from a TV commentator something like this: “They can afford to be more aggressive since they have the lead.”

A typical situation is a 1 or 2 run lead with a stolen base threat on first or a base runner potentially going first to third on a single. The implication is that if you are down, or perhaps if the game is tied, that it is not wise to attempt a “risk,” whereas with a lead, it is acceptable to do so.

The thinking (or, often, non-thinking) that goes along with that, is, “The team already has the lead, so it is not big deal if they make an out on the bases – they’ll still have the lead. However, if behind, an out on the bases is costly.”

While that is generally true, the missing part of the equation is that if behind, a success can be quite advantageous, even though a failure can be devastating. And just because something “feels” right, doesn’t mean that it is – in fact, strategies which “feel” right are often incorrect and vice versa, because human beings tend to be risk averse. We typically would rather have a guaranteed 10 dollars in our pocket than risk a 50% chance of losing $10 and a 50% chance of winning $40 (which is a net gain of $15).

Anyway, rather than guessing whether it is in fact more beneficial to go for a risk when up by a run or two, as opposed to being down by a run or two, let’s see if we can figure it out. It should be easy.

Let’s say that it is the bottom of the 7th and the MGL Braniacs (haha) have a 1 run lead with a runner on 1stand 2 outs. What is the break-even point for a successful steal assuming that everything about this game is major league average? To answer that, all we need are some league average win expectancy charts, which Tango generously provides (http://www.tangotiger.net/welist.html). All you aspiring saberists should bookmark that web address. In this situation, our WE is 77.2% (we don’t need that number for this calculation). On the average, we will win the game 77.2% of the time, assuming league average hitting, pitching, defense, etc., for the remainder of the game. If we execute a successful steal, the WE is now 78.4% and if we are thrown out, the inning is over and our new WE is 75.3%.

First of all the gain in WE from a stolen base is only 1.2% and the loss from a caught stealing is 1.9%. In a second, we’ll see how those numbers compare when we are down by a run. So what must be our success rate for the average result for the average result to be a net gain of zero? That is our break-even (BE) point. We must solve this equation for X: 1.2 * X – 1.9 * (1-X) = 0.  The answer is X = .613. We have to be successful more than 61.3% of the time for a stolen base attempt to have a positive expectation, i.e., increase our chances of winning. So, it is true that this is a good time to take a risk!

But, before we close the door, let’s see what the break-even point is when we are down by a run. The original “theory” says that this is not a good time to take a risk; therefore the BE point must be higher. With 2 outs and a runner on first with a 1 run deficit, our WE is 29.6%. After a stolen base, it is 32.2%, a gain of 2.6% (win a 1 run lead, the gain was only 1.2%!). If our runner is erased, the WE falls to 24.6%, a loss of 5%, quite a bit more than our 1.9% loss when we had the lead. So, it is a bigger risk, but there is also a bigger gain, so it is not surprising that managers would be averse to attempting a steal when down by a run, especially with 2 outs (if you fail, the inning is over – bang!). But, all we really care about is the BE point. Again, that is easy to figure: Solving for X in this equation, 2.6 * X – 5 * (1-X) = 0, we get .658. We have to be successful more than 65.8% of the time in order for the SB attempt to have a positive expectation. Before, it was 61.3%. So, it is correct that we can be slightly more aggressive in attempting a steal, at least with 2 outs, when we are up by a run rather than down by a run. It’s a small difference, but a difference nonetheless. I’m not sure the narrative (e.g., “They can afford to take a risk now that they are winning.”) is justified, but technically it is correct, at least as compared to being down in the game. In other words, they should say something like, “They can afford to take more of a risk, now that they are winning.”

What about in a tie game? Conventional TV commentator wisdom (and managers) would put that in the same category as being behind in the game I would think. Maybe not though. Let’s see where it actually stands in terms of the BE point.

The equation in a tie game is 2.5 * X – 4 * (1-X) = 0, which yields a BE point of 61.5%, slightly more “risky” than when up by a run.

Do we get the same pattern with 0 outs? Up by a run, the BE point is 66.2%, down by a run, it is 69.2%, and in a tie game, it is 65.5%. So, in this case, while being down by a run is still a more risky situation to attempt a steal, a tied game is actually less risky than when up by a run – by a hair. So, I think we can safely put the tie game situation into the “up by a run” bucket and call it a low risk situation for attempting a steal, at least as compared to being down by a run. Again, from an absolute perspective, who would think to call a requisite success rate of 65 or 66% low risk and one of 69% high risk?

What about with a 3 run lead? Most commentators, I think, would call this a, “What the heck, go for it situation – you have nothing to lose.” If you attempt a steal and get thrown out, you only lose .59%, so, sure, what the heck, who cares? You are going to win the game over 93% of the time either way. If you succeed, you gain only .31%, so, now it’s more like, ”Why try it in the first place? The runner might get hurt.” In any case the BE point is 65.6%, so it is really no more or less “risky” than anytime else unless you want to define risk by the downside.  In other words, it would be silly to recklessly attempt a steal when the BE point is a thoroughly typical 66%. If you do attempt a steal with a poor base stealer, you are needlessly giving away win expectancy, albeit a very small amount (and risking an injury). So really, rather than, “What the heck, we have nothing to lose,” the mantra should be, “We have almost nothing to gain, so why risk an injury?”

Let’s try one more thing. What about going from 1st to 3rd, with one out (which is always the number of outs with the lowest BE point when trying for third base – of course)? Is it better to take a risk with a lead or a deficit. We found that with the stolen base (of second), it is slightly better to take the risk with a lead where “risk” is defined by the BE point – the lower the BE point, the lower the risk.

If we go from 1st to 3rd on a single with a 1 run lead and 1 out in the bottom of the 7th, we increase our chances of winning by 5.66%. If we get thrown out at third, it goes down by 2.38%. If we don’t send him, we gain 3.75%. The BE point is therefore 63.8%. (If any third base coaches are reading this, keep that in mind – your runner needs at least a 64% chance of being safe at third for you to send him in this situation!)

Same thing, but down by a run? We pick up 14.86% with a successful stretch, and lose 6.14% when he gets thrown out, and gain 7.46% when we hold the runner on second. So the BE point is 68%.

So, similar to the stolen base, we need a higher success rate when down by a run as compared to leading by a run, but not by that much.

In a tie game, the BE point is 63%, the lowest of the 3 run differentials, by a hair, again, similar to the stolen base situation (a tie game is essentially the same as being up by a run).

So there you have it. The first Question of the Day, asked and answered!