Joe Maddon the genius!

Posted: October 6, 2013 in In-game strategy, Managers, Post-season

Some of you who are familiar with my writings over the years know that I hold a special place in my heart for Joe Maddon. I am pretty sure he is a smart guy, at least as managers go, and he does some nice things with his team (you know, the T-shirts and casual Friday thing), but in my opinion he thinks that he is a lot smarter than he is and consequently he seems to habitually do some really obviously stupid things.

To wit in last night’s ALDS Game 2:

Before the game, Maddon decided to use Delmon F. Young as the DH against the righty starter, Lackey, rather than his regular (and excellent) lefty DH, Matt Joyce. The one with the career wOBA versus righties of .360 (.835 OPS)! Not the other Matt Joyce. You know, as opposed to Young, with a career wOBA against righties of .309 (.709 OPS).

But, being the cerebral celebrity that he is, he had some very good reasons:

If you want to break it down sabermetrically, there’s absolutely different righties that he’s better against than others. I’ll concede that point right now. The thing is with Delmon, right now I believe that he is kind of locked in and I think he’s had really good at-bats against some tough right-handers also. If you really want to break down all of our right-handers, there’s going to be different right-handed pitchers they’re all going to have difficult moments against. Delmon’s really demonstrated the ability to come through in key moments at the end of the season, and I believe in that kind of stuff too beyond numbers. I think that there’s a certain group of people that are really able to rise to moments or occasions and he’s proven that.

I think I just threw up in my mouth reading that.

I wanted to see how much of a mistake that was, on paper at least. That is all I can do. I mean, if Maddon is right with all that bullshit, all the more power to him. All I can do is look at it on “paper.”

So I ran both lineups in my very complex baseball simulator.

With Young, TB has a 47.85% chance of winning the game. With Joyce, TB has a WE of 51.92%. That is a difference of 4.1%! That is enormous for one decision! If Mattingly gets lambasted for a .2% mistake (IBB’ing Reed Johnson to pitch to Heyward in Game 2 of their NLDS) , what should the reaction to Maddon be for something that is 20 times worse! To me, that is an instantly fireable offense! (That would make a great dream – walking up to Maddon in the middle of a game and saying, “Hey bud! Take your smarter than thou attitude and your goofy glasses, and go clean out your office…”) This is not like an errant IBB or sacrifice bunt here or there. Those types of decisions typically are worth less than 1% in WE. This is big time.

Plus, you can leverage Joyce if you start him. If a LH reliever comes in to pitch to him or is already in there, you can pinch hit a righty! Since Maddon is already playing Young against a righty, he is presumably there to stay against righty relievers as well!

If Maddon is so high on Young, why is he batting 7th? Presumably if he played Joyce, Joyce would be batting 7th or lower, right? I mean, he is not saying that Joyce is bad right now (he is only saying that Young is great), and we KNOW that Joyce against a RHP is going to be one of the best hitters in that lineup. So surely Young, being better than Joyce, in Maddon’s mind at least, should be batting higher than 7th! So there is some serious disconnect in what he is saying and what he is doing.

Interestingly, later in the game Maddon brings in Joyce to pinch hit for Molina knowing that Boston is going to bring in Breslow to pitch to him (I suppose). Joyce is helpless against lefty pitchers. Is there anyone else he can pinch hit for for Joyce (a righty)?

Plus, you take out a catcher who is probably 20 runs better than his replacement (Lobaton) in framing. Granted you need offense more than you need defense at this point, but losing Molina is not like losing wood (a friend of mine likes to say, “What is that, wood?” As in, “What, that’s not good enough for you?”)!

Seems like the correct play is either to leave in Molina, or pinch hit Joyce and then replace Joyce with a righty off the bench when Breslow comes in. Any righty against a lefty pitcher is going to be a lot better than Molina versus a righty or Joyce versus a lefty.

I don’t like rooting against teams, but I really want Maddon to lose and it looks like I am going to get my wish!

  1. Brian Cartwright says:

    On the pre-game at MLB Network they explained that Young had a better contact rate vs RHP sliders than Joyce did (Young, make contact?) – which sounded good, but Maddon never mentions it in the quotes you printed. He does seem to be referencing matching batters vs certain types of pitchers which I know the Pirates are doing and Vince Gennaro has done two conference presentations on, but the quotes provided aren’t very articulate on that point. “We’ve been looking at how all our hitters match up against certain groups of pitchers, not just left or right, but based on what types of pitches they throw and their pitching style, and we felt that Delmon was a better option that Matt against Lackey” would be a lot clearer, if that’s what he meant.

    • mgl59 says:

      I mean, there is a chance that Maddon is correct, but I am highly skeptical. There is just too much of a difference to make up between the two players. Certainly if the decision were coming from Dusty Baker or Ron Washington, you would attach a much different probability of it being correct than if it comes from Maddon and the Rays. To me though, it smacks of a pattern that we have seen from Maddon.

    • mgl59 says:

      Typically what makes a batter bad against same-side pitching is the slider (and fastball). So I kind of doubt that Young is a better hitter versus a slider than is Joyce. Also, you don’t throw the slider much against opp side hitters, so it is possible that Joyce has been bad at the few sliders that he sees from RHP, as compared to Young. Anyway, I looked at Young’s profile on Fangraphs and he sees around 20% sliders. No one sees that many sliders unless they are terrible against that pitch. If you look at his pitch values, you will see that he is indeed terrible on the slider, at -35 runs career. His other bad pitch is the fastball, again, as you would expect from someone who has trouble hitting same-side pitching. Joyce on the other hand only sees around 13% sliders and I imagine those are mostly versus LH pitchers. And his run against the slider is slightly negative. So I don’t know what MLB is talking about, and who cares about “contact rate” in and of itself.

  2. […] my tweets or in MGL’s piece. Today I want to focus on something else that Mickey wrote about: Joe Maddon’s strange decision to start Delmon Young in Game 2 against John Lackey, when Matt Joyce was available […]

  3. I agree — it seems like a highly questionable decision to start Young over Joyce. I hope Maddon has a better reason for doing it than he’s letting on, such as Joyce having some significant injury. Probably not, though.

    Sometimes I wonder if managers: 1) Think they have special, magical powers of foresight, or 2) Just like to make changes to make themselves seem more important, and so they can look like geniuses if their moves happen to pay off.

  4. […] my tweets or in MGL’s piece. Today I want to focus on something else that Mickey wrote about: Joe Maddon’s strange decision to start Delmon Young in Game 2 against John Lackey, when Matt Joyce was available […]

  5. Phil D says:

    I would be very skeptical of using stats like “Young had a better contact rate against sliders. .” for several reasons:

    1) This is likely based on a small sample size. When I look at the Fangraphs’ player cards for each player, Joyce is much better for his career vs sliders than Young is (that’s RAA not contact rate). I suspect Maddon is looking at 1-year’s worth of stats.
    2) Lackey only throws sliders ~25% of the time anyway. And none of the high-leverage Boston relievers throws a slider.
    3) If Joyce is 25-30 runs better on offense, that overrides any match-up considerations, I’d suspect.

    I read Jonah Keri (I think) tweet that Maddon used LH Jake McGee against RH Ryan Raburn in the Cleveland game because Raburn had some awful slash line against 95+ mph fastballs this season. Again, that’s the sort of information I would never convey to my manager if I were running a team. Because the manager will invariably overrate the small sample size and make the wrong decision. Just like they do when a batter supposedly “owns” a pitcher over a small sample size.

    • mgl59 says:

      Yes, these types of decisions smack of small sampleitis.If I am an analyst for a team, I am not giving my manager these types of situational stats. Those are the kinds of things that I am trying to disabuse them of. They will misuse them. Even the esteemed Mr. Maddon.

      As an analyst, it is your job to determine how much to regress these situational stats (often, if not usually, nearly 100%) and THEN present the “projections” to the manager.

  6. Jared Cross says:

    Agreed. Just b/c it’s been shown that these kinds of splits exist (and they have to, of course) doesn’t mean that observed splits should be taken at face value. Very hard to know what to do with one player’s splits by intuition; This is a job for an algorithm. Spending too much time wading through raw splits is just an opportunity to find support for various biases (you think that Young is on a hot streak and find support for playing him in his recent contact rate v. the RHP/slider group and, of course, he has looked good…).

  7. mgl59 says:

    The irony of managers looking at worthless splits is this: If THEY would get their heads out of their index cards, and actually watched Delmon over the course of his career, it is obvious that what makes him a poor major league hitter, especially versus RHP, is that he chases bad pitches, especially sliders. If Maddon were not looking at “the numbers” are we to think that he believes that Young suddenly had an epiphany? “My God, I’ve been swinging at too many sliders out of the zone. I am going to stop! By God I will stop!”

    To much information by someone who thinks that they are a lot smarter than they are can be dangerous. It is not just a saying. We all know people like that. I have long suspected that Maddon is one of those people and nothing along the way has caused me to doubt that.

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