Archive for the ‘In-game strategy’ Category

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

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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.

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.

No, Benoit and Leyland were not caught using coke. In fact, if you listen to and watch the Tigers’ skipper, you might think he was on anything but cocaine.

In any case, I am wondering if the correct pitcher to face Big Papi wasn’t Coke rather than Benoit. Benoit actually has a career reverse split, likely because he throws so many change ups, but my platoon projection for him is still positive. Coke has a pretty large platoon split, so, accordingly, I have Coke as much better against lefties than Benoit. Even strictly using career numbers, Coke has actually done a little better (wOBA-wise) against LHB than Benoit. And since managers are often reluctant to use closers for more than one inning, it would not be totally unreasonable to nick Benoit just a tad for coming into the 8th inning rather than the 9th.

Now, once the Sox tie up the game and Detroit doesn’t score in the top of the 9th, I can’t think of any reason not to leave in Benoit to pitch the bottom of the 9th. Once he’s out, he obviously can’t come back if the Tigers should take the lead in extra innings. It is hard to say what kind of a pitcher Porcello is as a reliever, but he is probably not one of their better short relievers. In other words, the difference between Porcello and Benoit in the 9th is likely very large.

Leyland has also been criticized in the media and blogosphere for not letting Scherzer go a little longer. I will almost never fault a manager for taking out a starter “too soon.” As many of you know, I am a big believer in taking out starters as soon as possible (especially, especially, especially non-ace starters), since almost all relievers are better than starters once the starter faces the lineup for the 3rd time, especially since you can start looking for favorable platoon match ups. Even a great pitcher like Scherzer gets a lot worse the 3rd and 4th times he faces the batting order. In addition, there is no evidence that a pitcher who is thus far pitching a great game through 6 or 7 innings, is any more likely to continue pitching well than is a pitcher who has been pitching less well. So I think taking out Scherzer after 7 is just fine as long as you replace him with an excellent short reliever, including the effects of chaining.

By now, if you are a Braves fan, or even if you’re not, you’ve read or heard that Fredi Gonzalez should have brought his closer, Kimbrel, into the game either, at the start of the 8th inning, or, after Puig reached second on a lead-off double.

The reasons are, one, he should be able to pitch 6 outs in a post-season elimination game, the batters in the 8th are better than the batters in the 9th, or just very good in general, and a runner on 2nd with no outs in 8th inning with a 1-run lead is a high leverage situation.

Let’s look at these one at a time to see if they have any merit, and if so, how much (on this site, we like to quantify merit!).

Could Kimbrel have pitched 6 outs and if so, should he have? Unfortunately, we have no way of answering that question. Most closers don’t, a few do, and a few more do during the post season. I don’t have any numbers handy, but we know that Mariano was often called on by Torre to do just that, and he seemed to fare just fine. Kimbrel was not overworked, in the post-season you don’t play every day, and of course, he has the entire off-season to recover no matter what happens. That still doesn’t mean that it is correct for him to go 6 outs, and that doesn’t tell us how much that increases the Braves’ chances of winning even if he can go 2 innings at full strength, although we can estimate the latter.

Fredi was quoted as saying that he was planning to use Kimbrel for 4 outs. As many people have pointed out, that seems kind of arbitrary, and if 4, why not 6? Well, by that logic, if 6, why not 7? Etc. So, I am not crazy about that “argument” in and of itself.

Now, the pitcher he did use, his set-up man, Carpenter, is no slouch. He allows 79% of league average runs (all numbers I am quoting are my projections), which is equivalent to a little better than a league average closer. Then again, Kimbrel is other-wordly. He is Mo before Mo was Mo. He is Eck when Eck was unhittable. He is as unhittable as I think a human pitcher can be. I have him as 47.25% of league average, which is more than a half run better than Clayton Kershaw, the best starter in the world.

It really doesn’t matter how good Carpenter is. What counts is how much better Kimbrel is than the next best pitchers in terms of whom to bring in when. And despite Carpenter being excellent, Kimbrel is 1.28 runs per 9 better, which is enormous. That is like the difference between a regular closer and a really bad long reliever. So, using Kimbrel rather than Carpenter in appropriate situations is definitely a large advantage. The argument that, “Carpenter is a very good reliever in his own right,” is not really relevant to this discission.

Anyway, let’s take a look at what kind of advantage there is to pitching Kimbrel in the 8th and 9th rather than Carpenter and then Kimbrel. We’ll assume that they both pitch exactly one inning in one case, that Kimbrel pitches exactly 2 innings in the other case (obviously if Atlanta were to take a big lead, they could sit him in the 9th, or pitch Carpenter in the 9th). We’ll also try out Kimbrel in the 8th and Carpenter in the 9th.

For that, I am going to use my game simulator. The sim is particularly suited to these kinds of 1 or 2 inning scenarios where we assume that we know the talent level of the pitcher, and that of the batters (although that is not that important), and we don’t have to worry about any possible pitching changes.

Here is what we get:

With Kimbrel in the 8th and Carpenter the 9th: WE=.7819

With Carp in the 8th and Kimbrel the 9th: WE=.7857

With Kimbrel pitching the 8th and 9th: WE=.8258

Those numbers appear to make complete sense. It is better to pitch Kimbrel in the 9th than the 8th, if he only pitches an inning, but not by much. And it is very advantageous to pitch him for 2 innings, assuming that he is able to pitch at full strength for 6 outs. Apparently Fredi does not think that he can. I don’t know that we can argue against that. We have nothing to really hang our hat on. Obviously if he is affected, he may be no better than if he pitches an inning and Carpenter pitches an inning. In that sense, Carpenter’s talent is important. It may be that a stretched-out Kimbrel for 2 innings is no better that a full-on Kimbrel for 1 and Carpenter for 1. For what it is worth, in tonight’s Detroit/Oakland game, Leyland said that he is reluctant to use his closer, Benoit, for more than 1 inning. Of course Leyland is definitely cut from the conventional manager cloth.

How much is gained by bringing in Kimbrel with 2 outs in the 8th, as Fredi was planning, and how much would have been gained had he brought in Kimbrel after Puig reached?

Kimbrel entering with 2 outs in the 8th: WE=.7971

So that adds a little over 1% to Atlanta’s WE, as expected. Of course, we don’t know that by coming in for a 4 out save, that Kimbrel is not less effective than for a 3 out save. So maybe there is no gain.

Kimbrel entering with Puig on 2nd, no outs in the 8th: WE=.6674

Kimbrel not entering with Puig on 2nd, but he comes in with 2 outs if the Braves still have the lead (Fredi’s strategy):WE=.6227

By not bringing in Kimbrel at this point, we lose 4.5% in WE rather than 4%, which is the gain by bringing him in to start the inning (as opposed to waiting until the 9th). There is only a 2.8% gain when allowing him to pitch the 8th and 9th (.8258) compared to 2 outs in the 8th (.7971). I hope you are able to follow all that.

Remember that the 4.5% gain when Puig reaches second is still predicated on Kimbrel being just as effective for 6 outs as for 4 or 3 outs, and again, we don’t know that to be true. We almost have to assume that there is some penalty, no? Sure, if he throws 11 pitches in the 8th, he is probably fine. But, part of the equation are those rare times when he throws 20 or 30 pitches in the 8th and either can’t pitch the 9th or can’t pitch as effectively in the 9th.

Now what about these claims of, “In the 8th, the 5, 6, and 7 batters are due, and in the 9th, 8, 9, and 1 (of course, it is around 50/50 that the 8th will go 1,2,3 no matter who is pitching), so the 9th could just as easily be 9, 1, and 2, or worse (for Atlanta), and you want your better pitcher against your opponent’s better batters?”

Is that one of those things that makes sense if you don’t think about it too much? I’m not sure I am convinced of that argument. I’m not even sure what it means. It’s not like your better pitcher gets the good batters out all the time but the worse pitcher doesn’t. The better pitcher reduces the production of both the good and bad hitters. I am not even sure what to test.

I am going to try this: Have the good and bad part of the order come up in the 9th and see what the difference is between the closer and set-up guy.

I am looking at the bottom of the 9th inning, protecting a 1 run lead, with the leadoff batter up. Let’s see the difference between using a closer like Kimbrel and a pitcher like Carpenter.

We=.8681 with Kimbrel and top of the order in the 9th.

We=.8065 with Carpenter and top of the order in the 9th.

That is a huge difference. 6.2% of WE (which is why Kimbrel is so valuable!). But what about with the bottom of the order in the 9th? Under this theory, we should see less of a difference, since to some extent we don’t need Kimbrel.

WE=.9003 with Kimbrel and bottom of the order in the 9th.

WE=.8547 with Carpenter and bottom of the order in the 9th.

Here we have only a 4.5% advantage for Kimbrel over Carpenter.  So at least in this situation, that theory appears to hold some water. Of course an extra 4.5% is nothing to sneeze at. If you had a 1-run lead in the 9th, even with the bottom of the order coming up, you definitely want your best pitcher!

Bottom line here is that even at its worst, not bringing in Kimbrel to start the 8th, or with Puig on second, costs on the order of 4 or 5%. That is huge for one decision, but certainly doesn’t mean that their manager cost them the game. And that is the worst (or best) case scenario. If pitching 2 innings has any negative effect on Kimbrel, which it might, then that 4 or 5% can certainly disappear quickly.

Let’s start with Freddie Garcia, to whom the Braves have entrusted the fate of their 2013 post-season – to some extent at least. Is Garcia a terrible starter? I don’t think anyone knows that. The Braves apparently think not. They think that he is at least better than Alex Wood or Paul Maholm. (I’ll get to Wood in a second.) In addition, they seem to think that his post-season experience will help them/him today. Freddy Gonzalez was quoted as saying this:

“You start looking at the rotation and see how young they are and how inexperienced they are, then you look at Freddy Garcia’s experience, you look at his postseason starts and postseason innings, so you give him an opportunity to do that,” Gonzalez said. “I think he knows how to maneuver himself through a Major League lineup. He’s shown that this year.”

While I think that is more of an excuse for Teheran’s poor performance last night than a ringing endorsement of Garcia, there may be some merit to that argument. I also think that Atlanta’s decision to use Garcia over Maholm and also Alex Wood’s demotion to the pen is mostly predicated on the Brave’s incorrect emphasis on recent, small samples. Garcia has something like a 1.65 ERA with the Braves since being acquired on Sept. 1 or so. Oh, that’s in 27 IP. I don’t have to tell you how meaningless 27 innings are in terms of future performance.

Still, there is some argument as to what Garcia’s true talent level is now. I think it is around 14% worse than the average starter. I think Steamer (a very good forecasting system designed by the very smart and knowledgeable Jared Cross) rates him about the same, ZIPS likes him more (around a league average pitcher), with Pecota somewhere in between. Don’t take those assessments as the gospel.

Dave Cameron, on Fangraphs today, points out that he has been around league average, xFIP-wise, for the last few years, however, he is likely on the last legs of his career at the present time, his regular FIP has not been good, and no team even wanted him until the Braves picked him up off the scrap heap.

So, all told, given all the evidence, it is likely that Garcia is a well-below average starter.

What about Alex Wood or Maholm? Maholm actually has decent numbers and decent projections across the board, a little below average, perhaps akin to a typical #3 or #4 starter. He appears to be a better choice than Garcia. Cameron, in that same article referenced above, says:

And while Maholm has a pretty solid track record, his results were pretty terrible after a strong start, allowing a .368 wOBA in the second half of the season. His massive platoon splits — righties have a career .349 wOBA against him — are also a pretty poor fit for a start against a team that features guys like Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig, so it’s understandable than the Braves didn’t particularly want to give Maholm the ball in this game either.

All of that is nonsense. How he has done “after a strong start” is irrelevant other than how it has changed our projection for him (a little, but not much – we have plenty of data on him), assuming that he is healthy. And Maholm being a poor fit for the Dodgers because of the righties Puig and Ramirez? Huh? Who cares who the righties are? It is how MANY righties that counts. The Dodgers have 3 lefties in their lineup out of 8, which is 38% of their lineup, while Maholm has actually faced only 19% lefties in his career. (I am not sure that Schumaker remains in CF versus a “tough” lefty pitcher.) Managers typically stack their lineups with righties against him. If anything, the Dodgers lineup is ILL-suited to face a lefty pitcher with large splits! So now, Maholm is looking a LOT better than Garcia.

What about Alex Wood (second round 2012 draft pick and high on the Braves’ prospect hierarchy)? I love his projection. I have him projected at 10% better than a league average starter – around a #2 starter. His 2013 rookie season has been spectacular (and under the radar). Go look at all the pertinent numbers. And his minor league numbers are above reproach. Go look at them too. Why was he relegated to the pen? I assume because he had 2 bad starts in September, which is ridiculous, but typical behavior by stupid teams. And yes, for the record, I consider the Braves, and especially Fredi Gonzalez, stupid teams/managers, at least when it comes to convention versus sabermetrics, or more appropriately, fiction versus fact (yeah, yeah, I know they’ve won lots of games over the years, yada, yada, yada).

Wood appears to be, by far and away, the best choice to start today’s game. Of course he is already in the pen and has already pitched as a reliever in the post-season, so that cannot happen. Big mistake by Atlanta, fighting desperately not to go home for good. How much of a mistake? With Maholm over Garcia, I have the Braves winning 2.5% more often than with Garcia pitching. With Wood on the hill, the Braves win a colossal 7.9% more often than with Garcia! So I see your, “Wood had 2 bad games in September,” and I raise you, “8% in WE!” That’s twice the value of Joe Maddon’s “I’ll bat Delmon F. Young rather Matt Joyce because, you know, well, you know, I’m Joe Maddon!”

All that being said, what is the absolute best alternative? We’ve all mentioned it before, and Dave Cameron reminds us:

I’ve written about the case for skipping the starter in elimination games many times before, and this is the kind of game where an all-hands-on-deck approach is most warranted. Garcia might be their best option to start the game, but there’s no reason to let him try and pitch himself out of impending doom. If the Dodgers start stringing some hits together, get someone up in the bullpen, and be ready to make the move to put out any fires that arise in any inning in order to keep the game close.

Yes, of course. You don’t need or want a starter when you don’t have an ace, especially in a post-season elimination game! Pick your 3 best relievers, although you can save your closer and possibly set up guy for the last couple of innings, and roll them out there one at a time, either until they face the order 1 time or they come to bat. Speaking of – the first time Gonzalez lets Garcia bat rather than a pinch hitter and then removing him from the game, the first time I will say what an idiot he is. Also, when you bring in your relievers try and pay attention to the L/R matchups. For example, you have Crawford leading off and Gonzalez batting 4th. Make sure that your lefty reliever pitches to both of them. Basically when you switch pitchers, make sure that at least for the first batter, you have the platoon advantage.

Now, lets get to this idea of when to take out your starter other than for a pinch hitter or after he has gone through the lineup once (if you are going to only allow him to pitch one through the lineup), or 2 or 3 times.

Cameron above says, “If the Dodgers start stringing some hits together, get someone up in the bullpen, and be ready to make the move to put out any fires that arise in any inning in order to keep the game close.” David Schoenfeld, in his Sweetspot article today, talks about how Fredi should have taken out Teheran after he allowed X number of runs or hits. I am afraid all of that is nonsense. The reason is this:

There is no evidence (that is code for, “it ain’t true”) that  how a starter has pitched at any point in the game has any relevance (predictive value) to how is going to pitch to the next batter or for the rest of the game. Given that, your decision to remove your starter or not should have nothing to do with whether he has just gotten hammered or is pitching a shutout through 6 or 7 innings.

What does matter is two things and two things only: How good he is in general (independent of how he has pitched thus far in this game) – basically his current projection, and how many times he has faced the batting order. (Of course, if a pitcher has thrown a lot of pitches and is tired, it may be time to take him out no matter what.)  We know that each time through the order, a pitcher gets decidedly worse, independent of how many pitches he has thrown and independent of how that batting order has done thus far in the game. This is an extremely important concept, and one that NO manager has any inkling of. (Managers know about the “times through the order thing – you hear announcers talk about it all the time. But they often ignore it and they use other incorrect assumptions to trump it – such as, “My guy has been pitching great, so surely I should leave him in there even though he is facing the lineup for the 3rd time.”)

What are the consequences of using the ubiquitous, “Ill leave him in there if he is pitching well, and I will take him out when he allows X number of runs/hits balances against how many innings/pitches he has thrown among other things?” Well, since it really doesn’t matter when you take him out along those lines, what happens is when you take out a good or great pitcher after he has gotten hammered and put in a worse pitcher (after accounting for any time through the order penalties, and platoon considerations, etc.), you cost yourself WE. What happens way more often is that you allow an inferior pitcher to continue pitching when he has thus far pitched well. That costs WE as well, and usually a lot. It is not uncommon to see a bad pitcher pitch an extra inning or 3 when there is a reliever who is a run better that should be in the game. For 2 innings, that is .22 runs or around 2% in WE. That’s a lot to give up.

Caveat: I realize that you can’t be yanking pitchers left and right when they are pitching well and always allowing pitchers who are getting hammered to keep pitching. You will lose the trust of your players and perhaps impede the development of some of your pitchers – but surely there is a happy medium.

BTW, and I don’t mean to pick on Schoenfeld, as he is very smart and writes mostly good, sabermetric-oriented articles on ESPN, here is my response to today’s Sweetspot piece (which is NOT good – the piece that is):

In your article on Teheran and the Braves, you are assuming that Teheran would have continued to pitch poorly at any point in time that he DID pitch poorly and you would have taken him out.

Do you have any evidence of that? Making an argument that he “should have” taken him out because he did in fact allow more runs is a ridiculous argument and you know that.

If Kershaw or Scherzer allows a few runs and then allows 5 more, “should” the manager have taken him out too before those 5 runs scored?

Obviously in all case, had the manager taken the pitcher out, those subsequent runs would likely not have scored, but, absent a crystal ball, the manager cannot know that at the time he has to make the decision.

Now, the point about having fast hooks in general in the post-season is a good one. That is because you don’t worry about tiring your pen during a 162 game season. But, what does a fast or slow hook mean? If there is no evidence that how a starter HAS been pitching has any predictive value for the rest of the game (which I am afraid there isn’t), then when SHOULD you take out a starter?

I would submit that you “should” take out a starter any time you have a better option in the pen, talent-wise (and L/R matchup-wise), without being ridiculous, and without burning up your relievers for that game or for the rest of the series (e.g., you don’t put your best reliever in the game in the 3rd inning even though he is better than the starter). You can wait until fairly late in the game OR until he HAS pitched badly ONLY FOR PR purposes and for the purposes of not offending your players!

That means that the talent of the starter has a lot to do with it. If your starter is Teheran, then very much you want him to pitch as little as possible REGARDLESS OF HOW HE IS DOING, since almost every one of your relievers is better than he is, especially after Teheran has faced the order 1 or 2 times. If your starter is Kershaw then most of your relievers are worse than he is at almost at any point in the game.

But, to fault Gonzalez for not taking out Teheran because he went on to allow a few more, is not a logical argument, unless, again, you think that Freddy was supposed to know that Teheran would come out and allow 2 more runs and 4 more hits. If you don’t take out him out after 2 good innings, it is NOT correct to take him out after 2 bad innings! You can’t have your cake and eat it too! As you say, he was one pitch away from getting Crawford out in the 2nd inning. If it is correct to leave him in there if he gets Crawford out, how can you say that because he threw a slider which was not even awful, that it is now correct to take him out? That makes little sense.

Wouldn’t the reliever who replaced him have just about the same chance as allowing those 4 hits and 2 runs? Would you fault a blackjack player for hitting a 12 against a dealer’s 10 if the player busts and the dealer had a 6 in the hole?

Finally, what is the Braves’ obsession with Gattis? He is clearly a very poor defender in LF (he played a little LF in the minors, but mostly catcher). And he is not that good on offense. Why not play B.J. Upton in left? Oh, I forgot for a second – the Braves are also obsessed with small samples and, “What have you done for me lately?” They think Upton is a terrible hitter. But, even if he is not nearly as good as we used to think that he was, he is a true CF’er and therefore going to be a well-above average defender in LF. He is probably 20 runs better (per 150 games) than Gattis in LF. Is it reasonable to think that he is anywhere near 20 runs worse than Gattis on offense? Again, if we don’t attach some ridiculous weight to how he has done in 2013, I don’t think there is any argument to make in favor of that. In fact, if I run both players through my sim, Upton and  Gattis, with Upton in the lineup, the Braves add another 2.5% to their WE!

I mean, how much win expectancy can the Braves and Gonzalez give away before the game even starts!

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!

If you like 1-0 games, that is. You would think that in a singleton, mundane 1-0 game, there would be few controversial managerial decisions. And you would be wrong. And you might think that I think that they got all of them wrong, which they are usually wont to do. And you would be wrong again! (Only Maddon – Joe – does that.)

Here are a few that I happened to notice as I occasionally passed by the TV on my way to and from the kitchen looking for something to eat – to no avail (I did find – and eat – some disgusting gluten free frozen pieces of cardboard frozen waffles):

Disclaimer: If you read my posts this morning on The Book blog, you might find this redundantly redundant.

In the bottom of the 5th with the game still tied, Reddick comes up with runners on first and second and no outs. Melvin was clearly determined to have Reddick bunt since he squared on the first pitch and bunted on the second, and even tipped his hand each time Verlander spun towards second I think. Now, regardless of what you are going to do, tipping your hand to the defense is absurd. It allows them to play back or up accordingly, or at least more back or up then they might if you DIDN’T send them a text explaining what you were going to do. So, that IS a mistake, one that most managers make. Some, like LaRussa, actually have the batter square early, in a potential bunt situation, then take it back, and then either square again (when bunting) or don’t (when not bunting). I like that. You can also just do nothing until the last possible instant, or however long it takes to get into position to bunt, if that is what you are going to do.

Now, was the bunt itself correct or reasonable? I have no idea, and neither do you. And neither does Melvin, or Leyland, or Ripken, or anyone else. I could possibly figure it out – to some degree. They can’t.

What factors go into it? Read my 40 page chapter on bunting in The Book if you really want to know. Here is a summary: Is the batter a good and fast bunter? Is the pitcher hard to bunt against? What is the expectancy of hitting away, vis-a-vis the batter and the pitcher? How good are the defenders, especially the third baseman and pitcher? Where is the third baseman playing? And with a runner on second, as in this case, is the batter RH or LH? The last point is because a lefty has more of a chance to move the runners on an out when NOT bunting. And that, my friends is why neither I, nor Melvin, nor Stephen F. Hawking (an example of a really smart guy) knows what is correct there, without at least going some serious research and number crunching. My guess is that is was NOT correct because Reddick is a lefty, he doesn’t bunt much, and Cabrera was playing up a fair amount. If you say anything in the comments section about how it turned out, you will be the first one banned from this blog!

Now, after the first pitch is a ball, if a bunt were a marginal play to start the AB, then it has to be incorrect to keep bunting, unless the defense changes position. That should be obvious. At a 1-0 count, hitting away is much more profitable and the bunt attempt is probably only slightly more profitable (bunts are not that sensitive to the count, at least until 2 strikes).

OK, done with that.

Curiously, in the bottom of the 8th with the game still tied, Crisp comes up with a runner on second and no outs and makes no attempt to bunt whatsoever. Of course the decision is on the manager, Melvin. I say curiously because Crisp is a weaker hitter, quite weak in fact from the right side, is a very good bunter with good speed, and he is hitting from the right side which makes it harder to advance the runner on a batted ball. And like Reddick, when the count changes, he should probably change his strategy. Again, if it is a marginal no-bunt at first, when the count goes to 0-1, the bunt is probably in order, since, as I said, the bunt attempt is not that sensitive to an 0-1 count, but hitting away certainly is.

Oh, and BTW, if you cite any RE or WE numbers with no bunt and after a “successful” bunt, I will ban you too. I mean you can estimate fairly accurately the hitting away WE or RE with each of those batter and pitcher combos, but good luck trying to estimate the WE or RE of a bunt attempt. You better have some idea, at least, of the percentage of time the batter does A, B, C, D, E, F, and G when he attempts a bunt (and what happens when he gets to 2 strikes and has not gotten the bunt down).

Speaking of bunting, here is a short treatise on bunting and Game Theory:

One of these decades managers on defense and offense are going to think of bunts like playing a poker game (or rock, paper, scissors – a game they can actually understand) – trying to establish the Nash equilibrium point, or more accurately, trying to start with Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy and then, if your opponent does not do the same, or you suspect that he will not, exploiting him with some other strategy.

Any time there is a potential bunt situation, whether it be in a sacrifice situation or not, the defense must play in a way that makes the bunt and the non-bunt exactly equal in WE, OR, if they cannot do that, minimize their opponent’s WE by playing as far back or as far in as possible.

The offense meanwhile should do the same. They should bunt or not bunt in a certain ratio such that it does not matter where the defense plays! That is the definition of a GTO strategy – one that makes your opponent’s decision irrelevant to the expected outcome.

In practice, if the defense does not play in a GTO manner, i.e., they are playing too far in or back, then you have to decide how much you want to deviate from the GTO ratios. You cannot deviate all the way to bunting or not bunting 100% of the time, even though it is technically correct in that one situation to do so, unless that is the last time you are ever going to play in that situation. You can however, deviate more or less depending on the importance of the game!

Teams also need to stop thinking of the sacrifice bunt as any different from any other bunt. The goal is NOT to get out! The goal is to bunt the ball in such a way that you maximize your WE, if you are going to bunt. That may or may not mean that you should square early (losing the surprise element), it may or may not mean that you MUST bunt to the first or third baseman (depending on where the runners are), it may or may mean that you don’t try and get of the box quickly, and it DEFINITELY does NOT that you try and run harder when you are bunting for a hit!

Here are a couple more controversial decisions (in MGL’s mind at least):

Classic, and common, mistake by Melvin. Most people don’t consider it a mistake or even a decision. Mediocre starter is cruising through 6 or 7 innings, so you let him continue. Why not? As long as his pitch count is good and you don’t think he is tiring, right?

One, starters who cruise through 6 or 7 pitch no better in the 7th or 8th than those who don’t or at any other time during the season. Two, you have, in addition to that, the serious “times through the order” penalty. So, they actually pitch worse in the 7th or 8th. Three, you have several excellent relievers ready to go, who are a lot better than Gray.

One of the keys here is that Gray is likely not an ace or even nearly so, Yeah, he pitched a good game and had a good season. However, all the forecasters think, at least at this time, that he is a 4th starter or so. It may be defensible to have your ace pitch late into a game if only because if he starts out as 3.00 ERA pitcher, he is probably 3.5 the 3rd or 4th time he faces the lineup, which may not be much worse than a fresh reliever. But a pitcher like Gray? He is a 4.00 ERA pitcher who is 4.5 in the 7th or 8th innings. As opposed to a late reliever who is a 3.00 pitcher or better. That’s a big difference!

Finally, the last inning was interesting.

1 and 3 and no outs in the bottom of the 9th. Leyland IBB’s the lefty batter Reddick to load the bases. Is that correct? Seems a little unusual, although not spectacularly so.

We know that the only advantage is that it creates is a force at home rather than a tag play.  Plus, you also get the home to first DP. However, the infield has to play up and come home on a ground ball anyway. So how often would you get a ground ball that you cannot get the runner out at home on a tag but you do get him on a force, and how often do you get the home to first DP where you would only get one out at home?

We know the downside. A walk now wins the game. Then again, if you walk the batter with 1 and 3, you probably lose the game anyway. So, really the walk off walk is not as bad as you think. If the batter walks with the bases loaded, you win 100% of the time. If he walks with first and third, you still lose 93% of the time. So you gain 7% when the walk occurs. That happens around 10% of the time, so the walk only gains .7%!

I don’t know the answer, but it seems like it might be close. It would take some time to figure it out, if it is even possible. Now whether bringing in Porcello was correct is another story which I will not go into (if they bring in a lefty, Melvin pinch hits for Vogt, right?)…