Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Fire Jim Tracy - April 1st Edition

Fire Jim Tracy – April 1st Edition

Dusty Baker – 1st infraction

Infraction – Bunting
When – Bottom of the 8th
Score – Game tied 1-1
Situation – 0 out, Runners on 1st and 2nd

With the Angels & Reds deadlocked at 1 in the bottom of the 8th they had their first two batters reach base, pinch hitter Xavier Paul on an error by Howard Kendrick error, and a single by Shin-Soo Choo.  This meant that on a base hit by Brandon Phillips the Reds almost certainly would’ve given scored the go ahead run. 
However, Dusty Baker instead decided it was time to call for the bunt.

This is incorrect for numerous reasons, lets count them.

1 – Bunting is almost always a poor decision.  However, its even worse when you are bunting a base runner to third base.  When the go-ahead run is already on 2nd baes a hit is going to score him already. 
Lets take a look at Tom Tango’s great Run Expectancy chart to see what happened to the probability of scoring…
With a runner on 1st and 2nd and none out, you can expect to score at least one run 64% of the time.
With a runner on 2nd and 3rd and one out, that number stays fairly constant, only raising to just a shade under 70%.  However that is just referring to the likelihood of scoring 1 run.  The chances of scoring multiple runs drop precipitously. 
However, those numbers are in the average situation.  This certainly wasn’t that.
2 – Brandon Phillips is a good hitter.  Since 2007, 5 of those 6 years he’s posted a wRC+ of 100 or more.  Meaning he’s been better than average almost every year.  These aren’t the guys you should be calling to bunt. 
3 – Joey Votto was on deck.  In case you don’t know, Joey Votto is very good.  Votto, in my opinion, is the best hitter in the National League.  By bunting Phillips, all Baker did was open first base, and invite Votto to be intentionally walked.  Of course that’s indeed what happened.  This took the bat out of the team MVP’s hands.

Result –
Votto was intentionally walked.  Chris Heisey struck out.  Jay Bruce struck out.
Zero runs scored.

Dusty Baker – 2nd infraction

Infraction – Bunting
When – Bottom of the 11th
Score –Game tied 1-1
Situation – 0 out, Runner on 1st.

Leading off the 11th inning, Joey Votto reached first on an error by shortstop Erick Aybar.  With Chris Heisey at the plate, Baker again called for him to bunt.  Going back to the Run Expectancy chart, by calling for this bunt, the expectation dropped from 44% to 41%.  However, much like the last time all this did was invite yet another intentional walk to a dangerous hitter.  This time it was Jay Bruce who was walked, bringing 2nd year 3rd baseman Todd Frazier to the plate.  Now, while Frazier had an excellent rookie season, undoubtedly he’s a worse hitter Bruce.

-Jay Bruce was intentionally walked.
-Todd Frazier struck out.
-Pinch hitter Jack Hannahan grounded out.
-Zero runs scored
Dusty Baker – 3rd infraction

Infraction – Inept Bullpen Usage
When – Top of the 13th
Score – Game tied 1-1
Situation – 2 out, Bases Loaded

Dusty Baker, decided that he hadn’t done enough with the two previous bunts to ruin the game.  In the 13th, reliever JJ Hoover was pitching his 2nd inning of the game.  The question you may be asking is…
Don’t the Reds have a great bullpen? 
Why is JJ Hoover pitching important innings when the game is on the line? 
Well, it’s the 13th inning, so they must’ve run out of relievers right?
No, that’s not the case at all.  Remaining in the bullpen was primary left handed setup man Sean Marshall, as well as right handers Logan Ondrusek, & Jose Arredondo.  Hoover had walked two batters (one intentionally), and hit another to load the bases, but Baker left Hoover in the game regardless.  Sigh.

-Chris Iannetta singled in the winning run. 
-The Reds lost

Bud Black – 1st Infraction

Infraction – Bunting
When – Top of the 1st
Score – Tied at zero
Situation – Runner on first, zero out.

While there are more damaging errors that I’ll detail over the course of the year, I don’t think I’ll find one more frustrating than this.  The first batter of the Padres season Chris Denorfia led of with a single.  The second batter of the game Evereth Cabrera was called on to sacrifice bunt him to 2nd base.  If this was the 9th inning of a tie game, I’m all for it.  At that point, you should be playing for one run.  However in this situation, you’re essentially killing any chance you have of setting up a mutli-run inning, and not really increasing your chance of scoring that one run by all that much.
This decision shows no awareness of game situation, nor the math that’s been done on the effectiveness of bunting in general.  Also, it tells your #2 hitter, in his first at bat of the year that you have no confidence in his ability to get a hit.  Just a terrible decision.

-Yonder Alonso grounded out.
-Carlos Quentin walked.
-Jedd Gyorko grounded out.
-Zero runs scord

Walt Weiss – 1st Infraction

Infraction – Inept Bullpen Usage
When – Bottom of the 10th
Score – 4-4 Tie
Situation – Bases Loaded, 1 out

Its nice to see Walt Weiss picking up where Jim Tracy left off. 
Weiss fell into one of the classic managerial traps you will see through the year.  In a home game, he refused to use his closer in a tie game.  In the 10th inning, instead of turning to closer Rafael Betancourt, Weiss opted instead to go with Adam Ottavino.  After Ottavino struck out Norichika Aoki, but then hit Rickie Weeks, intentionally walked Ryan Braun, and then unintentionally walked Aramis Ramirez to load the bases. 
Now, its one thing to not use your closer to start the inning, but now once your pitcher has loaded the bases without giving up a hit.  At this point, you have to go to Betancourt.  Weiss didn’t do that, and shockingly the Rockies lost.

-Jonathan Lucroy hit a sacrifice fly
-Rockies lose

Ron Gardenhire – 1st Infraction

Infraction – Inept Bullpen Usage
When Top of the 8th
Score – Twins trailing 3-2
Situation – Bases loaded, 2 out

Left handed reliever Brian Duensing had loaded the bases in the top of the 8th inning, on a single, a walk, and an intentional walk surrounding a sacrifice bunt by Andy Dirks.  At this point, Ron Gardenhire decided to pull Duensing, and go back to the bullpen.  Since it’s the 8th inning, and it was an incredibly high leverage situation, you’d expect he’d turn to his setup man Jared Burton. 
Instead, for no reason he turned to Josh Roenicke.  Objectively, there is zero case that can be made that Roenicke is better than Burton.  I don’t know what Gardenhire was saving him for.  The game had just 1 out left in the 8th, so even if you thought you’d take the lead, the closer Glen Perkins would be coming in from the bullpen.  I don’t understand why this happened.  It’s a real head scratcher.

- Josh Roenicke threw a wild pitch, a run scored

Monday, 1 April 2013

Hire Manny Acta - March, 31st Edition

Hire Manny Acta

This is the flipside of the Fire Jim Tracy series.  Fire Jim Tracy is focused on all the terrible managerial moves made by the field bosses around baseball, while Hire Manny Acta is the exact opposite.  Its a lot harder to come up with good managerial moves, since managers in baseball are so bad.  As a result, this one might appear less frequently, but I figure if I’m spending time tearing down questionable moves, I need to highlight positive moves when they are made as well.

Its key to note here, that these plaudits (and infractions in the Fire Jim Tracy series), are not based on the outcome of the decision, rather the process that has gone into the decision making.  Its quite possible that many of the decisions I highlight will have worked out poorly for the manager in question (or well in the case of the FJM series).  However, that is because no decision is 100% correct, or incorrect.  Just that some decisions are MORE correct than others. 

That being said, in his first game rookie Astros manager Bo Porter covered himself in glory with not one, but two plaudits I’m going to give out. 

Bo Porter – First time of the Year

Plaudit – Creative Bullpen Usage
When – Top of the 6th
Game Score – Ahead by 2 runs
Game Situation – 2 out; Runners on 1st and 2nd

Starter Bud Norris had been cruising through the first 5 innings of shutout baseball.  However, in the top of the 6th inning he ran into trouble.  He walked leadoff man Ian Kinsler, then gave up a base hit to Lance Berkman, and back to back run scoring singles to David Murphy and Nelson Cruz.  Since, he was approaching 100 pitches, it was clearly time to turn this game over to the bullpen, and see if they could lock down the remaining 10 outs left in the game. 

However, Mr. Porter, who was managing his first major league game, did some very out of the box thinking in selecting the reliever he turned to.  With left handed batter AJ Pierzynski due up, it was clearly the spot to use a left handed reliever.  The conventional options that Mr. Porter had were, like much of his roster, highly unproven youngsters in Wesley Wright, and Xavier Cedeno.  Knowing that this was likely to be the highest leverage situation of the game, and also knowing that his 5th starter wouldn’t be needed the first time through the rotation, Mr. Porter decided it was time to use his 5th starter Erik Bedard here.

Most of the time, managers would be worried about extra strain on a starters arm (especially someone with as many injury concerns that Bedard has had in his career).  In general, managers would be reluctant to turn to a starter mid-inning, since that’s so against the routine their used to.  Porter didn’t give a damn about any of that, and went with a starter, who hadn’t been used out of the bullpen since his rookie season in 2004.  Despite all these conventional reasons not to, Porter’s went with his best pitcher in this spot, and his creative usage worked very effectively.

Result – Bedard induced a fly ball from Pierzynski to get out of the tough jam.

Bo Porter – Second Time of the Year

When – Top of the 6th til Top of the 9th
Game Score – Ahead by 2 runs
Game Situation – N/A

Here’s where my love for rookie manager Bo Porter truly grows.  Not only did he decide to turn to Bedard in the 6th inning, he left him in for the rest of the game.  For those unaware, the concept of the super reliever (that being a relief pitcher who is used for multiple innings) is one of the tactical roles that members of the SABRmetric community has been advocating for quite some time.  

This isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s a very old one.  This is how relievers were used throughout baseball history until the increased specialization that was ushered in by Tony LaRussa and the Oakland Athletics during the late 1980s.  Look back to the careers of relief pitchers before the 1980s.  Dan Quisenberry & Rich “Goose” Gossage would scoff at modern day one inning relievers.  They would come in whenever the game was on the line, even as early as the 6th inning, and usually remain in the game til it was finished.

There are many reasons why I believe this is a preferable way to run a bullpen. 
First, it reduces the number of pitchers that you are forced to carry on the roster.  As a result that allows you carry a more productive bench.  Since so many teams have decided to gain the platoon advantage from the pitching side, this will give teams going in the opposite direction a distinct tactical advantage.  Also, for a team like the Astros who lack overall talent, there are more opportunities to utilize pinch hitters than other teams would.

Second, it saves the other members of the bullpen from having to pitch in games they otherwise would’ve been used in.  For instance, had Porter turned to Xavier Cedeno in the 6th inning last night, he likely would’ve needed to use 3 other relievers to close out the game.  This means those pitchers may not have been available for up coming games. 

This doesnt seem like it is a permanent role for Bedard, since he'll be shifting back to the #5 spot once his turn in the rotation comes up.  However, it wouldn't shock me if the Astros might decide after seeing how effective he was, to instead call up one of their many options in the minor leagues, and transition Bedard full time to being a super reliever.

You may be thinking that I've just given Porter credit twice for the same move, however I'm not.  These are two very distinct decisions.  First the decision to turn to Bedard in the first place.  The second, not to take him out of the game.  Both deserve to be credited.

Result – Erik Bedard’s first career Save, and the Astros first win as a member of the American League