The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Sunday, June 24, 2001


Do Managers Ever Learn?

Sometimes it appears that managers have taken the information revealed by the sabermetric revolution to heart. Falling pitch counts are one area, the increased emphasis in On Base Percentage is another.

But there's one area in particular where the statistical evidence points towards exactly the opposite of what most managers seem to do. And it's something that often costs them the ballgame. I'm talking about the tendency of a manager to let a tiring pitcher start off an inning in which he will be pulled if he gets into trouble.

First off there's the pitch count issue; the current working theory is that pitches beyond a certain threshold (say, 120 pitches) are more likely to lead to ineffectiveness and injury. That's a topic for another day, however.

In Bill James's 1987 Baseball Abstract, James reported on research done by Gary Skoog with regards to how many runs a team would score based on a certain situation (i.e., runner on first, one out). Here is that matrix:

Expected number of runs 0 outs 1 out 2 outs
no one on 0.454 0.249 0.095
runner on first 0.783 0.478 0.209
runner on second 1.068 0.699 0.348
runner on third 1.277 0.897 0.382
runners on first & second 1.380 0.888 0.457
runners on first & third 1.639 1.088 0.494
runners on second & third 1.946 1.371 0.661
bases loaded 2.254 1.546 0.798

What these numbers mean is that at the start of 1000 innings (0 on, 0 out), teams can be expected to score 454 runs. With a runner on first and no outs, that expectation rises to 783 runs per 1000 innings; with one out and nobody on, that expectation falls to 249 runs per 1000 innings.

The difference between those two states (runner on first, 0 out and no runner, 1 out) is greater than the expectation of runs at the start of the inning. The leadoff batter is THE MOST IMPORTANT BATTER. When he gets on, teams score runs--at LEAST three times as many runs as if the first batter makes an out.

So why in the HELL would a manager risk letting his (tiring) pitcher screw up the start of an inning? I'm sure it has something to do with instilling confidence in your starters (blah, blah, blah), wanting to save your bullpen (blah, blah, blah), or some bullshit along those lines. But unless your only relief options have been soaking in kerosene or are named Bobby Ayala, this tendency strikes me as an incredibly backward way of thinking.

I realize the limitations of this matrix. Since these are averages, certain situations, such as having Rey OrdoƱez leading off your inning (lower run expectancy at 0,0) or Barry Bonds (much, much higher), might dictate a change in strategy. Managers might also choose their pitcher here based on the platoon advantage (righty pitching to righty), but that advantage is only on the order of 20-25 points of batting average. And then there's the disadvantage of bringing in a reliever with men on base: pitching from the stretch, limited pitch selection, wild pitches... so much more can go wrong with a man on base.

I didn't watch Yankees game today, but Ted Lilly's pitch count was nearing 120 as he went back out for the 8th inning. He had a 4-1 lead, and had pitched a good ballgame, striking out 9 batters and allowing only 5 hits. Joe Torre had any number of options to get two innings out of the bullpen, including one of the best closers in the biz, Mariano Rivera. Rivera and setup man Mike Stanton have been overworked, but even if Torre didn't want to use them, he should have put his pen in the best situation possible to finish the game. And that means starting with a clean slate at the beginning of an inning.

Lilly allowed a double to Steve Cox and was done for the day. With the number of pitches he'd thrown, he wasn't going to throw a complete game, so why the hell was he still out there? Brian Boehringer came in, allowed a double and a walk before yielding to Stanton, who, with the roof on fire added just a little more Ronsonol, and when the ashes settled the Yanks were down 5-4.

It's easy to sit here and second-guess an individual set of decisions a manager makes. That's not my intention; Joe Torre has won four more World Championships than I have, and he's a fine manager. But he, and dozens of other managers I've watched since I first read Bill James, keep making this mistake, and it drives me crazy.

[Somebody whose site I discovered ('Rhoids Baseball, whatever the heck that is) in searching for the above table has updated the data based on more current run scoring tendencies. Here is the revised table. The current values of 0 on, 0 out (0.58), runner on 1st, 0 out (0.98), and 1 out, 0 on (0.31) are all higher, but their ratios are similar enough that they don't change my argument.]

Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


June 2001   July 2001   August 2001   September 2001   October 2001   November 2001   December 2001   January 2002   February 2002   March 2002   April 2002   May 2002   June 2002   July 2002   August 2002   September 2002   October 2002   November 2002   December 2002   January 2003   February 2003   March 2003   April 2003   May 2003   June 2003   July 2003   August 2003   September 2003   October 2003   November 2003   December 2003   January 2004   February 2004   March 2004   April 2004   May 2004   June 2004   July 2004   August 2004   September 2004   October 2004   November 2004   December 2004   January 2005   February 2005   March 2005   April 2005   May 2005   June 2005   July 2005   August 2005   September 2005   October 2005   November 2005   December 2005   January 2006   February 2006   March 2006   April 2006   May 2006   June 2006   July 2006   August 2006   September 2006   October 2006   November 2006   December 2006   January 2007   February 2007   March 2007   April 2007   May 2007   June 2007   July 2007   August 2007   September 2007   October 2007   November 2007   December 2007   January 2008   February 2008   March 2008   April 2008   May 2008   June 2008   July 2008   August 2008   September 2008   October 2008   November 2008   December 2008   January 2009   February 2009   March 2009   April 2009   May 2009   June 2009   July 2009   August 2009   September 2009   October 2009   November 2009   December 2009   January 2010   February 2010   March 2010   April 2010   May 2010  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]