Oct 8, 2013, 11:19 AM EDT
If I ever owned a baseball team, I’d want to hire Jimmy Dugan from “A League of their Own” as my manager. This isn’t only because he dislikes the bunt, though that helps — you probably remember the scene where he finally notices what’s happening on the field and calls off Geena Davis’ bunt sign (“We want a big inning here”). It’s also because, especially early in his career as manager of the Rockford Peaches, he had a tendency to fall asleep in the dugout.
Managers, it seems to me, could afford to do that a bit more often. If I was an owner, I’d put pillows in there.
I have long believed that managers hurt their teams as much or more than they help when they decide, as Bugs Bunny once did, that a moment calls for a little strategy. They will give away outs, they will intentionally put opponents on base, they will sit their best players for some short-term gain, they will call for that special lefty out of the pen for that special situation, they will try daring base-running exploits all in order to bewilder their opponents into blinding defeat. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works when the other way would have worked too. Sometimes it fails and it wouldn’t have worked the other way. Sometimes it fails and it would have worked the other … you know what it’s like? It’s like switching lanes in heavy traffic. It might speed you up. It might slow you down. In the end, you’ll probable realize the futility of it all.
Monday night, the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays played a game that lasted — spitballing here — approximately 59 hours. This is in part because Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz apparently gets paid by the hour, in part because the two managers used 11 stinking pitchers in a 5-4 game, and in part because the two teams hit a lot of foul balls. There were more than 300 pitches thrown in the game. OK, well, that’s baseball in 2013.
The game was 3-3 going into the eighth inning. And now we’ll climb into the mind of Boston manager John Farrell. I like Farrell. His Bostonians don’t sacrifice much, and they steal bases at a very high percentage, and they intentionally walk fewer hitters than any team in baseball. He tends to let the game go, tends to stay out of the way most of the time, tends to let players win and lose games. I wish there were more like him.
But, this was a playoff game, meaning it was important, and the more important the situation the more it this tests the will of people to stay the bleep out. We as human beings have an overwhelming aversion toward doing nothing. It goes against every impulse we have. Think how often in movies if the hero would just NOT do something, the movie would end happily an hour before it actually ends.
So, eighth inning, and David Ortiz leads off with a walk. It’s well known that David Ortiz is slow. It’s also well known that David Ortiz is the best hitter on the Boston Red Sox. What to do? Farrell decided — and I think most managers would decide this — to pinch-run Quintin Berry for Ortiz. The logic behind the move is pretty simple. It’s the eighth inning, so it’s possible — probable even — that Ortiz’s spot will not come up again. Quintin Berry, in his major league career, had stolen 24 bases without ever being caught; pinch-running was the WHOLE REASON he was on the roster. And, obviously, with the score tied this late in the game, one run could win the game. The pinch-run was the move.
Here’s what happened: Berry stole second base like planned. He was actually out, but the umpire missed the call. Then, a groundout, an intentional walk, a strikeout and foul-pop-up and the inning ended.
Now, what happens if Farrell goes Jimmy Dugan and falls asleep? Mike Napoli was the one who grounded out to short, so if that happened you would have had a double play. But we don’t know what would have happened. Obviously, there would not have been an intentional walk to Jonny Gomes. It would have been a different inning. But, remember, David Ortiz would have still been in the game.
The Rays scored a run in the bottom of the eighth in what was a Joe Maddon concerto. I like Maddon a lot too — everybody does — but, whew, he does love to get in the middle of things. In the eighth, there was a walk, a bunt that worked for a hit, another bunt that didn’t work at all, an infield single, and a run-scoring groundout, pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, pinch me I’m dreaming. So the Red Sox trailed by a run going into the ninth.
And that meant facing Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney. He has a good fastball and a great change-up. Last year, Rodney gave up nine runs in 74 innings and did not blow a save all year. This year, Rodney walked five batters per nine innings gave up 27 runs in 66 innings. This is how it goes for relievers. When you look at Rodney, last year was really an outlier — he has, throughout his career, been a bit of a wildcard, a guy who is hard to hit, and a guy who walks a lot of guys and, largely because of that, gives up his share of runs.
And, as if to prove the point, he immediately walked Will Middlebrooks on five pitches. Pinch runner Xander Begaerts came in. Rodney then threw two straight balls to Jacoby Ellsbury and on the third Ellsbury hit a little pop-up that dropped in a triangle made up of the Rays’ third baseman, shortstop and left-fielder. Bogaerts apparently is faster than Middlbrooks but did not get a great read on the ball and so stopped at second base. First and second, nobody out, and here were the next three batters:
Ah yes, the third of those … it might have been David Ortiz. It might not, the whole situation might have been different if Ortiz had run for himself. But Ortiz’s spot was coming up, and Ortiz was not, and so goes the strategy. Runners on first and second, nobody out, the TBS announcers were now PLEADING for a sacrifice bunt. It was staggering how much John Smoltz and company lobbied throughout the game for managers to make moves, but in this situation they seemed utterly panic-stricken that the Red Sox might not bunt with Victorino.
The bunt here is not a bad strategic move. Let me say that first. By Fangraphs, a successful bunt would very slightly increase the Red Sox win probability — making it a better decision than most bunts. But it seems to me there are things to consider.
1. You have a pitcher on the mound who, like usual, is having trouble throwing strikes.
2. You have a hitter, Shane Victorino, who very rarely hits into double players. This year, he hit into five double plays in 101 opportunities, less than 5% of the time.
3. You have one of your best hitters in Victorino followed by another of your best hitters in Pedroia followed by Quintin Berry or a pinch hitter of some sort. So, you have two good hitters followed by a total wildcard — would you really want to give up an out AND take the bat out of one of those two good hitters?
4. While the bunt does slightly add to win probability, which is the more important metric, it does slightly decrease run expectation. Teams score more runs with runners on first and second with nobody out than with runners on second and third with one out. I think you could put it this way: Your chance of scoring one run goes up slightly. Your chance of scoring two runs or more goes down slightly. More on this in a second.
Farrell decided yes, he would sacrifice, and Victorino bunted much to joy of TBS and the part of the nation that loves small ball. It was a successful bunt, moving the runners to second and third. The rest was predictable enough. Pedroia grounded out, which scored the tying run. Pinch-hitter Mike Carp struck out looking. A one-run inning.
OK, well, the Red Sox tied the game. They lost it in the bottom of the ninth when Jose Lobaton hit a walk-off homer. But the point here is not win or lose. The point here is a question: Did the bunt work? I think most people would say: Yes, it did. The Red Sox scored the tying run. That was the most important thing, right? it worked, right?
I don’t think so. The run expectation with runners on first and second with nobody out is 1.4 runs. That means teams, when you average it all out, score MORE than one run in general when they have runners on first and second and nobody out. This obviously includes every strategy, every situation, every kind of pitcher, and I’m not trying to make too much out of it. I’m just saying that if teams score 0 or 1 run, they have scored BELOW the expectation. If they score two or more, they have scored MORE than the expectation.
So, to me, the bunt did not work. Put it another way: If someone is a 70 percent free throw shooter, and the team trails by one, and he gets two free throws, the is expected to make 1.4 free throws. If he makes one of two, I don’t think anyone would consider that a successful trip to the free throw line. Admittedly, it might be harder to score two runs against a closer like Rodney. Then again, you don’t often have two hitters as good as Victorino and Pedroia coming up (not to mention Ortiz, if he had been in the game).
A lot of smart people, much smarter than me, think the bunt was not only right call but the only call. I personally think the Red Sox would have had a better shot to win Monday’s game if Farrell had taken a little Jimmy Dugan nap.
May 24, 2015, 11:35 PM EDT
The struggling Athletics got a scare on Sunday when Sonny Gray was hit by a comebacker, but he’s expected to make his next start.
May 24, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT
Veteran shortstop Jose Reyes will return to the Blue Jays on Monday after dealing with a cracked rib.
May 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EDT
Bernie Williams was honored with his induction into Monument Park at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
May 24, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
Justin Upton knocked in six runs in his first two at-bats on Sunday against the Dodgers. Four of them came on a first-inning grand slam.
May 24, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
Pirates starters Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano combined for 32 strikeouts in a three-game sweep of the Mets over the weekend.
May 24, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
The Rangers added bullpen depth on Sunday, signing reliever Jared Burton to a minor league contract.
May 24, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
Gonzales pitched well in his latest outing for Memphis, striking out seven and allowing only one run over six innings, and he was almost certain to be the next man up for the St. Louis rotation.
May 24, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT
Varvaro is now on the disabled list with the Red Sox and won’t pitch again this season. The 30-year-old had an impressive 2.63 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, and 50/13 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings last summer with the Braves.
May 24, 2015, 3:17 PM EDT
The game before the game.
May 24, 2015, 2:31 PM EDT
San Francisco acquired Casey McGehee from the Marlins in December to effectively replace Pablo Sandoval at third base, but the 32-year-old woke up Sunday with a brutal .200/.254/.282 batting line and he had tallied just nine RBI in 35 games.
May 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Steven Souza appeared to have a clear path to the plate — at least the outside of the plate — yet went right for Stephen Vogt with his elbow raised.
May 24, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Kyle Lobstein made the Tigers’ starting rotation out of spring training with Justin Verlander (triceps) ticketed for the disabled list. But that spot will now go to right-hander Buck Farmer because Lobstein needs a disabled list stint of his own.
May 24, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT
Victorino has appeared in just 50 of a possible 205 games over the last two seasons due to a variety of leg and back problems.
May 24, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Really cool feature here from MLB Network on Mitch Harris’ unique path from the United States Naval Academy to a bullpen job with the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals …
May 24, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT
Gomes, 27, batted .278/.313/.472 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI in 135 games last season for the Tribe, earning his first Silver Slugger Award. Cleveland (17-23) could use a big offensive boost right about now.
May 24, 2015, 10:04 AM EDT
Miami defeated Baltimore to snap an eight-game losing streak late Saturday night on a Martin Prado walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 13th inning.
May 24, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
Rizzo also hit a three-run double in the fifth, finishing the game with a career-high-tying six RBI.
May 24, 2015, 8:37 AM EDT
Your box scores and recaps from Saturday …
May 23, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
Joey Votto made an unorthodox throw to help turn a double play against the Indians on Saturday.
May 23, 2015, 10:47 PM EDT
Brian Matusz is the second lefty reliever to be ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm.
- Giants designate Casey McGehee for assignment 23
- Yan Gomes returns to the Indians’ lineup after missing six weeks with a sprained right knee 0
- Marlins jump in Clevelander pool after snapping losing streak 22
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 19
- Brian Matusz was ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm 38
- Josh Hamilton will join the Rangers on Monday 6
- UPDATE: David Wright diagnosed with spinal stenosis 23
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 39
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (133)
- Bryce Harper on Marvin Hudson ejection: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump” (132)
- Bryce Harper ejected for second time in a week (122)
- GM Dan Jennings to be named the Marlins new manager. And it’s a terrible idea. (111)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (101)