Oct 8, 2013, 11:19 AM EST
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.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:20 PM EST
Billy Hamilton hit .368 in 22 plate appearances in September last season, but some in the know say that Hamilton will struggle to hit in the Majors. In his first season against Triple-A competition last season, Hamilton hit .256 with a .308 on-base percentage and a .343 slugging percentage. Hamilton’s signature has always been his…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:30 PM EST
Marco Scutaro was scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Sunday or Monday, but his back problems are persisting and now the Giants are keeping him out for the time being, Alex Pavlovic reports for the Mercury News. Manager Bruce Bochy says that if Scutaro isn’t ready to go at the end of next…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:20 PM EST
You might not guess it by looking at him, but Jayson Werth is a very good base runner. The 34-year-old veteran has stolen 37 bases in 43 attempts in three somewhat injury-plagued seasons with the Nationals. In his prime with the Phillies, under the tutelage of first base coach Davey Lopes, Werth stole 60 bases…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Earlier, we learned that the Phillies might have checked in with free agent starter Ervin Santana. But, wait! There’s more Ervin Santana news. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports is hearing from sources that Santana wants to sign a one-year deal as quickly as possible, preferably with a strong offensive team. Rosenthal adds that the Blue…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:05 PM EST
Deep into the off-season, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Ervin Santana, and Kendrys Morales were still free agents despite being productive players last season. Jimenez and Cruz recently signed with the Orioles, but the latter three still remain unsigned with the regular season just weeks away. All five rejected $14.1 million qualifying offers from…
Mar 7, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
The Phillies are reeling after Cole Hamels suffered a setback, pushing his 2014 debut into May most likely. They’re thin on starting pitching depth even after adding A.J. Burnett last month. As a result, they have checked in with Ervin Santana according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Or maybe not. Matt Gelb of…
Mar 7, 2014, 4:17 PM EST
Oliver Perez is one of the best unsigned free agents and Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com says that’s about to change, reporting that the left-handed reliever is close to a multi-year deal with the Diamondbacks. Arizona had already invested an awful lot of resources into the bullpen even before bringing in Perez, who went from being…
Mar 7, 2014, 3:50 PM EST
Angels right-hander Dane De La Rosa went for an MRI exam after getting knocked around and being pulled from his appearance Thursday, but the initial news is good. Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports that the MRI exam showed no structural damage and De La Rosa is hopeful that he can avoid beginning the season on…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:44 PM EST
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips isn’t talking to the Cincinnati media, but he’s willing to talk to the national media and willing to talk to the national media about why he’s not talking to the Cincinnati media. Case in point, this Phillips quote to Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com: I don’t have nothing to say to…
Mar 7, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Bad news for Royals fans. And for Luke Hochevar, of course: Hochevar, the 30-year-old former No. 1 overall pick, felt a twinge in his elbow on Monday. On Tuesday, he felt soreness in the joint, and an MRI revealed his condition, which also includes strained muscles around the elbow. On Thursday, he was scheduled to…
Mar 7, 2014, 1:30 PM EST
Because of course he is: In Jeter’s retirement call, Hal Steinbrenner said he said, “I know everybody says this, but I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life.” — Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) March 7, 2014 Guess that means Brendan Ryan isn’t going to get as much playing time as he hoped.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
Brad Penny‘s comeback attempt didn’t last very long, as the Royals just released the 35-year-old right-hander. Penny didn’t pitch in the majors at all last season and hasn’t been effective since 2010, when he made nine good starts before getting hurt. Since then he has a 5.41 ERA in 210 innings and Penny got knocked…
Mar 7, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
FORT MYERS — I have seen the future of spring training complexes, and its name is Jet Blue Park. Or maybe it’s not the future, because frankly, I’m not sure who else is going to shell out the kind of dough this place likely cost besides big money teams like the Red Sox (or the…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:50 AM EST
By now, most baseball fans know the story of Tommy John surgery. In 1974, John — a solid pitcher for a decade — blew out his elbow while pitching for Los Angeles against the Montreal Expos. “Blew out his elbow” is not a medical term, of course, but there was no need for medical terms…
Mar 7, 2014, 11:19 AM EST
A whole lot of people said a whole lot of good things about the Nationals’ trade to acquire Doug Fister from the Tigers, but now there’s this: Fister was scratched from today’s scheduled start and sent for an MRI exam after complaining of elbow soreness. No structural damage was found during the MRI exam and…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer checks in with an update on Carlos Santana‘s progress trying to transition from catcher to third base and … well, it ain’t going perfectly: Right now, Lonnie Chisenhall and every other third basemen in camp look better than Santana when it comes to defense. No.1 Santana hasn’t gotten…
Mar 7, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Mariners third base coach John Stearns was expected to miss the early part of the season after undergoing hiatal hernia surgery last week, but instead he’s decided to step down from the job altogether. Stearns explained that he felt it would be unfair to the players and coaching staff to reclaim the position in mid-April…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:59 AM EST
A friend of mine once said that this profession is filled to the brim with unrealistic mother[expletives]. Mother[expletives] who thought their [expletive] would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don’t. Exhibit A, Manny Ramirez, who said this to Enrique Rojas of…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:42 AM EST
Just about every ballpark you go to plays that Blake Shelton song, “Boys ’round here” during warmups or batting practice: Yeah the boys ’round here Drinking that ice cold beer Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks Runnin’ them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust The boys ’round here Sending up a prayer to the…
Mar 7, 2014, 8:49 AM EST
CC Sabathia has a new trick in his bag: Andy Pettitte did more than simply watch CC Sabathia‘s bullpen session on Monday. The guest instructor actively instructed, primarily helping to teach Sabathia a cut fastball, something the Yankees’ ace hopes to add to his repertoire this season. “He was showing me a grip with the…
- Ian Kinsler hopes Rangers go 0-162, calls GM a “sleazeball” (132)
- Albert Pujols was insulted when someone asked him if he can put up Mike Trout numbers (101)
- The politics of “The Cardinal Way” (67)
- Robinson Cano wants the Mariners to bring in Kendrys Morales and Ervin Santana (64)
- Reporter calls Ian Kinsler as self-absorbed as A-Rod (60)