December 13, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Monday, April 15, 2013
It was the top of the fifth inning and the Giants were down by one run to the Cubs last Thursday. The bases were loaded and there was one man away. Hisanori Takahashi, a soft-tossing lefty, was in for Chicago, and the ninth spot in the order was up for San Francisco. This meant Ryan Vogelsong, who had already thrown 81 pitches in the game and had given up five runs, came up to the plate.
Vogelsong battled and worked a walk to erase the last of what was a five-run deficit and tie the game. The Giants scored two more in the inning, eventually holding on to a narrow 7-6 win.
I was confused when Vogelsong came up to hit. Results aside, the Giants were down by one run and had the bases loaded with one out, which should produce, on average, around 1.55 runs. According to win expectancy, the game was completely even, 50-50, when Vogelsong hit. So the question is, should Bruce Bochy have pinch-hit?
I think it’s unquestionably yes. Vogelsong wound up going two more innings, throwing 26 more pitches, after the top half of the fifth. Last year Vogelsong threw 3,056 pitches in 31 starts for an average of 98.6 pitches per game, so based on last year’s numbers, Bochy was looking at around 18 more pitches.
Ryan Vogelsong is a pretty bad hitter. He has six career extra base hits in 209 plate appearances, good overall for a .198 wOBA (17 wRC+). Meanwhile, Andres Torres and Marco Scutaro, switch-hitter and right-handed hitter respectively, toiled on the bench. Torres had a .342 wOBA against lefties last year and is at .324 (102 wRC+) for his career. Scutaro had a .315 wOBA against lefties last year and is at .325 (96 wRC+) for his career. Simply put, both players would have been immense upgrades over Vogelsong.
So, in essence, Bochy had this calculus:
(Value of ~18 pitches of Ryan Vogelsong – Value of ~18 pitches of substitute pitcher) > (Value of ~.325 wOBA – Value of ~.198 wOBA in situation with leverage index of 3.80)
I’m sure there are ways to rationalize the decision. There was only one out and the top of the order was coming up, the Giants wanted to save their bullpen, Vogelsong was settling down and it was good for his confidence, Bochy saw an arrangement of sunflower seeds on the ground that spelled out “RYAN” and thought it was a sign from God. But whatever, managers make mistakes like this all the time; it’s not the biggest deal in the world.
But it did get me thinking about the role of the starting pitcher and the ninth spot in the batting order. As long as the National League shuns the designated hitter, this is going to be an issue. It’s long been theorized that the way in which starting pitching has traditionally worked is suboptimal, and that’s probably right.
Interestingly, the game may be reacting to the realization of this fact. Starting pitchers averaged 6.66 innings per game in 1972, 5.98 in 2010, 6.03 in 2011, 5.89 in 2012, and 5.71 thus far this season (sample size warning, of course). Maybe managers are starting to realize that the word “starting” in starting pitcher is the most important part of the title: They start the game, but that doesn’t mean they need to be around forever. Dave Cameron talked last year about some of the play-in teams starting the game with a closer, which definitely would’ve been neat.
Interestingly, the shorter the average starting pitcher goes, the more important the ninth spot in the lineup becomes. The data behind pitchers hitting eighth have already demonstrated some possible underlying importance out of the ninth spot (probably because it immediately precedes players who typically have high OBPs). So maybe one benefit of being flexible with who's on the mound is that you can take advantage of high leverage index situations early in games. You also will probably have fewer pitchers reach the plate on average, which will unquestionably help the offense.
Bochy’s error is easy to pick out because of how crazy the situation was: a huge leverage index spot pretty early in the game, a starting pitcher who already had a high pitch count, and pretty good pinch-hitting candidates. But what if we tweak the formula above? Instead of 18 pitches of Vogelsong, make it 30, and instead of a 5-5 game with the bases loaded and one out, have the Giants up 5-4 with a man on third and one out. It gets trickier, and the sooner managers start experimenting with shorter stints from their starters, the sooner we’ll see some interesting managerial maneuvers.
Tigers 10, Athletics 1: Austin Jackson was 4 for 6 with three RBI. Prince Fielder is now hitting .429/.527/.833. Once this team gets its bullpen figured out, man, watch out.
Diamondbacks 1, Dodgers 0: When Nick Swisher hit a walkoff homer in a 1-0 game the other day I thought to myself, "man, you don't see that happen all that often." Then it happened again, this time with Paul Goldschmidt hitting a game-winning single to win a 1-0 game. If it happens one more time in the next week I'm going to take it as a sign of something important and meaningful and will use the experience to examine everything I thought I knew.
Braves 9, Nationals 0: Impressed yet, Danny Espinosa and Gio Gonzalez? No? What do you need to see, then?
Mariners 4, Rangers 3: Rookie Brandon Maurer was shellacked by the Astros in his last start but tamed the Rangers in this one. Mildly unexpected stuff like this, multiplied by the thousands upon thousands of times they occur during a baseball season, is why I spend most of my energy reacting to things rather than predicting things or acting like I have some key to understanding this game that no one else has. Stuff happens. In a couple thousand games a year. Anyone who ever claims that they know what's gonna happen in any one, or really, any small handful of games is a liar or a fool.
Red Sox 5, Rays 0: Clay Buchholz took a no-hitter into the eighth. Pity the Rays broke it up, as it puts them behind their usual schedule of getting no-hit. They're really gonna have to work to get back on pace.
Rockies 2, Padres 1: Todd Helton's two-run, pinch-hit homer in the seventh would've fallen about 10 feet in front of the wall a year ago. Hope you like the new dimensions at Petco Park, Padres. You asked for 'em.
Giants 10, Cubs 7: The Cubs threw five wild pitches while giving up four runs in the sixth. Then Shawn Camp balked in what would be the winning run in the 10th. Strong effort, fellas.
Angels 4, Astros 1: Josh Hamilton singled, tripled and homered. That and taking two out of three from Houston is a nice way to make up for Friday night's embarrassing effort. Perchance that was the low point and now the ship is righted. Or perhaps anyone can take two of three from the Astros.
Brewers 4, Cardinals 3: This guy was probably happy after Jonathan Lucroy hit a homer in the 10th. All Brewers fans were probably happy to see Milwaukee's 32-inning scoreless streak end in the eighth when Ryan Braun went deep.
Royals 3, Blue Jays 2: Kansas City avoids being swept with Alex Gordon's walkoff RBI single. Ervin Santana pitched eight strong innings. Jays manager John Gibbons said this after the game: "They're scrappy. They battle you." If the Royals meet the Diamondbacks in the World Series the narrative-construction is going to be so thick and insufferable I'm probably just gonna give the whole thing a miss and take a vacation someplace instead.
Pirates 10, Reds 7: Michael McKenry hit two homers. The Pirates were down by five heading into the seventh and then scored ten runs in the seventh and eighth. I credit the sweet, sweet pullover jerseys and yellow caps they were wearing.
White Sox 3, Indians 1: Jake Peavy struck out 11 and gave up a lone run helping the Pale Hose break their five-game losing streak. In other news, I think after a couple years worth of using "Chisox" as this team's third reference (following "the White Sox" and "Chicago,") I'm now gonna try hard to use Pale Hose more often.
Phillies 2, Marlins 1: Roy Halladay gets his 200th career win. Assuming you count wins against minor league teams like Miami, too.
Yankees 3, Orioles 0: Hiroki Kuroda shut 'em out on five hits without walking a soul. The Yankees continue not to be doomed somehow.
Mets vs. Twins: POSTPONED: The wind it was howling and the snow was outrageous. We chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn. When he died I was hoping that it wasn't contagious. But I made up my mind that I had to go on.
Ten years ago today, lightening struck for a second time on the South Side of Chicago. It was a case of déjà vu all over again that absolutely no one wanted—not players, not coaches, and certainly not umpires.
Tuesday night April 15, 2003, was the first in a three-game series between the hometown Chicago White Sox and visiting Kansas City Royals.
The last time these teams met at this park, something terrible happened. A shirtless moron and his shirtless moron son ran onto the field and began an unprovoked assault on Royals first base coach Tony Gamboa, causing permanent hearing damage in one of his ears. Now, seven months later, these teams were playing again when the unthinkable happened again.
In the bottom of the eighth, as Carlos Lee flew out to right to end the inning, things seemed perfectly normal. First-base umpire Laz Diaz watched the arc of the ball in the sky, perfectly routine work. There was no sign that anything out of the ordinary was about to occur.
Then, Diaz felt someone grab him by the waist. Okay, that’s not good. This time it was just one fan, and he was wearing a shirt. This time it was an umpire and not a first-base coach under assault. But in most all other particulars it was pretty much the same. Along the first-base line, some alcohol-fueled jerk decided to get his 15 minutes of infamy by assaulting someone for no reason.
And boy, if you’re going to be an alcohol-fueled jerk assaulting someone by first base for no reason, this was the worst time possible to do it. You see, on the field were a bunch of Kansas City Royals. They’d talked to each other before the game about how they were in the same place where Gamboa suffered a senseless assault, and now here was another one in the exact same place.
If you’re going to attack an umpire, Diaz isn’t the one to go after. He was only 40 years old and a former marine. He was able to push the drunken moron off him.
Then came the Kansas City cavalry. If any team ever was willing to beat the ever-loving tar out of some idiot fan, it was the April 15, 2003, edition of the Kansas City Royals. Right fielder Brandon Berger screamed in from his position after catching the third out, and his fellow teammates soon joined him. Kansas City began administering a real Royal beating, kicking and stomping the idiot.
Soon it was over, and it turned out to be an aberration. Fired up, the Royals scored four times in the top of the ninth to come from behind for a nice 8-5 victory.
After two straight KC series marred on the South Side, no one else has attacked anyone like that again at 35th and Shields. But it happened, 10 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousands days ago today). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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