The Tribe’s Sabermetric Manager
Sorry I’ve been gone for so long. Not having the internet for 10 days sucks. But Knuckleballs is back, and hopefully, with some vengeance.
Due to the delay, I missed out on something I really wanted to write about. When the Indians hired Manny Acta, we heard all winter about how sabermetrically-inclined he was. His ability to communicate with players was also lauded, but I think his ability to think about the game like a “non-baseball man” really intrigued Mark Shapiro. Maybe the seasons with Nationals wore him down, but having watch the first two months of the painful 2010 season, it seems Acta really likes bunting.
On May 25th, the Indians had lost 6 in a row but were up 6-3 on the White Sox in the 8th inning. They need three outs to win and have a 97.3% chance of winning. With runners at 1st and 3rd and 1 out, Acta puts on the squeeze. Luis Valbuena gets it down, the Indians go up 7-3, and Chris Perez faces three batters in the ninth. I actually don’t have a big problem with this. Valbuena is hitting 0.140, and Lou Marson, the on-deck hitter, was hitting 0.206. I know, it’s a murderer’s row. Both have been worthless at the plate this season. The bunt guaranteed a run instead of depending on the chance that either Valbuena or Marson would have gotten a hit when neither had more than a 20% chance. By the way, this was the first successful squeeze play by the Indians since May 17, 2003.
On the next day, May 26th, the Indians lost to the White Sox, 5-4. Nothing surprising about that. Mark Buerhle was ejected in the third by Cowboy Joe West after he disagreed with two balks that were called against him. Nonetheless, the White Sox survived; the Tribe was down 5-1 heading into the bottom of the 9th. Then the following happened:
|Bottom of the 9th||CHW||CLE|
|B Jenks relieved M Thornton.||5||1|
|J Peralta doubled to deep right.||5||1|
|M LaPorta walked.||5||1|
|L Valbuena singled to left, J Peralta to third, M LaPorta to second.||5||1|
|T Hafner hit for L Marson.||5||1|
|T Hafner walked, J Peralta scored, M LaPorta to third, L Valbuena to second.||5||2|
|S Duncan hit for J Donald.||5||2|
|S Duncan singled to left, M LaPorta and L Valbuena scored, T Hafner to second.||5||4|
Bobby Jenks enters the game and fails to get any of the first 5 hitters out, including walks to two of them. All of a sudden, the Indians have men on first and second with nobody and out and need 1 run to tie the game, 2 to win. They started the inning with a 5.4% chance of winning and now had a 52.4% chance of winning. Here’s how the game finished:
|Bottom of the 9th||CHW||CLE|
|T Crowe sacrificed to third, T Hafner to third, S Duncan to second.||5||4|
|S Choo intentionally walked.||5||4|
|A Kearns struck out swinging.||5||4|
|R Branyan flied out to left.||5||4|
Now with this move, based on historical data, the Indians had a greater chance of scoring one run (the one needed to tie the game) with this move. Their chances of getting multiple runs decreased, but since the home team wins more extra inning games than the road team, their chances of winning increased. Their run expectancy decreased by 0.09 runs, but their win expectancy increased by 2.2%. Crowe, hitting 0.260/0.315/0.340 at the time, has been every bit as bad as Valbuena and Marson (that’s three starters :) :) !!! ), so again, the bunt doesn’t seem to hurt anything.
But the sacrifice bunt wasn’t done in a vacuüm. By advancing runners to second and third, first base was now open; as a result, the Tribe’s best hitter, Shin-Soo Choo was intentionally walked. The third baserunner didn’t matter to the White Sox (two runs scoring ended the game), with the caveat that it created a force play everywhere. By bunting, Acta gave the White Sox an out, took the bat out of his best hitter’s hands, and put the White Sox a double play ball away from escaping with a win. In my view, and granted, I’m not a manager, but that’s a bad job out of Manny Acta.
By walking Choo, the White Sox reversed what the bunt had done; the Indians run expectancy increased by 0.17 runs but their chances of winning went down by 0.6%. If that data knew that Choo would no longer get to hit and now Jenks would face right-handed hitting Austin Kearns, it would be even greater. Now you could argue that if Crowe had made an out, Choo would have been walked anyway and we would have been in the same spot. But at least the Indians wouldn’t have given the White Sox a free out.
There’s a time for bunting, just like there’s a time for gratuitous references to Major League (hey, they both bunted!). Situation is everything at the end of baseball games, score, runners, outs, who’s pitching, who’s hitting, who’s on deck; it all matters and it’s all connected.