Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

The Tribe’s Sabermetric Manager

with 4 comments


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.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

June 10, 2010 at 9:41 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Finally, a Major League reference.

    Pretty good post. Always easy to argue after that fact if he should go for the win or the tie to extend the game. I personally would like to go for the win and put pressure on the home team to score two in the bottom of the inning to win the game, and from what I take from that game they were in great position to do it.

    Mike B

    June 14, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    • Mike,

      In this case the Indians were the home team. I would argue that a visiting team has even less incentive to simply try to tie the game, because in extra innings the home team has the advantage.

      But I agree that I don’t like playing armchair quarterback too often, simply because it is so easy to do and there are no repercussions; however, after having 5 straight guys reach base, I’m not giving away outs when I still need runs.

      Dan Hennessey

      June 14, 2010 at 9:26 PM

  2. Your previous article about the sacrifice bunt was an article I found to be very interesting at the time, this article brings up a few valid points and leads me to bring up another recent game situation.

    First, in the example with Valbuena/Marson, I agree that the squeeze seemed appropriate. Adding the 7th run and making it a 4 run lead was the right decision.

    In the second situation, I go back and forth trying to decide how I would have managed the situation. On the one hand, putting two runners in scoring position creates a scenario where a base hit scores two and the Tribe win. With runners at first and second, assuming Crowe made an out and failed to move the runners up, a hit by Choo likely only scores one run. Yes, if this were to happen the Indians would be tied, with two on, and one out, but then I go back to thinking, okay, put the pressure on the Sox. With a bunt the followings things COULD have happened:

    -A misplayed bunt either loads the bases or an errant throw could score a run.

    -Yes, the Sox did decide to walk Choo, but that did load the bases for a wild closer in Jenks. Having already walked two batters and giving up a hit to the great Shelley Duncan, bases loaded and one out doesn’t sound too bad….(But then again, ask Ozzie Guillen about that he might say otherwise.)

    J Pierre singled to center.
    C Marmol relieved T Lilly. A Jones walked, J Pierre to second.
    J Pierre to third, A Jones to second on balk by C Marmol.
    A Ramirez struck out swinging.
    A Rios intentionally walked.
    P Konerko grounded into fielder’s choice to first, J Pierre out at home, A Jones to third, A Rios to second.
    C Quentin flied out to center.

    If the Indians decided not to bunt, Crowe could have done a handful of things. However, the only way it would appear that Choo is given an at-bat is if Crowe had an unproductive out that failed to move the runners up. I would ask, would you ever suggest that an unproductive out is better than a productive out or at-bat?

    While I understand what you are saying, having the bases loaded and 1 out with the heart of your lineup, regardless of how weak it might be, seems like the right play without knowing the eventual outcome.

    Matt

    June 14, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    • Matt, excellent points. Here’s my counterargument:

      -Bunting definitely takes the bat out of Choo’s hands. If Crowe singles or walks, the bases are now loaded (at worst) with no one out and Jenks has to come after Choo.

      -If Crowe makes an out and the runners are still on first and second, at least Acta gave his team three chances to get the tying/winning runs. By bunting, he gave away an out (save for an error).

      -You do make a good point when you said “bases loaded and one out doesn’t sound too bad.” It sounds pretty good actually, and I should have mentioned that Kearns and Branyan suck for not getting that run in. That said, the situation with first and second and no one out is better, I think.

      -The White Sox example you showed from Sunday basically shows the same phenomenon, except Guillen didn’t intentionally take the bat out of his best hitter’s hands. The wild pitch/strikeout combo had the same effect, allowing Marmol to walk Rios to a) avoid him (side bar: how good has Alex Rios been?) and b) set up a possible double play.

      Dan Hennessey

      June 14, 2010 at 9:34 PM


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