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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, November 09, 2001
Quibbling with the Quibblers
To bunt, or not to bunt: that is the question.
Some Post-World Series Post-Mortems
The World Series is a lightning rod for what I?ve taken to calling the ?armchair army,? that vast subgroup of baseball fans who cover the spectrum from the sabermetric know-it-all to the ?dese and doze? insider apologist.
Because this is the one time during the year when all eyes are at least semi-focused on baseball, the level of verbal warfare and ?high dudgeon? is at its peak, often exceeding the routine excesses of the media.
In other words, we all become engrossed in the not-so-gentle art of verbal-tribal warfare that accompanies the on-field action. With matters boiled down to a simple choice of two teams, we can fix our attention on the discrete events unfolding in an impossibly small number of games, and attach great? (read: overweening) significance to each of these details.
The past has shown us that
The World Series that appears
Those are the kind of signposts that media types dote upon?and it?s not completely a sure thing that current Yankee manager Joe Torre, having committed the unpardonable sin of losing a World Series, will escape the fate that befell Stengel.
Back to the key point, however,
?national pastime.? This is the
Arizona manager Bob Brenly
what it rhymes with?) of the New
By forcing Schilling into
The fact that complete games
Keep in mind that these statements
This probably counts as the
(On the other hand, Chass
Over here at the home of the ?disloyal opposition,? Brenly was hammered hard in Alan Shank?s Tidbits blog for the opposite reason.? In general, sabermetricians despise one-run strategies, and this tendency is quite pronounced in Al?s interpretation of the events in Game Seven.
Al had a veritable laundry
I?m not here to apologize
First, let?s establish the ambient conditions of post-season play and see how these compare to those of the regular season.
Post-season games have a
That?s a 15% reduction in
From 1901-2001, there has evolved an almost perfect bell-curve structure in ?run scoring differential,? or the number of runs by which a game is decided. 49% of all games played since 1901 have been? ?close games? (decided by two runs or less); 25.5% have been decided by 3-4 runs; and 25.5% have been ?blowouts? (decided by five runs or more).
In the World Series, there have been more close games and fewer blowouts, as the accompanying chart? (organized by decade) reveals. This goes hand-in-hand with lower run scoring, resulting from the concentration of better pitching on post-season teams (and the tendency to use the best pitchers on these teams more frequently in a short series).
It is this set of ambient
(Oddly, you?ll note that
So, as a manager, you are
Al makes a couple of points about the Schilling decision, each of which tends to cancel the other out. He notes that Schilling had given ground in the seventh, and allowed the tying run to score. But he then notes that Soriano?s home run in the top of the eighth was on a ?pitcher?s pitch.?? I take this to mean that Schilling was still making good pitches; but, as Jim Bouton says, ?sometimes hitters hit homers on good pitches.?
(It?s funny how people see
the actual game
So at best we have a mixed message here. I think it?s highly likely that if Brenly had batted for Schilling in the seventh, and Arizona hadn?t scored, and the new pitcher had allowed the go-ahead run(s) in the eighth, the ?insider? contingent of second-guessers would have come out of the woodwork like lemmings rushing headlong toward the seacoast.
So, essentially, however you choose to sort out which move you?d make probably indicates more about your own predispositions with respect to this matter than anything else. There is no one ?correct? choice.
So then we get to the bottom of the ninth, with the D-backs trailing 2-1, facing Rivera. (One thing I haven?t seen commented on, by the way, is whether Rivera has any tendency to give up runs after so many consecutive appearances where the outing is longer than an inning. There?s game data available to us that might address that question, and I leave it to some enterprising type out there to compile it.)
Al?s next issue with Brenly is based on what to do after Mark Grace opens the inning by reaching base (with a single). Do you go for the big inning against Rivera, knowing you have only two outs to give, or do you spend an out in order to try for a tie? Al opts for the Earl Weaver option, while 98% of all managers in such a situation take the Gene Mauch option.
All I can say is that if I?m facing Rivera in this situation, I?m going to play to at least get the tie.
A major side issue in Al?s discussion concerns the non-use of Erubiel Durazo. Later on in his discussion, Al references the reason why Durazo (the darling of sabermetric types in large part because he?s been blocked from a starting job by an older and arguably inferior player) wasn?t used: he represented a greater double play threat.
But he does so only after
In the context of playing for one run (man on first, no one out), Erubiel Durazo is not the man you?re going to use to lay down a bunt.
However, if you bat Durazo
While the one-run strategy
winning runs into scoring position with less than
That?s exactly what happened,
The chances of scoring the
With this situation (down one run, ninth inning, none out, runners on first and second), Al apparently agrees that the one-run strategy becomes more viable. If we assume a successful sacrifice at this point, we can anticipate that Torre will walk Tony Womack to load the bases, bringing Craig Counsell to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.
Then, of course, Brenly got unlucky when his most accomplished bunter, Jay Bell, bunted into a force play.
It?s at this point?one out,
A ground ball by Durazo in this situation, in all likelihood, means the end of the game.
Womack is not nearly as good
(since the chance of either
whether he has a greater or lesser risk
Womack is far less likely
(Interestingly, the stats tell us that Durazo doesn?t hit into many double plays, in part because he hits fewer ground balls than the average major league hitter.? But the stats can?t tell us what will happen in this particular at-bat, so risk aversion is a legitimate perspective in this instance. There?s also this fact: when Rivera is not striking out batters, he?s allowing more than twice as many ground balls than fly balls.)
Weighing all of this, I?d have to conclude that Brenly made the right choice.? He then got lucky when Womack pulled a pitch down the right field line for a double, tying the game and putting the winning run on third with less than two out.
Al then wants Durazo to bat
In addition, Brenly needs to keep tabs on his personnel?specifically his supply of middle infielders.? Bell, used as a pinch-bunter, would still be available to play second if you batted for Counsell, but you?re not in a spot where you can bat for Womack and Counsell.
In short, most of this criticism
Sabermetrics has much to
Run expectancy tables do
The drift of sabermetric
Bob Brenly did something
Quibbling, however, remains a more self-satisfying practice?for all elements
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